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Zimbabwe To Re-Introduce Rhinos Into National Parks

Zimbabwe To Re-Introduce Rhinos Into National Parks

Zimbabwe is set to reintroduce rhinos into its second largest national park despite the fact that elephant poaching in the Gonarhezhou reserve is surging. The park which measures 5,053 square-kilometres will introduce 40 black rhinos over two years according to , Hugo van der Westhuizen of the Frankfurt Zoological Society which is working with the Zimbabwean authorities on the project.

“We would want to grow the number to a big number, but first we still have to address the issue of manpower on the ground. There is a lot of pressure of poachers coming from the Mozambican side.” Dr. van der Westhuizen said.

Only 700 rhinos left in Zimbabwe

Rhinos disappeared from the park during the 1930’s and 40’s due to hunting. There was an attempt to reintroduce the species during the 1970’s however those animals were killed by poachers and the species vanished from the region again by the beginning of the 90’s. There are 700 rhinos left in Zimbabwe today.

Poachers hunting rhino’s into extinction

Poachers coming in from Mozambique are already hunting the park’s population of elephants and this year have killed between 25-30 animals. Last year the park lost just 10 elephants according to Aaron Manyawi, a park ranger. Whilst elephants are primarily hunted for their ivory tusks, rhinos are targeted for their horns which many people in South East Asia erroneously believe cures cancer. Last year South Africa’s Kruger National Park lost 800 rhinos mainly to poachers crossing the border from Mozambique.

Conservation has had some success

Poachers don’t just shoot the animals, they also lace waterholes with poison Mr. Manyawi said. In Zimbabwe’s Malilangwe Trust which is a private conservancy that contains both white and black rhinos, there are as many as 80 rangers that protect the animals through regular patrols. The white rhino is much larger than their black cousins.

Park numbers growing

The constant patrolling means that all the rhinos in the park are consistently tracked and identified. The trust has declined to reveal the exact number of rhinos in the park however they did say the population was growing by 8.6 per cent a year.

“We have had problems with poachers, but the situation is under control because of the effective conservation methods we have,” he said. “We still believe having men on the ground is the most effective way.” A spokesperson for the park said.

Black rhino running in this direction on Flickr

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Lions To Return To Rwanda after Twenty Year Absence

Lions To Return To Rwanda after Twenty Year Absence

After an absence of over two decades lions are set to return to Rwanda according to wildlife officials. The country’s population of the endangered species was completely wiped out following the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994. The first intake of lions will include five females and two males which are being transported from South Africa to the Eastern Akagera National Park.

Lions lost after the genocide

The park is located on the border with Tanzania and measures 27,680 acres and officials say the reintroduction of lions represents a ground breaking conservation effort. Rwanda lost its lion population after the genocide in 1994 where an estimated 800,000 people were killed. Refugees fleeing the violence occupied a portion of the park which led to lions being displaced and killed as people sought to protect their livestock.

The lions that are being reintroduced come from parks South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. The parks from which they are being taken are relatively confined which means it is occasionally necessary for surplus lions to be removed. The seven lions making the move were chosen based on their future potential for reproduction and include a mix of genetic make-up and ages.

Conservation milestone

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, at the global level, the lion is considered a vulnerable species. In Eastern Africa, lion numbers have fallen rapidly despite historically being a stronghold for the species. The IUCN has warned that the trade in body parts which are used in traditional medicine in Asia and Africa is the main threat to the species. In Western Africa, lions are listed as critically endangered as a result of dwindling prey and over-hunting.

Whilst Akagera National Park is fenced the lions will still be fitted with satellite collars to ensure the animals do not wander into inhabited areas. The park says the collars have a two year life, at which point the park will have learned about the dynamics of the pride and will re-collar the dominant individuals. The park has plenty of wildlife diversity and potential prey for the lions and serves as home to many species of antelopes, buffaloes, zebras and giraffes as well as elephants and leopards.

Lions, Krugersdorp game reserve on Flickr

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IUCN Warns That Thousands Of Species At Risk Of Extinction

IUCN Warns That Thousands Of Species At Risk Of Extinction

A top conservation body is warning that there are almost 23,000 species that are at risk of going extinct including the world’s rarest sea lion as well the mighty African lion. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has updated its “Red List” of threatened species which has also shown some clear improvements in conservation of endangered species such as the Iberian Lynx. However the agency is warning that the number of successes has been dwarfed by a large number of declines in a range of species.

Animals increasingly vulnerable

IUCN chief Inger Andersen has warned of an increasing vulnerability of our natural world and is urging that we increase the efforts being made to save species that are most at risk of extinction. Ms. Andersen pointed to rising numbers of the Iberian Lynx which she says shows that effective conservation strategies can produce results which are truly outstanding.

The mighty lion is in danger

Whilst there have been some achievements, a number of other mammals have not done so well because of habitat destruction and hunting. On a global level, the lion is listed as a vulnerable species, in particular its Western African sub-population has been tagged as being “critically” endangered because of dwindling prey and over-hunting. There has also been an alarming fall in the number of lions in Eastern Africa which has historically been a stronghold for the species. The IUCN has warned that trade in body parts for traditional medicine in both Asia and Africa is the main threat to the species.

We could lose the New Zealand Sea Lion

The IUCN also drew attention to the African Golden Cat which is an extremely reclusive species that is about twice the size of a house cat and lives in Central Africa and is now listed as ‘vulnerable”. The IUCN has listed the New Zealand Sea Lion which is one of the world’s rarest species of sea lion as being endangered.

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Study Shows Kangaroos Are Left Handed

Study Shows Kangaroos Are Left Handed

A new study suggests that kangaroos in the wild tend to prefer using their left hands when performing common tasks such as feeding and grooming. The researchers arrived at their conclusion after spending many hours observing multiple wild species. They found two kangaroo species and one species of wallaby displaying a left handed tendency. Other species of marsupials which walk on all fours did not display the same tendency.

The study is important

The research was undertaken by scientists from the St. Petersburg State University who collaborated with Janeane Ingham from the University of Tasmania. Ms. Ingham said some of her colleagues questioned the value of studying left handed macropods however she rejects the criticism because such study contributes to the understanding of brain symmetry and mammalian evolution.

Handedness not unique to humans

Dr Yegor Malashichev the senior author of the study said the previously it was believed that handedness was unique to humans, however research conducted over the last couple of decades shows that asymmetry in brain structure and behaviour is in fact quite wide spread. He adds that examples of handedness tend to be attached to specific actions and were not consistent across the entire population.

“As one of our reviewers pointed out, laterality is also obvious in how parrots hold their food or how your dog shakes hands. But these examples of lateralisation have not been proven at the population level.” Ms Ingram said.

Parallel evolution

The results of the study showed that red-necked wallabies, red kangaroos and Eastern grey kangaroos all consistently displayed left-handed bias regardless of whether the animals were just propping themselves up, feeding or grooming. Dr Malashichev says their discovery is an example of what he calls “parallel evolution” because handedness appears in both placental mammals as well as marsupials which are not related in the evolutionary tree.

Posture is important

The authors of the study also suggest that posture is another important factor. The tendency to be left handed is only displayed in species that stand upright on their hind legs and use their front limbs for tasks besides walking. Another possible conclusion is that as primates evolved into an upright posture they also developed handedness. It is not immediately obviously whether there are specific aspects of the brain in marsupials which were responsible for developing handedness or can explain why kangaroos tend to be left handed whilst humans are predominantly right handed.

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Japanese Zoos And Aquariums Pledge To Stop Purchasing Live Dolphins From Taiji

Despite intense criticism of the hunting technique used, a news report says that roughly half of the live dolphins captured in the Japanese coastal town of Taiji were exported to China and other countries. The method is known as the “drive hunt” and has been criticised around the world as being cruel. The criticism was so intense that many Japanese zoos and aquariums were forced to pledge to refrain from buying animals captured through the controversial technique.

Dolphins sold all over the world

According to Kyodo News, an estimated 760 live dolphins were sold between 2009 and 2014 in Japan. The agency looked at data from the Japanese Fisheries Research Agency as well as other sources in order to come up with an estimate. The data suggests that 354 dolphins were sent to 12 countries, with 216 going to China, 35 to South Korea, 15 to Russia, 36 to Ukraine and a single dolphin went to the United States. Thailand, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Georgia, Tunisia, Egypt and the Philippines all took delivery of dolphins during the time frame.

Intense criticism

Data from the United Nations shows that all the dolphins that were exported from Japan between 2009 and 2013 almost entirely went to aquariums or zoos Kyodo news agency said. Live dolphins are supplied from Taiji which came to global attention following the Oscar winning documentary The Cove. The documentary shows pods of dolphins being forced into a bay and then slaughtered by knife in a mass killing which left the water red with blood.

Controversial hunting technique

Live dolphins are often captured as well and then sold on to zoos or aquariums that purchase them for about US$8,000. In May zoos and aquariums in Japan pledged to stop buying dolphins caught using the controversial technique as was demanded by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (Waza). The pledge was in response to Waza’s suspension of the Japanese chapter in April over the issue.

Practice not economically viable

Waza considers drive hunting fishing “cruel”. This is where pods of cetaceans are herded into a bay using a wall of sound and then slaughtered. Local fisherman reject the charge. Most of the dolphins are slaughtered for food, however activists say there is not enough demand for the meat which is not very popular to make the hunt economically viable. Activists claims the high prices for live dolphins suggest they are only thing that sustain the hunt.

 

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The Last Surviving Central London Hedgehogs

Only a few hedgehogs remain in a central London park and they have managed to survive because they have learned to avoid busy roads according to the results of a new study. The species used to be extremely common throughout the UK but over the last 60 years their numbers have declined steeply largely as a result of road deaths.

Keeping clear of the roads

One of the places which has experience the largest declines is central London with its heavy traffic. These days very few remain in Regents Park, however there is still a small population that survives because they have learned to steer clear of the roads. The Royal Parks Foundation has tagged a number of hedgehogs living in the park and say they now have a decent idea of where they are going. There is no indication that the hedgehogs are leaving the park or crossing any of the main roads. Neither are there any records of any squashed hedgehogs around of the park.

Other parks have no hedgehog population

No hedgehogs are known to survive in the other four Royal Parks which include Kensington Gardens, Green, Hyde and St. James’s Park. Back in the 1970’s all five of the main central parks in London had hedgehog populations. It is estimated that there are now less than a million hedgehogs in the United Kingdom, down from 36.5 million in the 1950’s. The population of hedgehogs in Regents Park was discovered after a survey was conducted in 2014 by the Royal Parks Foundation. The discovery resulted in changes to the location and frequency of grass cutting to ensure the park was friendlier to the species.

“Last year’s research findings has led to a change in habitat management. Grassland adjacent to hedges will be left to grow longer to provide a richer environment for hedgehog foraging and nesting. The findings from Regent’s Park will also be shared with other urban green spaces to help with the creation of more hedgehog friendly-habitats.” Nick Biddle, park manager at Regent’s Park, said.

 

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New York State Supreme Court To Decide Whether Chimps Have Human Rights

New York State Supreme Court To Decide Whether Chimps Have Human Rights

Whilst they won’t be getting suited and booted any time soon, two chimpanzees may finally get their day in court. It is expected that the New York State Supreme Court will hear legal arguments regarding whether two research chimps named Leo and Hercules should have the same rights as humans and under the law be set free rather than be considered as property.

Ruling a big deal

Justice Barbara Jaffe, in response to a petition from the Nonhuman Rights Project signed an order forcing Stony Brook University to justify why it should be allowed keep hold of the two chimps. Steven Wise, an attorney for the project says the ruling is a very big deal. The animal advocacy group says the judge’s decision is the first time it has been recognised legally that chimpanzees may have the same rights as people.

Same rights as prisoners

Initially the ruling included a writ of habeas corpus which is a legal measure designed to protect prisoners. Until recently only human prisoners could expect protection from unlawful detention. However later on Judge Jaffe amended the court order and struck out the words “writ of habeas corpus”. Mr. Wise says they don’t know what motivated her to do that however as a matter of practicality there is very little difference between the two orders.

Huge reprecussions

The Nonhuman Rights Project is not seeking to have the two chimps released onto the streets of New York. Instead they want Hercules and Leo to be moved to a sanctuary in Florida. Until now, the advocacy group has not had any success convincing the courts that the chimps held at Stony Brook University should have the same rights as people. Bob Kohn a lawyer who has argued against granting such rights says if a court were to grant the chimps these rights, there would be huge repercussions both from a practical and philosophical view.

“To recognise personhood in nonhuman animals is to give them legal rights. You cannot give any creature legal rights without those creatures having legal responsibility. Legal rights flow from legal responsibility. No nonhuman animal can be accountable for its actions. You cannot hold a pit bull accountable as a person for his actions because it cannot intelligibly interpret the law.” Mr. Kohn said.

chimp by frank wouters, on Flickr

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Dogs Split From Wolves Much Earlier Than Previously Thought

Dogs Split From Wolves Much Earlier Than Previously Thought

A new study indicates that humans befriended dogs well before we began farming and settled in villages over 10,000 years ago. Recently an ancient wolf bone was discovered in Siberia which suggests that dogs and wolves split from a common ancestor as far back as 27,000 years ago. And whilst researchers are quick to point out that separation and domestication are not quite the same thing, it does mean it is possible that domestication occurred much earlier than was previously thought.

The split occurred 16,000 years ago

Pontus Skogland of Harvard Medical School says previously, the general consensus was that wolves and dogs split about 16,000 years ago. Whilst the prehistoric wolf has now gone extinct, its descendants live on in Arctic sled dogs. Dr. Skoglund says a portion if the genome of a Siberian husky can trace its origin right back to the ancient Siberian wolf. Other dogs with a primordial DNA connection include Greenland dogs, the Chinese Shar-Pei and the Finnish Spitz.

Mysterious ancestral wolf

Scientists used to believe that dogs could trace their origin back to gray wolves. However as a result of genetic studies they now know that both wolves and dogs share a common ancestor. This ancestor is known as the prehistoric wolf and used to roam throughout Asia and Europe between 9,000 to 34,000 years ago. There is however one mystery that remains. No one is able to pin point what kind of wolf gave rise to the huge variety of dog breeds that are around today. The wolf remains found in Siberia do not solve this puzzle because it too diverged from the wolf family tree round about the same time as gray wolves and dogs says Dr. Skoglund.

Hunter gatherers befriended dogs

If humans and dogs became companions when humans were hunter gatherers rather than farmers, it is thought that perhaps dogs helped with hunting or kept other carnivores away. One interesting theory suggests that dogs and humans combined to drive Neanderthals into extinction. Dr. Skogland thinks it is possible that the Siberian husky followed nomads all the way across the Bering Land Bridge, all the while picking up wolf DNA. He thinks it may have been beneficial for the husky to absorb genes that were uniquely adapted to the Arctic environment.

Wolf Park Indiana by Serge Melki, on Flickr

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Falling Herbivore Numbers Could Result In Empty Landscape

Elephant

According to the results of a new study, the populations of some of the world’s largest herbivores have fallen so much; we are now at risk of an empty landscape. Scientists at Oregon State University say that populations of species such as tapirs, elephants, camels, zebras and rhinos are either falling or threatened by extinction in their natural habitat. This could mean fallow forests, deserts, savannah’s and grasslands.

The researchers examined 74 large species of herbivores, or animals the feed on vegetation and found that unless we take radical steps, many large and small herbivores will continue to disappear from their natural habitat which would have huge social, ecological and economic costs.

Habitat change the main cause

William Ripple the team’s lead researcher says he expects the main factor behind the endangerment of large herbivores will be habitat change. He adds that the two main driving forces behind declines in herbivore numbers are hunting by humans and habitat changes. According to the team’s analysis, the decline goes far beyond the forests and reaches into deserts, grasslands and savannah’s. As a result they have coined a new term “the empty landscape”

Herbivores in the developing world at greatest risk

The scientists say the greatest number of threatened large herbivores are located in the developing world such as Africa, India and South-East Asia. There are no threatened large herbivores in North America which has already lost the majority of its large mammals as a result of habitat changes and prehistoric hunting. Europe possesses one large threatened species, the European bison.

Livestock production also a problem

The researchers also highlight the fact that 25 per cent of the world’s largest wild herbivores now only occupy just 19 per cent of their historical ranges. Wildlife has faced competition from the production of livestock which has tripled globally since 1980. This has meant many of the world’s large herbivores have had their access to water, land and forage reduced as well as increasing their risk of disease.

All species could be affected

The authors of the study say that that other parts of the ecosystem will diminish as a result of the loss of large herbivores. This means that large predators such as lions and tigers will have less access to food. It also means there will be less opportunity for plants to disperse their seeds and more frequent and intense wildfires. This in turn will slow down the cycling of nutrients from vegetation to the soil and impact the habitat of smaller species such as fish and birds.

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Kenya Raises The Stakes In The Fight Against Poaching

Kenya Raises The Stakes In The Fight Against Poaching

In order to bolster its fight against illegal poaching, the Kenya Wildlife Service has opened a forensic laboratory. It is expected that information the lab will process should help in the prosecution of suspected poachers, whereas in the past many cases fell apart due to weak evidence. The laboratory will establish a DNA database that will have the ability to link meat and stolen ivory to specific animals.

Some species face extinction

Illegal poaching has had a devastating impact on Kenya’s wildlife population with experts worrying that some species may face extinction. The laboratory is the second of its kind on the continent with the other located in South Africa. The Kenyan Wildlife Service will make its facilities available to all countries in the East and Central African region.

Water tight cases

The laboratory comes at a cost of US$1.7 million and will be located in Nairobi with a team of 45 researchers who will be extracting DNA from samples of wild animals. KWS spokesman Paul Udoto says this information that can be used to build a water tight case against suspected poachers in court. Mr. Udoto adds that in the past prosecutors have faced the problem of proving that poachers found with meat came from a protected species. In the past suspected poachers have claimed they had either goat or cattle meat.

Information can now be compared

As a result of the lab, the evidence can now be tested and compared against the information contained in a database which will be able to prove beyond all doubt exactly which animal the meat comes from. According to KWS hunting bushmeat is resulting in some wild animals such as the hirola and sable animals becoming endangered. The lab also has the ability to sample DNA from smuggled ivory and link it to an individual animal in a specific location.

The poaching problem is acute

Mr. Udoto adds this information can be used to aid in gathering intelligence when trying to figure out exactly where poachers are operating and securing prosecutions. In the last three years, nearly 100 rhinos have been poached in Kenya and KWS is worried that without urgent intervention, the species could disappear from Kenya completely.

Convictions to serve as a deterrent

It is hoped that a greater number of convictions will serve as a deterrent to would be smugglers. Over the last few years the illegal trade in ivory has soared with a kilogram worth thousands of dollars. Much of the demand has been driven by a rapidly growing market in Asia.

White Rhinos by Martin Pettitt, on Flickr

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