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Horses Latest Threat To Panda Habitat

Horses Latest Threat To Panda Habitat

There are just 1,600 pandas living in the wild and they seem to be facing a new threat from horses.

Chinese farmers in Sichuan Province seeking a safe investment have been buying an increasing number of horses and then allowing them to feed in protected areas belonging to the Panda according to the latest research. The horses end up consuming all the bamboo the pandas rely on for food.

“It didn’t take particular panda expertise to know that something was amiss when we’d come upon horse-affected bamboo patches. They were in the middle of nowhere and it looked like someone had been in there with a lawn mower.” Vanessa Hull, a doctoral student at the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability at Michigan State University, said

Threatened pandas

Giant pandas are extremely fussy about both their food and habitat and require forest area that is secluded with plenty of bamboo which they exclusively eat.

Whilst it is known that deforestation has long threatened the panda, Hulls and her colleagues were surprised to find that bamboo was increasingly disappearing from protected areas.

The researchers spoke with many of the areas local farmers and found they were of the opinion that horses were a very good investment. Horses are not allowed to graze in cattle areas so many of the farmers would simply set them free in the Panda reserve and then round them up when cash was needed. In the decade spanning 1998 to 208 the number of horses in the area rose from 25 to 350.

Overlapping needs

The horses live in as many as 30 herds and Ms Hull and her colleagues found four of them and fitted a single horse in each with a GPS collar. The findings were a little surprising with the range of the horses overlapping with that of the panda with both animals drawn to the same bamboo patches. Whilst a single panda eats the same amount of bamboo as a single horse, a herd of 20 horses will clean out the patch leaving precious little for the pandas which come after.

According to scientist Jianguo Liu lifestock is the single biggest threat to most of the world’s biodiversity. They

“They make up 20 percent of all of the Earth’s land mammals and therefore monopolize key resources needed to maintain the Earth’s fragile ecosystems.” Mr. Liu said.

The study’s results however have had an immediate impact on panda conservation. After the results were presented to officials of Wolong Nature Reserve, horses were immediately banned.

Image Credit:panda floss by istolethetv, on Flickr

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Sea Turtles Take A Shorter Route Around The Atlantic

Sea Turtles Take A Shorter Route Around The Atlantic

The path travelled by baby sea turtles may not correspond with what scientists had assumed until now. In fact according to satellite tracking some of the turtles actually opt for warmer browner pastures.

Until recently scientists have believed that young sea turtles hop on the back of a big sea current called the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre which should take them all the way around the ocean and helping them turn up on their original coastline after one or two years. The first study conducted using satellite technology shows that many young turtles drop out of the current and choose to follow brown floating seaweed known as Sargassum which provides food, shelter and heat.

Lost years

The first few years in the life of a sea turtle are often referred to as “the lost years”. Whilst the hatchlings are easy to count when they are first born, as soon as they hit the sea for the first time they vanish for several years. The loggerhead turtle for example disappears when they are smaller than the size of a hand palm and then reappears at the same coast where they hatched and measure a foot and a half.

Turtles are born with a magnetic sense of direction which guides their migrations according to previous research. Marine biologists usually track sea animals using satellite tags that transmit data such as temperature, depth and locations. However the problem with hatchlings is they are too small to tag and would sink due to the heavy batteries.

Tagging turtles

Recent advances in technology has brought significant change. The latest tags are much smaller and rely on solar power instead of heavy batteries. Whilst they are still too large to tag newly born turtles, they do fit on young ones. Scientists reared 17 loggerhead turtles in the lab for up to 9 months until they reached between 4 to 7 inches in length And then tagged them for release into the Atlantic Ocean.

The assumption was that baby turtles would hatch of the East Coast of the US and then hop on the gulf stream which would take them North where they would eventually reach the Atlantic Subtropical Gyre. This is in actual fact a system of currents which should take the baby turtles past the Azores of Western Europe, down Africa’s coast and finally back to the East Coast of the US.

Whilst the turtles do make use of the Gulf Stream and the Gyre they do not always complete this journey around the Atlantic. Some turtles travelled clockwise taking their own individual paths whilst some even dropped out of the Gyre altogether and followed the still Sargasso Sea instead.

According to the findings Saragassum offers a floating habitat for the baby turtles not only hiding them from predators but also keeping them warm and fed. The turtles that drop out may benefit by staying with the seaweed and travelling shorter distances.

The results of the study are important for protecting sea turtles with many subspecies critically endangered with the young in particular vulnerable to fishing and other human activities. The new study suggests damage to Sargassum habitats could hurt turtles, too.

Image Credit:Loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings By U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Northeast Region, on Flickr

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Killer Whale Documentary Makes Waves In California

Killer Whale Documentary Makes Waves In California

The documentary film “Blackfish” is making some serious waves in California after on law maker proposed legislation that would effectively end Killer Whale shows at SeaWorld the San Diego Tribune is reporting.

Democratic State legislator Richard Bloom says he felt compelled to act after watching the 2013 documentary film which did not portray the well being of both the trainers and animals at SeaWorld in a very positive light.

“There is no justification for the continued captive display of orcas for entertainment purposes. These beautiful creatures are much too large and far too intelligent to be confined in small, concrete tanks for their entire lives.” Mr. Bloom said

The documentary was made following the death of Dawn Brancheau who despite being a veteran trainer was killed by a Killer Whale at the SeaWorld theme park in Orlando. For its part, SeaWorld refused to participate in the filming of the documentary, however since the film’s release they have fiercely contested the claims made by the film.

“In addition to being one of the most respected members of the business community, SeaWorld also is a global leader in the zoological and animal welfare world. We are deeply committed to the health and wellbeing of all of our animals and killer whales are no exception.” SeaWorld officials said
If the new law is passed it would essentially ban the captive breeding of killer whales in California. It would also ban the export and import of marine mammals as well as end the performance of killer whales in theme park shows.

Image Credit:Killer Whale jumping by Milan Boers, on Flickr

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PETA Files Legal Action For Elephant’s Release

PETA Files Legal Action For Elephant’s Release

A court in Mumbai will hear the case of Sunder the Elephant and decide his fate after a PETA investigation found that the 14 year old elephant was the subject of cruel treatment and horrible living conditions.

A petition was filed citing the inaction of the Forest Department despite the fact that Dr. Patanagro Kadam Maharashtra State Minister of Forests had ordered the elephant to be released.

The authorities responded saying that the elephant is in a musth condition where testosterone levels in the elephant reaches 60 times its normal level and as such Sunder cannot be moved due to his aggressiveness.

JS Saluja an attorney for the forest department says there is no evidence the elephant is being tortured.

Claim by the Forest Department has been rejected by 2 Animal Board of India experts who visited the elephant and found it was neither aggressive nor uncooperative.

A further affidavit filed by the state forest department contradicts its own statement and says that Sunder the elephant is not in a musth condition. A veterinarian examined Sunder and confirmed the findings according to Dr. Manilal Valliyate who initiated legal action on behalf of PETA.

The order to relocate the elephant was issued in August 2012 and Sunder was supposed to be moved at PETA’s expense to a sanctuary in Karnataka India.

That order was challenged by a local member of the legislative assembly who gifted Sunder to a temple nearly seven years ago..

Sunder spent the next 6 years in chains at the temple where he was not fed properly and which resulted in him being in a state of malnutrition. PETA says the elephant was beaten and denied mobility as well.

“Sunder has already suffered so much it’s high time for Sunder to be freed from this abuse and sent to a sanctuary, where he can roam, bathe in ponds, live unchained and in the company of other elephants. Every day Sunder’s rescue is delayed means another day of unimaginable suffering for this poor young elephant,” said Dr. Manilal Valliyate, Director of Veterinary Affairs.

Image Credit;Elephant by DrBartje, on Flickr

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Dogs In Synch With Owners Emotions According To Study

Dogs In Synch With Owners Emotions According To Study

If you believe your dog is able to tell whether you are happy or sad it turns out you may well be right.

According to a new study which was published in Current Biology, Dogs are sensitive to emotional cues present in the human voice. Researchers think that the part of the brain which processes voice and sounds in both humans and dogs evolved at the same time 100 million years ago when both species shared a common anscestor.

“Dogs and humans share a similar social environment. Our findings suggest that they also use similar brain mechanisms to process social information. This may support the successfulness of vocal communication between the two species.” Attila Andics, of MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Hungary, said in a press release.

For the purposes of their study the researchers trained 11 dogs to sit completely still for a functional MRI scan. They then analyzed the brain activity of both humans and dogs as they listened to different human and dog sounds ranging from playful barking to crying and laughing.

Both human and dog brains respond most strongly to sounds produced by their own species however both brains processed emotionally charged sounds in very similar ways.

There were some important differences as well with dogs responding more strongly to non vocal noises in comparison to humans.

The researchers think the study may result in a better understand of why dogs are so in synch with the emotions of their owners.

“This method offers a totally new way of investigating neural processing in dogs. At last we begin to understand how our best friend is looking at us and navigating in our social environment.” Mr. Andics said.

Image Credit:Dog On Beach by alex_kasin, on Flickr

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The Great Elephant Census To Begin This Year

The Great Elephant Census To Begin This Year

Elephants Without Borders is undertaking a 2 year long census that will survey elephants and began last month.

The survey is the largest pan African aerial census of elephants since the 1970’s and is being calls the Great Elephant Census. The results are expected to provide important information that will be crucial for the future survival of the species. It is expected to return information such as population statistics and geographic range all of which will go a long way to helping conservation efforts.

“Over the past few years, I have documented with regret the slow retreat of elephants from habitats they were rapidly repopulating. The threat of local extinction feels very real. In October 2013, Elephants Without Borders flew a survey over a park where we had previously counted more than 2,000 elephants. We counted just 33 live elephants and 55 elephant carcasses. That is why this research is so important.” said Dr. Mike Chase, director and founder, Elephants Without Borders.

Elephants Without Borders has earned a reputation for offering both meaningful and novel information that can be used to help conserve the African elephant. The organisation will work in close collaboration with various domestic conservation groups and state governments in conducting the survey.

It is estimated the survey will take two years to complete. During the first year the elephant population will be surveyed across 22 countries representing approximately 95 per cent of the elephants in the African savanna. In the second year the data will be analyzed and the findings will be packaged. The first set of results are expected to be delivered by the middle of 2015 and will be shared amongst various interested parties.

The survey will make use of 46 scientists, 18 planes which will fly approximately 18,000 hours over 7 months. Various African governments will participate as well as a variety of organisations including the IUCN, WWF and African Elephant Specialists Group.

There has been a dramatic reduction in the global population of elephants as the animals are poached to feed insatiable demand for ivory in Asia. In 2012 it is estimated 30,000 elephants were slaughtered.

Image Credit:Elephant by safari-partners, on Flickr

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London Hosts Conference On Illegal Wildlife Trade

London Hosts Conference On Illegal Wildlife Trade

Last month British Prime Minister David Cameron hosted a summit in London that was designed to fight against the illegal wildlife trade globally.

50 heads of state attended from some of the worst affected countries. It is estimated the illegal wildlife trade is worth approximately £11.5 billion per year.

Rhino poaching reached record levels last year according to the Save the Rhino charity. In 2013 1,004 rhino’s were lost to poaching in South Africa alone. In 2014 86 Rhino deaths have been recorded in South Africa so far. The level of Rhino poaching globally has risen an astonishing 7,500 per cent between 2007 and 2013 and it is estimated that once every ten hours a Rhino is killed by a poacher.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates the trade in illegal ivory has more than doubled since 2007, with a kilo of ivory selling for as much as £1,200

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that 23 tonnes of ivory which is tusks from 2,500 elephants was seized in the 13 largest seizures during 2011. In 2013 the WWF estimates that 30,000 elephants were killed for their tusks.

The Duke of Cambridge and Prince of Wales both of whom lobbied the Prime Minister to hold the summit will attend the summit and also produced a video that was shown to delegates.

“We have to be the generation that stopped the illegal wildlife trade and secured the future of these magnificent animals and their habitats, for if we fail it will be too late.” The Duke said in the video.

The video ends with both the Duke and the Prince saying “Lets unite for wildlife” in a number of different languages including Mandarin and Swahili.

The conference seeks to target three key elements in the illegal wildlife and poaching industry. The first goal is to toughen up law enforcement, the second objective is to try to cut demand for illegal products and the final aim is to develop sustainable alternative livelihoods for people who turn to poaching.

Image Credit:Rhino by safari-partners, on Flickr

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Aspinall Foundation Pleased To Announce Birth Of New Gorilla


The Aspinall Foundation is pleased to announce the birth of a western lowland gorilla at its conservation project in Africa.

The baby gorilla arrived on January 7th at the Aspinall Foundation’s Gabon gorilla reserve. This is the second such birth at the reserve and is a great sign for the species which is critically endangered.

The number of gorillas in the wild is decreasing at an alarming rate so every birth is vital to the conservation project. The number of western lowland gorillas has fallen by over 60 per cent over the last two and a half. The fall in numbers is largely due to hunting, disease and very low reproductive rates. According to scientific calculations even if there were no threats to gorilla population it would still take as long as 75 years for their population to recover.

Critically Endangered

The mother of the infant Moanda was introduced to the Gabonese reserve in July 1998 as an orphan and is part of the first reintroduction group for the project. This is Moanda’s second child after she delivered a daughter in 2008. The latest arrival marks the 23rd member of the silverback Tonga’s increasing group.

The Aspinall Foundation has been present in Gabon since 1998 working with local communities and the national government to help preserve and protect the western lowland gorilla which is critically endangered. The reservation currently includes close to 1 million acres of land and has been lauded for how successful it’s anti poaching campaign. A recent scientific study published in Oryx and international conservation journal has confirmed that the attempt to reintroduce these gorillas into parts of Africa where they were previously extinct has been successful.

Image courtesy of The Aspinall Foundation,

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Illegal Rhino Poaching Hits Record In 2013


Last year was the worst year on record for rhinos that were killed by poachers according to new data released by the government of South Africa. There were approximately three rhinos killed each day representing an increase of an astonishing 7,723 per cent.

To get a sense how bad things have become in 2007 just 13 rhinos were poached and in 2013 that figure reached 1004. The Kruger National Park was one of the worst affected.

Dr Jo Shaw, Rhino Programme Manager for WWF-South Africa said that criminal networks pose a grave threat to both national security and the economy because they also scare tourists away.

“Rhino poaching and rhino horn trafficking are not simply environmental issues, they represent threats to the very fabric of our society.” The Dr. Shaw said.

Demand originates mainly from Asia and in particular from Vietnam. People in the region believe that horn powder has medicinal benefits and can be used to treat hangovers and even cancer. Rhinos are killed by well equipped gangs of criminals who then smuggle the contraband illegally into Asian nations such as Vietnam

South Africa and Vietnam signed a Memorandum of Understanding in December 2012 where they agreed to combat the problem of trafficking in wildlife. South Africa is seeking more agreements with other Asian countries.

David Cameron recently convened a London conference on the illegal trade in wildlife which was attended by both the Prince of Wales and Duke of Cambridge. The event was attended by heads of state or foreign ministers from approximately 50 states. The WWF is optimistic that the commitment from the highest levels of politics will help combat this devastating crime.

Image Courtesy of WWF,

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Conservationists Using Drone Technology In Fight Against Poaching


Conservationists in Africa have begun introducing drone technology in Africa to help park rangers get a leg up against poachers in regions where rhino’s and elephants roam and are vulnerable.

About a year ago, Google donated US$5 million to the WWF to search for new ways to deter and detect wildlife crime.

Conservationists in Namibia are about to start a drone program combined with a variety of other tracking technologies in some of the country’s national parks according to WWF officials.

The illegal wildlife trade of which the trade in illicit ivory and rhino horns is part of is thought to be worth as much as $10 billion. With huge profits available poachers have begun to adopt high technology such as silenced weapons and night vision goggles. Some poaching rings have even made use of helicopters in their hunt for some of the most threatened mammals in the world.

This means the fight against poaching is not a level playing field for poorly equipped park rangers in Namibia who have to manage vast areas that are supposed to be protected. Etosha National Park for example is the size of New Jersey says Crawford Allan who heads up the WWF’s Wildlife Crime Technology Project.

One of the harder challenges facing rangers is catching poachers at night, but Mr. Allan hopes that a fleet of Falcon Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) will provide some much needed assistances. All the drones are kitted up with thermal sensors and night vision and should help ranger’s spot poachers as well as monitor the animals in real time.

“We were standing just 50 feet away from a giraffe at night and we didn’t know,” Allan told Live Science. But in the video footage beamed down from one of the Falcon drones overhead, the team could see the white glow of the animal. That’s what it’s like for rangers; they could be literally feet away from poachers and just not know they’re there,” Mr. Allan said.

A powerful payload

Each drone costs approximately $20,000 Mr. Allan says but this includes its cameras and other equipment. It takes just as few minutes to assemble and then launch the vehicle for an autonomous flight. The drones are battery powered which makes them absolutely silent and can fly for 90 minutes at a time for roughly 19 kilometers before landing by parachute.

The UAV’s are connected to the internet by satellite which gives them the ability to stream video life which can be accessed from any type of computer or tablet anywhere in the world.

Image Credit:Drone and Moon by Don McCullough, on Flickr

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