Asia Update : Good news for threatened dolphins

Lipotes vexillifer

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Good news from Arkive 

*** Learn From Nature Factsheet on dolphins 


Three new wildlife sanctuaries have been declared by the Government of Bangladesh, in the hope that they will help to prevent the extinction of the threatened Irrawaddy and Ganges river dolphins.

Threatened dolphins

Freshwater dolphins are among the most threatened species of dolphin in the world, with the enigmatic Yangtze river dolphin, or baiji, now believed to be extinct. It is hoped that the three new sanctuaries, which are located in the world’s largest mangrove ecosystem, will help to prevent the last two remaining species of freshwater dolphin in Asia from suffering a similar fate.

The sanctuaries will cover a total area of almost 11 square kilometres, which includes 31 kilometres of channels. The size and location of the sanctuaries was determined using scientific findings from a study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Bangladesh Forest Department.

Ganges river dolphin imageGanges river dolphin

Declining numbers

While there are currently no estimates of the global population of the Irrawaddy and Ganges river dolphins, they are believed to be in decline and to have disappeared from major parts of their historic range. Entanglement in fishing gear and the depletion of their natural prey are thought to be contributing factors.

Director of WCS’s Asian Freshwater and Coastal Cetacean Program, Brian D. Smith, said, “Declaration of these Wildlife Sanctuaries is an essential first step in protecting Ganges River and Irrawaddy dolphins in Bangladesh. As biological indicators of ecosystem-level impacts, freshwater dolphins can inform adaptive human-wildlife management to cope with climate change, suggesting a broader potential for conservation and sustainable development.”

Baiji imageThe baiji is thought to be extinct

Dolphin hotspot

Bangladesh is believed to be a hotspot for marine mammals, and houses the world’s largest population of the Irrawaddy dolphin, with nearly 6,000 individuals being discovered in 2009. As well as protecting these fascinating creatures, it is hoped that the sanctuaries will also provide refuge for many other species, including the Asian short-clawed otter and the masked finfoot.

For the full story, read the WCS article: Bangladesh Helps Threatened Dolphins Stay Afloat.

View images and videos of dolphin species on ARKive.

Rebecca Moran, ARKive Species Text Author

Source :

Tourists to use cameras to help save Tasmanian devil

English: A road sign in Tasmania alerting driv...

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From the Guardian









Link to my factsheet

Walkers are joining forces with conservationists to help bring the Tasmanian devil back from the brink of extinction. In a unique tourism experiment, guests on guided walks through Tasmania‘s remote Tarkine rainforest will help scientists track local populations of the Australian island state’s most iconic creature by collecting data from 45 motion-sensing cameras set up along the trails.

The world’s largest surviving carnivorous marsupial is endemic to Tasmania, and the pristine wilderness in the island’s north-west corner is one of the last areas to remain untouched by an aggressive facial cancer that has obliterated overall devil numbers by more than 80% over 15 years. The size of a small dog with powerful jaws, the animal was thought to live only in dry, coastal or open woodland. But the discovery of a thriving and disease-free population in Tarkine’s dense rainforest offers scientists a valuable new opportunity to study their behaviour in the wild and develop a better understanding of how the disease is spread.

“Contrary to common assumption, we’ve known for years that there are devils living in rainforest, and now we’ve got the proof,” said Mark Davis, owner of Tarkine Trails, whose guides retrieved the first two months’ worth of images from the cameras, which they’ll continue to service with memory cards and batteries throughout the year. “Every single camera we placed caught images of devils and not one has displayed signs of the facial tumour disease, which is a huge relief. Along with our walkers, our guides act as field researchers where it has previously been too expensive to conduct research.”


The decade-long Tarkine Devil Project is being funded by the Tasmanian government as part of a broader rescue programme begun in 2003 that includes captive breeding of immune animals, habitat management and laboratory research into the disease. First identified in 1996, Devil facial tumour disease causes growths around the mouth that hinder the animal from feeding, so it eventually starves to death. The mysterious and rare form of contagious cancer is thought to spread through the devils biting each other while squabbling for food.

Until the late 1990s, Tasmanian devils were commonly found all over the island. But the illegal introduction of the red fox, increased road traffic accidents and the rapid spread of facial cancer have seen its numbers plummet to just 10,000, with the species being declared in 2008 as endangered. Once seen as a threat to livestock and prized for its pelt, only official protection in 1941 stopped the devil from being hunted to extinction – a fate that had already befallen its close relative the Tasmanian tiger (or thylacine) in 1936.

Source :

Wildlife trade : Animal smuggling in Bangkok

A man has been arrested in Thailand, attempting to smuggle 50 snakes onto a plane. It is the latest in a series of exotic animal seizures at Bangkok international airport.

Authorities at Bangkok‘s Suvarnabhumi Airport found this baby tiger cub stuffed among toy tigers in the suitcase of a woman flying to Iran

animal smuggling: A baby tiger cub

Climate change : Could kill one in 10 species by end of the century!

Proportion responding that global warming is a...

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Climate change is speeding up the rate at which animals and plants are becoming extinct. By the end of the century, one in 10 species could be on the verge of extinction because of the effects of global warming, a study has found.

The findings support the view that the earth is currently experiencing a global mass extinction where the rate at which species are being lost is many times greater than the historical extinction rate. It is the sixth great mass extinction in the history of life on earth. Scientists said that previous predictions of how fast species are being lost because of climate change match the actual observed losses. They calculate that around 10 per cent of species alive today could be facing extinction by 2100.

Ilya Maclean and Robert Wilson, of the University of Exeter, examined nearly 200 previous predictions about how climate change may affect the extinction of species and compared them with about 130 reports of changes already observed.

The aim was to judge the accuracy of estimates made by scientists in the past about climate change predictions in relation to species extinction. They concluded that the observed threats matched well with the actual threats, based on real observations.

“We tried to see whether predictions were backed up by things that have already happened and this was what we found,” Dr Maclean said.

Rising temperatures, changing patterns of rainfall and increasing acidity of the oceans are all having an impact on the viability of vulnerable species. In the oceans, for instance, rising acidity threatens the survival of the polyp organisms that make coral reefs while increasing temperatures are sending some mountain species of plants and animals to higher altitudes.

“Our study is a wake-up call for action. The many species that are already declining could become extinct if things continue as they are. It is time to stop using the uncertainties as an excuse for not acting. Our research shows that the harmful effects of climate change are already happening and, if anything, exceed predictions,” Dr Maclean said.

“The implications are that unless we do something to reverse climate change impacts by lowering levels of carbon dioxide, or help species cope with climate change, we could be looking at a lot of extinctions by the end of the century. It’s further evidence that we are experiencing a global mass extinction,” he said.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that global warming ranks alongside habitat loss and invasive species as a major threat to endangered animals and plants. It concluded that the speed at which the climate is likely to change in the future threatens to overwhelm the rate at which species are able to adapt.

“By looking at such a range of studies from around the world, we found that the impacts of climate change can be felt everywhere, and among all groups of animals and plants,” said Robert Wilson, the study’s co-author.

“From birds to worms to marine mammals, from high mountain ranges to jungles and to the oceans, scientists seem to have been right that climate change is a real threat,” Dr Wilson said. “We need to act now. This means cutting carbon emissions and protecting species from the other threats they face, such as habitat loss and pollution.”

Turtles now world’s most endangered species

COMMENT: I recently visited another the Chinese city of Kungming where anyone can buy a tiny ‘cute’ turtle swimming around inside a tiny plastic bowl… It’s a toy. But read on, in THE INDEPENDENT today…

Turtles and tortoises are now the most endangered group of vertebrate animals, with more than half of their 328 species threatened with extinction, according to a new report.

Their populations are being depleted by unsustainable hunting, both for food and for use in traditional Chinese medicine, by large-scale collection for the pet trade, and by the widespread pollution and destruction of their habitats, according to the study Turtles In Trouble, produced by a coalition of turtle conservation groups.

The result is that their plight has never been greater, and the world’s 25 most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles will become extinct in a few decades without concerted conservation efforts, the report says.

Asia is the worst affected region; of the 25 most endangered turtles, more than two thirds (17) are from Asia, a result of decades of massive exploitation. “For example, in just one market in Dhaka, Bangladesh, close to 100,000 wild caught turtles are butchered for consumption during a one-day religious holiday each year,” the report adds.

It goes on: “Furthering the problem is a lucrative international black market trade in pet turtles and tortoises that has escalated prices of some of the more rare species into the tens of thousands of dollars. Rumours even exist that some of the rarest Asian species are now commanding prices in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The world’s 328 species are divided into 263 fresh water and terrestrial turtles, and 58 species of tortoises (plus seven sea turtles which are not covered in detail by the report). With up to 54 per cent of the total considered threatened, turtles and tortoises are at a much higher risk of extinction, the report says, than other vertebrates such as birds, mammals, sharks and rays or even amphibians – which are usually considered the most endangered grouping.

“Turtles are disappearing fast and we are dealing with one of the most significant wildlife crises of our lifetime,” says Rick Hudson, President of the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) Several species are down to just a handful of remaining individuals.

No. 1 on the list is the Pinta Island tortoise, one of the Galapagos tortoises species that contributed to Charles Darwin’s theories on “natural selection”. Sadly, only a single male of this species, “Lonesome George”, remains alive today, and the report comments: “Ironically, Darwin and other travellers often ate many of the islands’ tortoises and released rats, goats and other animals, which significantly contributed to their decline.”

Close behind is the Red River giant softshell turtle of China and Vietnam, weighing more than 250lbs with a shell more than three feet long. With only four animals left, the stakes have never been higher. Some species are in danger of disappearing before scientists even find out where they live. Zhou’s box turtle (the 6th most endangered) has occasionally appeared in the turtle markets of China, but to date no one has located a wild population.

The report, Turtles in Trouble, can be downloaded at the link below.

Five under threat

Sulawesi forest turtle This semi-aquatic animal is endemic to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi and was originally used in Chinese food in the early 1990s. Habitat destruction has reduced the forest cover on which it depends for survival.

River terrapin With males exhibiting striking seasonal breeding colours, these unusual and attractive turtles have now all but vanished.

Ploughshare tortoise One of the rarest tortoises in the world, there are now only a few hundred left in Madagascar.

Roti island snake-necked turtle This freshwater turtle is found on the tiny island of Roti in south-eastern Indonesia.

Geometric tortoise This small species is found in low-lying sandy areas of the Western Cape in South Africa.


Three-quarters of the world’s reefs at risk

Representatives from ZSL’s Conservation and Living Collections teams on Thursday participated in the launch of the Reefs at Risk Revisited report launch.

Coral at ZSL London Zoo© ZSL – James Godwin
Dr Heather Koldewey, ZSL’s International Marine and Freshwater Conservation Programme Manager, said ‘This report provides an invaluable compilation of the latest and most comprehensive data set on the world’s coral reefs.
These data support ZSL’s position that we are in imminent danger of losing most of our coral reefs over the next 30-50 years unless there is a rapid and global action. ZSL is committed to such action through diverse programmes that span from grass roots initiatives like EDGE Coral Reefs, to our international policy work supporting GLOBE’.

In the 10 years since the first Reefs at Risk analysis, threats have increased by 30 percent. This includes recent impacts from climate change which causes rising ocean temperatures and coral bleaching.

The most immediate and direct threats arise from local sources, which currently threaten more than 60 percent of reefs (about 150,000 sq km of reefs). Local threats include overfishing, destructive fishing, coastal development and pollution.

Unless steps are taken to reduce local pressure and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, the percent of threatened reefs will increase to more than 90% by 2030 and to nearly all reefs by 2050.

Most vulnerable

The report identifies 27 nations most vulnerable to coral reef degradation and loss in the world (of 108 reef countries assessed). The nine coun¬tries most vulnerable to the effects of coral reef degradation, due to high dependence on coral reefs and low adaptive capacity, are: Haiti, Grenada, Philippines, Comoros, Vanuatu, Tanzania, Kiribati, Fiji, and Indonesia.

The report makes 60 recommendations for action. ZSL’s coral reef conservation efforts respond to many of these, including supporting and implementing effective marine protected areas (in Chagos and the Philippines through Project Seahorse), building conservation and management capacity in coral reef nations (EDGE Corals, Project Seahorse), supporting the most vulnerable countries (e.g. Philippines through Project Seahorse) and influencing policy (Climate Change programme; GLOBE Action Plan for Coral Reefs).

The report was led by the World Resources Institute, along with the Nature Conservancy, the WorldFish Center, ICRAN, UNEP-WCMC, and GCRMN. One of the report’s authors, Dr Allison Perry, is a former member of the Project Seahorse team.,796,NS.html

The full report can be downloaded at

It’s time humans stopped to consider Earth’s health

From Michael McCarthy in The Independent today

I wasn’t suggesting for a second that anyone should go hungry; but I was suggesting there will be serious consequences for the planet of this intensification, and of many other aspects of the exploding scale of the human enterprise, as it threatens to overwhelm the Earth’s natural systems in the decades to come.

Are there any limits on what humans can do? Asked rhetorically, the question invites the smiling, triumphant answer, No!, complete with happy-clappy exclamation mark. But to ask it the other way – that is, to ask it simply, in all seriousness – seems to me something that doesn’t happen any more. In fact, the absence of this question seems to be a great gap at the heart of our current creed, which we might term liberal secular humanism, as we approach one of the climaxes of human history, which is the coming clash between humans as a species, and the Earth which is our only home.

I wrote about this three weeks ago, asking how much room there will be in the 21st century world for non-human creatures, using as an example the future fate of insects, which may well have to be sacrificed wholesale, if intensive farming has to be doubly intensified to feed nine billion people by 2050. I wasn’t suggesting for a second that anyone should go hungry; but I was suggesting there will be serious consequences for the planet of this intensification, and of many other aspects of the exploding scale of the human enterprise, as it threatens to overwhelm the Earth’s natural systems in the decades to come. There was an animated reader response to this, so I should like to return to it.

Climate change is only the most dramatic (and controversial) of these consequences. There are many others visible already, about which there is no dispute, ranging from the worldwide collapse of fish stocks to the disappearance of wildlife abundance from the British countryside. Liberal secular humanism certainly acknowledges these disturbing trends; it is greatly concerned about them, shakes its head sadly and strives to prevent them; but what it does not do, is put the whole picture together.

It does not allow the conclusion to which the rapidly increasing degradations of the natural world are all pointing: that a fundamental conflict is looming between the Earth and Man (I use the term in the biological sense of the species Homo sapiens).

This failure to recognise the fundamental nature of the clash will, at the very least, greatly handicap our response to it. I think it arises from our current creed’s greatest failing, its deficit of spirituality, by which I mean a failure to see existence as anything other than human-centred. Liberal secular humanism, which you could argue has been our belief system since the Second World War, has a single, honourable aim: to improve human welfare. It wants people everywhere to be happy, and free from want and fear and disease, and to live fulfilled lives.

What it doesn’t do is allow that there might just be a problem, an intrinsic problem, with people as a species. That is absolute anathema.

You can understand why: poverty is terrible enough without suggesting that people as a whole are in some way flawed. Yet for the Greeks, the founders of our culture, this idea was central to their morality.

There was a continual problem with Man. Man was glorious, almost God-like, and continually striving upwards; yet only the Gods were actually Up There, and if Man tried to get too high, as he often did, the Gods would destroy him. The Gods represented Man’s limits.

The principal fault of Oedipus in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, remember, was not that he murdered his father and married his mother; those were incidentals of his fate. His real fault was that he thought he knew everything, he had answered the riddle of the Sphinx, he was Mr Clever. The Gods showed him that he wasn’t (and in the greatest of all tragic ironies, he puts out his eyes to punish himself for having been blind to his true situation, which now he can see).

In the modern consensus, in liberal secular humanism, this spiritual view of Man of having limits, of not being able to do everything he chooses, and of potentially being a problem creature, is missing entirely. There is no trace of it whatsoever. Still less, of course, is there any trace of the more recent, Christian version of it, which is Original Sin. Just the opposite: in our current creed, Man is not Fallen, Man is Good; so, as they used to say of General Motors and America, what’s Good for Man is necessarily Good for the Planet.

Except that it isn’t. What’s Good for Man may wreck the planet, and with the mushrooming expansion of humans numbers, increasingly seems likely to. Yet so forceful is our creed that it stamps on the very formation of the thought that Man may be the Earth’s problem child. Suggest it and you will be met with a sigh, and a knowing chuckle; or even more likely, indignant confrontation. So the fundamental conflict which is coming between Us and the Earth, this major moment of history, which evidence everywhere increasingly points to, is not recognised in our dominant belief system; and thus is not addressed.

We humans have always thought ourselves different in kind from other creatures, principally for our use of language and our possession of consciousness. There is another reason, which is becoming clearer; we are the only species capable of destroying our own home (which you might think of as Original Sin in its ecological version).

It seems to me that moral account needs to be taken of this, in the heart of what we believe and understand about ourselves; all the indignant denial of it – as the noble struggle continues to raise so many people from misery to decent life – will not prevent it from being so.