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Conserving soil biodiversity important for greater agricultural productivity

15 June 2018
Bedouin Herder in the Hima Eyra Range Reserve, Balqa Governorate, Jordan. Photo: Dr Mahfouz Abu Zanat

A recently released IUCN technical brief recommends increasing investments in sustainable land management practices, as well as better cooperation between agriculturalists and conservationists to conserve healthy soils. 

The publication, Soil Biodiversity and Soil Organic Carbon: keeping drylands alive, drawing on practical experiences and lessons from across the globe, highlights the value of sustainable land management practices for conserving soil biodiversity. For instance, the Loess Plateau projects in China between 1994 and 2005 encouraged farmers to plant trees and to allow marginal land to grow wild again, among other sustainable practices. The projects restored the degraded landscape, sharply increased grain yields, and lifted more than 2.5 million people out of poverty by tripling farmer incomes. The project model has since been scaled up to cover large areas of the country. 

“Soil biodiversity – the variety of organisms which live in the soil, including bacteria, fungi – is the key ingredient that determines the fertility and productivity of land,” says Jonathan Davies, Coordinator of IUCN’s Global Drylands Initiative. “Billions of people worldwide are already affected by reduced productivity of land. Governments, agricultural producers, conservation practitioners and other stakeholders must speak to one another and channel their collective resources towards strengthening investment and legislation in sustainable land management practices.”

Soil biodiversity determines carbon, nitrogen and water cycles, and the organic carbon present in soils is recognised as a major determinant of agricultural productivity. The amount of soil organic carbon is used as an indicator to track progress towards Target 15.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which aims to achieve a land degradation-neutral world by maintaining and increasing the amount of healthy and productive land resources. 

For more information
IUCN’s Global Drylands Initiative
Issues Briefs: Drylands and land degradation, Land degradation and climate change
Shorthand features: Living earth, Lands of hope



Southeast Asia's appetite for pet otters supplied online

08 June 2018
Asian Small-Clawed Otters - listed as Vulnerable to extinction on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Photo: Nicole Duplaix.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 8th June 2018—The online pet trade has emerged as a pressing threat to otters in Southeast Asia with a new TRAFFIC-IUCN Otter Specialist Group (OSG) study revealing hundreds of the animals for sale on Facebook and other websites over a four-month period.

The Illegal Otter Trade in Southeast Asia, released today, revealed a high demand for juvenile live otters in the region, with over 70% of the animals offered for sale online under a year old.  

A monitoring effort of only one-hour per week in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand turned up a minimum of 560 advertisements in which traders offered a minimum of 734 and a maximum of 1189 otters for sale between January and April 2017.  

The Small-clawed Otter was the most frequently encountered otter species during the study. Photo: © L. Gomez / TRAFFIC. Indonesia accounted for most of these—an average of 711 of all otters observed for sale—followed by Thailand with 204.

The two countries stood out again when researchers analysed the total of 13 otter seizure records in the region between August 2015 and December 2017, involving the confiscation of 59 live otters. Coupled with the online trade figures, they found Indonesia and Thailand to be the most active source and demand countries for otters in the region. 

While much of the trade in Indonesia and Thailand was apparently to meet local demand, both countries were implicated in the trafficking of otters to Japan. Seizure records showed Japan as the destination for 32 live Small-clawed Otters smuggled from Thailand. This species of otter is listed as Vulnerable to extinction on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, and its population is declining. 

“The fact that so many otters can be so easily acquired and offered for sale to thousands at the click of a button and subjected to little or no regulation, is a serious problem,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy Acting Regional Director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia.

“The online commerce of very young otter cubs for the pet trade adds a new dimension of concern. The appeal of these cute animals is undeniable, but otter cubs are difficult to hand rear and susceptible to the same diseases as cats and dogs. We hope that this report will alert the authorities and help curtail this regrettable new development,” said Nicole Duplaix, Chair of the IUCN-SSC Otter Specialist Group.

Problems with legislation in many of the countries studied was identified as a major contributor to the uncontrolled exploitation of otters for trade.  

Southeast Asia is home to four species of otters—Eurasian Otter (Lutra lutra), Hairy-nosed Otter (Lutra sumatrana), Small-clawed Otter (Aonyx cinereus) and Smooth-coated Otter (Lutrogale perspicillata). They are listed on The IUCN Red List as Near Threatened, Endangered, Vulnerable and Vulnerable, respectively, and all but the Eurasian Otter are considered threatened with extinction. All four species have a declining population trend, yet not all are protected by national laws and even where they are it is often without adequate regulation. 

“Weak national laws hinder enforcement action and widespread trade in otters online throws the survival of remaining wild populations in Southeast Asia into question,” said Krishnasamy.  

Dried skin of a Small-clawed Otter sold to women who believe it assists with childbirth by the village chief in Andoung Meas, Cambodia, 11 November 2016. Photo: ©  J.Bouhuys/TRAFFIC.The Small-clawed Otter is especially vulnerable as it was the species most frequently encountered during the study. At least 700 individual animals were observed for sale during the online survey period. 

The report urges Southeast Asian governments to fully protect all otter species from exploitation, punish online wildlife crime and work with conservation groups to pursue avenues to educate consumers and reduce the demand for otters as pets.

The study also recommends authorities investigate reports that otters are being captive bred for commercial trade, to determine if this is indeed permitted and is regulated. The authors said this would help address the large unknown as to what proportion of otters are being sourced from the wild. 

The report was undertaken after a previous TRAFFIC-IUCN OSG study highlighted the paucity of information available on otter trade in Southeast Asia.  

As part of the study, country information cards were also produced to provide a quick and easy reference on otters for frontline enforcement officers and the conservation community. 



IUCN marks World Oceans Day with a Google Voyager story on humpback whales and Large Marine Ecosystems

07 June 2018
Bubble net lunge feeding by humpback whales, Alaska. Photo: J.Hyde Wild Things Photography.

To mark World Oceans Day, IUCN has collaborated with Google Earth to produce a Voyager story. 

This consists of a multimedia presentation embedded in Google Earth - that traces the life and habits of humpback whales as they migrate the world’s oceans and as they feed and breed in “Large Marine Ecosystems” (LMEs), regional areas of ocean adjacent to continents where productivity is generally higher than in the open ocean. Incorporating stunning images, film and the sound of humpbacks, the presentation presents amazing facts about these graceful creatures but also highlights the threats they face.  Finally, it explains how work is underway in LMEs to better manage and preserve coastal and marine resources so that humpbacks and other living resources have a brighter, more sustainable future.

The Google Voyager story is part of an outreach effort under the Global Environment Facility (GEF) LME-Learn project being implemented by the UNDP, executed by IOC of UNESCO and involving multiple institutional partners, including IUCN.


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