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Amur Tiger Numbers Starting To Recover In China


Things have begun to change for the Amur tiger which used to be close to extinction. The endangered species is starting to repopulate itself in the wilds of China. Recently a camera trap set up by WWF captured the first known footage of a family of tigers living in China. The amazing footage is evidence that years of conservation efforts that have been focused on re-establishing a breeding population of the species within China is starting to pay off.

Video footage is significant

WWF made the footage of the Amur tiger family available to the general public and whilst the video is very short it is also very significant.Professor Jiang Guangshun, executive vice-director of China’s State Forestry Administration’s Feline Research Centre said the footage shows a tigress with her two cubs aged between 12 to 18 months. The video was shot very close to the border with Russia.

Main problem is shortage of prey

Shi Quanhua of WWF says one of the major threats to wild Amur tigers is a shortage of prey. WWF has worked hard to restore the populations of species that act as prey for Amur tigers through anti poaching efforts and habitat restoration. WWF says it is thrilled with the video because it is obvious now that all the hard work in restoring the wild population of Amur tigers is delivering results.

The Amur tiger used to be ubiquitous

The Amur tiger, also known as the Siberian tiger used to be ubiquitous throughout the Russian Far East, China and even the Korean peninsula. The species came very close to extinction with less than 40 tigers left in the wild by the 1940’s as a result of hunting. In 1947 the government of Russia granted the Amur tiger full protection becoming the first country to do so. That helped save the species and has enabled conservationists to increase the number to today’s population of approximately 400, with most of them living in Russia.

“These images [in the video] show that Wangqing Nature Reserve has now become a breeding site for Amur tigers. Seeing these positive outcomes from our efforts greatly strengthens our confidence that wild Amur tiger populations can be restored.” said Wang Fuyou, division head of the Wangqing Nature Reserve conservation department.

WWF hopes to double the population of wild tigers

Wild tigers in general are an endangered species with less than 3,200 in the wild. WWF is working hard in the countries where tigers roam to double the population by 2022 which is the next Chinese year of the tiger. If you want to help out with tiger conservation you can do your bit by adopting a tiger with WWF.

Tiger 0412 6279 by Ross Elliott, on Flickr

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Conservationists Hope IVF Will Save The Northern White Rhino


The Northern white rhino is on the brink of extinction and experts are hoping that in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) will save the species. Two adult males recently died within the space of a few months at the end of last year leaving just five of the animals on the planet. In a bid to save the species from extinction, conservationists will harvest eggs from the remaining females. The eggs will then be stored in the hopes that it becomes possible for IVF in the future.

Sorry state of affairs

Whilst IVF does provide some hope for the sub species of rhino, it also highlights just what a sorry state of affairs it has become for the Northern white rhino. The eggs will be stored at an institute in Germany which already houses the species sperm. Experts say they will only attempt IVF after they improve the current techniques which has no set time frame.

” Experts will wait for a time when the IVF techniques will be developed and tested enough to give us a reasonable chance that usage of (northern white rhino) samples would lead to a successful embryo transfer”, said Jan Stejskal, from the Dvur Kralove zoo in the Czech Republic.

Extinction is probably the grim reality

The grim reality which few want to openly discuss is the likeliest scenario for this species, is extinction. When it came to conservation efforts for other species, there were a larger number of survivors. As the population falls to single figures, there are fewer options and less chance of any kind of assisted reproduction. The risk of inbreeding also rises significantly.

How to be humane?

These are painful times for those involved in caring for the last five remaining Northern white rhinos. The keepers at Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic are devoted to a female called Nabire who appears very relaxed. This raises additional issues such as how best to be humane. Interventions and sedations all come with risk. Many people have argued that the animals should be left alone and it was kinder for nature to take its course.

No plans for artificial insemination

Most of the remaining animals are at an advanced age and by the time it becomes possible for IVF, scientists will probably have to implant a fertilised embryo in a surrogate female from the Northern white rhino’s cousin, the Southern white rhino. Mr. Stejskal says that plans do not exist at present for artificial insemination. Whatever the outcome it really would be a shame to lose one of the great species of our planet.

White Rhino by shankar s., on Flickr

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Cuddly Monkeys Manage To Fight Off Attacking Boa

Cuddly Monkeys Manage To Fight Off Attacking Boa

Indiana Jones may have found it very difficult to deal with snakes, however it would seem that Coquerel’s sifakas know exactly what to do. These primates live in Madagascar and last year, one of them was attacked by a large snake known as the Madagascar ground boa. The other members of her troop were not impressed and attacked the snake leaving it with wounds that were severe enough to kill it.

Big George and the attack

The snake attack was seen by four local hotel workers last year and they described what they saw to researchers from the University of Kent in Canterbury. According to the hotel workers the snake had lived in the area for over ten years and was a female that measured 2.7 metres long they liked to call “Big George”. The workers said they saw Big George attack a female Coquerel’s sifaka which was a member of a troop of eight. The snake coiled itself quickly around the hapless monkey. Upon seeing this the other sifakas launched a counter offensive, surrounding the snake, biting and scratching it. The attack lasted for about 20 minutes, at which point the boa loosened its grip on the sifaka. The released monkey then turned around and bit the snake on its head, damaging the snake’s lower jaw. The snake was left unable to close its mouth and retreated into some close by vegetation. The victorious sifakas surrounded the female and started to lick her wounds.

The snake was not so lucky

The sifaka ultimately gave birth to an infant just six months after the attack suggesting it had not caused her too much harm. Big George however was not so lucky. Aside from the scratch and bite marks, she suffered a fractured lower jaw. When staff found her just a few days after the attack, her mouth was hanging open. For the next couple of months the snake remained in the same spot on the grounds of the hotel. On 20th May 2014 Big George was found dead and it would seem the injuries caused by the sifakas attack had proven fatal.

Coquerel’s Sifakas, Ankarafantsika National Park, Madagascar by Frank Vassen, on Flickr

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Porpoises Use Sound Searchlights To Hunt

Porpoises Use Sound Searchlights To Hunt

Danish researchers have worked out exactly how porpoises manage to finely adjust the beams of sound they use whilst hunting. Porpoises use buzzes and clicks when they hunt, relying on the echoes from their prey to pinpoint their location. The results of the study show that hunting porpoises switch from a narrow to a wide beam of sound as they home in on their prey, in much the same way one would adjust a flash light.

Dolphins and whales use the same technique

The researchers believe that dolphins and whales probably use the same technique to trap fish and that switching from narrow to wide beams of sound helps prevent dolphins, porpoises and whale prey from evading capture. The purpose of the study is to find a way to help stop porpoises and other toothed whales from getting trapped by fishing nets. The study was led by Danuta Wisniewska of Aarhus University and published in the journal eLife. Dr. Wisniewska and her fellow researchers worked with harbour porpoises located off the coast of Denmark. They used submersible microphones in a semi natural enclosure which measured the sounds the porpoises produced.

“The facility is quite exceptional, the animals still have access to the sea floor and are only separated from the harbour by a net. Fish are able to come in, so they’re still hunting.” explained Dr Wisniewska.

A unique environment

Making use of the unique environment, researchers were able to attach sound detecting tags to the porpoises and also place a number of microphones which picked up sounds around the porpoise enclosure. The researchers then carried out a number of experiments to calculate where the porpoises were directing the sound energy they produced. In one particular experiment, the researchers dropped fish into the enclosure as they sought to tempt the porpoises into hunting. As the echo locating porpoises begin to hunt they flip from an exploratory clicking to a high frequency buzz which is more intense. The reason for this is they are seeking to elicit a continuous echo from their prey.

“If you were trying to find your car in a car park, you could use a narrow beam over a long distance and still see a lot. But when you’re trying to get your keys into the car, you would switch to a wider beam. This is similar to what we see in porpoises.” Dr Wisniewska explained.

Helping to prevent porpoises from getting caught up in fishing nets

According to the results of the study, the porpoises that were being examined managed to broaden their sound beam by as much as 50% as they homed in on their prey. The ability to fine tune their echolocation is controlled by a fatty structure located in their forehead know as the melon and acts as a kind of “sound lens”. The harbour porpoises that participated in the research came to the study facility after being rescued from fishing nets they had been caught up in. The researchers hope their efforts will result in ways of using sound to help porpoises from accidentally chasing their prey into these nets.

Porpoise by Elizabeth Weller, on Flickr

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Elephant And Rhino Poaching On The Rise

Elephant And Rhino Poaching On The Rise

Wildlife officials are saying that a very rare population of elephants found in Northern Mali is being targeted by poachers and their very survival is being threatened. In the last month authorities say that 19 Gourma elephants have been slaughtered for their tusks and it is estimated that the group now numbers between 350 to 500.

Poaching linked to rebel groups

In the past poaching has been linked to the region’s rebel groups which have connections to ivory smugglers. This species of elephant migrate roughly 600 kilometres every year to feed. However because the vegetation in Northern Mali is sparse, they have to travel long distances across a route that runs into Niger and Burkina Faso.

Elephants need more protections

Colonel Soumana Timbo who heads up the government of Mali’s division for nature conservation has asked for military support from MP’s to protect the species. Mr. Timbo says that the few rangers that are assigned to the region are already risking their lives.

“In the Gourma zone there is total insecurity. We have about 10 rangers covering about 1.25 million hectares, so it’s quite insufficient, If we send out two rangers on a motorbike they are risking their lives. So we really need joint patrols – military and rangers – and we need to focus all our efforts on stopping this massacre.” Mr. Timbo said.

The situation is complex

Since Mali achieved independence in 1960, the Northern part of the country has been a flashpoint of conflict, with rebels waging insurgency for independence or increased autonomy. There has been further destabilisation in the region with the emergence of jihadi groups including Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Qaida which has been targeting both the rebels and the government.

South Africa thinking about legalising trade in rhino horns

South Africa has attempted to combat poaching by appointing an expert panel to examine the viability of the legal trade in rhino horns. In South Africa the level of poaching has risen to record to levels. It is estimated that 20,000 rhinos or 80% of the worldwide population live in the country. Last year there were 1,215 rhinos killed in South Africa which officials say represents an increase of 21 per cent over 2013. The expert panel is considering whether legalising the trade in rhino horns may result in a reduction in the number of animals poached.

“It is important to emphasise that South Africa has not taken a position on the issue and will not do so until the committee has completed its work and presented its findings,” the environment ministry said in a statement

African Elephants-Africa by flickrfavorites, on Flickr

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Penguins Only Have Bitter And Salty Taste Receptors

Penguins Only Have Bitter And Salty Taste Receptors

Scientists have discovered that penguins only have the ability to taste salty or sour food. According to the results of a genetic study the flightless bird lost three of the five basic tastes a long time ago as a result of evolution. Taste is vital for survival in most animals but may not be that important for penguins which tend to swallow fish whole say researchers.

Most birds cannot taste sweet

Many other species of bird lack the ability to taste sweet things but they do have the receptors to detect umami (meaty) or bitter flavours. The discovery came when researchers began to decode the genome of the penguin and found there were some taste genes missing. The behaviour of swallowing food whole and the structure and function of their tongue suggests that penguins do not require the perception of taste. A closer look at penguin DNA showed that all species of this animal do not have functioning genes for bitter, sweet and umami tastes.

“Based on genetic data, penguins are believed to have sour and salty tastes, but have lost sweet, umami, and bitter tastes,” lead researcher Prof Jianzhi Zhang, of the University of Michigan, US, and Wuhan University, Chin said.

Penguins swallow fish whole

The taste of umami gives food the strong savoury flavour that people associate with meat. Not having this sense is very surprising for an animal that is carnivorous. However it would seem it is unimportant for the penguin which tends to swallow fish without chewing. The researchers however remain unsure whether these traits are a cause or consequence of loss in taste.

Loss of taste is a puzzle

Prof Zhang published his findings in the Current Biology journal and says they are a puzzle. One possible clue comes from the evolution of the penguin on Antarctica’s frozen ice sheets. At very low temperatures, sending signals from bitter, umami, and sweet to the brain does not work, though it does work for salty and sour. This may have been the impetus for the species to gradually lose its sense of taste the researchers reckon. What is very interesting, with the exception of the humming bird which feeds on nectar, almost all other species of bird cannot taste sweet.

King Penguins, Falklands. by Richard McManus, on Flickr

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Robins Extremely Sensitive To Artificial Light

Robins Extremely Sensitive To Artificial Light

A new study being undertaken by Glasgow University is hoping to understand why robins stay up all night singing in cities. According to Dr. Davide Dominoni, the reason why they do this could be because the city lights make the robins believe there is no end to the day. If that does end up being the case,  Dr. Dominoni is recommending we reduce the amount of light pollution we emit at night.

Artificial lighting causes disruption to body clocks

The robin is specifically adapted to hunting insects under conditions of dim lighting which suggests that they are probably extremely susceptible to the impact of artificial lighting. Dr. Dominoni reckons that blue light from neon signs probably cause a lot of disruption to the body clock of this species of bird. Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting, in San Jose, California, Dr. Dominoni said living in Glasgow he has heard robins singing at all times of day and night and he believes they are one of the most sensitive species to light.

There are other possible reasons

In order to test his hypothesis, Dr. Dominoni is placing cameras in the nesting boxes of birds to see exactly when they sleep. Artificial light is not the only reason put forward to explain nocturnal singing. Other researchers have suggested that birds like to sing at night in urban areas largely because during the day it is simply too noisy. Regardless of what the real reason may be, Dr. Dominoni believes that signing throughout the night could have some adverse impact on the birds.

“This brings us to some of the physiological costs that that these environmental pressures might have. Singing is a costly behaviour, it takes energy. So by increasing their song output, there might be some energetic costs. I think we should reduce the intensity of the light we put out, reduce the amount of light and try to think about the spectrum of the light we are putting out. In some cases, we can try to modify the street lamps, by putting shields on top to reduce light pollution.”

Robin by David Salter, on Flickr

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Rarest Big Cat On Earth Sees Its Numbers Start To Recover

Rarest Big Cat On Earth Sees Its Numbers Start To Recover

Things are certainly starting to look up for the critically endangered Amur leopard which is the rarest big cat on Earth. The Amur leopard is indigenous to parts of North-eastern China and South-eastern Russia and since 2007 has seen its population double according to WWF. According to the latest census data from a part of Russia which covers 60 per cent of the Amur leopard’s habitat, the population is estimated as being 57 which is up from the 30 that were counted during the previous census in 2007.

“Such a strong rebound in Amur leopard numbers is further proof that even the most critically endangered big cats can recover if we protect their habitat and work together on conservation efforts. There’s still a lot of work to be done in order to secure a safe future for the Amur leopard, but these numbers demonstrate that things are moving in the right direction.” Barney Long, director of species protection and Asian species conservation for WWF, said in a statement.

10,000 photos taken

In order to count these big cats which by nature are extremely solitary, researchers and rangers from the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences placed a number of camera traps in an areas covering over 3,600 square kilometres. There were over 10,000 photographs taken which were then used to identify roughly 60 individual Amur leopards. Experts had to identify each individual through their distinctive spots on their fur according to WWF.

Siberian tiger numbers make an impressive recovery

Siberian tigers used to be in a similar situation to what the Amur leopards are in now, with only 56 tigers remaining in the wild as recently as 2009. Ten Siberian tigers were then introduced into the Land of the Leopard National Park in 2012 and now there are approximately another 350 Siberian tigers living in other parts of the Russian Far East. The tigers have begun to make in-roads into North-eastern China as well so it just goes to show that conservation efforts can make a big difference.

The Russians and Chinese are collaborating

Russian conservationists are now working with their Chinese colleagues to more closely monitor Amur leopard populations in China as well. WWF officials say the next step will be to create a new nature reserve that spans both countries. Let’s hope that efforts to keep this great species of big cat that is so elusive are successful and we see a large scale recovery in their numbers.

Amur Leopard Cub by Borek Lupomesky, on Flickr

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Record Number Of Rhinos Poached Last Year

Record Number Of Rhinos Poached Last Year

In 2014, 1,215 rhinos were poached in South Africa setting a new record and representing an increase of 21 per cent over the previous year. To add insult to injury, over two-thirds were killed in the famed Kruger National Park. Over the last few years new records have continuously been set as a result of demand for rhino horns from countries such as Vietnam and China where there is a belief the horns have medicinal properties. As a result the market is very lucrative and has attracted criminal gangs who make use of sophisticated technology to kill their prey.

Rhinos have been moved

Edna Molewa the environment minister for South Africa says over 100 rhinos have been shifted to locations that are more secure including some neighbouring countries in order to make sure the animals remain protected. Ms. Molewa says it is hoped that this method will result in the creation of rhino strongholds where the species can be reproduced cost effectively.

Number of rhinos being poached worrying

Despite the relocation programme being successful, Ms. Molewa says the number of rhinos being killed every year remains worryingly high. She adds that conservation efforts were being undermined by the organised transnational illicit trade in rhino horn. As a result her agency wants to ensure it works with all stake holders in bolstering the measures that have been adopted. Conservationists say the challenge they face to protect these animals from poachers is extreme because they equip themselves with sophisticated tools such as long range rifles and night vision goggles.

“Killing on this scale shows how rhino poaching is being increasingly undertaken by organised criminal syndicates. The country’s brave rangers are doing all they can to protect the rhinos but only a concerted global effort can stop this illegal trade. This includes South Africa scaling up its efforts to stop the poaching and Vietnam taking urgent measures to reduce consumer demand.” said Dr Carlos Drews, WWF’s director of global species programme.

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Zimbabwe Undertakes Controversial Plan To Export Baby Elephants

Zimbabwe Undertakes Controversial Plan To Export Baby Elephants

Wildlife officials in Zimbabwe say they intend to export as many as 62 baby elephants in order to raise finance for the country’s national parks, where poachers pose a threat to the species as a whole. Despite that fact, animal activists have been very vocal with their disapproval and say they want to know what is really going on.

Elephants at risk from poachers

The valuable trade in ivory has meant that African elephants have been poached for their tusks which of course has resulted in a contracting population. State parks in Zimbabwe have very limited funding from the government which means there are not enough patrols by game rangers which leaves these magnificent animals very vulnerable to illegal poachers. In 2014 at least 300 elephants were killed in Hwange National Park after their watering holes were poisoned with cyanide by poachers.

Export of baby elephants to start soon.

Jerry Gotora who is chairman of Zimbabwe’s wildlife authority and parks says he expects exports to start in the first quarter of this year as officials decide which destination the baby elephants should be sent to. In an interview with a news agency he said buyers from the United Arab Emirates wanted 15 elephants, French buyers expressed interest in 15 to 20 whilst Chinese buyers wanted 27 elephants.

“We have 80,000 elephants against a carrying capacity of 42,000 and this is not sustainable in the long run,” Mr. Gotora said.

Animal rights activists say plan is cruel

Despite the good intentions behind Zimbabwe’s plan, many animal rights activists say the capture of baby elephants endangers their lives and is cruel. Elephants tend to live in tight social matriarchal groups and babies are entirely dependent on their mother’s milk until they reach five years old. This means that separating them from their mother even when the interests of the whole population are being considered means it is extremely likely that the babies will not survive.

“We are trying to speak to those who we believe brokered the deal and check on the welfare of the captured animals,” Ed Lanca, ZNSPCA’s (Zimbabwe’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) chairman said.

Officials say the plan is necessary

Mr. Gotora responded by saying the exports of these animals are both safe and necessary and there is nothing unusual about it. The main reason for the sale is because the country wants to ensure there is sustainable use of natural resources.

“All those making noise about it are people who do not want Zimbabwe to benefit from its resources,” he added.

Baby Elephant Walk by Saumil Shah, on Flickr

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