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Poachers Kill White Rhino At A French Zoo

WWF Worried By Rhino Poaching

Recently a rhino was shot dead by poachers at a French zoo in what is widely believed the first incident of its kind in Europe. Zoo keepers at Thiory came in to work one Tuesday morning to find Vince a four-year-old white rhino dead with one of his horns hacked off by a chainsaw according to police. The African rhino horn is highly prized in traditional Asian medicine and as a result fetches high prices on the black market. There are about 100 rhinos killed each month in the wild as a result.

First time rhino killed at a European zoo

Whilst poaching in the wild is not a new phenomenon, the murder of Vince is thought to be the first-time poachers have turned their attention to a rhino housed at a European zoo. Vince was shot in the head three times, after the poachers had managed to enter the zoo premises overnight. They then hacked off Vince’s horn, a kilo of which could fetch as much as US$60,000 on the black market.

Other rhinos at the zoo unharmed

The poachers appear to have been spooked by something because the second horn which was partially hacked had been left behind. Thiory Zoo says its two-other white rhino’s a 37-year-old female named Gracie and a 5-year-old male named Bruno manage to escape what would have been a potential massacre. Bruno and Vince both arrived at Thiory Zoo in 2015. Vince was born at a zoo located in the Netherlands and was one of 250 rhinos living in European zoos that took part in a breeding programme.

Rhino conservation has been a success

Despite the shocking murder of Vince, the conservation of white rhinos has been a qualified success story. The species has been brought back from the brink of extinction in the late 19th century and now numbers around 20,000. That success should not result in complacency because over the last few years demand from countries such as Vietnam and China has increased because it is believed the rhino horn has aphrodisiac qualities. Last year France outlawed the trade in ivory and rhino horns.

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Lioness Seen Adopting Leopard Cub

Zambia Partially Lifts Ban On Safari Hunting

Recently a wild lioness was seen suckling a leopard cub in a Tanzanian wildlife sanctuary. This is the first time such animal behaviour has ever been observed. Whilst certain big cats such as lions have been seen adopting and nursing other cubs of their own species, usually the kin of their relatives, seeing a cross species adoption is without precedent. Luke Hunter who is an expert on lions says he has never seen anything like it. The photos were taken earlier in the month by tourists with the leopard cub estimated to be roughly 3 weeks old.

Lioness part of a scientific study

The lioness who adopted the cub is 5 years old and wears a GPS collar and is being monitored for scientific purposes. The lioness gave birth to a litter of cubs at the end of last month so the leopard cub is about the same age as her own cubs says Mr Hunter. It is not known how the leopard cub came to be with the lioness, but it is clear the lioness is awash in maternal hormones and most likely adopted the leopard cub as one of her own adds Mr Hunter. When the photo was taken, the lion cubs were hidden back at her den site.

The pride will not recognise the leopard

The obvious question is what will become of this interspecies adoption? Since it is without precedent no one can say for sure. Mr Hunter adds that even for lion cubs when they are young, they face many difficulties without only half of all cubs making it to 1 year of age. As lion cubs mature, they go through a transitional period where they get recognised as part of the pride. However, in this case it is highly unlikely that the other lions would recognise the leopard as one of their own.

Unlikely the leopard cub will reach maturity

Mr Hunter believes the odds of the leopard making it into adulthood are stacked against it, but he does have some hope. He says he is speculating that if the cub can reach 12 to 14 months in age, its instinct will probably kick in and it will go off on its own and seek out other leopards. Mr Hunter does not think the leopard will stay with the pride and live its life as a lion.

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Extremely Rare Pale Tiger Photographed In India

Tiger Poaching On The Rise

An extremely rare “pale tiger” that conservationists claim could have the fairest fur of any tiger in the wild has been photographed in Southern India. Belinda Wright, the founder of the Wildlife Protection Society of India says that the photographs show the palest tiger she has ever seen or heard about in literature. The tiger was captured on photograph earlier this month by wildlife photographer Nilanjan Ray whilst he was driving through a wildlife reserve in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Pale tigers are not white tigers

Pale tigers are not the same as white tigers and the reason for the colour of their fur is thought to be because of a genetic mutation that results in what biologists refer to as colour morphism. The mutation occurs in environments where there are large random mating pools that allow for a differentiated exchange of genes. Parvish Pandya who is a doctor of zoology says a pale tiger birth is quite a genetic chance and added that this tiger was not an albino because it does not have a pinkish hue around its eyes.

Last white tiger killed in the 50’s

Ms Wright who has spent many years in India observing tigers says she has only ever seen one pale tiger before though on that occasion it was not nearly as pale as this one. The last wild white tiger was shot and killed in 1958 though there are a few still living in public and private zoos. Many captive white tigers suffer from severe health problems because they lack genetic diversity. Ms Wright adds that because there aren’t any white tiger genes in the wild, this probably means the pale tiger caught on camera in Tamil Nadu could be one of the fairest known living outside captivity.

 “You occasionally see lighter-coloured tigers, but they’re nothing compared to this one,” she said. “There are also some pale tigers in captivity, particularly in the US, but these are ‘cocktail’ tigers that are bred that way, with genes from white tigers.”

The tiger looked cute

Mr Ray said he was driving through the national park when he came across a usual orange striped tiger on the road around 200 feet away. That tiger fled the scene and as they were slowly driving past the stretch, they saw the pale tiger just sitting there on the hillside half hidden by the growth just looking back at the group. He goes on to say the tiger looked cute instead of frightened or aggressive and as they were watching it another normal tiger appeared much closer to the group which suggests they are either siblings or, mother and cub.

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Polar Bears At Risk Of Chemical Toxin Contamination

New Home Could Be Found For Sad Polar Bear

Polar bears are already finding it difficult to deal with climate change. To add insult to injury, these giant Arctic carnivores also face the risk of being chemically poisoned, with levels in region about 100 times above what is considered safe for an adult bear according to the results of a new study. For bear cubs feeding on contaminated milk, the risk is ten times greater than for adults. This means the risk is a 1,000-fold for the baby bears.

Persistent Organic Pollutants

Sara Villa of Italy’s University of Milano Bicocca who was the lead researcher of the study says the research is the first attempt to actually quantify the total risk of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the Arctic ecosystem. Ms Villa said that for the study she and her team looked at 40 years of research on the exposure of seals, polar bears and Arctic cod to these lethal compounds. The data included bears living in Alaska and the islands just above Scandinavia. Very little is known about the polar bear population that lives in the Russian Arctic.

Pollutants can stay in the environment for decades

POPs are chemicals that easily spread and can remain in nature for decades, becoming more concentrated as they move up the food chain. By the time POPs travel up the chain from plankton, to fish to seals and ultimately polar bears, the compounds will have accumulated into doses which are highly toxic. These chemicals are used in agriculture and some consumer products. During the 70’s there was a class of industrial chemicals known as PCB’s that were found to cause cancer and caused immense problems with hormones. As a result, they were banned. Despite the ban PCB concentrations in Arctic mammals continued to remain high well into the 90’s, and traces remain even to this day.

Toxicity increases as pollutants move up the food chain

Whilst PCB’s have slowly been eliminated a new family of toxins have replaced them, posing the greatest chemical threat to polar bears according to results of the study. Perfluorooctane sulfonate or PFO’s are considered to be extremely toxic for mammals the study notes. Simultaneously, whilst the bears eat contaminated seals, the concentration of toxins increase 34 times. In contrast to PCB’s these compounds are still being produced and are accumulating in protein, or muscle rather than fat.

Bear cubs are especially at risk.

Even if we fail to consider the latest threats, according to the most recent surveys, the total polar bear population, currently estimated at roughly 26,000 is on track to fall by a third by the middle of this century. The single biggest threat is the rapid decline of sea ice, which polar bears use as floating platforms to hunt for seals. Global warming has meant Arctic temperatures have risen twice as fast as the global average and within a couple of decades we could see ice free summers in the Arctic Ocean.

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Mountain Lions Afraid Of Human Beings

Cougar Attack

As human beings, it’s natural to be afraid of predators such as mountain lions, however what we fail to understand is that they may be more afraid of us than we are of them. This shouldn’t come as a surprise because humans have hunted the mountain lion from most of the continental United States. In fact, according to studies, fatal attacks by puma’s on human are relatively rare. The puma which is also known as panther, cougar, or mountain lion often flee large deer prey that they have hunted once they have heard the sound of humans. In the latest study, scientists were able to show that puma’s response to the human voice was immediate and lasting.

Keeping track of mountain lions

Justine Smith who is a researcher at UC-Berkeley and her colleagues kept track of 17 mountain lions that had been fitted with radio collars. The team followed the animals to a spot in the Santa Cruz Mountains of Central California where they had killed a deer. They had installed a camera close to the spot that had the ability to play the sound of humans or a frog native to the area and recorded the results.

Pumas flee when they hear humans

In 83 per cent of cases, the mountain lions fled immediately with about half of those animals never returning to spot to finish feeding says Ms Smith. One animal that remained at the kill site did not run away was a very old male that died not long after the study was completed. It is believed the mountain lion may have been reluctant to leave because at his age it may have been much harder to catch a deer and he was therefore less willing to give it up.

Sounds played at random

The researchers played the tracks at the animals randomly, so the mountain lions either first heard the sound of a frog call or humans. The human clips that were played were of talk radio comprising of combative segments of both conservative and liberal talk show hosts says Ms Smith with a laugh. She noted that the animals appeared to be completely impartial.

 “Our intention was to test if pumas perceived humans directly as a predator, and… in almost every case pumas fled from the sound of humans. It’s conclusive evidence they do flee from humans, and shows they consider humans as predators. The hunter has long since become the hunted.” Smith said.

Humans are super predators

In the past, Ms Smith and her colleagues were able to show pumas spend less time feeding on a deer kill in suburban areas compared to rural areas, though they were able to actually kill more prey. The study classifies humans as super predators, a phrase which first emerged in a science paper which showed that humans kill other species at a rate not seen with other species. The most recent paper authored by Ms Smith adds further to evidence which suggests that human predatory behaviour influences even large carnivores which has an unknown effect on the ecosystem.

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Poachers Hunting Elephants In Myanmar For Their Skin

Falling Herbivore Numbers Could Result In Empty Landscape

The World Wildlife Fund says excessive demand for elephant skins means the survival of the species in Myanmar is at risk. Poachers in the South-East Asian country have migrated towards slaughtering the animals for their skins as the crack down on the ivory trade from wildlife conservationists has resulted in it becoming less profitable. There are approximately between 1,400 to 2,000 wild elephants in Myanmar according to Coconuts Yangon.

The number of elephants poached has doubled

Over the last few months the number of elephants that have been killed has doubled. Male, female and baby elephants are all being targeted for their skin which buyers believe will bring them good luck if they wear the skin as if it is jewellery according to the report. In contrast, the ivory trade focuses exclusively on male elephants.

The rise in poaching is alarming

Nilanga Jayasinghe, the World Wild Life Fund’s senior program officer for elephants, says that Asian elephants already face immense pressure across their range. Adding insult to injury is the new trend emerging in Myanmar of herds being indiscriminately poached for their skin which is very troubling.

Surge in demand for elephant skin

Christy Williams, World Wild Life Fund’s Myanmar country director says there has been a rapid surge in the skin trade fad which is largely being driven by rising demand in Asia combined with lax law enforcement. This is also compounded by the fact that borderless illegal syndicates operate across South-East Asia. There are also not enough resources to train up local authorities to offer elephants protection from poachers, which is a major reason for the outbreak of poaching in Myanmar.

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Campaigners Urge Mexico To Extend Ban On Gillnets To Save Rare Porpoise From Extinction

Rare Albino Dolphin Spotted Off The Coast Of Florida

The world’s most endangered marine species, is desperate need of an immediate extension of a fishing ban if it is to be saved. According to campaigners, there are less than 30 vaquita porpoises left, with their population having plunged by as much as 90% since 2011. The porpoises are often accidental victims of gillnets which has resulted in a ban on their usage for two years back in 2015. Campaigners are pinning their hopes on the fact that the Mexican government will extend the ban which expired at the end of May.

Can only be found in the Gulf of Mexico

The vaquita marine species can only be found in the Gulf of California which is a world heritage site that sits right in between the Baja peninsula and the Mexican mainland. The waters serve as home to a wide variety of species; however, the problem is that they also support half of all of Mexico’s fish production. Gillnets are a type of a net which are vertically hung so that the fish are caught by their gills. These nets were widely used in the Gulf prior to their ban in order to aid the vaquitas.

The ban has failed

The attempt has largely failed as fisherman continue to ply their trade on the waters as they seek to catch a Totoba a large species that is especially prized for its bladder. The bladders can fetch anywhere up to US$8,500 per kilogram on the black market because they are highly prized in Chinese medicine. As result of the hunt, the vaquitas often end up as unintended victims.

The ban must be extended permanently

Many activists believe that for the vaquita to survive, the Mexican government must extend and strengthen the ban. If it fails to do so the species could be wiped out as early as next year. Chris Gee of WWF says we are in a situation where the number of vaquita is critically low and there is only a limited window of time to protect them. He adds that WWF is calling on having the gillnet ban enforced on a permanent basis, without which extinction is imminent.

Radical plan to save the vaquita

As well as Mexican attempts at saving the species, WWF is also urging the Chinese and US governments to stop the trade in Totaba which is the root of the problem. One radical plan that is being considered is scientists working with the US and Mexican navies to use bottlenose dolphins to find vaquitas in the Gulf of California. The basic idea is if a few can be located and captured, they can be relocated to waters which are safer and the species could then be reintroduced when the threat to it has been dealt with.

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Captured Burmese Python Found To Have Three Deer In Its Gut

Florida Seeks To Get Rid Of Invasive Burmese Python

A Burmese python was found in the Florida Everglades with three whole deer in its gut. The animals included one doe and two fawns. Wildlife officials in the area captured the snake and euthanised it according to a new study. The feat is a new world record as being the first invasive Burmese python captured with three deer in its gut said Scott Boback co-lead author of the study.

Kills likely to place over three months

It is likely that the python attacked and consumed the deer at different times over a 3-month period Mr Boback said. That may seem like quite a long time span, but according to Mr Boback in actual fact it is really very surprising that a snake would eat three huge meals during a relatively short window. He adds that if a python has the ability to consume three deer in three months it begs the question, what else are they eating that we don’t know about. No one is even sure how many Burmese python are roaming in the Everglades.

No one knows how the Python arrived in the Everglades

Burmese pythons are actually native to South-East Asia, but for reasons still not understood a population was established in the Everglades during the 1990’s. The species can grow to as long as 5.5 metres or 18 feet in the Everglades. They are constrictors which means they use their powerful muscles to wrap themselves around their prey until blood circulation stops. It is not immediately obvious how and when the python attacked the deer, but it is likely the python was hiding in the water waiting for the animals to make a pit stop to drink.

Python invasion

Pythons have insatiable appetites and have had a hugely damaging effect on the Everglades ecosystem said Mr Boback. The species hunt animals native to the region including birds, mammals and on one occasion even an alligator according to the study. There have been other studies conducted in the Everglades which have shown there is a relationship between the presence of pythons and a decline in the mammal population of species such as raccoons, rabbits, opossums and even bobcats.

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South African Government Has Plans To Legalise Trade In Rhino Horns

Zimbabwe To Re-Introduce Rhinos Into National Parks

The South African Government is pushing ahead with plans to legalise the sale of the rhino horn within its borders. The proposed legislation will include a provision for the export of the animal product that is the reason behind a poaching crisis which many experts believe could result in the extinction of the species with ten years. Edna Molewa, South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs filed draft regulations in February which would allow the sale of rhino horn in the country for “personal purposes” with a valid permit.

More valuable than gold

Over the last ten years, powdered rhino horn has become more valuable in weight than either gold or cocaine. The reason is Asian demand where in some countries it is believed to cure ailments ranging from cancer to impotence. Rhino horns are actually made from keratin which is the same ingredient as fingernails from humans are made from. The proposed regulations are not clear on why South Africa is thinking about opening up the trade though it has been previously argued that the sale of the horn could help fund the protection of living animals.

South Africa home to most of the world’s rhinos

Most of the world’s living rhinos make their home in South Africa and both the government and private individuals have kept caches of horns worth perhaps billions of dollars. Some breeders have begun to campaign for legalisation arguing that such stockpiles could flood the market and drastically drive down the price undercutting the income of poachers who kill over 1000 of the animals each year.

Breeders argue ban on trade caused the price to jump

John Hume who is a rhino breeder says that banning the horn trade has driven up the price of the commodity. Mr Hume owns more than 1,100 rhinos and argues had the ban never been implemented, its price would never have reached the levels seen today. Breeders such as Mr Hume as well as a number of conservation groups cut the rhino horns off whilst the animals are still alive as they seek to deter poaching. Dehorning a rhino is relatively harmless to the animal though it does cause them stress and needs to be repeated every few years since like fingernails they grow back.

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White Rhino’s Use Poo As Social Network

WWF Worried By Rhino Poaching

From the water cooler to Facebook, people have always come together to share information. Apparently white rhino’s do the same thing. The only difference is they meet at a giant pile of poo. White rhino’s faeces contains chemical cues that deliver information about gender, age, health and reproductive status to other rhinos that visit a the communal latrine whose scientific name is a midden.

Dung contains information

Courtney Marnewec who is studying ecology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and is leading the study says that people tend to think of dung as simply waste, however it is a really great way for animals to communicate and there is a lot information it conveys that we simply don’t use. Lots of animals make use of chemical in urine and faeces to find out what is happening with other members of their species. This is the reason for example why dogs like to sniff fire hydrants. What makes the white rhino unique is they defecate as a group in the same location

Looked at 200 rhinos

Marneweck and her team followed over 200 individual white rhinos in South Africa from different populations and sampled their poo after the rhinos payed a visit to their middens. This enabled the team to keep tabs on exactly what individual rhinos were contributing to the sample. It was relatively easy to find the middens because the large animals trample grass along paths that are well used and do not travel far when it comes time to add to the collection.

They don’t smell as bad as you would expect

Middens are also very hard to miss because measure as much as 65 feet across. Surprisingly the researchers say the middens do not smell that bad. Once they located a midden, the scientists analysed rhino dung’s chemical makeup. What they would find is that different ages, sexes had faeces carry different cues. The researchers then created fake poo from grass and mud, and then spritzed it with the same compounds that were obtained from three different groups. The fake dung was deposited randomly in selected middens and then they watched how the dominant males responded to it.

Males were the most responisve

What they found was interesting, males were extremely responsive to fake dung that was spritzed with chemicals from females ready to mate. The males spent more time sniffing it than other rhinos did. They also made more visits to the midden and defecated on the experimental poo according to the study. Their reaction clearly shows that male rhinos were receiving information from chemicals Ms Marneweck says.

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