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Celebrating 50 Years of The IUCN Red List

30 January 2014

Throughout 2014 we are celebrating the significant contribution of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in guiding conservation action and policy decisions over the past 50 years. The IUCN Red list is an invaluable conservation resource, a health check for our planet – a Barometer of Life.

The IUCN Red List is the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animal, fungi and plant species and their links to livelihoods. Far more than a list of species and their status, the IUCN Red List is a powerful tool to inform and catalyse action for biodiversity conservation and policy change, critical to protecting the natural resources we need to survive. It provides information on population size and trends, geographic range and habitat needs of species.

Many species groups including mammals, amphibians, birds, reef building corals and conifers have been comprehensively assessed. However, there is much more to be done and increased investment is needed urgently to build The IUCN Red List into a more complete ‘Barometer of Life’. To do this we need to increase the number of species assessed from the current count of 71,576 to at least 160,000 by 2020, improving the taxonomic coverage and thus providing a stronger base to enable better conservation and policy decisions.

Join us in celebrating the contribution that The IUCN Red List has made in guiding conservation for 50 years – spread the word, get involved, follow our news www.facebook.com/iucn.red.list   @amazingspecies    www.iucnredlist.org

 

 

News Releases

Village Vigilance Committees and the Chimpanzees of Boé, Guinea Bissau

17 July 2014
Young male chimpanzee
Photo: Chimbo

Reporting from Guinea-Bissau, Stichting Chimbo, an SOS Grantee and IUCN Member is resupplying its network of Village Vigilance Committees (CVVs). Deemed critical to helping protect the local population of Endangered West African Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes ssp. verus), the project aims to strengthen the 28 CVVs it has created since 2008 by improving their functioning and creating an enabling Meeting of Central Committee of the CVV's Photo: Chimboenvironment for them to perform well.

The report goes some way to underlining the simple practical considerations that are often integral to effective species conservation, especially in parts of the developing world.

Comprising 3 men and 2 women, each 5 person CVV performs several tasks. Firstly they monitor the chimpanzee groups living on their village lands while conducting field visits Member of CVV repairing his bicycle Photo: Chimbotwice monthly and completing patrol-reports soon after. Additionally they discourage and denounce the hunting and/or killing of chimpanzees and poaching in general, while also evaluating the damage caused by chimpanzees to crops. Supplying the men and women with the proper equipment and skills to do their work is fundamental – uniforms, identity cards, binoculars, bicycles and literacy training are some of the core tools in this work-kit.

Revamping uniforms was not just about changing the colour Fresh nest in Faroba Tree (Parkia biglobosa) Photo: Chimbofrom green to khaki however, but about choosing fire resistant fabrics, procuring trousers for both men and women and measuring each CVV member to ensure the clothes fit comfortably. Annemarie Goedemaker, President of Chimbo reports also that in addition to ordering the uniforms, identity data including pictures of all CVV members have now been gathered for the identity cards that will be made. A supplier of more robust bicycles has been found. The bicycles have been ordered and will arrive in Guinea Bissau Chimpanzee Family taking A Stroll infront of a Trail Camera Photo: Chimboin the second half of this year, and cost about the same as the older models which they will replace.

A meeting in early May involving two representatives of every CVV to discuss skills training including the alphabetization training and the bushfire prevention programmes. According to Annemarie, many of the CVV members - especially the women - are illiterate and alphabetization courses improve their skills to write field-reports. Meanwhile, Chimpanzees depend on big trees for nesting and two recent bushfires in the area had destroyed suitable nesting places. In one case the person responsible has been sentenced already. Naturally the key is prevention. Furthermore, the CVV’s are regularly given training by Chimbo staff in their own area to improve their performance in patrols and reporting.

Such reporting is also generating insights about Chimpanzee behaviour. Some interesting Chimpanzee drumming sites have been discovered because of such patrols. Many trees bear marks: scarred bark with rocks lying next to the tree. Even a tree with a rock collection has been found during these visits. As a result the project team has installed extra trail cameras at these sites to find out more about behaviour specific to the chimpanzees of the Boé.

Annemarie concludes “the CVV’s have proven to be very effective in changing the attitude of the local communities towards nature and Chimpanzees in particular, and as the future National Park will cover less than a third of the range of Chimpanzees in the Boé, these CVVs will continue to play a central role in encouraging a shift from conflict to coexistence.”

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The ibises of Tmatbauy village: a model for bird conservation in northern Cambodia?

14 July 2014
White-shouldered Ibis
Photo: Robert Martin-WCS

Tmatbauy village is a special place. Located in Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, Tmatbauy is where to go to see the Critically Endangered Giant Ibis (Thaumatibis gigantea) and White-shouldered Ibis (Pseudibis davisoni). The chances of spying these rare birds are increasing each season, thanks to an effective conservation model developed and implemented by SOS Grantee and IUCN Member WCS CambodiaThe Kanns, one of the project's Ibis Rice families Photo: WCS Cambodia in coordination with the Ministry of Environment and several local NGO partners. More importantly this model not only saves birds, but improves lives and changes local attitudes to conservation as well.

Located deep in Cambodia’s forested north, the village provides the most advanced example of the three incentive schemes in action, namely Ibis Rice, ecotourism and the Ibis Rice Photo: Michel GuntherBirds’ Nest Protection Scheme. Simon Mahood Technical advisor with WCS explains, “thanks to SOS support these activities continue in Tmatbauy, and have been expanded to other sites in the region”.

Most of the people of Tmatbauy village are rice farmers, explains Simon. With its local NGO partner Sansom Mlup Prey (SMP) the project team developed Ibis Rice, a premium wildlife-friendly product. The people of Tmatbauy grow the Sewing Ibis Rice sacks Photo: Eleanor Briggs-WCSrice, selling it to SMP for a 10% premium if they comply with pre-agreed conditions prohibiting hunting of threatened species and the clearance of additional forest. The agreements, based on land-use plans, also form the basis for community land titles. Furthermore, satellite monitoring has shown that rates of land clearance around Tmatbauy village are currently lower than elsewhere in the protected area. Consequently, Ibis Rice protects the ibises, encouraging the scheme to expand to other sites in Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, and Ang Trapeang Thmor Sarus Crane ReserveGiant Ibis in the wild Photo: Eleanor Briggs_WCS, Simon reports with just a hint of satisfaction.

Also at Tmatbauy, ecotourism creates a clear link between monetary income and ibises. With another local NGO partner, Sam Veasna Centre (SVC), the project team built accommodation and dining facilities for birdwatchers, which SVC brings to the site. A village ecotourism committee manages the tourism and identifies local people to act as guides and cooks. If a visiting birdwatcher sees either The pleasure of spotting birds in their wild habitat Photo: Michel Guntherspecies of ibis during their visit then they pay $10 into a Community Development Fund. If however, they see both species then they pay $30. The community can choose how to spend this money; so far they have used it for medicine, books and repairs to a pagoda.

In order to increase the amount of money going into the Community Development Fund by guaranteeing sightings of the ibises, the ecotourism committee has also copied the WCS Birds’ Nest Protection Scheme. This scheme pays local people a daily rate for protecting the nests of threatened birds. The nest protector receives a 100% bonus on their daily wage if the nest fledges successfully. During 2014, Tmatbauy village ecotourism committee paid community members to protect seven White-shouldered Ibis nests. Since WCS has been working at Tmatbauy the population of White-shouldered Ibis has increased from three individuals to nearly 50.

Simon zooms in on the biggest impact of the project so far in his opinion: changing attitudes to nature. One Tmatbauy villager for instance wanted to cut down a dead tree that was standing in her rice field to use for firewood. White-shouldered Ibises use the tree for roosting attracting birdwatchers. Taking the initiative, the village ecotourism committee intervened, proposing an alternative: an annual rental fee for the tree so that its owner receives an income from the birds that roost in it. Seeing the benefit to all, she agreed.

Summing it all up, Simon concludes “the ibises pay the village for protecting the forest, through money from tourists and rice sales”.

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Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park – a phoenix rising from the ashes

11 July 2014
A young baboon in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique
Photo: Michael Paredes

Interview with Gregory C. Carr, American entrepreneur and philanthropist who will be a keynote speaker at the IUCN World Parks Congress taking place in November in Sydney.

For the past 10 years, Greg Carr has been on a mission to restore Mozambique's famous Gorongosa National Park - which has been ravaged by civil war and environmental destruction - and to help the local people who depend on the natural resources of the greater ecosystem.

Greg Carr

How did you get involved in Gorongosa National Park? What are some of the opportunities and challenges you have encountered during this 10-year journey?

I was looking for a philanthropic project in Africa when I met the Mozambican Ambassador to the UN, Carlos dos Santos, in New York in 2002. He encouraged me to come to Mozambique and said that the country welcomed NGOs and public-private partnerships.

I went to Mozambique in 2004 and was enchanted by its beauty and opportunity. At the time it was considered to be one of the poorest nations in the world, but it had opportunity. I met the then-president of the country, Joaquim Chisanno and we discussed ideas.

I returned to Cambridge, Massachusetts where I was living and asked myself what Mozambique could do to build its economy? I thought about all the nations surrounding Mozambique that have multi-billion dollar safari tourism industries and wondered if Mozambique could have the same. I did some research and heard about this almost forgotten national park - Gorongosa. In the 1960s it was considered one of the best national parks in Africa and it was central Mozambique’s economic engine.

But the park had suffered terribly during a generation of war in Mozambique and 95% of the large animals had been killed. I thought to myself: if we restore and protect this park we can save biodiversity and help people at the same time. So we worked with the Government of Mozambique to create a public-private partnership for an ‘integrated conservation and development project’ - the Gorongosa Restoration Project. We not only work in the park, but also in a sustainable development zone around it.

Gorongosa faces threats that go well beyond the loss of wildlife during the long war and its aftermath. When I arrived in the early 2000s, I found open pit gold mines on the western border that were encroaching on the park. There were professional logging companies right in the centre of the park, taking out massive hardwoods. Also, small family farmers had expanded their activity inside the protected area border.

Like many other African countries, Mozambique has not been spared the current rampant poaching crisis. How did you tackle this?

We realised that we would need to help the people living in the 600,000-hectare sustainable development zone around the park while we simultaneously protected and restored the 400,000-hectare ecosystem within the park borders.

In January 2008, I signed a 20-year contract with the Government of Mozambique to co-manage the park and conduct development activities with the park’s neighbours. We created seven park departments: Conservation, Science, Community Relations, Administration, Tourism, Media Production, and Agriculture.

Girls making tree planters Photo: Gorongosa National Park Photo Gallery

We see film and television as an essential tool to educate, inspire and build political support for Gorongosa. We create programmes in English, Portuguese and local African languages. And, in what might seem unusual for a national park, we have a Department of Agriculture – if we don’t help the farmers who live near the park increase the yields on their land, they’ll be tempted to expand into Gorongosa. We also help them sell their products in city markets.

Our Conservation Department is tough on poaching and illegal activities. They have done a good job and wildlife is now flourishing in Gorongosa. When I first arrived, I could drive all day and perhaps see one warthog. Now, wildlife is abundant. Our Science Department created the EO Wilson Biodiversity Research Center with the advice and participation of that eminent scientist. It is filled with both Mozambican and international scientists who are conducting a survey of all species in the park.

We invite a constant stream of Mozambicans to Gorongosa - it is their park, after all. Last year we had 4,000 children attend our ‘camp’, learn about ecology and have some fun on a safari. We also host Mozambican top politicians and VIPs to remind them that this is their world treasure.

Is political support for your work in Gorongosa increasing and is this bringing benefits to the local people?

Baobab in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique Photo: Gina PooleSo far so good. We are making progress. This year the Government of Mozambique passed a new Conservation Law. One of the articles of that law allows for the creation of Community Conservancies. We are enthusiastic about this and have identified five opportunities for Community Conservancies around the park, about 100,000 hectares in total.

The local people will own and manage these conservancies and derive the benefits. Not only will they become agents and beneficiaries of conservation, these conservancies will also provide additional buffer zones to help protect the core park.

Meanwhile, our Department of Community Relations is building health clinics and schools in under-served areas and helping local people obtain land rights.

We are in this mission for the long-haul.

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Liquid assets

11 July 2014
Sargasso Sea
Photo: Sylvia Earle / IUCN

Interview with IUCN Patron Sylvia Earle, legendary underwater explorer and ocean ambassador. She says protecting the ocean is not a choice, it’s an imperative - our health and wellbeing depend on it.

This year’s Hamilton Declaration in which the governments of five countries committed to conserve the Sargasso Sea – a vast patch of mid-Atlantic Ocean known for its rich biodiversity was a landmark in ocean protection, but will it lead to concrete action?

The declaration was a groundbreaking commitment. It was the first time that an international alliance was formed to protect a unique haven of marine life. Although it is a non-binding political statement, it encourages voluntary collaboration towards the conservation of the Sargasso Sea.

It also sets a precedent, showing that countries are willing to conserve the high seas - areas beyond national jurisdiction - places that are vulnerable to overfishing, deep sea mining and other extractive activities that, in due course, might be constrained.

Kip Evans/Mission Blue

Whitetip reef shark swimming in the ocean around Rangiroa atoll Photo: Catherine GrasThe commitment is a stepping stone in achieving the 2020 global target to protect 10% of the ocean. Do you think this is realistic? What are the priorities for action?

I think there is no question that 10% is realistic, and actually, 20% is a figure that many support, including myself. This is the minimum that it would take to secure the health and resilience of the ocean and protect the assets that so many rely on for so much, including things that do not have a strict economic measure, such as breathing!

More than half of the oxygen in the atmosphere is generated by marine fauna and 60% of the ocean is high seas, where much of the ‘action’ takes place. It is not an option to wonder whether we ought to protect the ocean or not, it is a matter of how fast we can implement the measures that will safeguard the life support functions that it provides.

There are efforts underway around the world, for example, the Ross Sea of Antarctica is an area of focus. It is under threat from large scale fishing that is often called research fishing, but is in fact commercial fishing with several nations taking the Patagonian Toothfish, sold commercially as Chilean Sea Bass. 

Atolla jellyfish in the Indian Ocean Photo: Sarah GotheilGreat strides

Pacific Island nations are taking strides in terms of recognising the importance of their ‘liquid assets’ - their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). Earlier this year Palau made a remarkable commitment, to end commercial fishing throughout its EEZ. The biggest threat to this area of ocean is commercial fishing, including longline fishing for tuna.

Palau’s President acknowledged that live fish were far more valuable than being sold off to foreign fleets for a small return to Palau, when tourism is the country’s primary source of revenue. Palau had already banned shark fishing for the same reason. There is a market for sharks, especially for their fins but people are attracted to Palau to see and swim with sharks.

We are beginning to understand the ocean, not only how it functions, but also the value of life in the sea, not just as a marketable commodity but also for its role in a system that keeps us alive.

The small island nation of Kiribati is working with Conservation International and other organisations to create a fund that will allow the country to forego revenue from licenses it issues to other nations to fish in its waters and is working to greatly extend its areas of protection. Similarly, the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands announced two years ago a move to protect at least half of the islands’ EEZ (about a million square kilometres) from fishing.

What is encouraging concerning the 10% goal (or one hopes, the 20% goal) is that we are beginning to wake up to the importance of keeping ocean assets alive, instead of exploiting them for short term gain. I think we will exceed 20%, maybe not by 2020 but not far into the century.

Coral bleaching in 2010 around Mayotte in the Indian Ocean Photo: David OburaGrowing awareness

The value of a healthy ocean to our economy, health, and security is beginning to be understood from the highest levels of government and industry to the general public.

Last year at the International Marine Protected Areas Conference, IUCN and Mission Blue, with the support of scientists from around the world announced 50 ‘hope spots’. These are special places that are critical to the health of the ocean. An updated map of these areas will be presented at the World Parks Congress. If people want to know what they can do to help, they should look around for places that matter to them and provide justification for hope spots for their own.

What do you hope the IUCN World Parks Congress will achieve in terms of ocean conservation?

My hope for the Congress in Sydney is that it will inspire greater action. We do a good job of talking, but we need this talk to lead to results. There have been some: the last World Parks Congress in Durban was particularly important with respect to the oceans.

For the first time it was declared that we must focus on the ocean and realise that half of the world lies beyond national jurisdiction. It requires international attention and cooperation to achieve sound ocean management.

Progress on high seas governance is ramping up, but so far, it is still the ‘wild west’ out there. There are some overarching laws and policies, but nations and industries can access the high seas for commercial exploitation with little to constrain them.

Knowing the limit

Throughout history people have taken from nature, we have not understood the limits. The ocean has been seen as a place too big to fail. I have witnessed both on the ocean surface and below it, the changes taking place. It is no longer tenable to exploit at the level we have done in the past and still expect the ocean to deliver the services it has always delivered.

At the Sydney congress, deliberate effort must be made to acknowledge that the ocean dominates the planet. It is where most of life on earth exists and what we do to the oceans affects all natural systems. We have not been able to see those connections, but now is the perfect time to meet and look at the new evidence emerging, for example, on the role of microbes, the tiny bacteria that generate 20% of our oxygen.

We are finally catching up with what scientists have been slowly understanding - how our lives totally depend on the network of life that we have mostly regarded as stable forever, that no matter what we do, will somehow continue to support us.

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International Day of the Vaquita

10 July 2014
Vaquita
Photo: © Thomas Jefferson

The Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez, is a large and extremely rich body of water that separates the Baja California Peninsula from the Mexican mainland. Spreading over more than 1,130km of coast and reaching a surface area of 160,00km2, the Gulf of California is listed as one of the 66 Large Marine Ecosystems of the world. Its unique location accounts for some of the most astonishing landscapes on earth, where blue lagoons meet the desert sand.

The Sea of Cortez encompasses 898 islands, 244 of which are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list of natural sites. Because the sea is semi-closed by the Baja Peninsula, its water is protected from the cold current of the Pacific. This unique feature allows for a rich tropical and subtropical biodiversity. Indeed, the Gulf includes 891 species of fish, 90 of which are endemic such as the totoaba. This rare endemic fish has never been found outside the Gulf and has now reached the “Critically Endangered” status on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

A similar destiny is awaiting another endemic species, the porpoise of the Gulf of California, also known as the Pacific porpoise or vaquita (“little cow” in Spanish).

The vaquita (Phocoena sinus) is the smallest and now most endangered species of the cetacean order, after the recent extinction of the baiji (Lipotes vexillifer) in the Yangtze River of China. This small stocky porpoise is extremely rare and timid, and was only discovered in 1958. In 1986, only 28 years after its discovery, the species hits the “Vulnerable” status on the IUCN Red List and is quickly upgraded to “Critically Endangered” in 1996. Despite conservation efforts, the vaquita Red List status remains the same to this day while its population continues to decrease at an alarming rate. The main driver of this on-going extinction is the accidental catch of the porpoise in nets used in the shrimp fishery. Once trapped in the nets, the little mammal cannot surface to breath and dies asphyxiated. It is estimated that between 30 and 40 vaquitas die in this way each year. In 1997 the population of vaquitas was estimated to be around 567 individuals. In 2005 this number dropped to 200 and only 150 are thought to be remaining today. Urgent conservation efforts are necessary to avoid reaching the point of no return, which would render the survival of the species impossible.

This tragic situation is very similar to the story of the baiji, this freshwater dolphin endemic to the Yangtze River in China. The baiji inhabited the river for millions of years and an estimate made in the early XXth century accounted for over 5,000 individuals. Then, its population drastically declined to 400 in 1980, to 13 in 1997 before being completely extinct in 2006. Being the only representative of the Lipotidae family, the entire family disappeared with the last individual. Again, the drivers of this extinction were human induced, with the fragmenting of the baiji habitat by dams, the deadly collisions with boats, the fishery induced bycatches and the pollution of the river all playing a role in the extermination of the endemic dolphin.

The baiji being now extinct, the vaquita becomes the most threatened cetacean species on earth.

As part as the International Day of the Vaquita on the 12th of July, we encourage you to discover more about the conservation of this rare mammal that the Mexicans call little cow

I. Who is the Vaquita?

The Pacific porpoise (Phocoena sinus) is an odontoceti, which means it is a toothed whale, like dolphins and sperm whales, as opposed to whales with baleen, such as the blue whale. This member of the Phocoena genus is the smallest porpoise on earth, barely reaching 1m50 in length for a weight of 50kg. The vaquita is endemic to the Gulf of California where it lives in the shallow waters bordering the Colorado estuary.

It is extremely difficult to collect any biological and behavioural data on this porpoise due to its exceptionally timid nature. The vaquita is thought to live up to 21 years, becoming sexually mature around 5 years of age. The gestation period lasts for 10 to 11 months and each female will only birth one calf every 2 years. This low reproductive rate and the limited geographical distribution of the species make it highly vulnerable to human disturbances.

Just like the baiji before him, the vaquita might soon quietly disappear from the face of the earth.

II. How can we protect Vaquita?

Several studies have proved the shrimp fishery bycatches to be responsible for the decline of the vaquita population (Julian y Beeson, 1998; D’Agrosa et al, 2000; Carreta et al, 2003; Jaramillo-Legorreta et al, 2007; Conanp, 2008; CIRVA, 2012). Furthermore, the pollution of the Colorado River is threatening the vaquita’s only habitat. In the last decades, a few conservation efforts have been made to protect the porpoise. Unfortunately, these efforts have not been able to stop bycatch so far.

The specialists all agree that a shift in fishing gears is crucial for the survival of the vaquita. All generic fishing gears and nets will have to be destroyed and replaced by more selective fishing equipment to eliminate porpoise bycatch (Rojas Bracho et al, 2006; Jaramillo-Legorreta et al, 2007). To this goal, a new trawler is being released this year in the northern part of the Gulf after a full year of testing. This new trawling technology captures shrimp selectively and efficiently whilst avoiding the accidental catches of marine mammals.

Conclusion: The Vaquita, ambassador for a better use of marine resources?

In the face of the divergent expectations surrounding the Gulf of California by the different parties (fishermen, lobbyists, government, scientists and conservationists), it is of the upmost importance that a middle ground is found to enable a sincere collaboration of all parties. By shifting the fishing gears to more selective technologies, the fishermen jobs will be preserved and the economical benefit for the region will remain, whilst reducing the human impact on this unique ecosystem.

The conservation of the vaquita will promote a more sustainable use of our marine resources and indirectly benefit all living species of the Gulf. Biodiversity is the key for a strong and durable ecosystem. By protecting the vaquita, Mexico would insure the long-term sustainable exploitation of the Gulf of California, which supports 50% of the country’s fisheries. Thus, it is imperative to protect this fragile coastal ecosystem, for the good of the country, the people and all the marine creatures inhabiting the Gulf.

Let’s make the vaquita the ambassador of a more sustainable use of our marine resources!

 

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SOS Marine: Collaboration key to saving Bangladesh’s cetaceans from gillnets

10 July 2014
Large mesh size Gillnet fishing boat at the Bengal coast
Photo: Rubaiyat Mansur Mowgli WCS

The lives of Bangladesh's fishermen and its coastal cetaceans are intertwined. Regarded as their brethren at sea, fishermen often lament the death of these top predators through entanglement in gillnets. Finding mutually beneficial solutions, Brian Smith and colleague Rubaiyat Mowgli Mansur, working for SOS grantee and IUCN Member, the Wildlife Conservation Irrawaddy dolphins at sea Photo: Rubaiyat Mansur MowgliSociety, report on the promising start to an initiative to align priorities for both fishermen and cetaceans using new processes and Global Positioning System (GPS) technologies. With such an innovative project, there has been some learning on the job generating new insights and practices according to Brian.

Rubaiyat contextualizes, “the project started with training and the provision of basic navigation equipment to six Laying out net Photo: Captain Elias WCSgillnet-fishing vessels. These boats made 37 trips lasting 8-12 days each over a five month period during which the fishermen recorded four fatal entanglements in gillnets: two Irrawaddy dolphins and two bottlenose dolphins. They also recorded basic information from the dolphin carcasses (e.g., measurements and sex), took photographs, and collected biological samples.

Unfortunately, the fishermen were unaware of the dolphins becoming entangled in their nets until they pulled them up after Carcass with Gillnet Photo: Captain Akkas, WCSabout four hours in the water which meant there was no opportunity to disentangle and save them. This indicated the need to develop an acoustic alarm to alert fishermen about entanglements - something as simple as a buoy with a bell for example, suggests Brian. Upon investigation it appeared the dolphins had wrapped themselves tightly in the net. Such energetic activity would likely disturb the surface float line sufficiently to trigger an acoustic alarm. As more is learned about the dynamics of the gillnet fishery and entanglements Bangladesh fishermen training Photo: WCS-BCDPof small cetaceans better approaches to reducing mortalities can be developed - in partnership with the fishermen, Rubaiyat reminds.

Another simple innovation incorporated already has been the placement of a trained onboard observer recruited from the fishermen’s community to provide more sustained technical assistance and collect additional information on fish catch and fishing efforts. This addition to the programme has already provided vital data on gillnet fisheries needed for effective conservation planning explains Brian.

In addition to providing invaluable information on dolphin mortalities, the fishermen recorded the geographical locations of 125 dolphin groups. These included five Ganges River dolphin (Platanista gangetica) groups in the Barisal River on the way to the Bay of Bengal, and 71 Irrawaddy (Orcaella brevirostris), 28 Indo-Pacific humpback (Sousa chinensis), 20 Indo-Pacific bottlenose (Tursiops aduncus), and one pantropical spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata) groups in marine waters. These are the first ever records of cetaceans in these waters during the monsoon season.

To date, the fishermen are very happy with the project as they gain confidence in the Global Positioning System (GPS) provided to help them find safe passage to protection from devastating high winds and storm surges in the Sundarbans mangrove forest. Linking the safety networks for dolphins and cooperation with fishermen is a win-win situation for both.

 

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Gaming for good: RuneScape raises awareness of rhino conservation challenge

10 July 2014
RuneScape & United for Wildlife raise awareness for rhino conservation
Photo: United for Wildlife

RuneScape has joined United for Wildlife to raise awareness of the illegal trade of rhino horn. A multiplayer online role-playing game, RuneScape has millions of players around the world and takes place in a fantasy world called Gielinor, made up of kingdoms, regions and cities. RuneScape & United for Wildlife raise awareness for rhino conservation Photo: United for Wildlife

For the next two weeks RuneScape members can adopt a White or Black Royal Rhino by visiting two of United For Wildlife’s young conservationists in-game. Trang Nguyen and Mauricio Guerra are immortalised in the game after having their voices recorded for use as special characters. They will interact with other players in a game location called Burthorpe, providing facts and explaining the plight of the rhinos and the dangers they face from poachers in the wild.

Trang and Maruicio are supported by Fauna & Flora A Black & White Royal Rhino meet United for Wildlife's young conservationists, Trang & Mauricio inside RuneScape Photo: United for WildlifeInternational, one of the seven charities including IUCN that make up United for Wildlife. This partnership with United for Wildlife is the latest charity initiative supported by RuneScape and Jagex.

Ros Aveling, deputy CEO, Fauna & Flora International said, “As a member of the United for Wildlife collaboration I’m delighted that we’ve been able to combine our collective conservation aims with RuneScape’s passionate audience. Innovative approaches to reaching a younger audience, who are traditionally hard to engage in conservation, are vital to the success of United for Wildlife and to the protection of Critically Endangered wildlife.”

 

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SOS Marine: WildAid Launches Campaign to Reduce Consumption of Manta Ray Gills in China

09 July 2014
Manta Ray of Hope
Photo: Shawn Heinrichs

Influencing consumer behaviour toward protecting a species such as the iconic Manta Ray is a nuanced and lengthy process gaining awareness, changing attitudes and finally changing actions. It is work that SOS Grantee WildAid, has been doing for some time using a toolkit including celebrity ambassadors, social media, television and billboard advertising to win hearts and minds. First and key, however, is up toWorth more alive than dead Photo: Shawn Heinrichs for WildAid date market information: in this case the manta gill plate consumer market of Guangzhou, China – where 99% of the world’s consumption occurs.

A report published by WildAid in June 2014, reveals an alarming and unsustainable increase in the number of manta and mobula rays killed for their body parts. The report found these remarkable fish are being killed to supply a single ingredient – their gills – for a pseudo-medicinal health tonic. Most value of this big catch will go to middlemen and retailers Photo: Shawn Heinrichs for WildAidSlow to reproduce, populations of many ray species suffer from over-harvesting, unable to replenish numbers in the face of market demand. Newer data on manta ray reproduction suggest that they may reproduce even more slowly than previously believed, with a maximum lifetime reproduction potential estimated at only 5-15 offspring.

Key findings of the report included:
• Both volumes traded and the market value of manta andCut up mantas at market Photo: Shawn Heinrichs for WildAid mobula gill plates (known as Peng Yu Sai in Guangzhou) have increased dramatically in three years since the last survey conducted.

• The Guangzhou manta and mobula gill plate market is now estimated at 138,000 kg per year worth US$30 million, representing gills from approximately 147,000 mantas and mobulas annually or 99% of the world’s manta gill consumption.

Gill rakers Photo: Shawn Heinrichs for WildAidThere are no scientifically proven health benefits associated with the consumption of dried manta and mobula gill plates.

• Arsenic, Cadmium, Mercury, and Lead were detected in all manta and mobula gill plates sampled from the Guangzhou markets with Arsenic found at 20 times the levels permissible by the Pharmacopoeia of China and Cadmium at triple the permissible levels.

Dried Gill Rakers for Sale Photo: Paul HiltonOf 100 Guangzhou Peng Yu Sai consumers surveyed in 2014, 99 were unaware of the presence of heavy metals in the product.

• The surveys’ results suggested a demographic of Peng Yu Sai consumers comprised primarily of working mothers/wives, over 40 years of age with less than half of all respondents knowing the source – manta and mobula rays – of the product.

All species of manta were recently included in Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). Their addition to the listing will take effect 14th September 2014. Trade in such species is controlled to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival. Policing trade is difficult, which is partly why WildAid focuses efforts at the consumer end of the supply chain.

According to Peter Knights, Executive Director of WildAid, “together with assistance from the Chinese government and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners, we will raise awareness among China’s consumers of the manta ray gill trade and the issues surrounding their alleged medicinal values”.

To this end, WildAid is in the process of launching a coordinated media campaign featuring television, social media and billboard advertising. We look forward to reporting on the campaign and its impacts soon.

 

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Study demands new strategy to save species

02 July 2014
A Yellow Hornbill in Kruger National Park, South Africa
Photo: IUCN Photo Library © Jim Thorsell

A team of scientists working in partnership with IUCN has revealed that intergovernmental commitments to expand global protected areas could still leave many species in danger of disappearing from our planet.

A strategy to expand protected areas from 13% to 17% of the earth's land surface by 2020 was put in place as part of the 20 Aichi Targets in the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) strategic plan in Nagoya, Japan in 2010.

However, the 'gap analysis' study, which will be presented as part of the 'Reaching Conservation Goals' stream at the World Parks Congress 2014 taking place 12-19 November in Sydney, Australia, found that one-sixth of 4,118 threatened vertebrates do not occur in any protected areas.

Moreover, reaching the 17% target by establishing protected areas in places of lowest agricultural potential would only increase adequate representation of threatened vertebrates by 6%. The study, led by Dr Oscar Venter of James Cook University, Australia, explained that a far more cost-effective and logical solution would be to position new protected areas strategically. The increase in threatened species representation could be multiplied five-fold by protecting areas with only one-and-a-half times more agricultural potential.

"The Aichi targets set forth a bold and ambitious vision for conservation action this decade. While many of the targets seem inherently synergistic, like Target 11 to expand protected areas and Target 12 to protect threatened species, our study shows this may not be the case," said Dr Venter.

"We discover that the locations that are cheap to protect, and therefore most likely to receive protected area expansion, contribute little to the conservation of threatened vertebrates. The key to safeguarding the world's most at-risk fauna and flora is to link threatened species coverage to protected area expansion, which would combine two of the commitments made by the parties to the CBD," he added.

'Great concern'

The study’s finding causes great concern to Dr Penny Langhammer of Arizona State University. "We can meet the 17% target and fail to ensure the persistence of biodiversity unless protected area expansion proceeds in a highly strategic manner," said Langhammer, who is co-chair for the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas and Species Survival Commission Joint Task Force Biodiversity and Protected Areas.

"This study shows that it is both necessary and possible to safeguard sites of particular importance for threatened species," she added.

Her co-chair, Dr Stephen Woodley, added “Target 11 of the Convention of Biological Diversity's Aichi Targets is the most comprehensive global target the world has ever had for protected areas. The Aichi Targets are meant to halt global biodiversity loss by 2020 and protected areas are the fundamental tools to conserve species. As the world moves toward 2020, it is clear that the evolving protected system must include areas that conserve the world's endangered species.”

The study builds on an initial global gap analysis of the coverage of threatened species, conducted for the World Parks Congress in Durban, South Africa in 2003, which showed that at least a fifth of threatened species were unrepresented within protected areas. The work was only possible because for 50 years, IUCN and its Species Survival Commission and Red List Partnership have maintained assessments of species extinction risk through the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and similarly IUCN and its World Commission on Protected Areas and UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre maintain assessments of the world’s 200,000 protected areas.

Spider in Lawachara National Park, a hub of biodiversity in north-east Bangladesh. Photo: IUCN BangladeshHelp future generations

Professor James Watson, of the University of Queensland, Australia, and Co-Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Climate Change Specialist Group, and one of the study’s authors, believes that implementing the paper’s recommendations could help reduce the impacts of climate change for future generations.

“By protecting both large intact land and sea areas and threatened species, we can greatly increase the chances of maintaining Earth’s biological diversity for future generations, especially when we think about threats such as Gazelles in Waza National Park, Cameroon. Photo: Annelie Finckeclimate change,” said Professor Watson, who is also Director of Climate Change at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“When these goals are combined, countries are much more likely to create new parks in biologically threatened areas that are hopefully more resilient to climate change, which will lead to long-term dividends for global conservation.” Fellow author Dr Carlo Rondinini is also of the opinion that this agreement could have very positive but said it is crucial that all the scientific research is translated into positive practices.

'Not enough'

“The commitment of the world's governments to expand the global protected area network opens an unprecedented opportunity to boost conservation action, provided that the new sites fill the gaps identified so far,” said Rondinini, who works in the Global Mammal Assessment team at Sapienza University in Rome, an IUCN Red List Partner.

"The giant leaps we are taking in mapping current species distributions and forecasting their future change mean that we know how to expand the protected area network in an efficient, effective and robust way. But this is not enough - scientific results will have to be translated into good practice of protected area establishment and management to have a positive impact on life on Earth," he added.

Dr Stuart Butchart, another key contributor to the study, was also keen to stress the importance of synergising the campaigns to increase the protected area coverage and save the species. "This paper demonstrates that there are considerable synergies between the different Aichi Targets, and that targeting protected area expansion to conserve threatened species is much more efficient than tackling these two issues separately," said Butchart, who is Head of Science at BirdLife International, another IUCN Red List Partner.

"BirdLife’s Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) – 12,000 sites identified worldwide – provide a mechanism to achieve this, as they are sites critical for the conservation of the world’s birds and for other wildlife groups more generally. IUCN is now building on the IBA concept to extend it to other biodiversity, and a draft standard for Key Biodiversity Areas is to be released later in 2014."

Dr Thomas Brooks, IUCN's Head of Science and Knowledge, concluded by emphasising the importance of the World Parks Congress in launching such scientific work into the arenas of policy and practice. "The Sydney World Parks Congress will be a springboard for gap analyses, for the new Key Biodiversity Area standard, and for novel assessments of protected area management effectiveness and biodiversity outcomes," he said.

"It will also provide a platform for governmental and other commitments to strengthen current protected areas and establish new ones, so that our planet's biodiversity can persist."


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From despair to repair: Dramatic decline of Caribbean corals can be reversed

02 July 2014
Rainbow parrotfish grazing in the Caribbean
Photo: Shutterstock

With only about one-sixth of the original coral cover left, most Caribbean coral reefs may disappear in the next 20 years, primarily due to the loss of grazers in the region, according to the latest report by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The report, Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: Caribbean reefs with unhealthy corals, Guadeloupe, 2013 Photo: Catlin Seaview Survey1970-2012, is the most detailed and comprehensive study of its kind published to date – the result of the work of 90 experts over the course of three years. It contains the analysis of more than 35,000 surveys conducted at 90 Caribbean locations since 1970, including studies of corals, seaweeds, grazing sea urchins and fish.Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012 Photo: Ayana Elizabeth Johnson

The results show that the Caribbean corals have declined by more than 50% since the 1970s. But according to the authors, restoring parrotfish populations and improving other management strategies, such as protection from overfishing and excessive coastal pollution, could help the reefs recover and make them more resilient to future climate change impacts.

“The rate at which the Caribbean corals have been declining is truly alarming,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme. “But this study brings some very encouraging news: the fate of Caribbean corals is not beyond our control and there are some very concrete steps that we can take to help them recover.”

Climate change has long been thought to be the main culprit in coral degradation. While it does pose a serious threat by making oceans more acidic and causing coral bleaching, the report shows that the loss of parrotfish and sea urchin – the area’s two main grazers – has, in fact, been the key driver of coral decline in the region. An unidentified disease led to a mass mortality of the sea urchin in 1983 and extreme fishing throughout the 20th century has brought the parrotfish population to the brink of extinction in some regions. The loss of these species breaks the delicate balance of coral ecosystems and allows algae, on which they feed, to smother the reefs.

Reefs protected from overfishing, as well as other threats such as excessive coastal pollution, tourism and coastal development, are more resilient to pressures from climate change, according to the authors.

“Even if we could somehow make climate change disappear tomorrow, these reefs would continue their decline," says Jeremy Jackson, lead author of the report and IUCN’s senior advisor on coral reefs. "We must immediately address the grazing problem for the reefs to stand any chance of surviving future climate shifts.”

The report also shows that some of the healthiest Caribbean coral reefs are those that harbour vigorous populations of grazing parrotfish. These include the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the northern Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda and Bonaire, all of which have restricted or banned fishing practices that harm parrotfish, such as fish traps and spearfishing. Other countries are following suit.

“Barbuda is about to ban all catches of parrotfish and grazing sea urchins, and set aside one-third of its coastal waters as marine reserves,” says Ayana Johnson of the Waitt Institute’s Blue Halo Initiative which is collaborating with Barbuda in the development of its new management plan. “This is the kind of aggressive management that needs to be replicated regionally if we are going to increase the resilience of Caribbean reefs.”

Reefs where parrotfish are not protected have suffered tragic declines, including Jamaica, the entire Florida Reef Tract from Miami to Key West, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Caribbean is home to 9% of the world’s coral reefs, which are one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Caribbean reefs, spanning a total of 38 countries, are vital to the region’s economy. They generate more than US$ 3 billion annually from tourism and fisheries and over a hundred times more in other goods and services, on which more than 43 million people depend.

This video, featuring the report's lead author Jeremy Jackson, explains the significance of the report:

 

For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:
Ewa Magiera, IUCN Media Relations, m +41 76 505 33 78, ewa.magiera@iucn.org
Sylvie Rockel, IUCN Marine and Polar Programme, t + 41 22 999 0191, sylvie.rockel@iucn.org

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Enforcement paying off for the Atlantic humpback dolphin of Western Africa

30 June 2014
Illegal trawler greeted at anchorage
Photo: WCS

Like many threatened species, the Vulnerable Atlantic humpback dolphin (Sousa teuszii) is under pressure from anthropogenic activities. Industrial and commercial scale fishing forces locally-based artisanal fishers to within 200 metres of the beach – using their nets in critical habitat for this poorly understood Humpback dolphins near the border of Gabon and Congo. They are known to routinely traverse this frontier Photo: T. Collins, WCSmarine mammal. In a recent field report SOS Grantee and IUCN Member, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) reports on the impact of routine and frequent surveillance patrols in the waters of Conkouati-Douli National Park (CDNP), in the Republic of Congo – one of two project sites- to deter and intercept the trawlers that are deemed the root cause of the problem.

The Humpback dolphin Photo: T. Collins, WCSAccording to project director, Tim Collins, patrols have intercepted 15 trawlers (both metal hulled and wooden vessels) fishing illegally in park waters since December 2013. He explains that with a limited number of eco-guards on a single patrol boat, it is difficult to board every illegal vessel in the area, and typically some flee during intercepts. More recently, park waters have become empty of trawlers during the day, but vessels have started to come in after dark, Illegal metal trawler Photo: WCSusually around 8-9pm, leaving again by 5-6am, while Tim and colleagues evaluate how to adapt to this new pattern of activity. One option being discussed is to head out late in the day, heading into deeper water under cover of darkness, anchoring at sea. Trawlers fishing illegally would be intercepted at first light when they are heading back out to sea, explains Tim, although this is not without risk, he adds!

Commenting on intercepted fishing boats, Tim explains these are generally registered locally with crews comprising a mix of A juvenile humpback dolphin killed by a coastal, artisanal gillnet Photo: T. Collins, WCSCongolese and Chinese expatriates. In each case, skippers and vessels’ paperwork were taken into custody and brought to land for prosecution, and in most cases, the vessels themselves were escorted to the anchorage near coastal villages to facilitate processing of fines and confiscation of gear. In addition some larger West African pirogues fishing with long filets dormant - bottom set gill nets often over 2.5km long - with Congolese, Beninese, Ghanaian and Senegalese crews, have also been found in the park. All of these have been made to recover their nets and advised on where park limits lay. These boats are treated more leniently although are always provided with a warning.

Crucially, funds collected from the fines have been reinvested in strengthening enforcement in the national park with a part set aside for funding local fisheries cooperatives. This has been incredibly important for the project and fishers alike according to Tim. “We promised fishers that we would take action and in return they would honour an agreement to free the inshore strip – dolphin habitat. Being able to complete missions and return some of the financial benefits is critical and is helping to generate local support and buy-in”. This is extremely hard to do in a place where most people live from meal to meal and have very little room to make personal sacrifices, or risk loss such as moving their nets back into a risky area.

While part of the solution involves removing the trawler threat, the project’s sustainable impact comes from improving stakeholder management of local fisheries, in conjunction with the creation of local fishing cooperatives to improve management of artisanal fisheries. The positive results of the marine patrols, along with the efficient and clear reinvestment of fine funds into park management and the creation of local fishing cooperatives, attest not only to the success of the conservation initiative but also to the interest of both national authorities and local communities to enforce regulations and improve the conservation prospects of coastal dolphins and other species within CNDP. For more information about this project’s work in Mayumba National Park (Gabon) and Conkouati-Douli National Park (Republic of Congo) please visit the project page here.

 

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Javan Rhinos: Rangers protect the unseen

27 June 2014
UKNP Ranger Protection Unit and Bill Konstant
Photo: IRF

Like the semi-mystical Saola, the Critically Endangered Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is rarely seen. That does not dishearten the 16 members of Java's 4-man Rhino Protection Units (RPUs), however. Trekking hundreds of kilometers through the dense jungle of Ujung Kulon National Park (UKNP) each year, these teams are successfully protecting this unique creature from poachers – not one has been killed this century. SOS grantee, the International Rhino Foundation’s (IRF) Bill Konstant details just how elusive these creatures are.

A rarely seen Critically Endangered Javan Rhino Photo: WWF IndonesiaAn estimated 35-44 rhinos remain in UKNP, the world’s final stronghold for the Javan Rhino. The four RPUs spend about 200 days per year hiking through the jungle on the lookout for rhino poachers, assisting the park’s authorities. In an average year, the RPUs here will cover more than 2,000 miles – nearly the distance from Madrid to Moscow - and lay eyes on a Javan rhino only once or twice, if they’re lucky. In fact, in 2011, not one RPU member spied a single rhino while on patrol. Incredibly, Rhino wallow Ujung Kulon National Park Photo: IRFthat same year, video camera traps “captured” 35 individually identifiable rhinos, including four youngsters. Equally as important, no rhinos have been killed by poachers in Ujung Kulon this century, reiterates Bill.

Despite the chronic lack of visual contact, the RPUs know the rhinos are out there. The signs would be impossible to miss. Three-toed footprints, almost the size of dinner plates, are prominent along forest trails and muddy Unmistakable footprints Photo: IRFriverbanks where these one-ton creatures haul themselves in and out of the water. An animal that size, like a living military tank, also leaves conspicuous tunnels through dense vegetation, or simply yanks down small trees that have the audacity to grow juicy leaves above the reach of its prehensile upper lip. The rhino’s daily consumption - kilos of plant matter - also ensures the production of significant dung deposits along the trail. And the need for mud baths dictates regular visits to local wallows.

Another tell tale sign of Javan rhino presence Photo: IRFAdd up all these signs, take careful measurements and plot the results, and you get a fairly decent idea of rhino movements and how they’re using the forest. This information is essential to implementing a conservation strategy that will ensure their survival, explains Bill. Even if he nor the RPUs never see one again, knowing the rhinos are there, safe and sound, foraging and rummaging through their forest home is the trophy worth fighting for.

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More good news for Saola as rangers collect over 7,800 snares

25 June 2014
A collection of snares from a single foot patrol in Phou Sithone ESCA
Photo: WCS Lao PDR IEWMP

How do you protect what you never see and of which we know so little? According to SOS Grantee and IUCN Member, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Alex McWilliam, Deputy Director of the WCS Lao PDR Programme, by far the greatest immediate threat to the survival of the Saola throughout its range is unregulated illegal hunting mainly by way of tens of thousands of snares. He and his project team removed more than 7,800 wire snares from Phou Sithone Endangered Species Conservation Area (ESCA) in Lao PDR between October 2012 and March 2014.

In a field report, Alex explains, “By far the greatest immediate threat to the survival of the Saola is unregulated illegal hunting mainly by way of tens of thousands of snares. These snares are set hundreds at a time in lines that can be several hundred meters long and indiscriminately capture any and all wildlife that happen to encounter them. The removal of these snares is a critical part of providing an opportunity for the species to recover”.

Since it was first recorded by science in 1992, this mystical creature has only been sighted by scientists on a few occasions, most recently in 2010 in the newly created Phou Sithone ESCA and scientists now estimate that only a few hundred remain. As part of an ongoing programme in the region, this SOS funded project assists local government and communities to improve the management of the Phou Sithone ESCA, a conservation forest specifically established as a site for the recovery of Saola.

Team Leader, Saming, conducts a campaign activity assisted by the Saola mascot. Photo: WCS Lao PDR IEWMPTo ensure no killing of Saola and reduce the number of snares the project’s enforcement programme recruited 14 rangers who conduct strategic patrols within and around the border of the conservation area. To build community support, and assist with developing understanding about the laws and regulations that apply to the area, local villagers participate as members of the patrol teams. In the last 6 months these two teams have conducted patrols for Wildlife Enforcement Rangers on patrol in PST ESCA. Photo: WCS Lao PDR IEWMP19 days per month. The terrain is mountainous and unforgiving but the teams are determined and well equipped.

Since October 2012 the teams have encountered and removed 7,813 snares and destroyed several dozen hunting camps. They have also provided significant information about the presence of gibbon species in the conservation area.

An enforcement team conduct a foot patrol in Phou Sithone ESCA. Photo: WCS Lao PDR / IEWMPNaturally, Alex is passionate about the project’s work explaining the urgency to build on this success, “if we do not act now the planet will lose an iconic animal that symbolizes the unique forests of the Annamite Mountains and is an emblem of both countries where it occurs”, he stresses. More importantly the extinction of the Saola would highlight our failure to sustainably manage ecosystems for the benefit of human kind and wildlife alike.


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Systemic pesticides pose global threat to biodiversity and ecosystem services

24 June 2014
Wheat growing in India
Photo: Kazimuddin Ahmed

The conclusions of a new meta-analysis of the systemic pesticides neonicotinoids and fipronil (neonics) confirm that they are causing significant damage to a wide range of beneficial invertebrate species and are a key factor in the decline of bees.

Concern about the impact of systemic pesticides on a variety of beneficial species has been growing for the last 20 years but the science has not been considered conclusive until now.

Undertaking a full analysis of all the available literature (800 peer-reviewed reports) the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides – a group of global, independent scientists affiliated with the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management and the IUCN Species Survival Commission has found that there is clear evidence of harm sufficient to trigger regulatory action.

The analysis, known as the Worldwide Integrated Assessment (WIA), to be published in the peer-reviewed Journal Environment Science and Pollution Research, finds that neonics pose a serious risk to honeybees and other pollinators such as butterflies and to a wide range of other invertebrates such as earthworms and vertebrates including birds.

Neonics are a nerve poison and the effects of exposure range from instant and lethal to chronic. Even long term exposure at low (non-lethal) levels can be harmful. Chronic damage can include: impaired sense of smell or memory; reduced fecundity; altered feeding behaviour and reduced food intake including reduced foraging in bees; altered tunneling behaviour in earthworms; difficulty in flight and increased susceptibility to disease.

“The evidence is very clear. We are witnessing a threat to the productivity of our natural and farmed environment equivalent to that posed by organophosphates or DDT," said Dr Jean-Marc Bonmatin of The National Centre for Scientific Research in France, one of the lead authors of the study. " Far from protecting food production, the use of neonics is threatening the very infrastructure which enables it, imperilling the pollinators, habitat engineers and natural pest controllers at the heart of a functioning ecosystem.”

The analysis found that the most affected groups of species were terrestrial invertebrates such as earthworms which are exposed at high levels via soil and plants, medium levels via surface water and leaching from plants and low levels via air (dusts). Both individuals and populations can be adversely affected at even low levels and by acute (ongoing) exposure. This makes them highly vulnerable to the levels of neonics associated with agricultural use.

The next most affected group is insect pollinators such as bees and butterflies which are exposed to high contamination through air and plants and medium exposure levels through water. Both individuals and populations can be adversely affected by low or acute exposure making them highly vulnerable. Then comes aquatic invertebrates such as freshwater snails and water fleas which are vulnerable to low and acute exposure and can be affected at the individual, population and community levels.

While vertebrate animals are generally less susceptible, bird populations are at risk from eating crop seeds treated with systemic insecticides, and reptile numbers have declined due to depletion of their insect prey. Microbes were found to be affected after high levels of or prolonged exposure. Samples taken in water from around the world have been found to exceed ecotoxicological limits on a regular basis.

In addition to contaminating non-target species through direct exposure (e.g. insects consuming nectar from treated plants), the chemicals are also found in varying concentrations outside intentionally-treated areas. The water solubility of neonics mean that they leach and run-off easily and have been found to contaminate much wider areas leading to both chronic and acute exposure of organisms, including in riparian zones, estuarine and coastal marine systems.

They have become the most widely used group of insecticides globally, with a global market share now estimated at around 40% and sales of over US$2.63 billion in 2011. They are also commonly used in domestic treatments to prevent fleas in cats and dogs and termites in wood structures.

“The findings of the WIA are gravely worrying,” said Maarten Bijleveld van Lexmond, Chair of the Task Force. “We can now clearly see that neonics and fipronil pose a risk to ecosystem functioning and services which go far beyond concerns around one species and which really must warrant government and regulatory attention.”

Honey bees have been at the forefront of concern about neonics and fipronil to date and limited actions have been taken, for example by the EU Commission, but manufacturers of these neurotoxicants have refuted any claims of harm. In reviewing all the available literature rather than simply comparing one report with another, the WIA has found that field-realistic concentrations of neonics adversely affect individual navigation, learning, food collection, longevity, resistance to disease and fecundity of bees. For bumblebees, irrefutable colony-level effects have been found, with exposed colonies growing more slowly and producing significantly fewer queens.

The authors strongly suggest that regulatory agencies apply more precautionary principles and further tighten regulations on neonicotinoids and fipronil and start planning for a global phase-out or at least start formulating plans for a strong reduction of the global scale of use.


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Iconic Okavango Delta becomes 1,000th World Heritage site

22 June 2014
The Okavango Delta
Photo: John Mendelsohn

Botswana’s Okavango Delta, one of the most iconic natural areas on the planet, has been listed as 1,000th World Heritage site today. The decision follows the recommendation of IUCN, UNESCO’s advisory body on nature.

“The Okavango Delta has long been considered one of the biggest gaps on the World Heritage list and IUCN is proud to have been able to provide support to this nomination,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General. “We congratulate Botswana’s authorities on their extraordinary commitment to make this historic listing a reality.”

Situated in north-western Botswana, the Okavango Delta is a vast fan-shaped plain of permanent swamps and seasonally-flooded grassland, spanning an area roughly twice the size of Qatar, the host country of this year's World Heritage Committee meeting. Its extraordinary annual flooding, which occurs in the dry season, supports one of the greatest concentrations of wildlife in Africa.

African elephant in Botswana's Okavango Delta. Photo: Alicia WirzThe delta sustains the populations of some of the most threatened large mammals such as the Cheetah, the White and Black Rhinoceros, the Wild Dog and the Lion. It harbours 24 species of globally-threatened birds and is key to the survival of Botswana’s 130,000 elephants – the largest population of the species in the world.

“The Okavango Delta has been a conservation priority for more than 30 years and we are delighted that it has finally Okavango delta. Photo: Eliot Taylorgained the prestigious status it deserves,” says Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. “Its ecological and biological importance as well as its exceptional natural beauty make it a prime example of what World Heritage stands for.”

Okavango supports the lives of thousands of people by providing freshwater, food, building materials, medicinal plants and employment through the tourism industry. The proposal for World Heritage listing was strongly backed by the indigenous peoples living in and around the delta, who have conserved the area for millennia.

Duba lilies, Okavango delta. Photo: Eliot Taylor“The Okavango Delta is an extraordinary and iconic wilderness area,” says Cyril Kormos, Vice Chair of World Heritage for IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas. “The good stewardship of the site by local communities over thousands of years truly exemplifies the close links between nature and culture. The delta has recently faced threats including from extractive industries and World Heritage listing will hopefully help keep these challenges at bay.”

The listing was announced today at the 38th World Heritage Committee meeting taking place in Doha, Qatar.


For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:

Ewa Magiera, IUCN Media Relations
m +41 76 505 33 78
ewa.magiera@iucn.org


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