Thursday 31 January 2013

Almost 500 New Species Discovered at Senckenberg: Newly Discovered Species in 2011 and 2012

Jan. 25, 2013 — In the last two years scientists at the Senckenberg research institutes have discovered and described almost 500 new species. Taxonomy and scientific collections are among the most important focal points of the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung.
Whether in the deep sea of the Antarctic, in the rainforests of Laos or in domestic, pastoral landscapes -- scientists from the ten Senckenberg institutes have discovered new species of plants and animals everywhere. They have even made new discoveries in allegedly familiar research collections -- either by studying previously unidentified material or using new research methods. "The objective always is to record and preserve the diversity of life on earth, in other words, biodiversity," explains Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Volker Mosbrugger, Director General of the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung.

491 new species from all parts of the globe were described in the last two years by Senckenberg scientists. The extent of new discoveries ranged from colourful island crabs to the Yellow Dyer Rain Frog and fossilised woodpeckers to the first eyeless huntsman spider. Some of the animals have barely been discovered and are already threatened with extinction. "Taxonomy also serves to protect animal species," explains Dr. Peter Jäger, arachnologist at Senckenberg and himself the discoverer of 46 new spider species in 2011 and 2012. "Only those who know the species variety can develop the necessary protection programmes." After all, over 100 animal species still die out every day -- despite all of the new discoveries.


New Control Strategies for 'Bipolar' Bark Beetles

Jan. 25, 2013 — Population explosions of pine beetles, which have been decimating North American forests in recent decades, may be prevented by boosting competitor and predator beetle populations, a Dartmouth study suggests.

Bark beetles are the most destructive forest pests worldwide. Management and climate change have resulted in younger, denser forests that are even more susceptible to attack. Though intensively studied for decades, until now an understanding of bark beetle population dynamics -- extreme ups and downs -- has remained elusive.

The Dartmouth-led study, published in the January issue of the journal Population Ecology, confirmed, for the first time, that the abundance of a certain animal species -- in this case the southern pine beetle -- fluctuates innately between extremes, with no middle ground.

"That is different from most species, such as deer, warblers and swallowtail butterflies, whose populations tend to be regular around some average abundance based on food, weather, and other external factors," says Matt Ayres, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Dartmouth and senior author on the paper. "They don't appear and disappear in cycles. Rather, they exist in two stable equilibrium states -- one of high abundance and the other of scarcity." Once the population pendulum swings toward the high end, it won't quickly or easily swing back.

Read on:

15 years dedicated to saving Critically Endangered wild Bactrian camels

The Wild Camel Protection Foundation

January 2013. Fifteen years ago, John Hare and Kathryn Rae decided it was time to take a major step and establish the Wild Camel Protection Foundation (WCPF) as a UK registered charity. Until 1997 funding for their work in China and Mongolia had been erratic. In order to try and guarantee secure funding for the last herds of the IUCN listed critically endangered wild Bactrian camels in China and Mongolia, the establishment of a charitable environmental Foundation seemed a sensible option.

Fifteen years later, thanks to a loyal membership many of whom having been with the Foundation since its establishment, finance has been raised to accomplish an incredible amount of work. Several supporters donated what they could on an annual basis, funded a Nature Reserve entry station, or ran in fund-raising events, while others generously sponsored a young camel at the Wild Camel Conservation, Breeding and Research Centre in Mongolia. Through these individual efforts, and funding from institutions, trusts and companies, the following has been achieved:

Read on:

New 150 hectare nature reserve being created from old quarry in Devon

Huge wildlife haven to be created at Meeth

January 2013. A vast wildlife haven is to be created in Devon at the former Meeth Quarry, a 150 hectare site recently purchased by the Devon Wildlife Trust. Meeth Quarry is a former clay works located close to Hatherleigh within the Northern Devon Nature Improvement Area and the North Devon Biosphere.

‘The site is a spectacular, recovering landscape, with vast areas of open water, wet grassland, stone quarry face and woodland' said Matt Boydell, Devon Wildlife Trust's Land Manager. ‘It incorporates six threatened wildlife habitats, supports 18 species of national importance and will provide a haven for a huge range of bird life, making it an excellent winter wildlife-watching destination for local communities ‘.

Open to public in the spring
There is currently no public access to the site, but the Quarry adjoins Devon Wildlife Trust's existing nature reserve at Ash Moor and is adjacent to the Tarka Trail, so the potential for public access and enjoyment is huge. Thanks in large part to the support of Natural England, Devon Wildlife Trust is able to carry out essential infrastructure and access work and plans to open the Quarry to the public in the spring. Natural England funding is also supporting essential work to preserve and enhance the sites biodiversity and wildlife value.


Most Research Chimps Should Be Retired: US Panel

Megan Gannon, News Editor
Date: 23 January 2013 Time: 06:34 PM ET

A majority of the chimpanzees used for research by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) should be retired, a government panel concluded this week.

The report issued by a working group within the NIH's Council of Councils said a small population of 50 chimpanzees should be kept for future research, while planning should start immediately to put retired apes in sanctuaries.

The panel had been tasked to advise the NIH on what to do with the agency's 360 chimpanzees that aren't retired and still live at research facilities after the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a report over a year ago concluding that most biomedical research on the primates was not necessary.

HIV-Like Viruses in Non-Human Primates Have Existed Much Longer Than Previously Thought

Jan. 24, 2013 — Viruses similar to those that cause AIDS in humans were present in non-human primates in Africa at least 5 million years ago and perhaps up to 12 million years ago, according to study published January 24 in the Open Access journal PLOS Pathogens by scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Until now, researchers have hypothesized that such viruses originated much more recently.

HIV-1, the virus responsible for AIDS, infiltrated the human population in the early 20th century following multiple transmissions of a similar chimpanzee virus known as SIVcpz. Previous work to determine the age of HIV-like viruses, called lentiviruses, by comparing their genetic blueprints has calculated their origin to be tens of thousands of years ago.

However, other researchers have suspected this time frame to be much too recent. Michael Emerman, Ph.D., a virologist and member of the Human Biology Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and Alex Compton, a graduate student in the Emerman Lab, describe the use of a technique to estimate the extent to which primates and lentiviruses have coexisted by tracking the changes in a host immunity gene called APOBEC3G that were induced by ancient viral challenges.

Global Gene Pool of Goat Is Seriously Under Threat

Jan. 23, 2013 — Amongst the range of domestic livestock species, the goat is not just the 'black sheep' but a resource of survival in impoverished countries, and many breeds are at great risk of disappearing. This is the case according to researchers of the Regional Service of Agro-Food Research and Development in their first monographic study tackling the global impact of this species. 

A study from the Regional Service of Agro-Food Research and Development (SERIDA) has analysed the situation of the global goat population.

The study took into account the state of different breeds, the multiple implications of their conservation, the interaction with other animal species (wild and domestic) and the consequences of goat grazing from an environmental point of view.

"The risk of the gene pool of the goat disappearing has increased due to intensive animal husbandry systems that use a very limited number of breeds. Strangely enough, the biggest loss in the genetic resources of indigenous animals has been observed in Europe, although the situation is unknown in many areas," as explained to SINC by Rocío Rosa García, researcher at SERIDA and coauthor of the study.

The bad reputation given to goats stems from one of its main virtues: it has an extraordinary capacity to adapt to the most difficult of environmental conditions in places where other domestic livestock species would not survive.

"It is a reality that the grazing of these animals can cause damaging effects on the environment but ecosystems become overloaded because of inadequate practices of handling," ensures the scientist. 

Previous Unknown Fossilized Fox Species Found

Jan. 23, 2013 — Researchers from Wits University, the University of Johannesburg and international scientists have announced the discovery of a 2-million-year-old fossil fox at Malapa, South Africa, in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.

In an article published in the journal Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa, the researchers describe the previously unknown species of fox named Vulpes Skinneri -- named in honour of the recently deceased world renowned South African mammalogist and ecologist, Prof. John Skinner of the University of Pretoria.

The site of Malapa has, since its discovery in 2008, yielded one of the most extraordinary fossil assemblages in the African record, including skeletons of a new species of human ancestor named Australopithecus sediba, first described in 2010.

The new fox fossils consist of a mandible and parts of the skeleton and can be distinguished from any living or extinct form of fox known to science based on proportions of its teeth and other aspects of its anatomy.

Dr. Brian Kuhn of Wits' Institute for Human Evolution (IHE) and the School of GeoSciences, an author on the paper and head of the Malapa carnivore studies explains: "It's exciting to see a new fossil fox. The ancestry of foxes is perhaps the most poorly known among African carnivores and to see a potential ancestral form of living foxes is wonderful."

Wednesday 30 January 2013

Owl Monkeys Who 'Stay True' Reproduce More Than Those With Multiple Partners

Jan. 23, 2013 — Breaking up is hard to do -- and can be detrimental to one's reproductive fitness, according to a new University of Pennsylvania study.

Focusing on wide-eyed, nocturnal owl monkeys, considered a socially monogamous species, the research reveals that, when an owl monkey pair is severed by an intruding individual, the mate who takes up with a new partner produces fewer offspring than a monkey who sticks with its tried-and-true partner.

The findings underscore how monogamy and pair-bonds -- relatively rare social formations among mammals -- can benefit certain individuals, with potential implications for understanding how human relationship patterns may have evolved.

Eduardo Fernandez-Duque and Maren Huck report on the research inPLOS ONE. Fernandez-Duque is an associate professor in Penn's Department of Anthropology. Huck completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Fernandez-Duque's laboratory and is now a professor at the University of Derby in the United Kingdom.

Since 1997, Fernandez-Duque and colleagues have monitored an owl monkey population in a portion of Argentina's Chaco region. Their behavioral observations, demographic data and physiological sampling have provided a wealth of information on the animals.

Pavlov's Rats? Rodents Trained to Link Rewards to Visual Cues

Jan. 23, 2013 — In experiments on rats outfitted with tiny goggles, scientists say they have learned that the brain's initial vision processing center not only relays visual stimuli, but also can "learn" time intervals and create specifically timed expectations of future rewards. The research, by a team at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sheds new light on learning and memory-making, the investigators say, and could help explain why people with Alzheimer's disease have trouble remembering recent events.

Results of the study, in the journal Neuron, suggest that connections within nerve cell networks in the vision-processing center can be strengthened by the neurochemical acetylcholine (ACh), which the brain is thought to secrete after a reward is received. Only nerve cell networks recently stimulated by a flash of light delivered through the goggles are affected by ACh, which in turn allows those nerve networks to associate the visual cue with the reward. Because brain structures are highly conserved in mammals, the findings likely have parallels in humans, they say.

"We've discovered that nerve cells in this part of the brain, the primary visual cortex, seem to be able to develop molecular memories, helping us understand how animals learn to predict rewarding outcomes," says Marshall Hussain Shuler, Ph.D., assistant professor of neuroscience at the Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Dung Beetles Follow the Milky Way: Insects Found to Use Stars for Orientation

Jan. 24, 2013 — An insect with a tiny brain and minimal computing power has become the first animal proven to use the Milky Way for orientation. Scientists from South Africa and Sweden have published findings showing the link between dung beetles and the spray of stars which comprises our galaxy.

Although their eyes are too weak to distinguish individual constellations, dung beetles use the gradient of light to dark provided by the Milky Way to ensure they keep rolling their balls in a straight line and don't circle back to competitors at the dung pile.

"The dung beetles don't care which direction they're going in; they just need to get away from the bun fight at the poo pile," said Professor Marcus Byrne from Wits University.

Byrne and his team previously proved that dung beetles use the sun, the moon and polarised light for orientation. In their experiments, they gave the beetles "caps" which blocked light from reaching their eyes. The team also discovered that the beetles climb on top of their dung balls to perform an orientation "dance" during which they locate light sources to use for orientation.

Now, further experiments, conducted under the simulated night sky of the Wits Planetarium, have shown that the beetles also use the Mohawk of the Milky Way -- giving new meaning to dancing with the stars!

Emerging Consensus Shows Climate Change Already Having Major Effects on Ecosystems and Species – via Herp Digest

12/18/2012 U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
In partnership with: National Wildlife Federation, Arizona State University
Plant and animal species are shifting their geographic ranges and the timing of their life events – such as flowering, laying eggs or migrating – at faster rates than researchers documented just a few years ago, according to a technical report on biodiversity and ecosystems used as scientific input for the 2013 Third National Climate Assessment.

The report, Impacts of Climate Change on Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Ecosystem Services, synthesizes the scientific understanding of the way climate change is affecting ecosystems, ecosystem services and the diversity of species, as well as what strategies might be used by natural resource practitioners to decrease current and future risks. More than 60 federal, academic and other scientists, including the lead authors from the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Wildlife Federation and Arizona State University in Tempe, authored the assessment.

"These geographic range and timing changes are causing cascading effects that extend through ecosystems, bringing together species that haven't previously interacted and creating mismatches between animals and their food sources," said Nancy Grimm, a scientist at ASU and a lead author of the report.

Grimm explained that such mismatches in the availability and timing of natural resources can influence species' survival; for example, if insects emerge well before the arrival of migrating birds that rely on them for food, it can adversely affect bird populations. Earlier thaw and shorter winters can extend growing seasons for insect pests such as bark beetles, having devastating consequences for the way ecosystems are structured and function. This can substantially alter the benefits people derive from ecosystems, such as clean water, wood products and food.

"The impact of climate change on ecosystems has important implications for people and communities," said Amanda Staudt, a NWF climate scientist and a lead author on the report. "Shifting climate conditions are affecting valuable ecosystem services, such as the role that coastal habitats play in dampening storm surge or the ability of our forests to provide timber and help filter our drinking water."

Another key finding is the mounting evidence that population declines and increased extinction risks for some plant and animal species can be directly attributed to climate change. The most vulnerable species are those already degraded by other human-caused stressors such as pollution or exploitation, unable to shift their geographic range or timing of key life events, or that have narrow environmental or ecological tolerance. For example, species that must live at high altitudes or live in cold water with a narrow temperature range, such as salmon, face an even greater risk due to climate change.

"The report clearly indicates that as climate change continues to impact ecological systems, a net loss of global species’ diversity, as well as major shifts in the provision of ecosystem services, are quite likely," said Michelle Staudinger, a lead author of the report and a USGS and University of Missouri scientist.

For example, she added, climate change is already causing shifts in the abundance and geographic range of economically important marine fish. "These changes will almost certainly continue, resulting in some local fisheries declining or disappearing while others may grow and become more valuable if fishing communities can find socially and economically viable ways to adapt to these changes."

Natural resource managers are already contending with what climate change means for the way they approach conservation. For example, the report stated, land managers are now more focused on the connectivity of protected habitats, which can improve a species’ ability to shift its geographic range to follow optimal conditions for survival.

"The conservation community is grappling with how we manage our natural resources in the face of climate change, so that we can help our ecosystems to continue meeting the needs of both people and wildlife," said Bruce Stein, a lead author of the report and director of climate adaptation at the National Wildlife Federation.

Other key findings of the report include:
Changes in precipitation and extreme weather events can overwhelm the ability of natural systems to reduce or prevent harm to people from these events. For example, more frequent heavy rainfall events increase the movement of nutrients and pollutants to downstream ecosystems, likely resulting not only in ecosystem change, but also in adverse changes in the quality of drinking water and a greater risk of waterborne-disease outbreaks.  
Changes in winter have big and surprising effects on ecosystems and their services. Changes in soil freezing, snow cover and air temperature affect the ability of ecosystems to store carbon, which, in turn, influences agricultural and forest production. Seasonally snow-covered regions are especially susceptible to climate change because small precipitation or temperature shifts can cause large ecosystem changes. Longer growing seasons and warmer winters are already increasing the likelihood of pest outbreaks, leading to tree mortality and more intense, extensive fires. Decreased or unreliable snowfall for winter sports and recreation will likely cause high future economic losses.

The ecosystem services provided by coastal habitats are especially vulnerable to sea-level rise and more severe storms. The Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts are most vulnerable to the loss of coastal protection services provided by wetlands and coral reefs. Along the Pacific coast, long-term dune erosion caused by increasing wave heights is projected to cause problems for communities and for recreational beach activities. However, other kinds of recreation will probably improve due to better weather, with the net effect being that visitors and tourism dollars will shift away from some communities in favor of others.  

Climate change adaptation strategies are vital for the conservation of diverse species and effective natural resource policy and management. As more adaptive management approaches are developed, resource managers can enhance the country’s ability to respond to the impacts of climate change through forward-looking and climate science-informed goals and actions.

Ecological monitoring needs to be improved and better coordinated among federal and state agencies to ensure the impacts of climate change are adequately monitored and to support ecological research, management, assessment and policy. Existing tracking networks in the United States will need to improve coverage through time and in geographic area to detect and track climate-induced shifts in ecosystems and species.

Federal law requires that the U.S. Global Change Research Program submit an assessment of climate change and its impacts to the President and the Congress once every four years. Technical reports, articles and books – such as this report -- underpin the corresponding chapters of the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment, due out in 2013. This technical report is available at the USGCRP website, as are other completed technical reports. Additional lead authors of this report include Shawn Carter, USGS: F. Stuart Chapin III, University of Alaska, Fairbanks; Peter Kareiva, The Nature Conservancy; and Mary Ruckelshaus, Natural Capital Project.

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communications and Publishing
12201 Sunrise Valley Dr, MS 119
Reston, VA 20192
Catherine Puckett, USGS  
Phone: 352-377-2469 

Aileo  Weinmann, NWF 
Phone: 202-797-6801 

Sandra  Leander, ASU 
Phone: 480-965-9865 

Do elephants use tools? Amboseli elephant cleaning his toenails with a piece of wood

Elephant cleaning toenails with a stick
January 2013. This video was taken in Amboseli National Park in Kenya. The elephants had been feeding in the marshes - you can see that the elephant is wet and in some of the distant shots has a waterline running along her body. When she got out, she noticed this stick and took some time using her foot and trunk to get it in exactly the correct position. Once she had, she anchored it with her full weight on her left foot and used its sharp end to clean between the toes and under the nails of her right foot. Whether she had mud or maybe a small stone wedged there from the bottom of the marsh it was impossible to see, but she certainly knew exactly what she was trying to do, and succeeded in doing it.

Elephants have been recorded using sticks before, to scratch themselves with or using foliage to swat insects. We've never seen one clean their toe nails before. If you have, let us know.

This video is courtesy of Real Africa, visit

Extinction Rates Not as Bad as Feared ... for Now: Scientists Challenge Common Belief

Jan. 24, 2013 — Concerns that many animals are becoming extinct, before scientists even have time to identify them, are greatly overstated, according Griffith University researcher, Professor Nigel Stork. Professor Stork has taken part in an international study, the findings of which have been detailed in "Can we name Earth's species before they go extinct?" published in the journal Science.

Deputy Head of the Griffith School of Environment, Professor Stork said a number of misconceptions have fueled these fears, and there is no evidence that extinction rates are as high as some have feared.

"Surprisingly, few species have gone extinct, to our knowledge. Of course, there will have been some species which have disappeared without being recorded, but not many we think," Professor Stork said.

Professor Stork said part of the problem is that there is an inflated sense of just how many animals exist and therefore how big the task to record them.

"Modern estimates of the number of eukaryotic species have ranged up to 100 million, but we have estimated that there are around 5 million species on the planet (plus or minus 3 million)."

And there are more scientists than ever working on the task. This contrary to a common belief that we are losing taxonomists, the scientists who identify species.

U.S. government sued over endangered sea turtles (Loggerheads on West Coast.) – via Herp Digest

1/9/2013 By Tom Brown
Jan 8 (Reuters) - Three environmental groups sued the U.S. government on Tuesday for what they said was Washington's failure to take urgent steps to ensure the survival of endangered loggerhead sea turtles.

"Loggerhead sea turtles are among the most imperiled of sea turtle species and have experienced alarming declines in recent years," said the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The lawsuit said loggerheads were already being pushed to the brink of extinction and that the government had failed to comply with deadlines set under the Endangered Species Act to establish protected areas or "critical habitat" for loggerhead sea turtle populations.

The suit, brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, Oceana Inc and Turtle Island Restoration, cited the destruction or degradation of nesting and foraging habitats, pollution including oil spills, climate change and sea level rise among other threats to the long-term survival of the marine turtles.

"Loggerhead sea turtles face numerous, ongoing threats in waters off the coasts of California and Hawaii, along the continental shelf off the eastern seaboard from Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts, south through Florida and the Gulf of Mexico," it said.

Government spokesmen declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The legal complaint said the "incidental capture, injury and death by commercial fishing fleets" posed another clear danger to the loggerheads.

Of the seven species of sea turtles, six are found in U.S. waters. The marine reptiles live mostly in the ocean and often migrate long distances, but adult females return to land to lay their eggs along beaches.

Florida beaches have the largest nesting population of loggerheads in the United States but face increasing threats from coastal development.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, Northern Pacific loggerheads, have seen the most startling population decline in recent years. They nest in Japan, and cross the Pacific to feed along the coasts of Southern California and Mexico, and have declined by at least 80 percent over the past decade.

Defendants named in the lawsuit include the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"The Services are depriving this critically imperiled species of significant legal protections that are important for its conservation and recovery, especially in light of the continuing negative effects of climate change and commercial fishing activities which include the use of harmful longlines, trawls and gillnets," the lawsuit said.

Could a Cat Ban in New Zealand Save Birds?

Megan Gannon, News Editor
Date: 23 January 2013 Time: 02:37 PM ET

"Imagine a New Zealand teeming with native wildlife, penguins on the beach, kiwis roaming about in your garden. Imagine hearing birdsong in our cities."

This is environmentalist Gareth Morgan's vision for his homeland, and to help make it a reality, he has an appeal for his compatriots: Get rid of your cats.

Morgan's newly launched campaign, Cats to Go, is pushing for much tighter controls on New Zealand's cats, which prey on native birds and are considered an invasive species on the island country. He's not asking all cat owners to euthanize their beloved pets (though his website says "that is an option"), but Morgan wrote in a Jan. 23 op-ed in Wellington's Dominion Post that owners should acknowledge that they are harboring "a natural born killer."

"At the very least responsible people should consider not replacing it when it dies and meanwhile either keep it indoors or invest in a cat-proof enclosure in the backyard," he wrote. Morgan also suggested neutering and cat collars with bells, and the campaign's website has a petition to lobby local governments to require that all owners register their cats.

His plea sparked furor among some cat lovers and organizers working to prevent animal cruelty, but are the ideas behind the campaign really that crazy?

Tuesday 29 January 2013

Wildlife Crime Unit gets funding for another year

Vital funding confirmed, but only for 1 more year
January 2013. Continued funding has secured the future of the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) Environment Minister Richard Benyon has confirmed, at least for 1 more year.

The NWCU is at the forefront of the UK's fight against the growing illegal wildlife trade. Through effective intelligence-led enforcement, it targets key criminals engaged in serious and organised crime.

Announcing the funding, Richard Benyon said: "Wildlife crime is a very serious issue with organised gangs using the proceeds from illegally traded items like rhino horn to fuel other illegal activities. It's right that a specialist unit supports the police in bringing these people to trial. The funding for another year will mean the unit can continue to bring criminals to justice and tackle the illegal wildlife trade both at home and abroad.

Rhino horn
The Wildlife Crime Unit has been instrumental in the UK in combating the illegal trade in rhino horn, which now has a blackmarket value in Asia as high as gold.

Concerns grow for Mali's elephants as war escalates

Until 2012 the Gourma elephants escaped the ivory poaching crisis that is sweeping across Africa. In 2012 three were killed, despite the poor quality of their tusks. Image courtesy of Carlton Ward/WILD foundation.

The Mali Elephant Project working hard to save Mali's elephants
January 2013. The war in Mali has escalated recently and France has now intervened. The human tragedy here has been growing for many years, but amidst the poverty, drought and hardship, a population of some 550 elephants, known as the ‘Gourma elephants', have survived on the edge of the Sahara.

Rebel armies funded by poaching across Africa
Profits from the illegal ivory trade are known to fuel terrorist groups like the Lord's Resistance Army, the Janjaweed militia and Al Shabaab. Organized crime syndicates are linking up with them to move the ivory around the world, exploiting turbulent states, porous borders and corrupt officials from sub-Saharan Africa to China, law enforcement officials say. There are concerns that the elephants may get caught up in the war and that rebel forces in Mali might try to go down the same road as the rebel groups above and threaten the extremely vulnerable population.

The Wild Foundation has been working to conserve the Gourma elephants for more than 10 years. Susan Canney, the project leader, writes:

"The map shows the location of the French air strikes (week of 13 January) in relation to the elephant range. It is expected that the Gourma region will be secured in the coming weeks as the effects of the French and West African ground troops support the current efforts of the Malian army. Our anti-poaching team was created towards the end of 2012. It is ready for action and will be deployed as the ground troops secure the zone. We have raised funds for initial training and integration of the anti-poaching unit with local communities, and more refined training is the next step."

Project activities continue in the field because the conflict is focused in the towns. The vast area and dispersed populations are challenging in peace-time, but are an asset in times of conflict, and the local population continue life as best they can.

Sea Turtles breathe new life (Sri Lanka) – via Herp Digest

Sunday Observer, Sri Lanka, 1/6/13, by W.T.J.S. Kaviratne -Ambalangoda Special Correspondent

There are over 20 turtle conservation centres in Sri Lanka at present. The majority of these “ex-situ” conservation centres are along the coastal stretch of Kosgoda, Induruwa, Seenigama and Habaraduwa on the Southern Coast.

The island’s first turtle hatchery was set up at Kosgoda in 1978 with financial assistance of a German national, Victor Hasselblad, the owner of the company which made the world-famous Hasselblad cameras.

Dr. Upen de Silva, the late Dr. Wickremesinghe and Similias de Abrew were the other partners of this turtle conservation project. After the demise of the founder Similias Abrew who lived in Kosgoda, his son Chandrasiri Abrew undertook the management of the Kosgoda Turtle Conservation Centre. Over four million turtle hatchlings born at the Kosgoda Turtle Conservation Centre had been released so far to the nearby sea, Chandrasiri Abrew said.

According to scientific research, it is estimated that there are eight species of sea turtles in the world. Five of these species are in the habit of frequenting the beach stretches of the South Coast of Sri Lanka.

Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta), Olive Ridley Turtle (Lapidochleys olivacea), Hawskbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) and Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) visit the Southern, Western and South-Western coastline of Sri Lanka for nesting.

Unlike in the past, the fisherfolk on the South Coast now extend their cooperation for the conservation of turtles and have given up killing turtles for their flesh, Abrew said. The hatchery owners buy the eggs of turtles from the fisherfolk who collect the eggs from the nests at night.

Coral mining and illegal methods of fishing with the use of explosives have already destroyed the foraging grounds of turtles such as coral reefs and sea-grass beds in the ocean.

A turtle has a lifespan of nearly 80 years and a female turtle lays around 80 to 120 eggs in each nest dug into sand in the natural habitats. They lay eggs five times during a season.

The eggs are hatched within 45 - 60 days and after two or three days, the hatchlings come out of the nest and make their way straight to the sea. The hatchlings are known to swim non-stop for two days in a phenomenon known as “juvenile frenzy”.

Juvenile frenzy
Hatchlings do not need anything to feed during this juvenile frenzy as the strength is stored in their bodies. The hatchery owners bury the eggs in hand-dug chambers.

Even though keeping new-born turtle hatchlings in concrete tanks filled with sea water is a controversial environmental issue, contrary to natural conservation known as “in–situ” conservation, the turtle hatchery owners say they keep a very few of the new-borns in their tanks and 80 percent are safely released to the sea within 24 hours, during the dark hours of the evenings. The remaining 20 percent are released after two days.

According to the owners of turtle conservation centres, human activities such as the construction of tourist hotels in close proximity to the beach, removal of foliage in the beach, erecting powerful electric lamp posts on the beach, construction of boulders and beach erosion are some of the factors causing the fast dwindling of turtles.

Many of these turtle conservation centres have become rehabilitation centres as well for the physically handicapped turtles caught on beach stretches. There are blind and injured turtles in these conservation centres undergoing treatment. Some turtles have lost their limbs as a result of being run over by motor boats.

Hatchery owners said they retain albino turtles for nearly five years in the tanks and release them to the sea.

Maintaining a turtle hatchery is very expensive, they said. Nearly Rs. 500,000 needs to be spent to look after a turtle for five years. A large amount of money has to be spent on the construction and repair of tanks, pumping sea water, cleaning and purchasing fish for feeding. They said they depend entirely on the entrance fees charged from tourists and during the off-seasons they find it extremely difficult to maintain the turtle conservation centres.

US Navy in deep water after ship hits World Heritage reef in Philippines

USS Guardian runs aground on Tubbataha Reef
January 2013. The Philippines authorities will fine the US Navy heavily after a minesweeper, USS Guardian, ran aground on a reef in a World Heritage site, Tubbatha Reef, which is rated in the top 10 dive sites in the world.

The Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB) has announced that it will fine the US navy for several violations of its rules, including damaging the reef. Their statement reads:

"TPAMB has a mandate to protect, preserve and promote the resources of Tubbataha Reef. In order to fulfill that mandate and uphold the rule of law, it is the TPAMB's intention to serve the US Navy with a formal notice listing violations of the above law in the grounding incident of January 17 involving the USS Guardian.
We will ask them to take responsibility, and immediately pay the fines that can be estimated at this time.

The violations that are evident at this time, include the following:


Subsequent to ship retrieval / and the assessment of Park damage, the TPAMB intends to serve a second formal notice of violation to the US Navy, that will quantify the estimate of destruction and the fines that must be paid."

Eleven live otters found in airport luggage in Bangkok

Otters in trouble in Asia
January 2013. Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport has seen countless traffickers attempt to smuggle a myriad wild animals out in luggage, but never otters-until now. Officers at the airport's Wildlife Checkpoint and the Royal Thai Customs discovered 11 live otters when they scanned a bag that had been left at the oversized luggage area of the airport.
As the bag bore no tags and no one claimed it, the officers opened the luggage to find six Smooth Coated Otters and five Oriental Small Clawed Otters inside. The otters, which look to be juveniles, will undergo health checks before being handed over to the Bang-Pra Breeding Center in Chonburi for care.

Otters disappearing from their range
Otters and some species of wild cats are at serious risk in South-East Asia, experts said in 2009 after analysing thousands of camera-trap records that helped map the regional distribution of many small carnivore species. Some, like otters, have apparently disappeared from parts of their former range.

The experts, including members of the IUCN-SSC Cat Specialist, Otter Specialist and Small Carnivore Specialist Groups had pushed for more research on small carnivores like otters that play an important ecological role in tropical forests but receive relatively little conservation attention. They also called on Thailand to develop a national action plan to ensure greater protection for small carnivores.

"This find is a surprise and a worrying one. Otter skins have been interdicted in trade elsewhere in Asia, but live otters are a new development as far as we know. Yet another species we know little about is in danger from wildlife traffickers," said TRAFFIC's Regional Director in South-East Asia, Dr William Schaedla.

"It is great to see that frontline officers in Thailand are maintaining vigilance. However there must be more intelligence led investigations that will arrest the problem at source," he added.

Lady Liuwa update – Surviving lions have formed a small pride

Male and young lioness mating regularly
January 2013. After the younger of the 2 new lioness' was killed in a snare in June 2012, the second new lioness left the park and headed towards Angola. She was captured just before she crossed the border, and a decision was taken to put Lady Liuwa and the young lioness in a holding boma for several weeks; The decision proved to have been a wise one, and the two lionesses were released in October having bonded together well.

The lioness' bonded well, and Lady was quick to establish her dominance over the young lioness (who in turn has shown appropriate submission) but has been tolerant, allowing the youngster to share wildebeest carcasses with her. Apart from a few growls at meal times, there has thankfully been no real aggression. 

Wandering males leads to a lion death
On an unfortunate note, the two males (Introduced into Liuwa in 2009) wandered north-west out of the park, with satellite tracking of the one collared male showing that he strayed 40 kilometres into Angola before doing a U-turn and hurrying back to the park. The second male did not return to the park and subsequent reports from local communities indicated that he had been killed in Angola after straying close to a village. The coalition of these two magnificent males was a stirring sight on the Liuwa plain and the loss is tragic.

Happier news ensued as the remaining male teamed up with Lady Liuwa and the young lioness, and the three have been co-existing as a unit ever since. The male and young lioness have been seen mating in November and there are hopes for cubs in 2013.

Liuwa National Park is managed by African Parks. African Parks is a non-profit organisation that takes total responsibility for the rehabilitation and long-term management of national parks in partnership with governments and local communities. African Parks currently manages seven parks in six African countries - Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Zambia. The total area under management covers 4.1 million hectares, an area as large as The Netherlands.

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