Category Archives: Wildlife

WILDLIFE : Beaver and bison among European species making a comeback

From the Guardian : Beaver, bison and eagles are among the species that have made a successful comeback in Europe in the past 50 years, according to a major survey published by a coalition of conservation groups on Thursday.

The report selected 37 species that have showed signs of recovery, studied changes in their numbers and range since 1960, and examined the reasons driving their comeback.

Of the species that live or have been reintroduced to the UK, three species of geese, the common crane, red kite, white-tailed eagle, seal, deer, wild boar and beaver all showed signs of recovery.

But the report, Wildlife Comeback in Europe, which features contributions from the Zoological Society of LondonBirdLife International and the European Bird Census Council and was commissioned by Rewilding Europe, cautioned that despite these success stories, biodiversity is still being lost around the world.

It found that numbers of the Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber), once widely distributed but reduced to 1,200 individuals at the beginning of the 20th century due to hunting and habitat loss, have seen a 14,055% increase in population since 1960 to around 337,500 individuals today. With the help of hunting restrictions and reintroduction schemes, the species has also expanded its range by 650% across the continent, and is now found in at least 25 countries, including the UK.

European beaver (Castor fiber)

Numbers of the Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) have seen a 14,055% increase since 1960. Photograph: blickwinkel/Alamy

The European bison (Bison bonasus), the largest herbivore in Europe, became extinct in the wild in the early 20th century due to severe hunting pressure and habitat loss. After a large-scale breeding and reintroduction programme, wild populations have been re-established in areas of central and eastern Europe, with strongholds in Poland and Belarus. The population now totals nearly 3,000 individuals, and has increased by 3084% since 1960.

Targeted conservation projects were behind many of the comebacks, the report said. Prof Jonathan Baillie, ZSL director of conservation, said the findings represented a major success given that biodiversity continues to decline worldwide: “It’s really refreshing to see that these recoveries are actually the result of targeted conservation efforts. We’re seeing increased legislation, and directly in response, we’re seeing species comeback. We’re seeing commitments to leaving space for nature, and in turn we’re seeing improved status of species. So the conditions and conservation actions on the ground are working, and that’s extremely promising.”

Of the 18 mammals surveyed, only the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) is still declining, with a decrease of 84% since 1965 and only 279 individuals thought to remain in the wild.

Of the 19 species of bird studied, the biggest population increase was the individual numbers of the Svalbard breeding population of the barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis). Its population size has increased by 7,650% since 1947 due to reduction in hunting pressure and improved site protection.

The white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), one of the largest birds of prey in the world, has made an impressive recovery following dramatic declines and extinctions in many countries between 1800 and 1970. Following legal protection, the European population grew from less than 2,500 pairs in 1970 to 9,600 pairs in 2010, and the species has recently recolonised parts of its former range in northern and central Europe. The Spanish imperial eagle has also increased significantly by 734% rise in breeding pairs since 1974.

Biodiversity 100 UK: White-tailed eagleWhite-tailed eagle. Photograph: Pal Hermansen/Getty Images

“The legislation and the policy frameworks that are in place have enabled spectacular recoveries in the species that we looked at. For example, bird species increased by 5% per year and doubled their population size within 15 years once the conservation actions were put in place,” said Christina Ieronymidou, European research assistant, Birdlife International.

Analysis shows that while the 37 species studied have all increased in abundance since the 1960s, there is great variation between species and regions, with an increase in red kites of less than 10%, but more than 3,000% for the European beaver. Mammal increases were the greatest in southern and western Europe.

As well as conservation efforts by governments, individuals and NGOs, measures including actively boosting existing or setting up new animal populations, reduction in hunting pressure, protection from persecution and the phasing out of toxic chemicals were also key to species recovery, the report found.

The wildlife comeback is not limited only to the wildlife species that are presented in this study, the authors said, there are many more showing similar patterns of recovery.

But the report warned that despite the return of this impressive number of European birds and mammals, biodiversity is still being lost. “The results of this report must be viewed in the context of large historical declines. For carnivores like the Eurasian lynx and grey wolf, and many bird species including the red kite, distributions and abundances had already declined dramatically from their historical levels by the mid-20th century. Wildlife resurgence must therefore be assessed cautiously, as many species have not yet reached the level necessary to secure sustainable populations,” the report said.

Frans Schepers, managing director of Rewilding Europe, said the report showed that wildlife could bounce back if humans allowed it. “With continued and strong legal protection, active boosting of existing wildlife populations and reintroductions to bring back lost species, combined with an increasing tolerance towards wildlife, more species will surely follow.”

Schepers said the report was commissioned in 2011 to find out how species recovery could boost his organisation’s efforts to “rewild” huge areas of Europe. With five huge initiatives already under way in Spain/Portugal, the eastern and southern Carpathians, the Danube delta and the Velebit Mountains in Croatia, it aims to rewild 1m hectares of land by 2020, creating 10 areas in different geographical regions of Europe made up of different habitats and species, where nature would be allowed to take its course.

Their efforts to create space for nature is being helped by the rate at which agricultural land is being abandoned, he said, where it is being returned to suitable habitat for many species and providing economic benefits in the form of tourism and ecosystem services.

“Rewilding would allow people to create businesses and shift from a marginal, subsidised-based agriculture to a local wildlife-based economy. There are millions of hectares of land that are being abandoned in Europe as we speak and this has been happening for decades. Research shows that between 12 and 18 million hectares of land will be abandoned in Europe by 2030, where people don’t want to live and agriculture is marginal. This is a historic opportunity,” he said.

Top five mammal increases

Beaver 14,055% increase since 1960

European bison 3,084% since 1960

Grey seal 893% since 1977

Pyrenean ibex 855% since 1960

Southern chamois 537% since 1970

Top five bird increases

Barnacle goose Svalbard population 7,650% increase since 1947; Russia/Baltic 4,506% since 1951 and Greenland 875% since 1960

Pink-footed goose Iceland/Greenland population 4,056% increase since 1951

White-headed duck 3,368% increase since 1975

Spanish imperial eagle 734% increase since 1974

Common crane Western European population 650% increase since 1977

The olinguito – discovered, then extinct…?

From the Guardian The newly named mammal may well already be on the road to extinction. And its cuteness will not offer much protection

‘The arboreal olinguito surely owes part of its news value to its forward-facing, appealingly baby-like eyes.’ Link to video: Olinguito: the newly discovered mammalWelcome to the world, olinguito, the first new carnivore to be discovered in the western hemisphere for 35 years. I just hope this isn’t going to be a brief acquaintance. Sadly, given our track record, you might do well to beware Homo sapiens bearing binomials (in this case, Bassaricyon neblina, the latter being Spanish for “fog”). Once they’ve got you named, it can be a brief window between identification and disappearance, as 20th-century discoveries such as the okapi (1901) and the coelacanth(1938), both now reduced to threatened status, found out.

Extinction can be a frighteningly speedy process, as the dodo, Steller’s sea cow, the great auk, and the passenger pigeon discovered. Being cute (the olinguito has been described as a cross between a house cat and a teddy bear) doesn’t help either – just ask the giant panda. Biologists decry our fixation on “charismatic megafaune”, pointing out that for every cuddly polar bear there are 10 insects of equal environmental importance and concern. Yet such is our anthropomorphic tendency to recreate the natural world in our own image; the arboreal olinguito surely owes part of its news value to its forward-facing, appealingly baby-like eyes.

It may be a cliche that what you observe you also destroy, but, sadly, the olinguito’s fellow creatures in obscurity have found it to be true. Take thethylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, a chimeric marsupial mash-up with the legs of a kangaroo, the stripes of a big cat and the head of a dog. It lived safe in its island fastness – until European settlers came along. A letter from William Paterson, the lieutenant governor of Van Diemen’s Land, written in 1805, reported an animal “of a truly singular and nouvel description … of a species perfectly distinct from any of the animal creation hitherto known, and certainly the only powerful and terrific member of the carniverous [sic] and voracious tribe yet discovered on any part of New Holland or its adjacent islands”.

Such a dramatic diagnosis – Paterson saw the thylacine as wolf-like in appearance and habits – sealed the beast’s fate. Hunted for its apparent threat to the sheep industry (in fact, it wasn’t a pack animal at all), by 1850 Reverend John West was reporting that “it is probable that in a very few years this animal, so highly interesting to the zoologist, will become extinct; it is now extremely rare, even in the wildest and least frequented parts of the island”. By the 1930s, the last thylacines were languishing in London and Hobart zoos, making their final public appearances in forlorn moving images.

Meanwhile, across the Tasman Sea, the 4m high moas of New Zealand had long since been hunted to extinction by the Maori when they were identified in 1844 from fossil remains by Richard Owen, namer of the most famous of all extinct beasts, the dinosaur. Even now, New Zealand may be about to witness a new extinction, that of the tiny Maui’s dolphin. Only identified in 2002, its numbers are down to just 55, which are increasingly prey to trawling and gillnet entanglement, and they are unlikely to survive the century.

With barely one-quarter of the species in the world’s oceans so far identified, many marine animals may be going extinct, even before we give them names. Last year a mother and calf pair of whales stranded on New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty, were found to be rare spade-toothed beaked whales. Amazingly, no one has ever seen these deep-diving, cryptic animals alive.

The forest and the ocean may be the last resorts of the undiscovered, but imposing names on animals is a symptom of our supposed dominion – one that began with religious myth, continued in Enlightenment rationality and proceeded via exploration to exploitation. Catalogued, indexed, tagged and tracked, wild animals must be encompassed in our schemata, giving up their mystery in the process. The olinguito isn’t new – it was there all along. Science may yet protect it; but how long will it be before it ends up caged in a street market, or its body parts prized for their aphrodisiac qualities? Welcome olinguito. Now get back up that tree.

‘BBC Wildlife’ loses a key player with heart

 

AUG13_BBC Wildlife

 

 

BBC Wildlife editor Sophie Stafford was very personable, who made the top nature magazine accessible to mainstream readership and actually replied to you in person! She will certainly be missed by this writer…. 

BBC Wildlife Magazineone of the world’s most prestigious natural history titles, announces that its next three issues are to have special guest editors as the magazine continues its search for a permanent editor following the departure of Sophie Stafford in June.

 

 

TV presenter and naturalist Chris Packham takes the reins of the August issue, which is on sale now, followed in the September issue by Mark Carwardine, zoologist, photographer, conservationist, BBC TV presenter and regular contributor to ‘BBC Wildlife Magazine’. The October issue will be guest edited by Steve Backshall, TV presenter, adventure naturalist and writer. Each guest editor will be invited to shine a spotlight on some of the wildlife topics closest to their hearts and will present that month’s magazine though the editor’s letter.

 

Jemima Ransome, Publisher of ‘BBC Wildlife Magazine’, commented: “We’re thrilled to be working with such a fabulous line-up of wildlife aficionados and I’m sure our readers will be as delighted with their input as we are. It’s a great opportunity to introduce different viewpoints into the magazine and I’m looking forward to the new editor taking up the gauntlet thrown down by these three experts.”

 

The exciting collaborations follow the departure of Sophie Stafford, who recently stepped down as editor of ‘BBC Wildlife Magazine’ to pursue other interests and a freelance career. The magazine is currently recruiting for a new editor to lead the title, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, to new heights.

 

Good news and bad : Lynx back from the brink | Russia and Ukraine block marine reserve…..

A lynx born in captivity is released into the wild in Andalusia, Spain

A lynx born in captivity is released into the wild in Despeñaperros natural park, Andalusia, Spain. Photograph: Agencia EFE/Rex Features

THE GOOD NEWS (source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment)

Ten years ago the Iberian lynx was nearing extinction but today, thanks to an imaginative conservation programme that has brought hunters, farmers and the tourist industry under its wing, its numbers have tripled from 94 to 312.

“We can’t claim victory yet but now there is hope,” said Miguel Ángel Simón, the director of the programme for the recovery of the lynx in Andalusia, southern Spain. Only five years ago the animal was classified as critically endangered.

The project, which is jointly funded by the Andalusian government and the European Union, has been singled out for the second time by the EU as an exemplary conservation programme. Brussels is funding 40% of the €26m (£22m) needed to extend the project into the neighbouring regions of Extremadura, Castile-La Mancha and Murcia, as well as Portugal.

According to Simón, when they first carried out a census in the lynx’s key habitats in the Sierra Morena and the Doñana national park, not only were there few lynxes but the rabbit population had also been severely depleted by disease. Rabbits are the lynx’s main source of food.

Simón says they began breeding lynxes in captivity in case they became extinct in the wild.

When the current project was launched in 2006 the Andalusian government worked with farmers and hunting clubs and persuaded them that saving the lynx was in everyone’s interest.

Lynx-spotting has become a tourist attraction in the area; as well as creating 31 full-time jobs, forestry work carried out under the programme has provided much-needed work for hundreds of small businesses in the area. Unemployment in Andalusia is running at nearly 37%.

The second phase of the programme involved trying to expand the narrow gene pool of the lynxes in the Doñana region. Lynxes from the Sierra Morena were released into the area and, thanks to the efforts of one male in particular, nicknamed Caribou, last year 61% of new-born lynxes in Doñana were descended from Sierra Morena animals. In May 2014 the third phase of the programme will begin, introducing animals into Portugal and other regions.

 

THE BAD NEWS

Russia and Ukraine look likely to block a plan to create two huge marine reserves off the coast of Antarctica that combined would be bigger than the area of all the world’s protected oceans put together.

The 25-member Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) meets in Bremerhaven, Germany, on Thursday to discuss the proposal to create the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Ross Sea, off the east coast of Antarctica. A decision, expected on Tuesday, would require unanimous agreement.

 

The proposal, backed by the US, New Zealand, Australia, France and the EU, would designate an area 13 times the size of the UK as one in which natural resource exploitation, including fishing, would be illegal. Advocates say the MPAs would provide environmental security to a region that remains relatively pristine.

 

Publicly, delegates and environmental NGOs have expressed optimism that the meeting will be a success. But a senior source at the meeting said the attitudes of Russia and Ukraine as they entered were looking negative.

 

The debate highlighted a rift between “pro-[fish]harvesting countries” and those who style themselves proponents of conservation, such as the US, Australia, New Zealand and the EU, according to Alan Hemmings, a specialist in Antarctic governance at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.He said: “You would put Russia and the Ukraine near the top of the states that are likely to be concerned about marine protected areas in the Antarctic on a large scale, along with China, Japan and, on and off, South Korea.”

 

“There’s a tug of war between those who want to establish conservation management and those who want to keep working with smaller-scale fisheries management,” said Steve Campbell, campaign director at the Antarctic Ocean Alliance. But he expressed “quiet optimism” that the proposals would be passed, if not at the meeting in Germany, then at the next annual meeting in Hobart, Australia later in the year.

 

The US and NGOs have been lobbying countries who expressed reservations at the last CCAMLR meeting. NGOs and delegates reported that China, South Korea and Japan looked likely to support the proposals.

 

Many countries have valuable fisheries in the region, particularly forpatagonian toothfish and krill. Andrea Kavanagh, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts Southern Ocean sanctuaries, said defining the boundaries of the reserves to balance ecology and economic interests would represent a challenge to negotiations.

 

Additionally, a sunset clause for the reserves, proposed by Norway and supported by Russia and Japan, would mean the protected status of East Antarctic and Ross Sea reserves would have to be renewed in 2064 and 2043 respectively. Campbell said reserves with time limits were highly unusual.

 

“Precedent tells you that if you set up a protected area, you set it up for an indefinite period of time. If you set up a national park in a country, you designate it in perpetuity.” He said the potential for fishing and other resources in the future was driving the push.

 

“It’s not just about what’s there now, it’s also about what could be a future economic interest or a future interest in the region,” said Campbell.

 

The extraordinary session in Bremerhaven was arranged after the last annual meeting of CCAMLR in November, 2011 failed to reach a consensus on the MPAs. At the time Russia, China and Ukraine expressed concerns at a lack of available science in favour of the reserves. The decision was taken to reconvene this summer with the agenda solely focused on the proposals.

 

Green groups expressed dismay at last year’s inaction. They were joined by delegates from the USA, UK, EU and Australia who feared that CCAMLR had lost its proactive attitude to conservation.

 

At the end of the 2011 meeting, the Ukraine delegation said well-grounded scientific arguments were lacking. They said MPAs were only one approach to managing an ecosystem and that “only fishing, at least at some level, can guarantee that research is conducted” to monitor fish stocks.

 

“Russia was of the view that previous scientific committee advice was related to only some aspects of MPAs and that all available information needed to be considered,” said the Russian delegation.

 

Russian and Ukraine declined to comment further on this week’s meeting.

WILDLIFE : Conserving Top Predators Results in Less CO2 in the Air

From ENN : What does a wolf in Yellowstone National Park have in common with an ambush spider on a meadow in Connecticut? Both are predators and thus eat herbivores, such as elk (in the case of wolves) and grasshoppers (in the case of spiders). Elk and grasshoppers also have more in common than you probably imagine: they both consume large quantities of plant matter. While scientists have long-known that predators lead to carbon storage by reducing herbivore populations, a new study reveals a novel way in which top predators cause an ecosystem to store more carbon.

The paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found that by forcing herbivores to be more vigilant, carnivores indirectly reduce the grazing pressure on the plants. If you are a grasshopper and there are spiders in the area, you are definitely not grazing while you are looking out for them.

Interestingly though, the plants respond too. When not under attack by grazers, they start growing faster and wasting less carbon in respiration. A field experiment on Connecticut grasslands demonstrated that in the presence of predators that scare off the herbivores, plants absorbed and stored up to 40% more carbon in their bodies.

“The results provide some new food for thought about how we might use animals to manage carbon release to the atmosphere,” explains Professor Oswald Schmitz from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and one of the authors of the paper.

Grasslands make up around 40% of Earth’s landmass so the presence of predators in such systems could have a marked influence on carbon cycling. Yet we are losing top predators at a disproportionate rate. Ecologists used to think that animals mattered little to whole ecosystem functioning, but these new results—along with a flood of research in recent years—force them to think differently about the way ecosystems are controlled.

“Predators often get a bad rap… How many people kill spiders in their home without a second thought? What we’ve found is that you need to consider the larger role these predators play in ecosystems,” says Professor Michael Strickland, the lead author of the paper.

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