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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   @amazingspecies



News Releases

London art exhibition showcases threatened species

29 September 2014
Summer's Poison Frog constructed out of 20,000 Lego pieces by David Tracy and Ben Greenlee
Photo: Rachel Roberts

If you are in London, consider visiting ‘The Ark’ - a ten-day urban and contemporary art installation aiming to raise awareness of threatened species. Presented by Bear Cub Gallery, the exhibition features a wide variety of art based on species included on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Inspired by the well-known bible story of Noah’s Ark, artists from around the world were asked to produce two pieces based on a red-listed animal of their choosing. The pieces are displayed as a pair in the gallery space which has been transformed to look like the interior of the famous ark.

Among the featured works are a model of Summer’s Poison Frog, carefully constructed out of 20,000 Lego pieces, a digital collage of a Hawksbill Turtle, a colourful depiction of Rothschild’s Giraffe in ink on layered paper, and a stunningly realistic handcut stencil and spraypaint rendition of a Western Gorilla’s face.

“In building the ark we had to consider our passengers and we very organically came to the idea of having endangered animals on board, to help save the species in the greatest need,” says Charlotte Pyatt, Bear Cub Gallery Co-founder. “Louis Masai was instrumental in this decision and actually made us aware of IUCN and its work.”

Louis Masai in front of his piece 'Shem and Ham' Photo: Rachel RobertsLouis Masai, one of the artists featured in the exhibition and advocate for threatened species utilizes the Red List for much of his work. "As humans we should be looking to make use of our understanding of global existence instead of making life so much harder for the rest of the environment,” says Masai.

Masai’s contribution to The Ark is entitled ‘Shem and Ham (a Shrinking World Around us)’ and consists of two paintings of Amur Tiger cubs on miniature ‘habitat’ patches.

“Shem and Ham are the names of Noah’s two sons. The shrinking land densities pose an imminent threat to the Laura Ball's 'Cycle'. Print sales will support The IUCN Red List. Photo: Laura Balltiger, which is shown by the small patch of grass I’ve painted them on", says Masai. “The Lego trees reference the nostalgia of toys in childhood, symbols and relics of our past. I’ve painted them in quite a playful way; one bounding and the other curled up like domestic cats- it is a very human attribute to want to domesticate an animal, to tame the wild thing.”

Featured artist Laura Ball is kindly donating part of the proceeds from the print sale of her beautiful piece ‘Cycle’ to The IUCN Red List. You can purchase the print here, and the original watercolour is also for sale at the exhibition.

The Ark is open to visitors from 26 September to 2 October 2014 at Crypt on The Green, Clerkenwell, London.


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Landmark cooperation for conservation of Critically Endangered western Gray Whale

24 September 2014
Gray whale breaching
Photo: Dave Weller

Representatives of the Russian Federation, USA and Japan have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to implement IUCN’s range-wide Western Gray Whale Conservation Plan.

The genetically-distinct western subpopulation of the Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus) is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, numbering only about 125-156 animals in 2010. Over-exploitation was thought to have caused the extinction of western Gray Whales until Soviet scientists in the 1980s reported a small remaining group off Sakhalin Island in eastern Russia. The western Gray Whale population is slowly growing but experts say the death of just one mature female per year could send it back towards extinction.

The IUCN Western Gray Whale Conservation Plan was drafted in 2010 with the goal of ‘managing human activities that affect western Gray Whales and maximising the population’s chances for recovery, based on the best scientific knowledge.’

Representatives of the Russian Federation, USA and Japan signing the MoU to implement the Western Gray Whale Conservation Plan. Photo: IWCThe western Gray Whale spends its summers in the Okhotsk Sea. Its migration routes and winter breeding grounds are still poorly known but its range includes Russia, Japan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea and the People’s Republic of China.

Although International Whaling Commission (IWC) regulations protect western Gray Whales from commercial and aboriginal subsistence whaling, major threats remain throughout their range. These threats include entrapment in Tail fin of Western Gray Whale in Sakhalin. Photo: Yuri Yakovlevset nets, entanglement in other types of fishing gear, as well as noise pollution and oil spills due to offshore oil and gas development.

The signing of the MoU took place during the recent biennial IWC meeting in Portorož, Slovenia. It is hoped that the other western Gray Whale range states will be able to add their signatures once the required internal consultations have been completed.

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Flagship species: how protecting rhinos can help other threatened wildlife

22 September 2014
Rarely seen, yet a potential flagship species according to Bill Konstant
Photo: WWF Indonesia

Marking World Rhino Day, SOS Grantee Bill Konstant, International Rhino Foundation writes this thought provoking article on the role of rhinos as flagship species for conservation.

Flagship species, although not a technical term, is often used when referring to the ability of one threatened species to help drive conservation efforts that also benefit others. It’s most frequently applied to what we to refer to as “charismatic mega-vertebrates” – whales, dolphins, elephants, tigers, gorillas and the like – but there are no hard and fast rules for its use. From a practical point of view, if one threatened species readily draws attention to the plight of others and efforts undertaken on its behalf can help generate support for saving the whole lot, it can be dubbed justifiably as a flagship species for their conservation.

Could Sumatran rhinos be flagship species? Photo: Bill Konstant, IRFThe world’s two rarest and Critically Endangered rhinos – the Sumatran and the Javan – have become flagship species for safeguarding dozens of other threatened Indonesian rainforest animals in the handful of national parks that serve as the planet’s final strongholds for these rhinos. SOS supports protection programmes for Sumatran rhinos in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park and Way Kambas National Park which, together, may hold two-thirds of the species’ remaining populationSiamang: one of several species also found in similar habitat Photo: WCS, currently estimated at no more than 100 animals. Rhino Protection Units (RPUs) operating in Java’s Ujung Kulon National Park are also generously supported by SOS and have helped maintain a zero-poaching level for Javan rhinos for more than 15 years. The world population for this species hovers around 50 animals.

Checking IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species, dozens of other terrestrial vertebrates benefit from RPU efforts in Can charisma make conservation impact? Photo: D.Candra / IRFSumatra and Java. Two of these, the Sumatran elephant and Sumatran tiger, are certainly flagship species in their own right, but the list also includes a host of other significant amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Five Vulnerable species, the king cobra - the world’s largest venomous snake – the crestless fireback pheasant, Asian small-clawed and smooth-coated otters, and the binturong, inhabit all three national parks in which RPUs operate. Several threatened birds also benefit from SOS-supported rhino protection The king cobra could also benefit from the flagship species concept Photo: Hannah Bosse Jonssonprogrammes in two southern Sumatran national parks: the black partridge, blue-banded kingfisher, short-toed coucal, Storm’s stork, Sunda blue flycatcher, Sunda nightjar, Wallace’s hawk-eagle, and white-winged wood duck.

Way Kambas National Park is rich in plant and animal diversity Photo: Inov / IRFIt’s the long list of threatened mammals, however, that truly bolsters the status of both Sumatran and Javan rhinos as flagship species. Among the more prominent taxa, with ranges that overlap those of forest-dwelling rhinos, are fruit bats, spiny and tree rats, flying squirrels, rabbits, civets, pangolins, mouse deer, sambar deer, tapir, Javan banteng, dholes (wild dogs), clouded leopards, Javan leopards, and a host of threatened primates – at least 10 species of tarsier, loris, leaf monkey, macaque, gibbon, and siamang. In northern Sumatra’s Gunung Leuser National Park, where an RPU program is under development, orangutans can also be added to this list.

What’s important to remember is that all these species are threatened with extinction at some level, and they undoubtedly represent many, many more equally threatened freshwater vertebrates, as well as invertebrates and plants from both the terrestrial and aquatic realms.

As Sumatran and Javan rhino populations have suffered centuries of habitat destruction and illegal hunting for their horns, last-ditch efforts to protect these two Critically Endangered flagship species, potentially will have a significant multiplier effect on species survival in this global biodiversity hotspot.

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IUCN calls for immediate action to prevent the Vaquita’s extinction

16 September 2014
The vaquita of the Gulf of California is well on its way to extinction. The cause is bycatch in fishing nets
Photo: Cristian Faezi and Omar Vidal

Despite conservation efforts, numbers of Vaquita, a small porpoise found only in Mexico, have continued to decline, from around 600‐800 animals in the early 1990s to about 100 animals today, according to the latest report of the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA).

The IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Cetacean Specialist Group (CSG) has submitted an official statement to the 65th Meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), drawing attention to the risk of the Vaquita’s imminent extinction.

Following the extinction of the Baiji in the early 2000s, the world is now facing the loss of a second cetacean species, the Vaquita (Phocoena sinus), which is restricted to the northern Gulf of California, Mexico. Vaquitas are dying due to accidental entanglement in gillnets used to capture Totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi), a large fish, whose bladder is a highly prized commodity on the Chinese market. Both the Vaquita and the Totoaba are classified as Critically Endangered on The IUCN Red List.

Dead vaquita porpoises on a beach. Photo: Jesús Camacho“Extinction will occur within the next few years unless gillnet fishing is completely suspended in the Exclusion Zone recommended by CIRVA without delay,” says Justin Cooke, CSG member and Official IUCN Observer to the IWC, “Because of the high‐value illegal international trade in Totoaba, the main target of part of the gillnet fishery, strict enforcement is required.”

The establishment last year of the Advisory Commission to the Presidency of Mexico for Recovery of the Vaquita reflects the serious concern at high levels, but unfortunately the conservation measures taken to date by Mexican authorities and other stakeholders have not been sufficient to halt the decline in Vaquita numbers.

IUCN is therefore urging the responsible authorities to implement the latest CIRVA recommendations without delay, and is calling upon IWC members to provide Mexico with whatever assistance is needed.

Vaquita Photo: © Thomas JeffersonIt is particularly crucial for the governments of the USA and China to increase efforts to prevent the illegal Totoaba trade into or through their territory, noting that the species is listed on CITES Appendix I (which prohibits international trade for commercial purposes), and that the nets used to capture this large fish are known to be deadly for Vaquitas as bycatch.

While the longer‐term solution will likely involve the scaling up of Vaquita‐safe fishing technologies, it is essential that gillnet fishing within the proposed Exclusion Zone be ended now in order to avert the extinction of the species.

The 65th Meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) is being held in Portorož, Slovenia, from 15 to 18 September 2014.


For further information please contact:
Dena Cator, Programme Officer - SSC Network Support or
Olivia Nater, Junior Professional, Global Species & Key Biodiversity Areas Programme


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A Tribute to William L.R. Oliver

15 September 2014
William with a captured Pygmy Hog (Porcula salvania)
Photo: Roland Seitre

It is with great sadness that we have to inform you of the passing of William Oliver on 10 September 2014. William was the former Chair of the IUCN/SSC Wild Pig Specialist Group (previously the Pigs & Peccaries SG and the Pigs, Peccaries, and Hippos SG), which he set up and coordinated for 32 years.

We have not only lost a widely valued conservation activist William with a Visayan Spotted Deer (Rusa alfredi) Photo: Gerardo Ledesmawho spent most of his life fighting for the survival of endangered species, but also a remarkable character in conservation and a very talented artist.

Following a brief period as an animal keeper and education officer at Marwell Zoo, William launched his wildlife career at the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust (now the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust) in 1974. In 1977, he undertook a Pygmy Hog field survey in Assam, India and from then onwards became a passionate conservationist and defender of the plight of wild pigs and other often overlooked taxa in the Philippines, Asia and across the globe. He helped establish the original Pigs and Peccaries Specialist Group in 1980 at the invitation of (the late) Sir Peter Scott, then Chair of the SSC.

William was instrumental in the development, from 1990 onwards, of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Programme with initially as core components the conservation programmes for the Visayan Spotted Deer, the Calamian Deer and the Visayan Warty Pig, carried out under MOAs between the Department of Environment & Natural Resources, Philippines and other conservation partners. Over time the conservation activities expanded to other taxa, other areas and other partners, eventually resulting in the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, committed to the long-term conservation of the Philippines’ native and endemic wildlife and natural habitats. In recent years, William was the Director of Programme Development and Conservation Partnerships for the foundation.

In 1995, 18 years after the formal submission and approval of the first ‘Pygmy Hog Action Plan’, William was instrumental in the establishment of an International Conservation Management and Research Agreement between the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests, India, the Assam Forest Department, the Pigs, Peccaries, and Hippos SG, and the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust and the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme was born. Today, the programme team in India has worked hard on habitat restoration, is running a very successful captive breeding operation in two facilities and has so far managed to reintroduce 85 captive bred hogs in two locations – significant numbers considering that the last naturally surviving population in Manasmay may count less than 200 animals. Recently, William was acknowledged for his work with the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme when he was nominated as an Earth Hero by the Balipara Foundation in Assam, India. William received an award at the inaugural 2013 Balipara Foundation Awards — Recognizing Ecological Best Practices in the Eastern Himalayas. The judges’ decision was based on the “pivotal role that the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme has played in the restoration of an endangered species and its ecological habitat.”

It is no exaggeration to say that William was the founder of wild pig conservation worldwide. It was his life-long dedication and determination to put the conservation of these previously ignored species on the map. William was an extraordinary character who left a lasting impression on all those who met him. He had an incredible grasp of the details of many conservation issues, and yet also had a huge vision. Sometimes William could take a long time to respond to queries, but when he did so he would send the most magnificently detailed and rigorous responses imaginable. His reviewing of the IUCN Red List accounts in 2008 for the Asian pigs and other mammals of the Philippines was exemplary. William could have a fiery temperament and had little patience for bureaucratic obstruction; but no-one ever doubted his total commitment to the conservation cause and to the species he loved. Without him, quite possibly an entire genus, Porcula (the Pygmy Hog), would have been lost.

William was also a very talented wildlife illustrator. His artwork is published as wildlife stamps, book illustrations, awareness posters, logo’s etc. and has been used in the service of conservation for taxa in Asia and across the globe.

Perhaps the best way to remember William is through the words of the colleagues who knew him best:

“Without you, William, these species would never have been put on the conservation map. In particular, you kept the faith with the Pygmy Hog when most of us would have been tempted to give up, and your dedication to this species, and the threatened pigs of the Philippines is an example to us all.”

“Wild pigs (and Philippine species) have lost one of their biggest champions and advocates and we have lost a one of a kind colleague.”

“If we could all make as tangible a contribution to conservation as William did, the world would indeed be in much better shape.”

“A five hour car ride with William would be a most riveting crash course in pragmatic conservation, life and living and the meaning of the universe.”

William will be sorely missed. No doubt the best way to honour him is to keep carrying out species conservation with passion, grit and determination.

Erik Meijaard (Chair, Wild Pig Specialist Group)
Kristin Leus (Deputy Chair, Wild Pig Specialist Group)
Simon Stuart (Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC))

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A good news story unfolds for mantas and sharks

11 September 2014
Reef Manta Ray Ventral Shot, Maldives
Photo: Guy Stevens

What did it take to get here? And what will it take to go further? asks Isabel Ender, Conservation Strategy Manager with the Manta Trust, an SOS Grantee.

She is speaking via Skype from the Maldives but is referring to new CITES regulations taking effect September 14th 2014 which will control the trade in mantas and 5 species of sharks.

In March 2013 at the CITES CoP meeting in Bangkok, scientists, conservationists, organisations and governments brought together enough evidence of the increasing threat these species face and the value of conserving them to achieve inclusion on CITES Appendix II. Change takes time and one must be patient.

There is an 18 month delay from the date species are listed on CITES to legislation coming into force.

This time is critical to ensure countries are informed, trade and custom representatives are trained and all parties, from government to fisheries officers, have the knowledge and tools to control this trade – a challenge almost as large as achieving the listing itself, in which the Manta Trust have played a formative role along with other groups too.

Apart from the conservation priority, economically speaking regulation of the trade in Mantas makes sense.

Sarah Lewis identifying black reef manta rays. Photo: Shawn HeinrichsManta ray tourism globally contributes over US$ 140 million per annum in direct economic impact, however increasing pressure from by-catch and particularly targeted fishery is decimating populations around the world, Isabel explains. Their meat is worth little, yet manta ray gill plates, their prebranchial appendages used for filtering plankton out of the water to feed, have become highly sought after in Asian markets where they are sold as a pseudo-medicinal tonic.

Learning how to identify manta gill plates. Photo: Isabel EnderWhile a CITES Appendix II listing means that manta rays are not necessarily threatened with extinction, trade in these animals must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival. Their slow reproduction, low fecundity and late maturity makes manta ray fishery incredibly unsustainable according to Isabel.

Once the law is effective, if a CITES member country wants to continue trading in manta products, such as gill plates, Printed reference and educational materials distributed to participants. Photo: Isabel Enderstrict requirements need to be fulfilled. Countries will need to apply for a permit, show proof of data and conduct a thorough scientific assessment that gives evidence that this trade is not detrimental to the population. In most places this will be very difficult or impossible to achieve.

Recently Isabel participated in a regional CITES implementation workshop organised by the PEW Charitable Close up with manta gill plates. Photo: Isabel EnderTrust in Colombo, Sri Lanka - a trip funded by the SOS grant. Representatives from governments, departments of environment, conservation and fisheries from 13 different countries were present, ranging from Taiwan and Pakistan to Indonesia and the Seychelles.

The Manta Trust contributed all aspects related to teaching about the need for conserving manta rays up to identifying species and distinguishing between dried manta and mobula ray gill plates. Included was a trip to the Negombo Manta ray. Photo: Bartosz Cieślakfish market to give participants the chance to see these species and experience first hand how they are landed.

Overall, it was successful, endowing attendees with the tools and improved skills to help implement and enforce the pending CITES regulation through hands-on learning.

Effective wildlife conservation is often about people’s attitudes and skills sets and always about timing. The conservation success story of these shark and ray species has only really begun. The workshop in Colombo is one of many frontline activities across the world that will take place to educate and prepare people to help support CITES regulation but also to conserve our natural heritage using other means and tools.

Please show YOUR support and join the celebration on September 14th sharing the good news for these amazing species and inspiring conservationists worldwide that significant change can come if we work together.

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Cultural Cooperation and Markhor Conservation in Gilgit-Baltistan

10 September 2014
Markhor in Tree
Photo: WCS Pakistan

In some ways conservation of the Endangered Markhor (Capra falconeri) in northern Pakistan is complicated by geography according to SOS Grantee Mayoor Khan, Progamme Manager with WCS Pakistan. Tapping into the spirit of community that transcends the region’s physical and cultural borders is key.

In fact community-based conservation is the only way to protect Markhor across most of their range in Pakistan as they are primarily found in parts of the country where local people own and control their resources, including the wildlife, explains Mayoor.

The region is a critical catchment and source of water for hundreds of millions of disadvantaged people across Pakistan as a major part of the Indus River watershed. Protecting and sustainably managing natural resources in this province has important repercussions across the country and the region. But it is also an area of intense instability and conflict.

Markhor Photo: WCS PakistanFiercely independent communities live in a rugged, mountainous landscape, which means that many parts of Gilgit-Baltistan continue to function as essentially autonomous regions. In February 2012, sectarian violence killed a number of people across Gilgit-Baltistan followed by a government-mandated lock-down which stopped most work and travel anywhere in the region for weeks.

Despite issues with natural resource management, isolated communities and social unrest, the project’s longstanding and uniquely close relationships with the multiple sects and tribes across the region has led to the creation of a vibrant community based conservation programme across a broad swath of Gilgit-Baltistan. According to Mayoor, the diversity includes Sunni, Shi’ite, and Ismaeli sects, and within those sects including tribes such as Shin, Yashkun, Gujar, Kamin, Kohistani, Soniwall, Shinaki, Burushaski, Wakhi, Syed, Kashmiri, and Pathan.

Community Wildlife Ranger Survey for Markhor Photo: WCS PakistanThe ability to build grassroots environmental governance institutions, and then link them with both the provincial and national government bodies, has been critical in building stronger ties between government and civil society explains Peter Zahler, WCS Asia Programme Deputy Director.

Natural resource conservation (unlike many other topics) is a politically and culturally shared value in northern Pakistan – forests, wildlife, water, and soils are what these rural people depend upon and consider part of their lives, livelihoods and cultures. The act of working together to find common solutions to a common threat results in the discovery of shared values, which unites groups and influences and increases social change that can encourage a culture of peace.

Through the programme’s focus on natural resource conservation, the project team has built critical links within and across communities that provide a safe forum to discuss common solutions that will promote mutual understanding and positive attitudes. This has helped create indigenous civil society organizations that are now sustainably managing their resources in a collaborative, negotiated manner. This work spans religious and tribal entities – and their differences – to enable and encourage communities to work together to find common solutions to these conflicts.

Using markhor as a flagship species, the project helps bring disparate elements of communities together Photo: WCS PakistanUnderstanding cultural relationships with respect to the natural environment sounds straightforward. This project illustrates such diversity presents considerable challenges at an operational level. Effective conservation work requires community involvement in such cases as well as time and expertise.

This is why SOS selected this project and why it is important to keep supporting SOS so that we can continue to find and select the best projects that offer sustainable prospects for species conservation.

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Extinct snail re-discovered in Seychelles

05 September 2014
Aldabra Banded Snail (Rhachistia aldabrae)
Photo: C. Onezia, Seychelles Island Foundation

A field expedition on Aldabra Atoll, Seychelles, has resulted in the re-discovery of the Aldabra Banded Snail (Rhachistia aldabrae), which was declared extinct in 2007. This snail was locally abundant in the 1970s but its numbers fell rapidly, likely due to the increasing frequency of dry years on Aldabra as a result of climate change. The last time a living individual of the species was recorded was in 1997.

Aldabra Banded Snail (Rhachistia aldabrae) Photo: C. Onezia, Seychelles Island FoundationThe snails were found again on 23 August 2014 in dense mixed scrub of a little-visited part of Aldabra by the keen eyes of Junior Skipper Shane Brice of the Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF). “I was bush-bashing through the scrub when I spotted a mysterious snail that I’d never seen before on the island,” says Shane, “I was very excited!”

“This exciting news shows that you do not need to be a highly qualified scientist to make interesting discoveries,” says Aldabra Banded Snail (Rhachistia aldabrae) Photo: C. Onezia, Seychelles Island FoundationDr Mary Seddon, Chair and Red List Coordinator of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Mollusc Specialist Group. “As they are small and well camouflaged, landsnails can survive in small crevices and deep within undergrowth, and hence may be re-found after long periods when they are believed to be extinct.”

On searching the area further, the SIF team located several individuals, including juveniles, which was encouraging as Aerial view of Aldabra Photo: Foto Natura 2005these young snails are considered to be particularly vulnerable to desiccation as a result of reduced rainfall and had not been recorded since 1976.

“I thought deep down, surely it can’t be the endemic snail!” says Catherina Onezia, SIF Senior Ranger and Assistant Training Officer. “I only dared to believe it once I checked it out back at the office”.

The team were exploring infrequently visited parts of Malabar Island, Aldabra’s second largest island, when the snails were found. One of the aims of the field expedition was to document all of the invertebrates observed, but the team never dreamed that they would make such a find. The snails are unmistakeable, with beautiful elongated deep purple shells lined with bright pink bands. Identification of the snails has also been confirmed by mollusc experts Dr Vincent Florens of the University of Mauritius and Seychellois naturalist Pat Matyot.

There is still very little known about the ecology of this rare snail but the re-discovery provides a second chance to protect and study this species in the wild and ensure that it is not lost again. Aldabra is one of the largest raised coral atolls on Earth, with an area of approximately 150 km², most of which lies only 1-2 m above sea level. Climate change impacts such as sea level rise and drought continue to be major threats throughout the snail’s range. Aldabra was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982 and is managed and protected by the Seychelles Islands Foundation.

The atoll is a refuge for many other threatened species including the world’s largest populations of Aldabra Giant Tortoises (Geochelone gigantea) and one of the largest congregations of nesting Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas) in the Indian Ocean.

The re-discovery of the Aldabra Banded Snail provides a beacon of hope. “Despite major global environmental threats like climate change, this discovery shows that investments into protecting unique island biodiversity are well-placed,” says Dr Frauke Fleischer-Dogley, SIF CEO.

For further information, please contact Ms Rowana Walton, Communications Officer at the Seychelles Island Foundation:

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West Africa’s Crocodile Conservationists in Training

03 September 2014
The African slender-snouted crocodile
Photo: John Thorbjarnarson

Digbé, Zoh, Monet, and Irie awoke one February morning not realizing their professional lives were about to change forever. They were the crocodile keepers at the Abidjan National Zoo (ZNA) but from that day they were transformed into crocodile conservationists thanks to SOS grantee Dr. Matt Shirley, team leader with Project Mecistops.

Despite working with crocodiles on a daily basis, they had never even touched a crocodile before Matt showed up. But he was eager to change all that, convinced training and guidance, could help the keepers better manage their charges.

Previously, the typical day involved cleaning up public spaces, guiding visitors and feeding the crocodiles or cleaning their enclosure. With 53 large, semi-aggressive crocodiles packed into a small space there was little room to manoeuvre safely for untrained personnel. Consequently, the enclosures nor the animals could be cared for effectively. But the keepers were interested and enthused by Matt’s hands-on approach with such powerful predators.

ZNA keeper team after two long days working hands-on with all the zoo's crocodiles. Photo: Matthew H. ShirleyUnder his guidance, for two days, this new crocodile team led the entire ZNA keeper staff to safely capture, measure, assess the health of, and implant microchips into 39 Critically Endangered West African slender-snouted crocodiles (Mecistops cataphractus) ranging from 2.4 – 3.3 meters and weighing 150 – 382 kilogrammes. That’s a lot of reptile. Additionally, they moved 14 adult West African crocodiles (Crocodylus suchus) into a new, single-species enclosure, giving both species much needed reprieve.

Following the baptism by fire, prospects opened up. ZNA crocodile team leader Digbé became the first African recipient of the Behler Scholarship and attended the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums “Crocodile Biology and Captive Management” school at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm (SAAF), Florida, USA. Specialist crocodile keepers from SAAF, San Diego Zoo, Albuquerque BioPark, and the Smithsonian Institute also visited the ZNA to help Zoh, Monet, and Irie become West Africa’s only specialist crocodile keepers.

According to Matt, the team now enters the crocodile enclosure every morning, ensuring the crocodiles are habituated to their presence, removing trash, and augmenting the leaf litter substrate required for nest construction. The once defensive bamboo poles are now used in target and station training to better manage food distribution and conduct regular visual health inspections. And, as a result, the Abidjan city government and the national Wildlife Directorate now regularly call upon the ZNA crocodile team to assist with nuisance crocodile issues.

Thanks to the passion of supporters including the Ivorian First Lady, Mme. Dominique Outtara, and the tireless rehabilitation efforts of the Project Mecistops team, the ZNA is leading the zoo revolution and setting new standards for animal care in West Africa according to Matt. Furthermore, armed with new skills and new passions, the ZNA crocodile team is working through Project Mecistops to ensure the ZNA becomes a working West African model of the linkage between in- and ex-situ conservation.

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