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 on: Feb 23, 2017, 06:43 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Deep sea life faces dark future due to warming and food shortage

New study reveals negative impact of climate change, human activity, acidification and deoxygenation on ocean and its creatures

Nicla Davis
Thursday 23 February 2017 07.01 GMT

The deep ocean and the creatures that live there are facing a desperate future due to food shortages and changing temperatures, according to research exploring the impact of climate change and human activity on the world’s seas.

The deep ocean plays a critical role in sustaining our fishing and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, as well as being home to a huge array of creatures. But the new study reveals that food supplies at the seafloor in the deepest regions of the ocean could fall by up to 55% by 2100, starving the animals and microbes that exist there, while changes in temperature, pH and oxygen levels are also predicted to take their toll on fragile ecosystems.

The situation, the authors note, is exacerbated by drilling for oil and gas, dumping of pollutants, fishing and the prospect of deep-sea mining.

“We need to wake up and start really realising that [with] the deep ocean, even though we can’t see it … we are going to be having a huge effect on the largest environment on the planet,” said Andrew Sweetman, the co-author of the research from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. “It is pretty scary.”

Published in the journal Elementa by an international group of scientists from 20 research institutes, the study describes how the team harnessed a number of climate models to explore how oceans around the world are set to change over the 21st century.

“We wanted to look at how all of these combined stressors – warming, enhanced acidification, reduced food supply to the sea floor, deoxygenation – would work together to impact the ocean,” said Sweetman.

The results reveal that the future for the deep sea is bleak.

By 2100 ocean conditions will have changed dramatically, say the authors, with so-called bathyal depths (waters reaching roughly 200 metres to 3,000 metres in depth) in the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic Oceans increasing in temperature by up to 4C. The seafloor of even deeper ocean regions, known as abyssal depths ranging from 3,000 metres to 6,000 metres deep, could increase in temperature by up to 0.5C to 1C.

Warming oceans are expected to result in lower oxygen concentrations, with levels predicted to fall in bathyal seafloor habitats by up to 3.7%. But even small changes, said Sweetman, could have a large impact, resulting in disruptions to fragile ecosystems that exist on the fringes of regions with very low oxygen.

Rising levels of carbon dioxide, says the study, will cause waters to become more acidic – a situation that is likely to be disastrous for organisms with shells, such as molluscs, as well as corals, while fish and other creatures will also be affected.

Concentration of organic matter in the deep ocean is also expected to drop dramatically by 2100, reducing the amount of food available for organisms that thrive at such depths. But food is already scarce. “The food supply these animals derive energy from in the abyss at 4,000-metre depths is equivalent to a sugar cube per square metre per year,” said Sweetman.

The worst hit, say the authors, will be the Indian Ocean, whose depths are expected to experience a drop in available food of up to 55%. “The only way the ecosystem is going to respond is by some animals dying off,” said Sweetman.

While the team note that in some regions of the world’s oceans temperatures may cool, the impact is still expected to be negative.

“Animals living on the deep sea floor are relatively isolated from environmental change,” said Sweetman. “Most of the animals have adapted strategies for living under constant environmental conditions where the oxygen doesn’t change over hundreds of years, the temperature doesn’t change over hundreds to thousands of years.”

Given the large changes expected to occur by the end of the century, Sweetman said, “It is very unlikely that they are going to be able to adapt.”

As far as is known, Sweetman said, change is happening faster than at any previous point in geological history. “The rate of change is so dramatic that we run the risk of severely disrupting the deep ocean – which covers most of the planet’s surface,” he said.

The authors point out that human activity in the oceans is likely to make matters worse, citing a rise in fishing and the dumping of pollutants as well as the burgeoning interest in deep-sea mining. “Many of the areas that will be targeted for resource extraction lie in areas that will be most heavily impacted by climate change,” the authors note.

Adrian Glover, an expert in deep oceans from the Natural History Museum in London who was not involved in the research, welcomed the study.

“It must be stressed, however, that actual data on changes in deep-sea ecosystems are extremely scarce,” he said. While the study offers clear evidence that climate change will affect temperature, acidity, and other factors, “It is still in the realms of speculation as to what the impact would be on biodiversity, for example,” said Glover.

A key challenge, Glover said, is to conduct studies to explore the current state of the deep sea and the creatures that live there. “To observe and monitor changes in our deep oceans, we need a vastly improved library of biodiversity information – a baseline upon which to measure change – and new scientific programs for understanding the fundamental ecology of the deep sea.”

 on: Feb 23, 2017, 06:41 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Wildlife ranger killed in Zambia leaves behind seven children

Rodrick Ngulube was shot by poachers in West Petauke game management area, after rangers discovered carcasses of a warthog and zebra

Jeremy Hance
Friday 17 February 2017 15.16 GMT

At 7am on 12 February, 37-year-old wildlife ranger Rodrick Ngulube was gunned down by poachers in Zambia’s West Petauke game management area. Ngulube and fellow rangers had been tracking seven poachers since the night before when the incident occurred. The slain ranger is survived by his wife and seven children.

The sound of a gunshot the day before had set off the team of six rangers, including Ngulube, to track down its source. Forced to give up the search when it got dark, the team picked up the poachers’ trail again the next morning until they discovered the carcasses of a warthog and zebra.

“As they were trying to search the area they heard a gun shot and a scream from one of the rangers. When they reached [Rodrick Ngulube] for possible first aid, it was too late,” said William Soko, chair of the Game Rangers’ Association of Zambia.

The poachers who killed Ngulube remain at large, but the government of Zambia said it is pursuing them.

The tourism and arts minister, Charles Banda, told local reporters that ZAWA’s (Department of National Parks and Wildlife) rangers should not lose heart over the death. “I urge the officers not to give up, but step up their patrols,” he said. “Government will do everything possible to supplement the efforts that you are putting in to combat the crime that seems to be on the upswing.”

Located in the Luangwa Valley, West Petauke game management area covers more than 4,000 square kilometres and is home to many iconic African species. While considered a conservation area, West Petauke is also open to trophy hunting, including for elephants, lions and leopards. Zambia initiated a ban on trophy hunting in 2013, but lifted it 20 months later due to a loss in revenue, according to authorities.

As the illegal wildlife trade – targeting everything from elephants and rhinos to pangolins and lions – decimates animal populations worldwide, rangers in many countries put their lives on the line every day. The Thin Green Line Foundation, which supports the families of rangers who have lost their lives, says 112 rangers were killed in the line of duty in 2015 worldwide.

Of course, the human toll of this wildlife war includes poachers as well, many of whom are killed in firefights with the rangers protecting endangered species. Some parks, such as Kaziranga in India, have initiated the controversial policy of shooting poachers on sight.

Officials have returned Ngulube’s remains to his home village where it was buried.

 on: Feb 23, 2017, 06:38 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
EU set to ban raw ivory exports from July

Exclusive: Leaked documents indicate that the European Union is now preparing a full ban of raw ivory
Three tons of seized illegal ivory was destroyed in Paris in 2014.

Arthur Neslen
Wednesday 22 February 2017 14.54 GMT

The EU is set to ban raw ivory exports from 1 July as it struggles to deal with what was almost certainly another record year of ivory seizures across the continent in 2016.

Europe sells more raw and carved ivory to the world than anywhere else, feeding a seemingly insatiable appetite for elephant tusks in China and east Asia.

Although the international ivory trade has been largely banned since 1990, European vendors are legally allowed to export ivory “harvested” before that date, whether raw – whole tusks, ivory chunks or scraps – or worked by carving, polishing or engraving.

Traffickers can infiltrate this legal market by, for example, using falsified or forged internal EU trade certificates to pass their poached ivory off as lawful produce. These papers may serve as the basis for re-export certificate applications from Europe to east Asian countries, particularly China and Hong Kong.

But a draft EU guidance document seen by the Guardian indicates a possible 1 July date for an export ban on unprocessed ivory to “make sure that tusks of legal origin are not mixed with illegal ivory”.
'What can I do to help elephants?'
Read more

Heirlooms, cultural artefacts and scientific and educational specimens would be partly exempted from the EU’s trade embargo.

The sanction would also not affect worked ivory items or the EU’s internal tusk trade, although rules would be tightened.

However, the political signal sent by the export ban was warmly welcomed by campaigners, after similar moves to squeeze the bloody trade in China and the US.

Catherine Bearder, the Liberal Democrat MEP whose wildlife crime report proposing a total ivory ban won overwhelming backing in parliament last year, said: “Blueprints are only as good as the actions that follow them so I am delighted that the commission is rolling up its sleeves to get on with the job. This really is a hopeful development.”

Both 2014 and 2015 saw record spikes in the European ivory trade, with re-export volumes surpassing those of the previous eight years combined.

The picture darkened further last year with 2,972 kilos of ivory confiscated in just four large seizures across Europe – compared with 554 kilos and 1,043 ivory carvings taken in 2015, according to the respected German conservation group, Pro Wildlife.

“2016 has definitely been a record year for ivory seizures in the EU,” Daniela Freyer, Pro Wildlife’s co-founder told the Guardian. “There is also clear evidence of illegal ivory being traded within the EU. The EU needs to take responsibility and finally ban its own ivory trade as well as all exports. Its continued inactivity is threatening to undermine trade bans by other key players such as China and the US.”

The European commission said it was likely that a new record had been set in 2016, and confirmed that a ban on raw ivory exports would be introduced this summer.

Its guidance paper, which could change, also instructs EU states to exercise “maximum scrutiny” and “increased vigilance and controls” when dealing with permitted ivory transactions.

A commission spokesperson said: “As a further step, the Commission is ready to examine the rationale for and possible design of further restrictions on [the] export of worked ivory and intra-EU trade in ivory. This assessment would take place in the second half of 2017.”

For conservationists, this holds out the possibility of a comprehensive and watertight EU trade prohibition, as the 29 countries of the African Elephants Coalition urged earlier this month.

Bearder, a former antiques trader herself, said: “Until you have a complete ban, you’re not going to stop the ivory trade. All sorts of ivory is being shipped and sold – knife handles, snooker balls – so that it can be reworked, and that is creating the market. We will not protect elephants until everyone knows that you cannot trade in ivory.”

High profile hauls in 2016 netted 744 kilos of ivory in Spain last May, 470 kilos in three separate raids in France, and the largest ever cache of tusks in Austria’s history – weighing 564 kilos – in November.

That smuggling ring was reportedly broken up when police found a man trying to sell tusks on the streets of Vienna to a well-known boxer.

1,200 kilos of ivory with a street value of over €1m was seized in a record haul from a Vietnamese gang operating close to Berlin’s Schoenfeld airport and in a workshop in Koblenz last September.

The police investigation is still ongoing and senior German officials are not ruling out the possibility that other east Asian crime gangs may still be operating in the country.

“We hope not, but you can never say never,” Elsa Nickell, the director general of the German environment ministry told the Guardian. “We were taken by surprise by this big seizure. It was absolutely unexpected and we were lucky with it. But we will be keeping our eyes on this in the future.”

Officials believe that the smugglers based themselves close to the airport to easily launder their contraband, disguise its origins, and evade law enforcement agencies.

Frank Barsch, the German government’s Cites representative, suggested that the smugglers may also have been anticipating China’s moves to more strictly limit its ivory market.

“These workshops were equipped with milling machines and handsaws, suggesting that they were cutting the tusks and ivory pieces into suitable sizes for transport,” he said. “But no machines for fine artworking were found, so we believe that the end processing of the ivory was supposed to happen in the destination countries.”

Germany has banned raw ivory exports with dimensions greater than one kilo – or 20cm in length – since 2014, and is now a leading player in Brussels talks aimed at implementing the EU’s action plan to tackle wildlife crime.

“Anything on the market can be used for laundering the illegal stuff,” Nickell said. “That’s why we are trying to get everything off the market, even the pre-[Cites 1990] convention raw and manufactured ivory: to tighten every loophole, and to close the ivory market down.”

Conservation groups dispute this. Freyer said: “The German government presents its position as shutting down all loopholes, but in practice its proposals would leave the door open for trade in worked ivory. The smugglers will walk through this door.”


Elephant conservation: 'What can I do to help elephants?'

Climate change, poaching, competition for food and water … elephants have never faced such threats. Here are more than 50 ways to give them a helping hand. Can you add to the list?

23 February 2017 13.00 GMT

There is so much being done to help stop elephants being wiped out in the wild. We’ve identified more than 50 campaigns and organisations around the world, from well-known charities like the World Wide Fund for Nature to grassroots groups like Elephanatics in Canada and Laos-based ElefantAsia. If you think we’ve missed anyone or anything, let us know at elephant.conservation@theguardian.com. We’ll update the list with your suggestions.

Please note, however: presence on this list does not constitute an endorsement. Organisations take differing approaches to elephant conservation, and even the most secure-looking can run into financial difficulties. As a conscientious giver it is your responsibility to make sure your contribution will be used wisely.

Set up petitions, organise marches, lobby politicians or just spread the word: there are a number of ways in which you can campaign and really make an impact. There are many inspiring grassroots groups that do amazing work; why not join one of these, or set up your own if there’s none in your country?

    Petitioning can be a useful way to impress on politicians that there is widespread support for an issue. In the UK a petition to end the domestic ivory trade got over 100,000 signatures and forced a debate in parliament.
    Lobbying politicians sounds like a big job; in fact politicians in many countries are very willing to listen to voters. In Canada Elephanatics has been working with MP Mike Farnworth, who has now introduced a private member’s bill calling for a ban on the sale of ivory and rhino horn. Search out sympathetic politicians and then support them with petitions and letters to other MPs.
    Marches and demonstrations can show support for policy that will protect elephants. Groups in over 130 countries including Kenya, New Zealand and the US organised local demonstrations as part of the annual Global March for Elephants and Rhinos last year.
    Educating people about the situation for elephants can be very effective. Youth 4 African Wildlife in South Africa offers a conservation internship for young adults and also runs a great community outreach programme.
    Get creative A group of photographers and writers published a book (called 32 Souls, because Laotians believe that elephants and humans have 32 life spirits that guard us from misfortune and ill health) to raise money for the Elephant Conservation Centre in Laos.

Action for Elephants

In the UK, Action for Elephants has organised marches and talks to highlight the importance of banning the ivory trade. This grassroots group also campaigns against keeping elephants in captivity.

Bloody Ivory

Even though 179 countries have signed up to Cites, the UN’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the illegal trade in wild animals remains a multibillion-dollar industry. The Bloody Ivory campaign aims to put pressure on Cites to do more to prevent poaching and ivory trafficking. Its online petition to tackle the black market in ivory has 56,000 signatures (and counting) and will be presented at the next Cites meeting in 2019.


Based in Vancouver, Canada, Elephanatics aims to raise awareness of the poaching crisis and ensure the long-term survival of elephants through education, conservation and fun activities like the annual global march for elephants and rhinos.


Inspired by her childhood in Africa, Joyce Poole has been studying elephant behaviour and communication for more than 30 years. She has a particular interest in how poaching and habitat destruction affects herds’ social dynamics. Through ElephantVoices, which she founded in 2002, Poole campaigns for elephants and promotes research and conservation projects, while providing others with the resources they need to do the same.

Great Elephant Census

Conducting the first pan-African aerial survey of elephant populations in 40 years and covering 345,000 square miles across 18 countries, this ambitious project set out to count and map Africa’s savannah elephants. The final report, published last year, showed a 30% fall in numbers over the last seven years. While the census itself is complete, the organisation is now using its database to help governments, scientists and NGOs manage and protect elephant populations.

International Fund for Animal Welfare

Committed to bringing an end to animal poaching and trafficking, IFAW campaigns for the bolstering of wildlife trade policy with supranational organisations such as the UN and the EU, while helping to train customs agents and wildlife rangers. It also investigates online crime.

Join the Herd

This offshoot of WildAid – one of the largest conservation groups working to eliminate demand for wildlife products such as elephant ivory and rhino horn – is responsible for the #JoinTheHerd campaign. Showing your support is as easy as uploading a photo of yourself – which the website then stitches to one of an elephant – and sharing the resultant image on social media, with the #JoinTheHerd hashtag.

The Nature Conservancy

This non-profit aims to fight ivory trafficking on every front, training rangers, supplying sniffer dogs, working to make ivory less prestigious … Responsible for the #SaveElephants social media campaign, it also provides plenty of highly shareable pictures for your own activities.

Ninety-Six Elephants

Named after the 96 animals killed for their ivory every day in Africa, this offshoot of the Wildlife Conservation Society works to highlight the plight of elephants and supports organisations caring for them around the world. Campaigns include Origami for Elephants (“create your own customised digital origami elephant”) and the #ElephantYogaChallenge (“You can help save elephants with yoga”).

Save the Asian Elephants

Putting pressure on politicians both at home and overseas is a powerful way to effect change. Save the Asian Elephant provides template letters and contact details for top-ranking officials, including the British prime minister, Theresa May, and India’s minister for tourism, Dr Mahesh Sharma, which you can use to urge them to follow through on their promises to protect Asian elephants.

Scotland for Elephants and Rhinos

A grassroots organisation dedicated to raising awareness about the ivory trade and the fate of elephants across Africa. It offers a space to share knowledge, lobby government and join marches.

Stand Up for Nature

Founded by two zoology students from the University of Exeter, this little organisation focuses on producing short films that target a wildlife crime or human-wildlife conflict issue. These are then shown to affected communities through a bicycle-powered cinema. In Malawi, Stop Wildlife Crime, Protect Malawi’s Wildlife, about elephants and the illegal ivory trade, was shown to more than 14,000 people.

Wildlife Trade Campaign

This World Wide Fund for Nature initiative is focused on ending Thailand’s ivory trade – once the world’s second largest – and has already enjoyed much success. In 2015, its efforts helped the Thai government to pass new regulations, while last year’s Ivory-Free Thailand campaign enlisted the help of local celebrities to discourage consumers from buying or accepting gifts of ivory.

World Elephant Day

Launched by the World Elephant Society, which creates and distributes educational information about elephant conservation, World Elephant Day (12 August) asks elephant-lovers the world over to share their appreciation of these endangered animals.

Youth 4 African Wildlife

Youth 4 African Wildlife works with young people in the hope that they’ll become global conservation ambassadors. It offers conservation internships for people from all over the world, and also raises awareness through community outreach in the greater Kruger National Park area in South Africa.

If you want to help elephants and have time to spare, these organisations want to hear from you. Some offer hybrid travel and volunteering experiences that will let you interact with elephants in their own habitat. Others need assistance with campaigns or administration. As always, make sure you understand their aims and approaches before signing up.

Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary

Set in the lush countryside of Thailand’s northern Mae Chaem district, this sanctuary serves as a retirement community for some of the country’s 4,000-plus registered captive elephants, which have endured long lives of hard graft and exploitation, predominantly within the tourism and logging industries. Tasks for volunteers range from feeding and bathing the animals to teaching English to local children.

Cambodia Elephant Sanctuary, Globalteer

With stays at the charity’s Cambodian elephant sanctuary lasting anywhere between one and four weeks, a good level of fitness is a must, as volunteers are expected to spend much of their time hiking through the Mondulkiri province’s mountainous terrain. Activities include observing the elephants in their natural habitat and planting seedlings to counteract deforestation.

Elephant Conservation Center

Elephants in Lagos are traditionally used in logging and worked to the point of exhaustion. The Conservation Center is home to the country’s first elephant hospital dedicated to victims of logging accidents, and has an elephant breeding programme. Reliant on donations and fees from volunteers, the centre invites visitors to learn about elephants and the importance of conservation in their natural environment.

Go Overseas (various projects)

A useful starting point for any well-intentioned volunteer who doesn’t quite know where to start. There are dozens of opportunities across Africa and Asia to choose from, including data collection and research projects in Thailand, community outreach and wildlife education programmes in South Africa, and hands-on caretaking roles in a Sri Lankan elephant sanctuary.

The Great Projects (various projects)

Human-animal conflict is one of the greatest threats to some of the world’s most at-risk elephant populations. The Great Projects links volunteers to conservation efforts in Asia and Africa; these include protecting the Namibian desert elephants – whose slowly recovering numbers were as low as 300 in the 1990s – by working with the local farmers, who frequently come into violent contact with the animals.

Save the Elephant Foundation

Dedicated to protecting the Asian elephant, Save the Elephant Foundation provides a safe home for rescued elephants in its Elephant Nature Park in Chang Mai, Thailand. It invites volunteers and visitors to spend time with the animals, feeding, bathing and giving them care and affection in their natural habitat.

Saving Elephants by Helping People, Worldwide Experiences

One of the largest human-elephant conflict resolution projects in the world, this scheme run by the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society sees volunteers muck in across a wide variety of tasks. Daily activities might include observing elephant herds, identifying game trails, developing a dialogue with local communities, or maintaining the scenically situated base camp in north-western Sri Lanka.

    Suggestions? Comments? Email us at elephant.conservation@theguardian.com

Giving money may seem the easiest way to help a cause you believe in. But deciding which organisation to donate to can be a daunting task. Some will use the money across their programmes, while others will let you back specific projects.

Be sure to check that the organisation is legitimate and fits your objectives. Study its website, check its credentials and search the web to learn about its reputation and status. In addition to government regulators, these organisations provide advice for charitable giving: Charity Navigator, GuideStar, Charity Watch and GreatNonprofits.

Back a Ranger, World Wide Fund for Nature

The rangers who risk their lives to prevent wildlife poaching and trafficking make little money and often spend months at a time away from their families. A guaranteed 100% of donations to this WWF-run initiative fund the equipment and infrastructure they need to do their jobs effectively and safely.

Born Free Foundation

For more than 30 years Born Free has been working to keep wildlife in the wild. You can support its work by (symbolically) adopting either orphaned Asian elephant calf Jubilee, or African elephant Emily Kate, who now has a calf of her own. The welcome pack includes a cuddly toy and personalised adoption certificate.

Elephant Crisis Fund

Since its creation three years ago, this joint initiative between Save the Elephants and the Wildlife Conservation Network has channelled donations to the areas where elephant populations are collapsing the quickest, and the projects on the ground best placed to do something about it. Its celebrity-backed anti-ivory campaign in China played a vital role in changing policy in the country.

Elephants Action League

With donations funding information-gathering operations and deep-cover field investigations, the EAL adopts an intelligence-led approach to uncovering and disrupting the criminal networks behind poaching and ivory trafficking.

Environmental Investigation Agency

As well as using specialist investigators to infiltrate the criminal organisations profiting from the exploitation of wildlife, the EIA runs evidence-backed campaigns to advocate for meaningful policy change at a governmental level. Investigations typically cost between £10,000 and £20,000 and rely on donations from the public.

International Elephant Foundation

Rather than paying into a pot that the charity will redistribute as it sees fit, this foundation allows donors to choose a specific programme and guarantees that 100% of their donation will reach their intended recipients. There are more than 20 research and conservation projects to choose from, including the Mounted Horse Patrol Anti-Poaching Unit for Mount Kenya.

International Fund for Animal Welfare

As well as its own investigative and policy work, the IFAW partners with media organisations around the world to raise awareness of the illegal ivory trade and the destruction it causes. Donations help to fund future media campaigns and awareness-raising projects.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

From elephants and tigers to chameleons and carnivorous plants, this research project run by the International Union for Conservation of Nature is aiming to gauge the health of the world’s biodiversity by assessing 160,000 species by 2020. It’s almost halfway there. Donations will support this ongoing research as well as supporting on-the-ground conservation projects.

Japan Tiger and Elephant Fund

Elephants and tigers play vital roles in the ecosystem, and JTEF aims to raise awareness of their importance. It has several programmes to support conservation work, and reduce Japanese demand for wildlife products.

The Thin Green Line

It’s not just elephants and other wildlife that are at the mercy of the poachers’ weapons: more than 1,000 park rangers are estimated to have been killed in the past decade simply for standing in their way. This Australian-run foundation seeks to “protect nature’s protectors” by providing training and vital anti-poaching equipment, while also offering financial support to the families of those killed in the line of duty.

Wild Philanthropy

Wild Philanthropy supports at-risk ecosystems and communities in Africa through grants to NGOs that are involved in managing protected areas. It also provides secured loans to local eco-tourist businesses..

World Animal Foundation

As an all-volunteer organisation, the WAF uses every penny donated to help secure the longevity of animals and the delicate ecosystems that they inhabit. To show your support for elephants specifically – rather than the plethora of protected species ranging from fireflies to fish – you can symbolically adopt one for $35 (£28) a year.

World Animal Protection

When elephants come into contact with farmland, they can wreak havoc and destroy livelihoods by eating or crushing crops. Many farmers respond by setting out poison or taking other extreme measures. World Animal Protection works with communities to come up with simple and sustainable solutions that allow humans and elephants to coexist, such as the introduction of chilli fences in Mikumi National Park in Tanzania.
Focus on African elephants

Air Shepherd

Most poaching takes place after dark, when rangers aren’t around. This initiative from the Lindbergh Foundation runs drone operations at night in collaboration with local rangers. With thermal imaging sensors, it can locate wildlife as well as poachers, and position rangers before an incident takes place. In two years of testing in a park in South Africa that had been losing 18 rhinos a week, not one animal was lost. Air Shepherd has now conducted around 5,000 missions, across South Africa, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

African Parks

Stepping in where local governments are unwilling or unable to act, African Parks manages 10 national parks in seven countries, taking complete responsibility for the day-to-day management and preservation of 6 million hectares of protected land. Already employing 600 rangers – the largest counter-poaching force on the continent – it aims to increase its conservation operation by 2020 to 20 parks and more than 10m hectares.

African Wildlife Foundation

The communities who share their land with elephants are best placed to conserve their natural heritage, but they often lack the means to do so. The African Wildlife Foundation recruits, trains and equips wildlife scouts from these areas, providing employment opportunities to local people and creating a large and effective poaching deterrent in the process.

Amboseli Trust for Elephants

Renowned wildlife researcher and conservationist Cynthia Moss has been studying elephants in the Amboseli National Park, straddling the Kenya-Tanzania border, since the early 1970s. She founded the Amboseli Trust for Elephants after seeing elephant populations in Kenya plummet by an estimated 85%. As well as groundbreaking scientific research, the trust conducts extensive community outreach programmes with the local Maasai community. One such scheme compensates anyone who has lost livestock to elephants, which has more than halved the number of animals speared and killed in retribution.
Illustration: Sarah Tanat-Jones

Big Life Ranger Club

Policing the 2m acres of elephant habitat in the Amboseli-Tsavo-Kilimanjaro region of east Africa takes courage and dedication, with wildlife rangers spending weeks in remote outposts, putting their lives at risk every day. The Big Life Foundation employs hundreds of Maasai rangers, providing them with field units, vehicles, tracker dogs and aerial surveillance. You can support their efforts by joining the Ranger Club with a one-off or monthly donation.

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Fostering Programme

An elephant calf depends on its mother’s milk for the first two years of its life. So when one becomes orphaned – often because its mother has fallen foul of ivory poachers – the calf’s life hangs in the balance. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust fosters, feeds and rears these orphaned calves, eventually reintroducing them to the wild in the Tsavo East National Park. To date, 150 calves have been saved in this way.

Elephants Alive!

A research-based organisation that began life as Save the Elephants – South Africa, Elephants Alive! has been monitoring one of South Africa’s largest continuous elephant populations for over 20 years. It believes that extensive knowledge of elephants’ movements and needs is vital to ensure their long-term survival.

Elephant Aware Masia Mara

An offshoot of the Wildland Conservation Trust, this non-profit organisation works with Maasai communities in Kenya to help elephants and other wildlife.

Elephants Without Borders

On the banks of the Zambezi river, where Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe share a border, lies the town of Kazungula, from where Elephants Without Borders (EWB) runs its transnational conservation operation. African elephants regularly cross these international boundaries, leaving them at the mercy of changeable policy and conservation laws. Using state-of-the-art monitoring technology, EWB tracks their movements and works with the local authorities to create safe migratory corridors through which the elephants can move freely.

Friends of Hwange

In Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, elephant and other wildlife populations are at risk from bone-dry summers as well as from humans. In 2005, a particularly devastating drought saw scores of animals lose their lives. On the back of this disaster, Friends of Hwange was formed to pump water from underground sources, providing waterholes even in the most extreme conditions.

GRI Wildlife Crime Prevention Project

Zambia sits at the heart of southern Africa, surrounded by four countries identified by Cites as centres of ivory poaching and trafficking. The Game Rangers International Wildlife Crime Prevention Project works with conservation organisations and law enforcement to end the illegal wildlife trade in and through Zambia.

Lilongwe Wildlife Trust

Malawi is one of the poorest, and fastest-growing, countries in the world, which is putting its natural habitat under severe strain. In 2008 the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust launched its first project, the Wildlife Centre, as a sanctuary for rescued animals and an education centre. The NGO now works across the country in rescues, advocacy and conservation education.

PAMS foundation

Based in Tanzania, PAMS Foundation works in conservation to benefit both wildlife and the community. Its initiatives include training dogs to detect ivory being smuggled at borders, and supporting the Tanzanian government to undertake anti-poaching efforts.

Save the Elephants

The elephants of northern Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve are some of the best studied in the world, thanks to the work of Save the Elephants. The charity’s main research centre is located in Samburu, from where it once pioneered the GPS tracking of elephant populations, and continues to try to understand ecosystems from an elephant’s perspective. Donations go towards various research and protection projects, from anti-poaching aerial surveillance to better understanding the herds’ migratory movements.

Space for Giants

Poaching is the immediate threat. But there is another, perhaps even more serious threat to Africa’s elephants: the loss of their habitat as economies grow and land competition surges. Space for Giants is pioneering efforts in Kenya, Gabon, and Uganda to lessen human-elephant conflict with specially-designed electrified fences, and spends a lot of time working with local communities explaining why fences help.

Tears of the African Elephant

This Japanese-Kenyan NGO is best known for its “No Ivory Generation” campaign, aimed at changing Japanese consumers’ attitudes to ivory.


Tusk has invested about £30m in 60 conservation projects across Africa since its founding in 1990. Education and sustainable development are at the heart of its approach to conservation, working with local schools and rural communities to promote happy cohabitation between at-risk wildlife and the ever-expanding human population.

Wildlife Conservation Society

The group behind the Ninety-Six Elephants campaign (see the campaign, lobby and educate section above) has a presence in 15 of the 37 African elephant range sites, from the savannahs of east Africa to the Gulf of Guinea. Donations help WCS’ efforts to stop the degradation of elephant habitats and prevent wildlife crime by providing rangers with essential technological and intelligence-gathering resources.
Focus on Asian elephants

Asian Elephant Conservation Fund

A US Fish and Wildlife Service initiative financed by a mixture of government contributions and public donations, the fund awards grants to a variety of conservation and animal welfare projects. Recent beneficiaries include a scheme to mitigate human-elephant conflict in Nepal; counter-poaching operations in Thailand; and veterinary training to improve the care of captive elephants in Indonesia.

Asian Elephant Support

As an all-volunteer organisation, the AES uses 100% of donations to fund numerous and diverse programmes everywhere from India to Vietnam. These range from English as a Second Language classes so that mahouts can develop their careers, to meeting the veterinary and housing needs of retired working elephants.


ElefantAsia promotes alternative, cruelty-free careers for the elephants and mahouts that have traditionally served the logging industry in Laos and other parts of south-east Asia. The Laos-based non-profit also providing veterinary care in the form of mobile clinics and an elephant hospital in Sayaboury province.

Elephant Conservation Center

By making a one-off donation or sponsoring an elephant – generally a pregnant female, a mother with a baby, or an elderly or injured animal – donors can support the ECC’s efforts to rescue elephants from the Lao logging industry and re-home them in 106 hectares of protected forest.

Elephant Family

Rather than impose western ideas of how to run conservation projects, Elephant Family empowers local experts to develop their own solutions to protect Asian elephants in India, Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia and Malaysia.

Friends of the Asian Elephant

Soraida Salwala founded Friends of the Asian Elephant’s first elephant hospital in Thailand in 1993. Since then, more than 4,000 elephants have received medical treatment in her facility.

Shola Trust

In their spare time, a group of young people based in Gudalur work in nature conservation in the Nilgiri region of south India. Part of their work involves research into how people and elephants can coexist peacefully.

Think Elephants International

The next generation of conservationists could be the key to ensuring elephants’ long-term survival. Through its educational programmes, Think Elephants International is keeping the subject alive in classrooms both at home in the US and in Thailand, with ambitions to spread the word far beyond.

Wildlife Trust of India

Formed almost 20 years ago in response to the threats to wildlife in India. With 150 employees, the group is dedicated to nature conservation through a wide range of projects. For example, it has supported anti-poaching training for more than 15,000 people working with wildlife.

    Suggestions? Comments? Email us at elephant.conservation@theguardian.com

Illustration: Sarah Tanat-Jones

You can make a real difference to conservation efforts by becoming a citizen scientist. You don’t need a PhD to help track elephant populations.


Run by the University of Cape Town, the MammalMAP project asks travellers and citizen scientists to share their photos of African wildlife, along with information about the date and location that the photograph was taken. In so doing, you will be helping to build a valuable picture of the mammal population and how it is changing.

Mara EleApp

This Android app, created by ElephantVoices, allows users to upload sightings and observations of Mara elephants to help the conservation charity with its research and campaign work. A must-download for locals and visitors to Maasai Mara.

Snapshot Serengeti

A fun, simple and interactive way to conduct valuable scientific research from anywhere in the world. Snapshot Serengeti asks citizen scientists to help classify the animals caught on some of the hundreds of camera traps dotted throughout the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. You will be shown a photo and provided with a user-friendly and searchable list of native animals. Get clicking to help researchers better understand the park’s animal populations.

WildCam Gorongosa

You don’t have to travel all the way to Mozambique to be part of the Gorongosa National Park’s conservation team. Simply review webcam and camera trap footage to help identify the movements of the park’s animal populations.

    Suggestions? Comments? Email us at elephant.conservation@theguardian.com

Whether you would rather bake cakes or trek across Kenya, your hard work can raise money (and awareness) for elephant conservation. Just make sure you obey local regulations.

100 Miles for Elephants

Described by National Geographic as one of the “most authentic, most innovative … and most sustainable tours” out there, this annual nine-day expedition involves trekking across the Kenyan countryside, encountering wildlife and the people responsible for its conservation along the way. Participants are asked to raise upwards of $1,000 (£800), which goes towards preventing the slaughter of the region’s elephants.


Simply select an elephant-focused charity or conservation project from the website’s vast database, and within a couple of minutes you can set up your own fundraising page. Crowdrise promises that at least 97% of the proceeds will go to your chosen cause. Alternatively (or additionally), you can sponsor and support others in their fundraising efforts.

Illustration: Sarah Tanat-Jones


Functioning in much the same way as its crowd-funding cousin Crowdrise, JustGiving provides users with a simple way to share news of their fundraising campaigns with friends and family and to collect sponsorship.


Whether you want to run the London Marathon, climb Mount Kilimanjaro or hold a bake sale in the name of elephant conservation, Tusk’s team can support your fundraising endeavours, be that by helping you get a place at an event, or by providing you with useful tips and ideas.

Veterans 4 Wildlife

An anti-poaching initiative, Veterans 4 Wildlife sends skilled veterans – and volunteers – to support rangers across Africa. Often poverty is the cause of poaching, so this organisation does a lot of community-based work, such as building schools and creating jobs.

World Wide Fund for Nature

Provides all the tools and tips you need to create a successful fundraising campaign. Download flyers, posters and pictures direct from the website, or draw inspiration from other fundraising efforts.

    Suggestions? Comments? Email us at elephant.conservation@theguardian.com

    And lastly … what not to do

It’s easy to become so fascinated by elephants that you overlook ways in which you are harming them. Here are some of the things you should not do if you want to prevent exploitation and abuse.

    Don’t ride elephants. Their backs are much more fragile than they seem.
    Don’t visit “shelters” that exist only to make money from tourists.
    Don’t go to shows where elephants are used as entertainment or made to perform tricks.
    Don’t buy ivory products – or suspected ivory products – whether new, secondhand or antique.
    Don’t support zoos that buy elephants from poachers or take elephants from the wild.
    Don’t visit places where you might inadvertently encounter elephants and cause human-elephant conflict.
    Don’t buy souvenirs, products or services that may have had a negative impact on elephants.

    Suggestions? Comments? Email us at elephant.conservation@theguardian.com

 on: Feb 23, 2017, 06:31 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Talons at noon as red kite pair topple the spare

Sandy Bedfordshire In an aerial tussle one raptor attacked from above until its opponent dropped so low it was grounded

Derek Niemann
Thursday 23 February 2017 05.30 GMT

By lunchtime the skies over rural Bedfordshire had become an arrivals and departures board. Thin white slashes criss-crossing the blue trailed over the horizon towards Barcelona, Rome and Salzburg. The 11.25 to Katowice had dissipated into a wispy smudge. Then, an intense arrowhead, like a cursor on a computer screen, might have been the 12.20 from Barcelona entering our airspace.

Birds of prey do not arrive; they simply appear in the sky, as if they had been lowered from heaven. So it was that three red kites came into view out of nowhere.

Other raptors soar and soar in sunshine, but there was no risk of these birds vanishing into specks of oblivion. Kites are low gliders, pegged to the earth by invisible strings. Their wings are sails, and the wind is their lift, their tilt, their plaything.

Someone had lit a fire in the pony paddocks below the trio, and smoke spewed out to the west. The birds rose above the billowing mass, enjoying the easterlies, fingering the breeze with their wingtips.

It soon became apparent, however, that this was not a harmonious threesome but a pair and a spare. Three times the one on the right challenged the middle one by flying up to it. Each time, a dismissive turn of the head and a clench of talons was enough to fend it off.

After the third tussle, it seemed the middle kite had had enough. It veered away and mounted the sky before freezing in the air, wings and tail flat and still, until the wind pulled it directly above its rival. In an instant, its wings folded back and it went into a stooping dive. The bird beneath craned its neck to see its assailant, tipped its beak, raised its shoulder and a crumpled wing, then fell into a tumbling tailspin.

The beaten kite flew lower, the victorious one climbed higher. Once more, the victor attacked from above and then a third time, until its opponent dropped so low it was grounded. One bird sat in the stubble, the other flew to join its mate.

 on: Feb 23, 2017, 06:28 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Premature baby hippo saved by children’s hospital staff – video report


Fiona, a prematurely-born Nile hippo calf, is making excellent progress at her home at The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden after the staff from a local children’s hospital stepped in to help. After her birth in January, Fiona wouldn’t take any milk, causing her to become severely dehydrated. The staff from the Vascular Access Team (VAT) from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital came to the zoo’s aid and administered specialist IVF equipment to help the little hippo survive. She is now gaining weight, walking and taking her milk

Click to watch: <iframe src="https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/world/video/2017/feb/22/premature-baby-hippo-saved-by-childrens-hospital-staff-video-report" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

 on: Feb 23, 2017, 06:25 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Fracking led to more than 6,000 spills in 10 years, study finds

A new study looks at fracking sites in four states, finding 6,648 spills between 2005 and 2014. Their research, the study's authors say, highlights a need for better data collection – and may help prevent future incidents.   

Ellen Powell
CS Monitor
February 22, 2017 —Spills related to fracking are more frequent than previously thought, a new study finds – and understanding the causes of these spills may help prevent future incidents.

In a study published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, a team of researchers identified 6,648 spills in Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania between 2005 and 2014. The researchers calculated that between 2 and 16 percent of wells will spill contaminated water, hydraulic fracturing fluids, or other substances every year, with the majority of incidents occurring in the first three years after a well becomes operational.

The definition of a spill varies from state to state, presenting a challenge for the study’s authors in comparing states. But analyzing this data, they say, is vital to addressing the challenges posed by fracking spills and makes a data-driven conversation about fracking possible.

“Analyses like this one are so important, to define and mitigate risk to water supplies and human health,” said Kate Konschnik, director of the Harvard Law School’s Environmental Policy Initiative, in a Duke University news release. “Writing state reporting rules with these factors in mind is critical, to ensure that the right data are available – and in an accessible format – for industry, states and the research community.”

Hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, is an relatively new technique for extracting oil and gas. Large amounts of water, sand, and chemicals are forced underground, cracking the rocks that hold oil and gas so the resources can be extracted for use.
Five hopeful signs global energy is getting cleaner

Fracking has created tremendous job growth in states like North Dakota and Pennsylvania and is a key component to many American energy independence strategies. But environmentalists are concerned about the side effects of the process that they say contaminates drinking water and contributes to earthquakes.

In its report about the safety of fracking, the US Environmental Protection Agency did not quantify the risk posed by the resource extraction technique, The Christian Science Monitor reported in December. It did, however, point to several cases of drinking water contamination, concluding that there was insufficient evidence to know how widespread a problem contamination was.

The EPA itself identified 457 spills across 8 states between 2006 and 2012, because it focused solely on the period when fracking was taking place, rather than looking at the entire life of the well. By providing more comprehensive data on the number of spills, the recent report may offer a starting point for determining the scope of contamination.

Industry observers, however, say many of the reported incidents had no environmental impact, possibly skewing the figures.

"The reality is that North Dakota requires that companies report any spills that are a barrel or more, even if they never impact the environment - and the vast majority of spills have not," said Katie Brown of Energy in Depth, a body funded by petroleum producing companies, the BBC reported. Many North Dakota "spills," she said, are confined to the well pad, never touching land or water.

But understanding where spills come from, and when in a well’s lifecycle they occur, is key to limiting incidents at conventional and unconventional wells alike, the researchers indicated.

Spills are most likely during the first three years, when production volumes are highest, the researchers found. Up to 94 percent of spills happened in that time frame. And many spills – 26 percent in Colorado and 53 percent in North Dakota – occur at wells that have already had one spill.

“This study provides important insights into the frequency, volume, and cause of spills,” said Lauren Patterson, policy associate at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the study’s lead author. Going forward, consistent, comprehensive data collection will be essential for identifying risks and avoiding negative environmental impacts, the study concludes.

 on: Feb 23, 2017, 06:23 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Manatee population rebounds: time to take it off the endangered species list?

A recent survey found a record 6,620 manatees in Florida, but opinion remains divided as to whether the species has truly made a comeback.

Weston Williams
CS Monitor   

February 22, 2017 —The once nearly-extinct manatee has come a long way over the past few decades. The large aquatic mammal was one of the first protected by the federal government in 1967, and efforts from conservation groups and the federal government have helped the creature make a dramatic comeback.

A recent aerial survey of these majestic "sea cows," conducted earlier this month by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, found at least 6,620 manatees swimming in Florida waters, an all-time high and the third year in a row the count topped 6,000 of the creatures.

The high numbers, say some, are proof that the manatee's status should be raised from "endangered" to "threatened."

But while that seems like a positive step for manatees, some conservationist groups have expressed concerns that it is too soon to downgrade their protections. The Florida manatees, a subspecies of the West Indian Manatee, have been under federal protection for 50 years, and the mammals continue to experience hardships despite – and sometimes even because of – their surging numbers.

"A downlisting reduces the protections offered to a species," Clare Aslan, a community ecologist and conservation biologist at Northern Arizona University, tells The Christian Science Monitor in an email. "For example, there's a low level of 'take' (such as accidental death or injury) that is allowed for a threatened species in the course of management activities, whereas that take (and thus any risky activities) is prohibited for an endangered species. Therefore, for management agencies, there's more flexibility when dealing with a threatened species than there is for an endangered species."

Is the manatee ready for that kind of flexibility?

As the population of manatees grows, so do their fatal interactions with humans, primarily from boat collisions. Most Florida manatees bear propeller scars on their backs, say experts. Of the 520 manatee deaths recorded in 2016, 104 were attributed to boats.

But some conservationists' primary concern is heat sources. In cold weather, manatees tend to huddle near sources of heat like warm springs. When they can't find natural sources of warmth in their shrinking habitat, manatees will seek out other sources, like the warm water flowing from power plants, which do not provide as much protection against cold snaps.

"Ideally you have manatees at all natural sites, which you would have protected for them," Katie Tripp, director of science and conservation for the Save the Manatee Club, told the Miami Herald. "The management community has no control over how Florida makes its power or if there's a cheaper alternative or if the plants shut down.... There's no real reason to think those plants are going to exist forever."

But despite these concerns, manatees have been on the path to "threatened" status since 2007, when the Department of the Interior, which heads the US Fish and Wildlife Service, completed a 5-year status review of the species and recommended reclassifying them. Then, in 2012, the Pacific Legal Foundation petitioned the agency to downlist them.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has known for a decade that the manatee should be reclassified, said Christina Martin of the Pacific Legal Foundation's Palm Beach Gardens office, USA Today reported. "We're happy that the manatee is doing well, and we just want the government to follow the requirements."

The Pacific Legal Foundation's petition kicked off another federal examination, which in January 2016 again recommended downlisting the mammals. The public comment period closed the following April, but the service still has not announced its final decision.

"All comments and information received during the public comment [phase] are given consideration during the status review," Charles Underwood, spokesman for the service's North Florida Ecological Services Office, tells the Monitor via email. "Comments, including those from peer reviewers, are addressed in our forthcoming final decision."

"Should the Service decide reclassification is warranted, the species would remain protected under both the ESA and the Marine Mammal Protection Act," he adds. "Existing protections would not go away, and additional protections could be implemented if needed ... regardless of the species' status on the ESA list."

But some conservationists remain concerned that a shift from "endangered" to "threatened" will lead to a general loosening of restrictions, which could damage a population that is still at significant risk. ASU's Dr. Aslan notes that few species have been downlisted, and most too recently to know how the reclassification affected the population.

"If the population is improving but threats are NOT removed, retaining the 'endangered' status is a way of continuing that improvement," writes Aslan in an email to the Monitor.

"The risk of downlisting is that the rate of mortality may increase as a result of the relaxation of rules," she explains. "If the major threats to a species are still in existence, a downlisted species is likely to need to be re-listed as endangered eventually, and in the meantime population declines could pose a threat of extinction."

 on: Feb 23, 2017, 06:17 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Seven new tiny frogs are discovered in India. Are they the world’s smallest?

The difference comes down to millimeters. But this new discovery will likely intensify calls for further research and conservation.

Patrick Reilly
CS Monitor  

February 22, 2017 —A research expedition has found seven new species of frog in India’s Western Ghats mountains. Of those seven species, four fall into the "miniature" size category (under 0.7 inches, or 18 mm) – small enough to fit on an adult human's thumbnail.

All these frogs belong to the genus Nyctibatrachus, only found in the Western Ghats. The findings published Wednesday in the PeerJ journal increase the number of known species in that genus to 35 – and, scientists say, indicate a need for further research and conservation efforts.

“Our discovery of several new species, particularly of easily overlooked miniaturized forms, reiterates that the known amphibian diversity of the Western Ghats of India still remains underestimated,” concluded the research team, led by SD Biju, an amphibian biologist at the University of New Delhi.

These seven frogs are especially easy to miss. “They were probably overlooked by researchers because of their extremely small size, secretive habitats and insect-like calls,” Sonali Garg, another member of the research team, told BBC.

While other members of this genus – typically known as night frogs – make their homes near streams, the seven newly discovered species prefer leaf litter or forest vegetation. They also emit insect-like calls.
In Pictures Don't Fear the Leaper: A world of frogs

While their tiny size made them even tougher to spot, that’s also the reason they’re especially interesting to researchers. “We were surprised to find that the miniature forms are in fact locally abundant and fairly common,” Ms. Garg, a PhD student at the University of New Delhi, said.

In recent years, other “miniature” frogs have turned up in tropical regions. The smallest of the frogs found in India measured 0.48 inches (12.2 mm), so it can’t take the title of “world’s smallest vertebrate” from a 0.3 inch-frog (7.7 mm) discovered in Papua New Guinea in 2009.

But it’s still likely to intensify a question that Husna Haq, reporting for The Christian Science Monitor, posed in 2015: “How did these frogs get so small?”

    One explanation is a theory known as island dwarfism or insular dwarfism, which suggests that when animals colonize islands or other isolated areas, large species tend to get smaller over subsequent generations, possibly due to a more limited supply of food.

It’s not yet clear whether this process caused the Western Ghats night frogs to downsize over the millennia. But most scientists agree that the region has seen a remarkable burst of speciation over the centuries. Conservation International lists the region as part of one of 35 “biodiversity hot spots,” with a high percentage of plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth.

However, that designation also implies a serious threat. The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund estimates that only one-third of the region’s original forest “remains in pristine condition,” and warns that “its forests face tremendous population pressure and have been dramatically impacted by demands for timber and agricultural land.”

The newly discovered frogs may be feeling this pressure. Dr. Biju said in a statement that “over 32 percent, that is one-third of the Western Ghats frogs are already threatened with extinction." “Out of the seven new species, five are facing considerable anthropogenic threats and require immediate conservation prioritization.”

Scientists consider amphibians an important gauge of an ecosystem’s overall health, because they’re exposed to both air and water. Biju and his colleagues hope that their work will inspire and inform efforts to protect these animals.

“Apart from big animals like [the] Tiger and elephants,” he told the Press Trust of India, “there is a need to conserve this tiny amphibian also as they have been ignored. It is a very cute and small animal.”


Yosemite's endangered frogs show signs of rebound

The Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog was once one of the most common amphibians in those mountains. Today, the frog is a rare sight. But scientists now say they're starting to return.   

By Eva Botkin-Kowacki, Staff writer October 3, 2016
The Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog was once one of the most abundant amphibians in that western mountain range. But the animal has disappeared from 93 percent of its historical range, leading it to be added to the endangered species list in 2014 by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

But there might be hope for the hoppers yet.

Just two years have passed since the frog has been under federal protection but, in some parts, the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog (Rana sierrae) is already coming back. With efforts to improve conditions for the frogs already in place before the US Fish and Wildlife Service protections kicked in, the frog population has increased sevenfold in Yosemite National Park over the past two decades, according to a study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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"This was not a rare species that became rarer. This was a really abundant species that became really rare," study lead author Roland Knapp, a biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, tells The Christian Science Monitor. So to see the frogs start to return, he says, is cause for some celebration. "It's a dramatic turnaround."

Around the turn of the 20th century, the frogs were delivered the first blow, as mountain lakes began to be stocked with non-native fish, particularly predatory trout that like to snack on the same things as the frogs do, as well as the frogs and tadpoles themselves.

But around the 1970s, the amphibians were hit with a second devastating blow when a new fungus appeared in their habitat, Dr. Knapp says. And this wasn't just in the deeper bodies of water where the trout were, but in all of the wet areas the frogs called home.

So what changed in Yosemite to help bring the frogs back?

About 25 years ago, the park halted all non-native fish stocking, and lakes began to revert back to their natural, fish-less conditions. And when Knapp and his colleagues surveyed the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog populations across Yosemite over a 20 year period, they found that as the trout disappeared, the frogs reappeared in their absence.

As for the fungus, the team found that where the frogs had been exposed to it for decades, they had adapted to resist its devastating effects. Although the team isn't exactly sure how that happened yet, Knapp says, "We think that's giving them an extra boost that has been a significant player in this most recent discovery."

Simply stopping non-native trout stocking and giving the frogs time to adapt isn't the whole story, says Noah Greenwald, the endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, who was not part of the study but has been involved in petitioning for protections for the frogs.

"Roland Knapp has also done a bunch of work to remove non-native trout from lakes where they didn't just disappear on their own," he adds in an interview with the Monitor. "That's a pretty huge effort to combat that threat."

And this could provide a path forward to help save the species, Mr. Greenwald says. This recovery shows "that if we do care, and we do provide protection to the species, and we do stop doing activities like stocking non-native trout on top of [the frogs], then it does matter," he says. "We can recover species."

The success in Yosemite is no small victory – the park makes up about 13 percent of the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog's range, according to Knapp. But it isn't necessarily representative of what's happening elsewhere.

Because Yosemite is a national park, protections for the frog's habitat are more well-established than in other parts of the animal's range.

But the rest of the frog's range will likely see improvements soon, thanks to the recently implemented protections under the Endangered Species Act. Because the frog is now listed as endangered, state and federal agencies are coming together with conservationists to support efforts like the removal of non-native fish species from the lakes.

"Obviously when you have a species that has been declining for a century all of a sudden showing signs of recovery, that's a great thing," Knapp says. "But we certainly have a long way to so still to recover this frog, not just in Yosemite but across its entire Sierra Nevada range."

Saving the frog from extinction could save the whole ecosystem, Knapp adds. "If you take a species that was once so abundant out of a food web, you're going to have a whole series of unintended consequences," he says. "For example, we know that when the frogs disappear from one of these sites, the garter snakes, which are one of their major predators, also disappear."

"By restoring frogs to these habitats and to these food webs, we restore the entire food web.

 on: Feb 23, 2017, 06:14 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Why did this ancient worm have huge jaws?

Scientists say this example of 'giantism' in a 400-million-year-old marine worm is a surprising find.

Patrick Reilly
CS Monitor
February 22, 2017 —In 1994, Canadian scientist Derek Armstrong helicoptered into a remote corner of northern Ontario to collect fossils. The specimens he gathered that day, which sat in storage at the Royal Ontario Museum for more than two decades, have just helped scientists identify a new species of ancient marine worm.

"This is an excellent example of the importance of looking in remote and unexplored areas," said David Rudkin, assistant curator at the Royal Ontario Museum, and "scrutinizing museum collections for overlooked gems."

In these 400-million-year-old rocks, researchers from the Royal Ontario Museum, the University of Bristol, and Sweden’s Lund University found jaws from the class Polychaeta, the marine relatives of earthworms.

Most Polychaeta worms have tiny jaws, ranging in size between 0.1 millimeters (the width of a human hair) and 2 millimeters (the thickness of a nickel).

These measured almost half an inch.

Based on this startling size difference, and other structural features of the jaw, the scientists concluded that they had found a new species, which they dubbed Websterprion armstrongi, which they calculated must have measured more than 3 feet long. They wrote up their findings in a report published in Nature.

Their finding indicates that "polychaete gigantism was already a phenomenon in the Palaeozoic, some 400 million years ago," they wrote.

The researchers likened W. armstrongi to some living members of the family Eunicidae, which can grow 10 to 20 feet in length though only 1 inch wide.

If armstrongi was anything like these modern cousins, it would have been a monster to most of its contemporaries, 385 and 397 million years ago.

The modern Eunice aphroditois, which hides under seafloor sands before bursting up and snapping up fish with its five spring-loaded jaws, “appears like a frightening apparition from a science fiction movie," wrote researchers in 1996, who said they saw it attack a filefish more than a foot long. "When the filefish ventured too close to the worm, it emerged slightly from its burrow and seized the fish in its jaws with lightning speed.”

Their ancient ancestors may have shared both the modern worms' large size and surprise hunting strategy, which would have given them an undeniable evolutionary edge. “Gigantism in animals is an alluring and ecologically important trait, usually associated with advantages and competitive dominance,” explained the study’s lead author, Lund University Professor Mats Eriksson.

He thinks this finding could deepen our understanding of how gigantism arose in the ancient aquatic environment of what is today Ontario. “It is ... a poorly understood phenomenon among marine worms and has never before been demonstrated in a fossil species.”

 on: Feb 23, 2017, 06:11 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
An Aquatic Paradise in Mexico, Pushed to the Edge of Extinction

FEB. 22, 2017
NY Times

XOCHIMILCO, Mexico — With their gray-green waters and blue herons, the canals and island farms of Xochimilco in southern Mexico City are all that remain of the extensive network of shimmering waterways that so awed Spanish invaders when they arrived here 500 years ago.

But the fragility of this remnant of pre-Columbian life was revealed last month, when a 20-feet-deep hole opened in the canal bed, draining water and alarming hundreds of tour boat operators and farmers who depend on the waterways for a living.

The hole intensified a simmering conflict over nearby wells, which suck water from Xochimilco’s soil and pump it to other parts of Mexico City. It also revived worries about a process of decline, caused by pollution, urban encroachment and subsidence, that residents and experts fear may destroy the canals in a matter of years.

“This is a warning,” said Sergio Raúl Rodríguez Elizarrarás, a geologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. “We are driving the canals towards their extinction.”

Xochimilco (pronounced sochi-MILK-o), a municipality on the southeastern tip of Mexico City, is home to more than 6,000 acres of protected wetlands, hemmed in by dense streets. Here, farmers grow rosemary, corn and chard on chinampas, islands formed using a technique dating from the Aztecs from willow trees, lilies and mud.

Residents ply the area’s 100 or so miles of canals in canoes, much as they have for centuries. On weekends, thousands of tourists picnic and party on brightly painted barges, or trajineras.

“This is the last thread that connects us to our pre-Hispanic past,” Ricardo Munguía, an artist and tour guide, said recently while chugging through the dawn mist in a motorboat. As he slid past a field of broken corn stalks, a pelican swooped by and skidded on the water, slowing itself with its wide wings.

“It would be heartbreaking to lose this,” Mr. Munguía said.

As bucolic as the canals appear, intense exploitation of the area’s aquifers over the last 50 years has depleted springs, prompting the authorities to replenish the waterways from a nearby sewage treatment plant.

As the earth dries out, it sinks, cracking buildings and forming sudden craters like the one that appeared on Jan. 24, 50 yards from a barge mooring.

Boatmen at the mooring, known as the Embarcadero Zacapa, said they noticed the hole when a whirlpool appeared, like water running down a bath drain. By the time engineers had dammed off that part of the canal with sandbags several hours later, the water level had dropped about 10 inches.

Since then, the 80 or so trajineras at Zacapa have mostly been idle, as tourists head to rival moorings, boatmen said — even though they can still reach the canals in one direction. On a recent Sunday, the boats were lined up like rows of gaudy shoes, but none had customers.

“We’re kind of shocked,” said Ivan Montiel Olivares, 18, who has worked on the barges for 10 years. “If things turn bad, what will we do?”

Juan Velazquez, a boatman in his 50s who was cleaning his deck, said that on the weekends he normally made about $15 a day, plus tips. The last two weekends he had made just $2.50 each day.

“Nature is making us pay for what we have done,” he said.

Built on a silty lake bed, Mexico City has been sinking for centuries. The Metropolitan Cathedral became so tilted that engineers reinforced the foundations so that it would, at least, sink evenly.

To slow the collapse in the city center, parts of which dropped about 26 feet during the last century, officials in the 1960s shifted water extraction from downtown to wells near Xochimilco, a decision experts called a “death sentence” for the canals.

José Felipe García, Xochimilco’s director of civil defense, said that the canal should be back to normal by the end of February. Speaking by telephone, he said that the hole — which was filled this week — was a product of subsidence and geological faults beneath the area.

But Dr. Rodríguez, the geologist, said it was part of a grim pattern of collapses in the area whose cause was “man made.”

Half a mile from the Zacapa mooring, a six-feet-deep crater opened in November, splitting a main road and trapping two small buses, residents said.

Eduardo Sandoval, an architectural engineer who lives in the neighborhood, Santa María Nativitas, and leads an organization fighting for water rights, said the holes were a signal that problems were “accelerating.”

Water in Nativitas has been a source of endless tension, according to Mr. Sandoval, with 130 houses damaged by subsidence. Trucks fill up at the local well and sell water on the black market, but homes near the well can get water from their faucets for only a few hours a day.

There are scattered government initiatives to increase the water supply, such as collecting rainwater in rooftop cisterns. But the feat of supplying the region’s 22 million people with water more than 7,000 feet above sea level requires more creativity, experts said, like reusing dirty water.

The water in Xochimilco’s canals is polluted. Treated water pumped into the canals from nearby Iztapalapa contains heavy metals, said María Guadalupe Figueroa, a biologist at the Autonomous Metropolitan University.

Worse, she said, illegal dwellings on the chinampas dump raw sewage into the canals, affecting fish and crops. Today, much of the tilapia fished from the canals are used for cat food, and many farmers grow flowers rather than edible crops.

Despite a ban on construction on the chinampas, more and more of the islands are being settled, experts and residents said, as small-scale farming becomes less competitive and demand for residential space grows. Cables droop across smaller canals, supplying electricity to cinder-block houses that have no running water or sewers. Near one house, beer bottles stuck out of the mud, and a rusty bedspring served as a fence on the water’s edge.

Juana Altamirano, who has lived for years in a plywood shack on what used to be a chinampa farmed by her father and grandparents, has outhouses with the Spanish words for “men” and “ladies” scrawled on the metal doors. The sewage, she said, “goes into the earth and doesn’t do any harm,” an improbable claim since she lives on an island of tangled roots and mud.

Ms. Altamirano, 57, admits that the canal water is polluted. Her eldest grandchildren learned to swim in the canal, she said, but these days, the water gives swimmers a rash.

“Still,” she said, “we breathe pure air.”

With every farmer who, like Ms. Altamirano’s father, stops cultivating the chinampas, “we lose a part of our identity,” said Félix Venancio, an activist trying to protect the chinampas and the communal land, or ejido, in San Gregorio, a district of Xochimilco.

The knowledge of chinampa farming “goes from generation to generation,” Mr. Venancio said. “We’re losing that.”

Dr. Figueroa, the biologist, said that the authorities were working on a new plan for preserving the wetlands, pulling together academics, farmers, businesses and different branches of government.

Xochimilco, which was designated a World Heritage site by the United Nations in 1987, has had no shortage of preservation plans over the years, but they remain half-complete, and funds “get lost along the way,” Dr. Figueroa said. “There’s a huge amount of corruption.”

She figures that, without a serious conservation effort, the canals will be gone in 10 to 15 years. But much of the damage was reversible, she said, adding: “It’s still a little paradise.”

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