All posts tagged: Wildlife

World’s largest king penguin colony has declined by 90%

Number of king penguins on the remote le aux Cochons has fallen from 2m to 200,000, warn scientists

The planets largest colony of king penguins has declined by nearly 90% in three decades, researchers have warned.

The last time scientists set foot on Frances remote le aux Cochons roughly half way between the tip of Africa and Antarctica the island was blanketed by 2m of the penguins, which stand about a metre tall.

But recent satellite images and photos taken from helicopters show the population has collapsed, with barely 200,000 remaining, according to a study published in Antarctic Science.

Why the colony on le aux Cochons has been so decimated remains a mystery.

It is completely unexpected, and particularly significant since this colony represented nearly one third of the king penguins in the world, said lead author Henri Weimerskirch, an ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize, France, who first set eyes on the colony in 1982.

Climate change may play a role. In 1997, a particularly strong El Nio weather event warmed the southern Indian Ocean, temporarily pushing the fish and squid on which king penguins depend south, beyond their foraging range.

This resulted in population decline and poor breeding success for all the king penguin colonies in the region, Weimerskirch said.

El Nio events are cyclical events that occur every two to seven years, but they can be amplified by global warming, which itself produces many of the same results, albeit on a longer timescale.

Indeed, Weimerskirch and colleagues showed in an earlier study that climate change, on its current trajectory, will probably make the Crozet islands the archipelago that contains le aux Cochons unviable for king penguins by mid-century.

Migration is not an option because there are no other suitable islands within striking range.

Other factors may be contributing to the decline of the le aux Cochons colony, including overcrowding. The larger the population, the fiercer the competition between individuals, noted a statement from Frances National Centre for Scientific Research, which funded the study. The repercussions of lack of food are thus amplified and can trigger an unprecedented rapid and drastic drop in numbers.

But this so-called density-dependent effect can also be made worse by climate change, the study notes.

Another possible culprit is avian cholera, which has affected seabirds on nearby Marion and Amsterdam Islands, including some king penguins. But until Weimerskirch and other researchers return to le aux Cochons hopefully, he said, in early 2019 they wont know for sure.

It is also possible that invasive species such as rats, mice or cats, have found their way on to the island. The Red List of Threatened Species conservation status for king penguins is currently least concern, but the new data may prompt a reevaluation.

King penguins are the second-largest penguin species after the Emperor. They do not make a nest, but rather lay one egg at a time and carry it around on their feet covered with a flap of abdominal skin, called a brood patch. Parents take turns incubating the egg, switching every couple of weeks over a two-month period.

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Red list research finds 26,000 global species under extinction threat

IUCN fears planet is entering sixth wave of extinctions with research from Australia revealing more risks to reptiles

More than 26,000 of the worlds species are now threatened, according to the latest red list assessment of the natural world, adding to fears the planet is entering a sixth wave of extinctions.

New research, particularly in Australia, has widened the scope of the annual stocktake, which is compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and revealed the growing range of risks to flora and fauna.

Nineteen of the species previously on the list have moved to a higher level of concern. They include the precious stream toad Ansonia smeagol (named after Gollum in Lord of the Rings), which is being decimated by tourist pollution in Malaysia; two types of Japanese earthworm that are threatened by habitat loss, agrochemicals, and radioactive fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster; and the Bartle Frere cool-skink, a slinky Australian reptile whose habitat has shrunk as a result of global warming to a 200-metre band at the peak of the tallest mountain in Queensland.

The threats are not limited to faraway creatures with exotic names. Scientists have warned the loss of biodiversity is more of a threat than climate change because it erodes the earths capacity to provide clean air, fresh water, food and a stable weather system.

Compilers of the red list said the latest toll showed the onslaught on biodiversity.

This reinforces the theory that we are moving into a period when extinctions are taking place at a much higher pace than the natural background rate. We are endangering the life support systems of our planet and putting the future of our own species in jeopardy, said Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the IUCN red list unit in Cambridge. This is our window of opportunity to act we have the knowledge and tools on what needs to be done, but now need everyone, governments, private sector and civil society, to escalate actions to prevent the decline and loss of species.

Part of the rise is due to the steady expansion of the IUCN red list which is compiled with the collaboration of thousands of experts around the world. It now includes 93,577 species, of which 26,197 are classified as vulnerable, critical or endangered.

The grassland earless dragon from Australia is under threat. Photograph: Will Osborne

Since last year, six species have been declared extinct, taking the total to 872. Another 1,700 species are listed as critically endangered, possibly extinct.

Among the most avoidable declines was that of the Greater Mascarene flying fox, which moved from vulnerable to endangered after the government of Mauritius carried out a cull at the request of fruit farmers who argued the bats were eating their crops. The IUCN is now working with both sides to find a compromise that will allow the species to recover without hurting livelihoods.

In the Caribbean, the tiny population of Jamaican hutia a rodent has been fragmented by expanding settlements. This makes it harder for the small mammal to mate and raises the risk of predation by dogs and cats. This highlights how humanity and a handful of domesticated animals are decimating other species. A recent research revealed the worlds 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01% of all living things, yet have caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants, while pets and livestock abound.

New studies are constantly widening the range of the red list. A focus of this years report was Australian reptiles, 7% of which are threatened with extinction. This is mainly due to climate change and invasive species, particularly the poisonous cane toad and feral cats, which are estimated to kill about 600 million reptiles each year. Among those suffering alarming declines are the grassland earless dragon and Mitchells water monitor.

On a more positive note, the Quito stubfoot toad was among four amphibian species rediscovered in South America after fears they had gone extinct. Overall, however, frogs and toads have shown some of the sharpest declines along with coral and orchids.

The Greater Mascarene flying fox is endangered after the government of Mauritius carried out a cull when fruit farmers said the bats were eating their crops. Photograph: Martin D Parr

To counter such trends, Cristiana Paca Palmer, the executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, says the world needs a global biodiversity pact equivalent in scale and stature to the Paris climate agreement. She wants nature reserves, ocean protected areas, restoration projects and sustainable land use regions to be steadily expanded by 10% every decade so that half the world is nature friendly by 2050.

But most nations are off course to meet even the Aichi targets for 2020. At a meeting of conservation policymakers in Montreal, Jane Smart, the global director of IUCNs biodiversity conservation group, urged countries to fast track action. Todays update of the IUCN red list of threatened species shows that urgent action is needed to conserve threatened species.

This and other proposals will be discussed at global biodiversity talks in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt this November and then in 2020 in Beijing.

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More tigers live in US back yards than in the wild. Is this a catastrophe?

It is easier to buy a tiger in some states than to adopt a rescue dog and only 6% of the animals are housed in approved facilities. This is bad for the big cats and for humans

According to estimates, the population of tigers in peoples back gardens in the US outnumbers those in the wild. Seven thousand of the big cats live in US captivity, whereas, despite increases, there are as few as 3,890 wild tigers worldwide. Most of the captive animals are kept in unregulated conditions, as the BBC reported last week. Only 6% are housed in zoos or facilities approved by the US Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The rest live in private breeding facilities, back yards, even urban apartments. In some states, it is easier to buy a tiger than to adopt a rescue dog.

Leigh Henry, a species policy expert at the World Wildlife Fund, says the situation threatens the work that has been done to conserve wild populations in Asia. A patchwork of regulations governs these tigers, meaning no agency can say how many there are, when they are born, when they die and what happens to their valuable parts when they do. Illegal trade in tiger parts remains the primary threat to tigers in the wild, and the last thing we want is parts from captive tigers helping sustain or even fuel this black market.

This is bad for humans, too. In 2011, an owner of exotic pets in Zanesville, Ohio, released his menagerie into the community; 18 tigers and other animals were shot to protect people. In 2001, Texas was forced to pass a law demanding owners register their animals after a pet tiger ripped off a young boys arm. Since 1990, there have been hundreds of dangerous incidents involving big cats in the US. Four children lost their lives and dozens of others lost limbs or suffered other often traumatic injuries. Nineteen adults have been killed and scores have been mauled, says Debbie Leahy, the manager for captive wildlife protection at the Humane Society of the United States. Many captive big cats are kept in inhumane conditions, pose a threat to the community, create a burden for law enforcement agencies and sanctuaries, and compromise conservation efforts.

The keeping of charismatic megafaunae as status symbols sits worryingly close to the mentality of killing wild animals for sport. The distinction between the wild and the tamed has been blurred. Most of us see wild animals only in TV documentaries, so they become commodities or experiences.

A tiger in your back garden is far removed from William Blakes unknowable and majestic creature burning bright. But even Blake wrote at a time when the Exeter Exchange on the Strand in London displayed tigers, lions and elephants in a first-floor department store, visited by Lord Byron and Jane Austen.

As we reduce and affect their natural habitats, will we be left with big cats as flea-bitten, oversized but potentially deadly kittens?

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Mountain bikers in fatal cougar attack did everything right, authorities say

Surviving cyclist in satisfactory condition in hospital as official says bikers tried to scare the mountain lion and then hit it

A mountain biker who was killed by a cougar near Seattle and his friend who escaped after the animal attacked him did everything right, authorities have said.

The two men were riding on a trail in the Cascade Mountain foothills on Saturday when the mountain lion began following them. Authorities said they did everything state guidelines advise: getting off their bikes, making noise and trying to scare the animal away. One even smacked it with his bike, after it charged.

The cougar ran off but returned and attacked when the men got back on their bikes. It bit one the survivor on the head and shook him. The second cyclist ran and the animal dropped the first victim and pounced, killing its victim and dragging him back to what appeared to be its den, Sgt Ryan Abbott of King county sheriffs department said.

They did everything they were supposed to do, Abbott said on Sunday. But something was wrong with this cougar.

The survivor was still in hospital on Sunday. A Harborview Medical Center spokeswoman, Susan Gregg, said the 31-year-old man was in satisfactory condition.

Authorities would not confirm the names of the cyclists until the man who died, a 32-year-old Seattle resident, was formally identified. That was expected on Monday.

The attack near North Bend, 30 miles east of Seattle, was the first fatal cougar attack in Washington state in 94 years. The first man managed to get on his bike and ride off, looking back to see his friend being dragged into the trees, Abbott said. The cyclist rode for two miles before he could get a cellphone signal to call 911.

When rescuers arrived, it took about half an hour to find the second victim, who was dead with the cougar on top of him in what appeared to be a den-like area. An officer shot at the animal, which ran off. Several hours later, state fish and wildlife agents used dogs to track the cougar to a nearby tree. They shot and killed it.

Authorities planned to match DNA taken from the animal with DNA from the victims to be certain they killed the right cougar. They also plan to examine the cougar to see what might have been wrong with it.

There are an estimated 2,000 cougars in Washington. Until the 1960s, the state paid hunters a bounty for killing them. Now it allows 250 to be hunted in 50 designated zones. While they are sometimes known to kill livestock or pets, and though one even found its way into a park in Seattle in 2009, encounters with people are rare.

Attacks have become more common, though, as people encroach on the animals territory. In North America, there have been about 25 deadly attacks and 95 non-fatal attacks reported in the past century, but more attacks have been reported in the US west and Canada over the past 20 years than in the previous 80.

Experts say people encountering the big cats in the wild should stop and pick up small children immediately. Because running and rapid movements can trigger the animals prey drive, people should not run. Instead they should face the cougar, speak firmly and slowly back away, appearing as large as possible by standing on a rock or stump or opening a sweatshirt or jacket.

People should also become more assertive if the cougar does not back off. If it does attack, people should fight back.

The idea is to convince the cougar that you are not prey but a potential danger, Washington state fish and wildlife advises on its website.

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Illegal online sales of endangered wildlife rife in Europe

Exclusive: Study finds 12,000 items worth $4m, including ivory, live orangutans and a huge number of reptiles and birds for the pet trade

The online sale of endangered and threatened wildlife is rife across Europe, a new investigation has revealed, ranging from live cheetahs, orangutans and bears to ivory, polar bear skins and many live reptiles and birds.

Researchers from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) spent six weeks tracking adverts on 100 online marketplaces in four countries, the UK, Germany, France and Russia. They found more than 5,000 adverts offering to sell almost 12,000 items, worth $4m (3m) in total. All the specimens were species in which trade is restricted or banned by the global Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species.

Wildlife groups have worked with online marketplaces including eBay, Gumtree and Preloved to cut the trade and the results of the survey are an improvement compared to a previous Ifaw report in 2014. In March, 21 technology giants including Google, eBay, Etsy, Facebook and Instagram became part of the Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online, and committed to bring the online illegal trade in threatened species down by 80% by 2020.

It is great to see we are making really significant inroads into disrupting and dismantling the trade, said Tania McCrea-Steele at Ifaw. But the scale of the trade is still enormous.

Almost 20% of the adverts were for ivory and while the number had dropped significantly in the UK and France, a surge was seen in Germany, where traders developed new code words to mask their sales. It is a war of attrition and we can never let our guard down, said McCrea-Steele. The UK is implementing a stricter ban on ivory sales and the EU is under pressure from African nations to follow suit.

Reptiles for the pet trade were the single biggest group, making up 37% of the adverts, with live turtles and tortoises being sold in large numbers. Endangered birds were also common, making up 31% of the adverts. Parrots were the most frequently advertised, but almost 500 owls and 350 birds of prey were also offered.

Most of the adverts of large, live animals were found in Russia, where big cats or bears are regarded by some as status symbols. Leopards, cheetahs and jaguars were all offered for sale in Russia, as were more than 130 live primates, including orangutans, lemurs and gibbons.

However, seven live primates were also found in UK adverts and one live bear advert was found in Germany. More commonly offered for sale in the UK were big cat skins from lions, tigers and leopards, as well as polar bear skins.

Some endangered species can be legally traded, for example if they are bred in captivity. But it is often difficult to tell which sales are legal, as few adverts provide sufficient information, such as certificate numbers. The legal trade can serve as cover for the illegal trade, warned McCrea-Steele.

The Ifaw researchers selected 327 of the adverts that appeared most clearly illegal and have shared the information with law enforcement authorities. McCrea-Steele said that online wildlife trading has become big business: I have seen investigations where enforcers walk into a room of someone they have identified as trading online and they have floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall animal body parts rooms of death, which are deeply disturbing.

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Australia completes world’s largest cat-proof fence to protect endangered marsupials

Feral cats kill a million native birds every night and have caused extinction of 20 native species

The worlds largest cat-proof fence has been completed in central Australia, creating a 94 square kilometre sanctuary for endangered marsupials.

The 44km fence made of 85,000 pickets, 400km of wire and 130km of netting surrounds the Newhaven wildlife sanctuary, a former cattle station that has been bought by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

Endangered species such as the bilby, the burrowing bettong and the mala (also known as the rufous hare-wallaby) will have a chance to replenish their populations inside the massive sanctuary, safe from Australias feral cat epidemic.

Feral cats kill a million native birds every night across Australia and have caused the extinction of 20 native species since they were introduced by the first fleet.

A critically endangered mala or rufous hare wallaby in the feral predator-proof fenced area on Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary. Photograph: Wayne Lawler/Australian Wildlife Conservancy

At a conservative estimate, AWC says cats have been killing 73,000 native mammals, reptiles and birds a year in the current fenced area in the Northern Territory.

Atticus Fleming, the conservancys chief executive, said the mala population was expected to grow from 2,400 to 18,000 over 10 years inside the sanctuary.

Conservationists plan to reintroduce a total of 11 endangered marsupials into the area, after trapping and removing the estimated 50 feral cats already there with the assistance of local Warlpiri trackers.

The new species will include bilbies, numbats, golden bandicoots, western quolls and black-footed rock wallabies. Ten of the species had previously been hunted to extinction in the region.

When complete, the 94 square kilometre haven will be the largest cat-free area on mainland Australia, where feral cats cover 99.8% of the continent.

Construction is underway on the 44km fence. Photograph: Wayne Lawler/Australian Wildlife Conservancy

Fleming said the sanctuary would revoke central Australias status as the global epicentre for mammal extinctions, having lost about 30 species since European colonisation.

There are lots of things being tried. Better baits, better traps and in the long term stuff like gene-drive technology. But at this point in time, theres no silver bullet and no guarantee there will be a silver bullet. So these large feral-free areas are critical.

When you get rid of the foxes and cats, these native mammals breed like rabbits. This is what Newhaven is all about. Even though youre putting a fence around it, youre doing that to recreate natural conditions. The irony is that its the area outside the fence is unnatural because its full of cats and foxes.

Fleming said the next stage in the project was to extend the sanctuary from 94 to 700-1000 square kilometres, making the world record fence even longer.

The second stage will be a minimum of 70,000 hectares (700 square km). It might end up bigger than that. So a minimum of another 135km of fence line.

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Dutch island wants its rabbits to breed like

Biodiversity concerns prompt emergency plan to use ferrets to round up the few rabbits left

It is not a pastime for which rabbits usually require much encouragement. But a mystery depletion in numbers on the Dutch island of Schiermonnikoog has led to an emergency effort to coax the local population into breeding well, like rabbits.

Ferrets are being deployed to chase the reluctant remaining animals out of their warrens and into the hands of conservationists, who are bringing them together, safe from the stress of predators, in the hope that romance will blossom.

It is believed that the number of rabbits on Schiermonnikoog, or Grey Monk island, has been declining for the last three years, although conservationists are only working from the memory of the 947 people who live there.

The concern is that the unexplained decrease could have a negative effect on the biodiversity of Schiermonnikoog, a 9.9-mile-long nature reserve off the northern coastline, which attracts 300,000 visitors a year.

The rabbits play a vital role in nibbling away at the invasive American black cherry, a variety of the woody plant Prunus serotina that gets in the way of other species. Birds on the island are also known to use the rabbit warrens to lay eggs.

Schiermonnikoog is a 9.9 mile-long nature reserve off the northern coastline that attracts 300,000 visitors a year. Photograph: Getty Images/Robert Harding World Imagery

Jan Willem Zwart, a forester on Schiemonnikoog who is working on the project, said the fall in the rabbit population was already noticeable. Rabbits eat grasses and saplings that have just come up. That prevents the landscape from becoming closed. We do not know exactly how many rabbits are still here, but we clearly see that the vegetation on the island is increasing, he said. It has been very difficult to find the rabbits. And that is what we are doing at the moment. It is just the beginning.

The rabbit population has traditionally gone up and down, he said, often due to outbreaks of infectious diseases, such as myxomatosis, a virus introduced into Europe in the 1950s as an agent to control numbers. But the consistently low number of baby rabbits in recent years remains a mystery. Those surviving on the island have largely congregated around the village, Zwart added.

It might be the wild cats in the dunes that are keeping the numbers down, he said. We dont know. But we are going to catch a number of rabbits on the island. In the village there are still enough, they like to dig under the houses. In the long run, we want to expand them elsewhere on the island, where they are needed.

We want to do that in an animal-friendly way. That is why we are going to use ferreting. The ferret goes into the rabbit hole and chases them out. We will catch them there and put them in a paddock, a safe place away from predators.

It is hoped that in a secure area nature will follow its course, albeit with a little human help.

The project, aided by the Dutch national heritage organisation, the Natuurmonumenten, considered importing rabbits but the paperwork was deemed overwhelming because a permit is required for every animal.

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Caught in the crossfire: little dodo nears extinction

Illegal pigeon hunting across Samoa is risking the extinction of the countrys national bird: the little dodo or manumea. Will this little-known island pigeon suffer the same fate as its namesake?

Nearly two hundred years after the extinction of the dodo, Sir William Jardin a Scottish naturalist and bird-aficionado described another odd, bulky, island pigeon. From the island of Samoa, this one was distinguished by a massive, curving bill that sported tooth-like serrations on its lower mandible. Given the strangeness of the creature, Jardine set it in its own genus and dubbed it Didunculus the little dodo. Genetic evidence has since confirmed that the tooth-billed pigeon or little dodo is one of the closest living relatives of its long-deceased namesake. Today, the little dodo is at the very precipice of extinction, but it remains nearly as cryptic and little known as it did when Jardin gave it a scientific name in 1845.

The little dodo is the last surviving species in its genus, Rebecca Stirnemann said. The Fijian and Tongan species [of the little dodo] are both extinct. It is the national bird of Samoa and appears in many of the stories often in association with chiefs.

Three manumea or little dodo specimens in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Note the vibrant colours. Photograph: Michael Rothman

Stirnemann, a New Zealand biologist and conservationist, has spent the last eight years working in Samoa to safeguard the nearly extinct bird, which is known locally as the manumea.

Stirnemann, currently with conservation New Zealand NGO Forest and Bird, says there are three threats to the manumea or little dodo: destruction of forest on the island, invasive mammals (especially cats) and pigeon hunting. As to the latter, its not that local Samoans are hunting the little dodo itself, but in shooting the Pacific imperial and other pigeon species they sometimes kill the little dodo as bycatch.

Action is urgently needed to stop [the pigeon hunting] if the manumea is not to be lost, said Stirnemann, who recently detailed the crisis in a paper in Biodiversity and Conservation. The pigeon trade has been banned in Samoa since 1993, but is widely flouted.

Stirnemann saw her first manumea when she was working on conserving another local bird, the mao.

It is a beautiful species with a giant red hooked beak, Stirnemann said of the little dodo. I have been hooked ever since.

There are few quality photos of the species in existence. Often, its either a photo of a dead animal or a gloomy shot that makes the animal look almost vulture-like. In reality, the species is quite colorful: with a blue-gray head and breast and rufous-coloured wings. The genetic evidence shows that the little dodo was the first of its of its relatives to branch off, making it the most ancient of the dodos cousins. Its so strange and rare, the Zoological Society of Londons Edge of Existence programme has placed the little dodo as number 16 pn their list of the 100 most evolutionary distinct and globally endangered birds.

Stirnemann and her team have conducted numerous surveys for the bird only to discover that it is even more at risk than first believed. The best estimate is that less than 250 birds survive; the real number could be considerably lower. However, conservationists got a piece of good news in 2013 when they were able to confirm the bird is still breeding.

Forest in Samoa. Photograph: Rebecca Stirnemann

Our research to date shows that the lowland forests are critical for this species. Unfortunately that is also the area where most people live and where hunting pressure is the greatest, Stirnemann said.

Conducting interviews with 30 hunters, the team found that nearly a third had accidentally killed more than one manumea during their career. Two birds were shot as recently as 2016.

Using a government database the scientists estimate that the illegal pigeon hunting trade on Samoa kills a staggering 22,000-33,000 pigeons a year.

The government is currently undertaking a campaign to build awareness of the problem in the villages, Stirnemann said. They are doing a good job, but still more needs to be done if the manumea is to be saved. The consumers of pigeons are a really pig problem. If you are eating pigeon you are affecting the likelihood that manumea will continue to exist.

The pigeon trade isnt driven by hungry islanders looking for cheap meat, according to the scientist. Instead, pigeon proved to the most expensive meat on the island nine times costlier than chicken.

Newscast related to the manumea or little dodo.

People often think that forest meat is consumed by poor people who have to hunt in the forest to survive, Stirnemann said. But across the world patternsare emerging that rich people are driving wildlife trade. They are often unaware of the impacts they are having since they often do not enter the forest.

According to the study the richest 10 percent of Samoans ate nearly half of the killed pigeons on the island. The total trade is worth less than 100,000.

Stirnemann said that an awareness campaign is needed to shift Samoan behavior before its too late.

The Samoan government and local NGOs are talking with villages to reduce hunting and to educate people. We are also producing a childrens book which will raise awareness of the issue and educate children to love the forest, Stirnemann said. My worry is that time isrunning out for the manumea and hunting is still occurring.

A number of organisations have been involved in little dodo conservation efforts including the Rufford Foundation, the Faleaseela Environment Protection Society (a local NGO), the Auckland Zoo, the Darwin Initiative and the Samoan government. But more funds and efforts from the international community are urgently required, according to Stirnemann, if the species is to be pulled back from the brink.

There are many pressures on Samoas funding with the climate change crisis, she said. However, there are some amazing people in Samoa with the passion to save the forest and the native birds.

The decline of the little dodo and of pigeons in general on the island Stirnemann says that the Pacific imperial pigeon population has fallen dramatically in Samoa is likely having a large impact on the diversity and health of the islands forests.

[The manumea] is an extremely important species in Samoa because it is a critical seed disperser or forest gardener, Stirnemann said. Other animals and birds cannot do the same job because they have smaller mouths and therefore eat smaller seeds. The large beak and mouth of the manumea allows it to feed and swallow large native trees seeds whole…replanting and maintaining the forest.

It took only a century for humans and the animals they brought with them to wipe the dodo off Earths stage. Somehow, though its cousin the little dodo, tooth-billed pigeon or manumea has managed to live alongside humans for over three millennia. That may be about to change: without rapid, decisive action, the little dodo will very likely follow its cousin into oblivion. And humanity will have another species extinction hanging around our necks our collective millstone.

When you lose the manumea you lose the natural farmer of Samoa, Stirnemann said.

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Shoestring expedition returns with wild photos of Sumatra

A shoestring expedition to one of the remotest places in Sumatra has returned with stunning photos of tigers, tapirs, clouded leopards among other rare species, large and small. Will they find orangutans next?

Last year a motley crew of conservationists, adventurers and locals trekked into one of the last unexplored regions of Sumatra. They did so with a mission: check camera traps and see what they could find. The team organized by the small NGO, Habitat ID came back with biological gold: photos of Sumatran tigers, Malayan tapirs, and sun bears. They also got the first record of the Sunda clouded leopard in the area and found a specimen of a little-known legless reptile called Wegners glass lizard. But most tantalizingly of all is what they didnt find, but still suspect is there: a hidden population of orangutans that would belong to the newly described species, Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis).

The trek into the interior was fraught with hordes of leaches, wasps, cliffs, river-crossings, and trackless jungle, and it pushed everyone on the team to their limits, Greg McCann, the head of Habitat ID and a team member, said, clearly relishing the adventure to an undisclosed area they call Hadabaun Hills.

The plateau, called Dolok Silang Liyang in the ethnic Batak language, means the mountain where the wind rustles the leaves of the trees, he continues. What we found there was a wet and misty world of mosses, lichens, and liverworts, of fallen trees and rotten logs and eerie silence. Sometimes we would fall up to our waists into bog-like earth of organic matter.

A Sumatran tiger caught on camera trap in Hadabuan Hills. There are only a few hundred Sumatran tigers left on Earth. Photograph: Habitat ID

The team found that this remote area is especially important for Sumatras wild predators. In addition to tigers and clouded leopards, they recorded golden cats and marble cats.

The single game trail that rings the 1,300-meter plateau seems to have been formed almost purely by the heavy footpads of tigers and also those of sun bears and golden cats, says McCann.

McCann who headed the expedition along with tiger expert and local conservationist, Haray Sam Munthe, said they believe there might be 20-25 tigers in the region.

The team climbs treacherous terrain. Photograph: Arky

The Sumatran tiger is listed as critically endangered and is believed to have a global population of less than 600. But that estimate is eight years old and recent years havent been good to Sumatran tiger as there are continual records of poaching and ongoing habitat destruction.

Considering the perilous state of the Sumatran tiger today, as well as that of many other wild cats, the photographic evidence obtained by these camera traps set up in an ecosystem that has no official status should constitute a major discovery, McCann said.

Few places have changed more radically in the last few decades than Sumatra. Half the island lowland forest has been lost, largely due to ever-expanding oil palm and pulp-and-paper plantations. Meanwhile, its species are declining to near-extinction levels. The Sumatran rhino only survives in a few tiny populations that, in total, numbers anywhere from 30 to 100 animals. In recent years, the Sumatran tiger, the Sumatran elephant and the Sumatran orangutan have all been uplisted to critically endangered.

The newly-uncovered Tapanuli orangutan is also desperately close to extinction. Experts estimate there are fewer than 800 left. Given this, a hidden population in Hadabaun would be very welcome news.

Julia Mrchen, an orangutan expert who accompanied the expedition, said the probability of orangutans in Hadabaun Hills was high. And she believes, if there, they probably belong to the newly described species though they may no longer be able to connect with the main population.

It is likely that during the increasing agricultural development and human encroachment of the past decades in North Sumatra, the fragmentation of forests have led to the isolation of a small portion of orangutans, she said.

Mrchen has spoken to two local individuals who have said theyve seen orangutans, heard their calls and spotted their nests.

Two Malayan tapirs in one photo one of them is possibly pregnant. The Malayan tapir is listed as endangered. Photograph: Habitat ID

Hadabaun Hills home to at least seven other primates, seventy bird species (so far recorded) and ample fruit-bearing trees is also prime habitat for orangutans, albeit at upper limits of their elevation preferences, according to Mrchen.

To find out if orangutans are really there, Mrchen says they need funding for an orangutan-specific expedition, which would include following local people to areas where the great apes have allegedly been encountered.

The more time we have, the higher the chances to encounter them. I suggest a minimum of fourteen days, better to spend a month in the area, she said.

Yet, even as we study Sumatras great mammals, we know next to nothing about many of the islands smaller animals, such as Wegners glass lizard. Currently, Wegners glass lizard is listed as data deficient by the IUCN Red List, which means scientists dont have enough information to even determine if the species is at risk of extinction. But given that its only found in Sumatra and rarely encountered, its likely imperiled. This makes the discovery of this species on Hadabaun Hills all the more important.

A two hour boat journey up river. McCann said it felt like something out of Apocalypse Now. Photograph: Arky

The team also photographed the Sumatran laughingthrush on the forest floor a rare behavior for this endangered species.

However remote, there are few if any areas left in Sumatra untrodden by poachers. During their expedition the team came on a poachers camp. They also photographed hunting dogs on their camera traps.

Unlike many conservation groups, Habitat ID is largely self-funded and operates on next-to-nothing. But McCann, a professor who lives in Taiwan, has long had a passion for unexplored places in Asia. Hes conducted similar camera trap surveys in Virachey National Park Cambodia, where he found elephants, Sunda pangolins and dholes all in a protected area abandoned by bigger conservation groups.

I rely greatly on the generosity of people who I have never met and who have never been to the places where I work but who have a curiosity about these places and this planet, says McCann, who depends partially on crowdfunding to keep the camera trapping and expeditions going.

McCann is returning to Hadabaun Hills at the end of the month to check the cameras and set new ones. He hopes for photos of a tiger with cubs or a tapir with babies something that could rally the government to turn this place into a protected area. Habitat ID is also working the with the People Resources and Conservation Foundation to reach out to local people in the area, remove snares and stop further encroachment by the palm oil industry.

There are few places like this remaining in Southeast Asia, says McCann, places where the rarest of rare species still lurk and prowl in secret retreats that only the craziest of explorers would try to reach.

Mumbai’s leopards have killed humans but could they also be saving lives?

Leopards roaming the Sanjay Gandhi National Park could be helping to control the citys dangerous stray dog population, study suggests

A fleeting glimpse of the black spots and gold fur of a leopard is not an uncommon sight at Sanjay Gandhi National Park in the Indian city of Mumbai.

Leopards are often thought of as a threat to humans, but rather than being a problem in Mumbai, they may actually be helping their human neighbours even saving their lives as we argue in our paper published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Recent studies suggest there may be as many as 41 leopards roaming the 40 square mile park. Thats about two to three times the leopard density youd find in some of the most productive savannahs in Africa or Sri Lanka.

Mumbais leopards live alongside people, mostly in informal settlements, and they hunt and kill dogs in and around their villages. On average, dogs make up about 40% of a Mumbai leopards diet.

There are an estimated 95,000 stray dogs in Mumbai. Nearly 75,000 dog bites are recorded annually. Photograph: Steve Winter/National Geographic/Getty Images

So what, you might ask. Leopards are one of the worlds most adaptable big cats, feeding on more than 100 prey items worldwide, so arent they just doing what an opportunist would do?

A city of dogs

If youve ever visited Mumbai, youll probably remember a few incredible sights: the Gateway of India, Mumbais bustling city, teeming traffic and its dogs.

Hundreds and thousands of dogs. On every street corner, in every alley. Recent surveys have shown that about 95,000 dogs roam Mumbai.

We wanted to delve deeper into the uncanny relationship Mumbais leopards have with the dogs. And what about bites, we asked. Do dogs bite people, and what about rabies risk?

After sifting through about 40 newspaper articles and online reports, we found that nearly 75,000 bites are recorded annually in the city (although many more are likely unreported). More than 420 people in Mumbai have died from rabies as a result of stray dog bites over a 20-year period.

It was at that point we wondered whether leopards help to protect people from dog bites by keeping the dog population down especially around the park where their diet is dominated by dogs.

Researchers suggest leopards who feed on dogs help keep the population down.
Photograph: Steve Winter/Getty Images/National Geographic Creative

Surveys performed by population biologist Lex Hiby and Nikit Surve of the Wildlife Institute of India around the park suggest that the answer is yes. Dog densities there are lower and, according to our analyses, citizens might experience only 11% of the bites compared with people who live further from the park.

Moreover, by consuming between 800 and 2,000 dogs per year, we calculate that the leopard population saves the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai about US$18,000 (13,000) in sterilisation costs (or 8% of the municipalitys annual sterilisation budget).

If you remove the leopards

The final piece of the puzzle was to model what a park with no leopards would look like a sad prediction if increased urbanisation, deforestation and conflict occur over future decades.

Under one set of assumptions, we found dog bites could increase by between 140 to more than 5,000 per year as dog populations would grow in and around the park area. The medical costs for these bites could total as much as $200,000 per year.

Our research puts a new twist on a large predator that has been persecuted for millennia, and which has generally been viewed as a nuisance to stock farmers globally and those living on the edge of Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

Leopards are believed to have disappeared from about 63-75% of their global range. We have to think of large predators in a broader sense they can at times be helpful to farmers, ecosystems and even insurance companies.

Over the last 20 years, more than 420 people in Mumbai have died from rabies as the result of a dog bite. Photograph: Steve Winter/Getty Images/National Geographic Creative

The big challenge in Sanjay Gandhi National Park is not only leopard attacks on the odd pig or cattle calf leopards here sometimes kill people. Leopard attacks on people peaked at 25 cases in 2002. Most of these were attributed to leopards who moved from other forest patches into Sanjay Gandhi, a kind of catch-and-dump scheme by local governments for problem animals.

Its thought this had a chaotic effect on leopard home ranges and social structures as leopards are territorial. But leopard attacks came to an almost complete halt for four years until 2017 when residents were angered by a spate of new attacks.

The big challenge is to evaluate the benefits of these leopards and similar large carnivores; its equally important to assess the costs of these species to local communities. The real issue is navigating the costs with the benefits, and identifying those cases of net benefit.

Christopher OBryan is a PhD candidate in the school of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Queensland. Alexander Richard Braczkowski is a PhD candidate and wildlife cameraman at the University of Queensland.

This article was originally published on The Conversation, where you can read the original article.

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