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Endangered species suffer from Habitat Loss around the world | Coastweek

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Najib Balala, Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Tourism delivers his speech during a global march for Elephants, Rhinos, Lions and other endangered species (GMFER) in Nairobi. Kenya will lobby the international community to delegitimize trade in wildlife products amid threats of extinction facing iconic species like elephants and rhinos, an official said on Saturday. XINHUA PHOTOS - CHARLES ONYANGO

Conservation: Numerous endangered species
suffer from loss of habitat around the world

Last known female Yangtze giant softshell turtle dies, species survival in jeopardy| Coastweek

The world's last known female Yangtze giant softshell turtle dies after a failed artificial insemination in east China's Jiangsu Province. XINHUA PHOTO - HE LEIJING A member of rafetus caught in Đồng Mô Lake, Hŕ Nội, Việt Nam. WIKIPEDIA PHOTO


Last known female Yangtze giant softshell turtle dies, species survival in jeopardy

by Xinhua writer Luan Xiang BEIJING (Xinhua) -- The world’s last known female Yangtze giant softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) has died after a failed artificial insemination in Suzhou Shangfangshan Forest Zoo in eastern China’s Jiangsu Province.

Only three specimens of the species remain alive, including one male in captivity at the Suzhou zoo, China, another male in Dong Mo Lake, Vietnam, and another one in Xuan Khanh Lake in the outskirts of Hanoi, gender unknown.

With the female gone, the survival of the species is in dire jeopardy, according to conservationists.

Human intervention has proven to be rather powerless when it comes to species extinction while protecting habitats is the most effective method to preserve endangered wildlife, experts said.

On April 12, a research team performed artificial insemination through surgery onto the female softshell turtle.

At around 6 p.m. the anesthetized specimen woke up and immediately showed abnormalities. She was announced dead after 24 hours of unsuccessful intensive treatment.

Yangtze giant softshell turtles are one of the biggest freshwater turtles on Earth.

The adult can grow a shell larger than 1 meter in length and weigh over 100 kg.

Their life span is recorded to reach 400 years, while the dead female was believed to be over 90 years old and fertile.

The critically endangered species is known to have inhabited the Yangtze and Red River for millions of years.

It was the inspiration of the mythological creature "Bi Xi" or "Ba Xia," the sixth son of the dragon in ancient Chinese belief.

Though the earliest record of the Yangtze giant softshell turtle dates back over 3,000 years ago, and the image of Bi Xi is commonly seen carrying ancient monuments in traditional gardens, the species was only distinguished from other rafetus and recognized in the late 1980s.

Professor Zhao Kentang with the Suzhou Railway Normal Institute’s Biology Department first discovered the distinct features of Yangtze giant softshell turtle in 1988, and his finding was backed by other Chinese scientists in 1994 for the species to be recognized.

In 2006, a project to protect the extremely endangered species was launched by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WSC) and Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) with Chinese zoos. In 2008, a female was found in Changsha was moved to Suzhou in a matchmaking attempt.

The female and her 100-year-old groom mated over the years and laid fertilized eggs on several occasions but none of them hatched.

Since 2015, a research team led by Australian zoologist Dr. Gerald Kuchling began to obtain sperm from the male to fertilize the female.

Starting in 2016, the team began to perform surgery on the female to inseminate the artificially-obtained sperm.

Including the experiment on April 12, none of the attempts succeeded.

Dr. Xie Yan, former director of WSC projects in China, expressed deep regret at the passing of the last known female of the species.

"When it comes to saving species from extinction, humans are truly powerless," she wrote, regretting that 13 years of conservation efforts couldn’t change the fate of the Yangtze giant softshell turtles.

The most effective and scientifically sound way to protect wildlife is to protect the habitat and the integrity of its ecosystem, urged Zhao Zhonghua, chief representative of the World Animal Protection, a United Nations general consultative organization, in China.

"When the wholesome natural habitat is well protected, it is not only one species that will benefit but the entire biosphere including natural resources like water and all species that form part of the ecosystem," he said, adding that the improvement of the natural environment brings benefits to the livelihood of mankind.


Uganda strives to save lions following poisoning

KAMPALA Uganda (Xinhua) -- The death of 11 lions in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park left many conservationists perturbed on whether the east African country was making progress in saving the big cats.

As news filtered in on April 12 that three lionesses and eight cubs were poisoned to death by some elements in a nearby community in retaliation for the killing of their cattle, Ephraim Kamuntu, minister of tourism, rushed to the park, located in the western part of the country.

Since then, three suspects have been arrested and the government is threatening to evict the Hamukungu fishing village from the precincts of the park.

"Government made a mistake to allow pastoralists in this sanctuary.

"You are all suspects as per now until you bring us those who keep killing our icons," Kamuntu said, according to the Daily Monitor on Monday.

This is not the first time lions are being killed by cattle-keeping communities around the national park.

In 2007, 13 lions were poisoned and in 2010, eight were killed.

This time around, Kamuntu said, the government is not going to handle the perpetrators softly, warning that if the community does not identify them, the government may resolve that the community stops raring cattle.

In the meeting convened by Kamuntu, the community reasoned that they have lost several animals to lions.

The pastoralists argue that despite reporting to the authorities, no action is taken.

The United Nations says lions and other charismatic predators are facing many and varied threats, which are mostly caused by human activities.

Overall, their populations are declining at a disturbing rate due to loss of habitat and prey, conflicts with people, poaching and illegal trade.

Figures from the International Union for Conservation of Nature show that populations of African lions have declined by 42 percent over the past over 20 years.

In Uganda, a recent census put the country’s count of lions at 420, compared to 1,000 in 1990.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in a statement issued in commemoration of the World Wildlife Day on March 3, called for personal action to help ensure the survival of the world’s big cats and all its precious and fragile biological diversity.

According to Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), a state agency charged with conservation, the country gets 50 percent of the revenue from Queen Elizabeth National Park from visitors who come to see lions.

The agency says out of 10 tourists who visit the park, five want to see lions, meaning that half of the 6 billion shillings (1.7 million U.S. dollars) comes out of lions.

Lions and other big cats like cheetahs and leopards are an important tourism attraction in Uganda.

They are second only to the mountain gorilla as the most-sought-after species.

Tourism is Uganda’s main foreign exchange earner.

It contributed up to 1.35 billion dollars to the export basket in 2016.

Minister Kamuntu says there is need to create awareness about the value of wildlife, especially for the lions, cheetahs and leopard that are under major threat.

The public needs to work toward preserving wildlife, as it provides enormous opportunities, especially in tourism, he said.

Organizations like the Uganda Carnivore Program are helping to create awareness on the protection of the cats, especially among communities around Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Working with the UWA and Makerere University, Uganda Carnivore Program conducts school and community outreaches.

On the other hand, the government has enacted policies and laws that promote wildlife conservation.

In one of the proposed laws, if one is found guilty of poaching and illegal wildlife trade, they face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The country has also established a dedicated court to deal with wildlife-related crimes.

Land clearing, disease, dog attacks threatening koala numbers: study

SYDNEY Australia (Xinhua) -- Australia’s beloved creature, the koala, is under threat from land clearing, disease and dog attacks, a seven-year long study has found.

By examining droppings from nearly 300 koalas in the states of New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland between 2012 to 2018, the Western Sydney University study found koalas living near areas where land clearing was taking place had significantly high levels of stress hormones in their samples.

"Koalas are facing chronic stress and this can be a significant problem for their survival," author of the study Dr. Edward Narayan told the Australian Associated Press on Tuesday.

"The demonstrated long-term stress caused by environmental trauma can lead to significant physical and psychological changes in koalas."

According to Narayan, with such high stress levels the risk of infection and suppressed reproduction is dramatically increased.

As well as habitat destruction, human encroachment on areas populated with koalas also means that domesticated animals such as dogs, are becoming an increasing threat for the species.

"Humans have become a bit too greedy and we need to think about the ways we can make animals our priority because if our native species show problems that means our ecosystem is not holding up," Narayan said.

Calling on the Australian government to prioritize the welfare of native animals when planning infrastructure and developments, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, who funded the study, said koalas need to be given more space to live.

"This research proves the true impact of a development on local koala populations remains well after the bulldozers and construction teams have moved on," regional director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Rebecca Keeble said.

"Koalas must be given more space to live and thrive in if we are going to successfully overcome the challenges posed by urbanization, human-wildlife conflict and other issues created by human interference."

Arrival of tiny kitten gives hope to survival of Scottish wildcat

LONDON United Kingdom (Xinhua) -- A Scottish wildcat kitten, Britain’s rarest mammal with only 100 remaining, has been born at Chester Zoo in northern England.

Keepers at the zoo said with so few of the cats, also known as the Highland tiger, remaining, the arrival of the new female kitten is a huge boost to a breeding program striving to save them from extinction.

Chester Zoo is one of a number of conservation partners which form Scottish Wildcat Action, a co-ordinated effort to bring the tenacious hunters back from the brink.

Conservationists on Friday hailed the latest kitten as another lifeline for the specie, with a hope that future generations will be reintroduced to the wild.

The animals once thrived in Britain but were hunted to the brink of extinction for their fur and to stop them from preying on game birds.

As the only remaining wild feline species, wildcats are now protected under British law but are still under huge threat from habitat loss, cross-breeding with domestic cats and disease.

Tim Rowlands,curator of mammals at Chester Zoo, said:

"Unlike domestic cats who can have several litters a year, Scottish wildcats will usually only have one, so every birth is really, really significant.

"The kitten was born to parents Einich and Cromarty in August but, given their incredibly elusive nature, had not been caught on camera until now.

It’s so special to see just how active the kitten already is and how she’s already starting to practise the skills that these magnificent, stealth hunters use to pounce on their prey."

Rowlands said conservation breeding in zoos is a key component in the wider plan to prevent Scottish wildcats from disappearing altogether.

"The hope is that the safety net population being bred by our carnivore experts will be released into the highlands of Scotland in the future.

"We’re very much part of the vision to restore and maintain a wild population of the stunning Scottish wildcat for the long term," he added.

Chester Zoo said trail camera technology is revolutionising the way in which conservationists are able to estimate the population density and assess the genetic viability of wildcat populations.

Alongside the breeding program, Chester Zoo has also funded camera traps to support monitoring work in the Scottish highlands.

Conservationist groups call for vulture conservation
in Cambodia as rare birds facing extinction

PHNOM PENH Cambodia (Xinhua) -- Conservationist groups on Saturday called for joint efforts to conserve vultures in Cambodia as the rare birds are currently on the edge of extinction due to poisoning, food shortages and habitat loss, according to a joint press release.

The groups including the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Angkor Center for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB), the BirdLife International and Cambodia Vulture Working Group made the calls as the International Vulture Awareness Day was marked.

They said the conservation of vultures could help reduce the spread of disease because they eat only the flesh of other dead animals and also generate income for local communities through ecotourism.

"Unfortunately, Cambodia’s vultures are facing an increasingly high risk of extinction, as continuous monitoring surveys have shown a 50 percent decline in number since 2003," the release said.

"It is of great concern that only 121 of these majestic birds were recorded in this year’s national census, the lowest number on record since 2003," it said.

"Recent assessments indicate that poisoning is the major threat to vulture populations in Cambodia."

With global populations declining at an alarming rate, Cambodia’s three vulture species, namely Red-headed (Sarcogyps calvus), Slender-billed (Gyps tenuirostris), and White-rumped (Gyps bengalensis), are all listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as critically endangered.

"Northern Cambodia is the only place in Southeast Asia where vultures can still be found in large numbers, tourists come to see them at our vulture restaurant at Dong Phlet in Chhep Wildlife Sanctuary," said Simon Mahood, WCS’s senior technical advisor.

But during the past five years, at least 30 vultures had been killed in Cambodia due to widespread indiscriminate use of deadly poisons and pesticides across the country, which was severely impacting the vulture populations and also threatening human lives too.

Besides poisoning, Cambodia’s vultures suffer from habitat loss and food shortages caused by low numbers of wild ungulates—a major food source for vultures—and domestic cattle, the release said, adding that the increased levels of forest loss also negatively impact the birds through loss of nesting sites and reduction in natural prey availability.

"The low number recorded this year and the 50 percent decline since 2003 in Cambodia’s vulture population are an alarming trend and we have to increase more efforts to address the root causes to this decline; otherwise, this important and rare bird species will be disappeared from the only place in Southeast Asia where we can still see them," said Seng Teak, WWF’s country director.

Even more concerning news for Cambodian vulture conservation this year is that the veterinary drug diclofenac is now available in Cambodia, the release said, adding that in India, this drug is responsible for a decline of more than 90 percent of the country’s vulture populations.

"If a cow or a buffalo had been treated with diclofenac shortly before its death and vultures then feed on the carcass, they will die as diclofenac is highly toxic to vultures, even in very small amounts," said Julia Stenkat, ACCB’s veterinarian.

Bou Vorsak, Cambodia program manager of BirdLife International, said to save the birds from extinction, all kinds of conservation support and participation from local communities at vulture target sites, decision makers, and Cambodian people are needed.

Canadian province of British Columbia bans grizzly hunting

VANCOUVER British Columbia (Xinhua) -- The government of the Canadian province of British Columbia (B.C.) has decided to immediately end the hunting of grizzly bears throughout the province.

Under the new rules, which were made Monday and took effect immediately, it is illegal to hunt grizzlies for sport, or when an animal is killed for its parts and not its meat.

Hunting grizzlies for their meat is still permitted outside of the coastal region known as the Great Bear Rainforest.

"It is abundantly clear that the grizzly hunt is not in line with (British Columbia’s) values," said Doug Donaldson, B.C.’s minister of forests, lands and natural resources.

George Heyman, the province’s minister of environment and climate change strategy, said "our government is committed to improving wildlife management in B.C., and today’s announcement, along with a focused grizzly bear management plan, are the first steps in protecting one of our most iconic species."

In August, the government announced that it would end trophy hunting of grizzly bears at the conclusion of the 2017 grizzly bear hunt on Nov. 30, and stop all hunting of grizzly bears in the Great Bear Rainforest.

There are an estimated 15,000 grizzly bears in British Columbia.

"We also want to promote the healthy grizzly bear viewing economy in B.C. and give everyone the tremendous opportunity to see these incredible animals in their natural habitat," Heyman said in a news release.

First Nations, who are the predominant Aboriginal peoples of Canada south of the Arctic, will still be able to harvest grizzly bears for food and for social and ceremonial reasons based on existing treaty rights, the government said.

The ban on grizzly hunting, however, fails to address the destruction of grizzly habitat in B.C.—the predominant threat to the species, said Adam Ford, Canada research chair in wildlife restoration ecology at the University of British Columbia.

He said the hunting ban is clearly a popular move, but a recent report by B.C.’s own Auditor General on grizzlies concluded that habitat loss has the largest impact on grizzly bear death rates.

The Guide Outfitters Association of B.C. also has argued that the greatest threat to grizzly bears is not hunting, but human activities that degrade the grizzly bear habitat.

Ian McAllister, the executive director and co-founder of Pacific Wild, a non-profit wildlife advocacy organization based in B.C., said "there are also significant concerns around global warming and climate change affecting the diet of grizzly bears, including a lack of salmon and changing vegetation types."



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