Sep 15

Conservation Achievements in the Pantanal

Pantanal-telegraph.co.ukListed as an UNESCO World Heritage Area and one of the world’s largest tropical wetlands, the Pantanal covers 188,000 ha in western central Brazil.  Bordering Bolivia and Paraguay, this freshwater ecosystem, fed by the Cuiabá and Paraguay rivers, is home to a variety of species found nowhere else on Earth.  Modern pressures and an ever-growing human population continue to pose challenges for wildlife conservation and habitat preservation.  Research projects centered on such species as the lowland tapir, giant river otter, and jaguar work relentlessly to mitigate human-wildlife conflict and secure safe rangeland to ensure wildlife are protected and given the opportunity to thrive as they once did.

Since the late 1970’s, Panthera’s Drs. George Schaller and Howard Quigley have been working on an ongoingJaguar Archive.org comprehensive ecological field study on jaguar in the Pantanal.  One of the biggest threats to jaguars is conflict with beef farmers around the Pantanal region.  Farmers clearing land to plant crops or make room for cattle grazing has not only compromised jaguar habitat but also prey availability.  Using data collected from an almost 40 year study, jaguar conservationists have been able to gather insight on the lives of these magnificent creatures, i.e., where and when they travel and hunt, reproduction, genetics, etc.  Conservation efforts by Panthera working with national and local governments, as well as nongovernmental conservation groups have facilitated educational outreach programs helping locals understand why it is important to learn to live in peaceful coexistence with the jaguar and farmers better livestock husbandry practices to decrease the chance of a conflict with a jaguar and minimize environmental impact.  In addition, the establishment of the Jaguar Corridor Initiative will help reconnect jaguars via a genetic corridor from Mexico to Argentina.

Lowland TapirAlthough not as well known as the jaguar, the lowland tapir plays a significant role in maintaining the ecosystem of the Pantanal.  Looking a bit like a cross between a pig and a horse with a very flexible proboscis, tapirs are critical for seed dispersal, prey items for large predators like the jaguar, and shaping the landscape as they move through the area.  One of four existing species found on two separate continents, the lowland tapir is considered a vulnerable species by the IUCN.  Conflicts with humans via habitat destruction and hunting are currently the biggest threats to this unique megafauna.  Using radiotelemetry and camera traps, conservationists with the Lowland Tapir Conservation Initiative lead by Dr. Patricia Medici are gaining a better understanding on the social complexities, reproductive physiology, and distribution pattern of the lowland tapir.  These data will allow for conservation plans to be written to guarantee species survival.  Considered a keystone species, the tapir is considered fundamental for overall biome longevity.

Giant river otters remain endangered throughout their fragmented range.  Otter populations were decimated inGiant River Otter the 1950s and 1960s due to hunting for their pelts.  It was once thought total otter numbers were as low as under 100 individuals.  Conservation efforts have yielded in a significant increase in giant river otters over the last 30 years; however, habitat degradation, conflict with fishermen, and depleting food sources remain an ever-present threat.  Conservation projects focusing on reproduction, environmental requirements (den sites), and diet have helped otter biologists develop long-term management initiatives.


The Pantanal is home to over 80 mammalian, 650 bird, 50 reptilian, and 400 fish species, some of which are unique to this area.  Through persistence and passion, conservation groups are gaining ground to secure precious habitat and help in the overall survival of some amazing creatures. As it is seen all around the world, human-wildlife conflict appears to be the underlying cause of habitat degradation and loss of populations.  Gathering data to better understand how wildlife utilizes, contributes, and travel through their habitat gives conservationists a foundation on which to build long-lasting conservations plans.  What we learn today can be applied to not only help future generations of wildlife but also humans within the breathtaking Pantanal.

 

For more information on the Lowland Tapir Conservation Initiative and Dr. Patricia Medici please check out the following links:

http://www.waza.org/en/site/conservation/waza-conservation-projects/lowland-tapir-conservation-initiative

http://news.mongabay.com/2011/0911-hance_medici_interview.html?homepg

 

You can find more information about Panthera’s work with the jaguar at the following link:

http://www.panthera.org/species/jaguar

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Jul 30

Essence of Pakistan’s Wildlife and Biodiversity: An Overview of the Problems and Conservation Needs

Authors:
Sunil Nawaz, MSc Zoology, M.phil Microbiology Scholar
Natasha Zarish M.Sc Zoology M.Ed Science Education

 

Pakistan is blessed with several natural beauties including indigenous wildlife (including several rare endangered species), beautiful mountains of Himalayas, deserts of Cholistan and Thar, Manmade forests like changa manga forest as well as several natural resources from the Baluchistan trails. It also holds second tallest mountain K-2, which is a really challenging tourist attraction in terms of mountain climbing. Four seasons bloom each year to their fullest, and rain fall of 12-14 inch per year average lead to make Pakistan a very fertile agricultural land.

 

But despite its enormous beauty, Pakistan has many pests which are ruining it by illegal hunting, poaching and unattended wildlife disease impact (i.e. Newcastle disease in wild peacock). Deforestation and lack of biodiversity conservation laws are eradicating Pakistan’s biodiversity at a massive scale.

 

In 2012, National Assembly Standing Committee on Climate Change was distressed to know that bustards and the Siberian cranes are hunted arbitrarily. Both these species of migratory birds flying into Pakistan all the way from Siberia during the winter months are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cities) with around 14,000 other endangered species in Pakistan including birds, other animals and plants.

 

The meeting channeled their thoughts to find out the source of such illegal hunting and came to an awkward result that members of Royal families from the Middle East, particularly from Saudi Arabia, have been given licenses to hunt endangered migratory birds, such as Bustards, despite the stringent restrictions. The meeting observed that it was the Foreign Office that issued hunting licenses to such personalities.

 

Laws are there to stop such hunting campaigns, but often the officials who control such events become lawless in greed of money. Such laws are also present to stop poaching of wildlife specially endangered species. In August 2012, a group of young individuals were arrested in Bahawalpur accused of illegal hunting and poaching of wild animals. The district administration officials said they have recovered four deer, 28 black and 11 brown partridges and 20 quails from them. The officials held that three of those arrested are government servants. These deer and other animals were captured from Laal Sohanra National Park, which hosts as many as 432 deer in the 600-acre area.

 

 

MarkhorIn some areas and National Parks of Pakistan Game hunting is being practiced successfully to control and fulfill the hunter’s desire of hunting and to finance the conservation efforts for those animals. For the trophy hunting of Kashmir markhor, as the program began, three hunters from US paid as much as $150,000 per trophy – for every markhor hunted, $105,000 was returned to the community for a total of $315,000. Slowly but surely, the markhor population began to recover. Last year too at least 48 permits have been issued on exorbitant fees to legally hunt wild goats. The impact of such projects over the country has shown its results in years. In 1986, there were less than 200 Suleiman markhors and Afghan urials in their natural habitats in Baluchistan, but a 2010 survey showed their populations had increased to 3,500 and 3,000, respectively.

 

Leopard2Beside all the pleasures of game hunting there is another side of the picture as well, some shepherds who have lost their cattleLeopard1 that are being hunted by wild carnivores often kill such attackers to reduce the attacks. In 2011, a snow leopard wrecked havoc in a remote valley of Gilgit one night, killing 68 goats in six separate incidents. As a result after few months there was several news of snow leopard being killed by locals as a protection measure. Such boundaries are not being controlled here. Human interrupts the wild lands in terms of recreational activities and the results turn fatal for both.  (Photos courtesy: www.wildlifeofpakistan.com)

 

The snow leopard is a rarely sighted animal in fact the only detailed and the first ever video documentary on it came out in Snow_leopardrecent years by BBC, which was shot in chitral and gilgit sites. Nisar Malik, a Pakistani journalist, and cameraman Mark Smith (who had worked on the Planet Earth segment) spent a further 18 months filming snow leopards in the Hindu Kush for the BBC film Snow Leopard – Beyond the Myth
 
 

 
 
 
Such beauty of Pakistan has to be conserved at any cost. But all efforts go in vane without a proper check and balance on it. Beside hunting and poaching, lack of proper disease control is also a major problem for wildlife and biodiversity in Pakistan. A recent study by sub-continent’s eminent scientists revealed that Newcastle disease which is caused by avian paramyxovirus serotype-1 (APMV-1), that is also branded as Newcastle disease virus (NDV). It is a highly contagious viral disease that affects domesticated and wild bird species throughout the world. The disease is endemic in Pakistan and represents major threat to the economy of the country. From 2009 to mid 2012, many outbreaks of Newcastle disease have been reported to World Organization for Animal Health from Pakistan as well as neighboring countries. Most of the outbreaks have been reported from Iran and India that shares border with Pakistan. Even with some of the reports from selective regions only and surfacing of novel NDV (5i) from Pakistan, it is of the essence to screen and characterize the NDV throughout the country (Muhammad U Sohail et al-2013).

 

Last year, in 2012, Pakistan lost 300 peacocks to the deadly Newcastle virus. This year, since June, at least 60 more peacocks have died owing to the same disease, five of which died in a span of just two days. The overall population at risk is around 80000 which threatened of extinction from Pakistan if proper control measures are not practiced soon. Around 40 million chickens have died due to this massive attack of ND virus.

 

Several conservation campaigns are working at national and international level by governmental as well as nongovernmental organizations for controlling of hunting, eradication of poaching, enhancing the breeding of wild animals, tagging and vaccination of wild animals.

 

Book_scan1

Book_scan2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scans from high school biology book

 

In the educational syllabi, recent syllabus change at high school level biology books has been able to develop greater interest of students for biodiversity conservation. Special chapters are included in the book regarding biodiversity conservation. They give a sound account of what wildlife and biodiversity of Pakistan includes, what are its problems and what simple steps can be taken by students to take care of biodiversity of Pakistan.

 

With all this I urge the readers to contribute their energies to conserve the essence of natural beauty of Pakistan taking one step at a time.

 

References:

http://beta.dawn.com/news/773502/trophy-hunting-brings-down-poaching-claims-official

http://www.shotmade.com/hunting-in-kashmir-markhor-pakistan/#sthash.egPFFIA6.dpuf

http://tribune.com.pk/story/428248/wildlife-five-arrested-for-illegal-hunting-in-bahawalpur/

http://beta.dawn.com/news/736997/illegal-hunting-migratory-birds-face-extinction

http://tribune.com.pk/story/579974/precious-peacocks/

http://www.brecorder.com/pakistan/general-news/123866-47-peacocks-die-of-newcastle-disease-in-tharparkar.html

http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5458/7208425564_b0680b0bca_o.jpg

http://ds-lands.com/data_images/animals/markhor/markhor-03.jpg

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Jun 07

World Oceans Day: Why it Should Matter to All of Us

coral reefDid you know that 8 June is World Oceans Day? Like all days of designated observance, World Oceans Day was started to bring a yearly awareness, in this case to the state of our underwater world. Although water makes up ~70% of Earth’s surface, our seas remain one of the most unique, important, and yet unexplored parts of our world. As vast as our marine areas are, they are also extremely fragile, quickly being destroyed from an ever-increasing pressure by an ever-increasing human population. I suppose it is easy to dismiss what we do not see on a daily basis; out of sight, out of mind. However, as goes the ocean, goes the rest of the planet.

Since 2012, a number of positive changes have taken place to safeguard the ocean and the amazing creatures that call it home. The horrific act of shark finning robs the ocean of over 140 million sharks annually. Yes you read that correctly, more than 140 million sharks are killed so their fins can be used as a soup ingredient or false cure in a nonscience based medicine. From the smallest to the largest, no shark is safe. Taking a step in the right direction, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently voted to add eight sharks to the threatened species list. Working with the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), the IUCN hopes their new listing will help conserve sharks. Keep in mind, this does not ban the trade of sharks and their fins, it simply increases the pressure to regulate the trade. Fortunately, individual countries have voted on legislature to ban the catching of sharks and use of their parts. Only with global support will sharks have a fighting chance.

On an international scale, a number of countries are taking responsibility for our oceans by designating protected areas within the marine environment that border their coastlines. Belize, island nations in the South Pacific, Cuba, and countries in the Caribbean all have marine parks to conserve and protect breeding areas for marine species both in and around the water. Currently, Australia has 3.1 million km2 within 59 marine parks protected. In addition, the United States has selected 400,000 km2 of “no-take areas” in over 223 marine preserves. However, as much progress has been done, more is required. Of all the 5, 880 protected areas around the world, marine parks only make up 1.17% of the worlds oceans.

Overfishing is a huge concern for the overall health of the oceans. The over harvest of large fish populations have forced commercial fishing vessels to fish deeper. Trawling is a fishing method in which nets are pulled behind boats. Net depths are set to skim the ocean bottom, which not only allows for capture of deep-sea species but also causes disruption to habitat like deep-water reefs. Overfishing at any depths puts an increase pressure on marine environments. To combat overfishing, Monterey Bay Aquarium is empowering the public with the choice to choose. Monterey Bay has developed a Seafood Buyer’s Guide, available on the web at http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/seafoodwatch/web/sfw_regional.aspx and also as in app for smart phones and tablets. The Guide gives consumers information about purchasing seafood species, listing them in order of good, better, and best choices, as well as species not to purchase. Once the demand stops, the overharvest will too.

bycatch-whalenation.orgAs I type this, there is a floating island of garbage in the Pacific Ocean the size of the US state of Texas or 696, 241 km2. That is larger than all the protected marine areas within US waters. The island of rubbish is a great example of consumerism gone awry. Of the more than 280 million tons of plastic produced globally each year, less than 40% is recycled; leaving 60% to live out its long life buried in a land fill or finding a new home on the high seas. Plastic in all shapes and sizes pose huge threats to marine life as it can be deadly when ingested and entangle animals causing them to drown. By simply practicing the 3Rs, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, everyone can make a difference for ocean survival. Eliminating waste removes the environmental threat. It truly is as easy as 1, 2, 3.

The bottom line is that it is everyone’s responsibility to take care of our oceans and protect marine species. The choices we make today regarding what we consume will be the deciding factor of our planet fate. Huge strides have been taken to protect our beautiful ocean and the inhabitants within, but so much more needs to be done. So please join in on this World Oceans Day and pledge to be part of the solution and no longer the problem. Helping our seas help us too.

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Apr 22

The Internet Influence on Wildlife Conservation

Status UpdateDissemination of information has never been easier then at this very moment.  The Internet, specifically social media sites, allows us to share concerns regarding wildlife and bring attention to important conservation issues instantly with people around the world.  Case in point, you are reading this blog.  Unfortunately, along with the potential good this kind of technology brings there is also the bad.  With millions of daily tweets, Facebook status updates, Youtube videos, Instagram pictures, Flickr uploads, and blog posts one cannot help but ask if this actually helps or hinders wildlife conservation.

 

There are not too many wildlife conservation organizations that do not have a presence on the World Wide Web.  Websites linked to Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube give followers daily updates on research and related topics that affect the species they care most about.  Wildlife poaching for ivory, horn, bones, or fur, deforestation within the Palm Oil industry, shark finning, and human-wildlife conflict are only a few topics that can be found every hour in our newsfeed. However, does this inundation of pictures and updates result in people wanting to help or hide?  I have studied elephants for over 13 years.  I am all too aware of the current situation in range countries with the rampant poaching for ivory.  I have seen more then my share of pictures of poached elephants with faces removed for ivory collection.  That said, it is starting to become a bit much for even a seasoned conservationist to constantly see posts containing graphic pictures of dead animals.  I have friends that ask why those working in the realm of wildlife conservation want to continually look at these horrific images.  The truth is, we don’t.  The shock and awe media campaign has always been present in wartime journalism.  Poaching is definitely a war against wildlife.  I suppose it is a given that reporting from the front lines, regardless of subject, uses raw images to show the reality of a given situation.  However, the reality is it turns people away.

 

 

Catching wildlife perpetrators who willingly participate in illegal wildlife trade has become a little easier thanks to the web.  Facebook is a popular place for individuals to post pictures engaged in leisure activities.  On more then one occasion wildlife poaching or harassment has been on display for the entire world to see, including law enforcement officials who regulate and prosecute such stupidity.  Unfortunately, those regulating officers are not the only ones patrolling social media sites.  Poachers are also scouring social media sites like Facebook and Flickr that not only post pictures but also locations.  An animal lover on vacation sharing information regarding endangered flora and fauna they encounter may unknowingly give away their whereabouts allowing for poachers to kill or capture rare species.

 

 

Marketplace sites like Ebay have been a thorn in the side of conservationists for a long time.  Every imaginable item can be found for sale on Ebay.  Aside from bedding, used textbooks, and used-only-once car tires, wild animals and their parts can be purchased.  Ebay claims that with the volume of daily sales it is impossible to internally monitor the legalities of items posted on their site.  They encourage users to notify them immediately if any questionable items are found.  I shudder to think with every one item that is flagged how many go unnoticed.  Furthermore, what about those items sold as antiques collected before government regulations were set, listed as faux or replicas when in fact they are real shells, bone, fur, ivory, etc., or those items sold containing undisclosed objects hidden from all but those on the inside of such illegal trade?  Most crimes against wildlife are carried out in the open, not behind closed doors.

 

WWF_HandsOffMyPartsNo one can deny that the Internet has been instrumental in spreading information concerning wildlife conservation.  It has allowed wildlife biologist and conservationists a way to to stay connected as well as share their passion with others about the places and species they love.  But, does awareness result in action?  For all of the good intentions, how much of what we share is used to unknowingly harm instead of help wildlife?  Or is our need to over share turning people away from our cause?  As a society we rely far too much on others for regulation.  We live in an age where an unlimited amount of information is at our fingertips; information that is ever changing and evolving.  Be aware of what you post and how others perceive your words or pictures.  Think before you share!

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