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
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
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
The female and her 100-year-old groom mated over the years
and laid fertilized eggs on several occasions but none of them
Since 2015, a research team led by Australian zoologist Dr.
Gerald Kuchling began to obtain sperm from the male to fertilize
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
Dr. Xie Yan, former director of WSC projects in China,
expressed deep regret at the passing of the last known female of
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
Alongside the breeding program, Chester Zoo has also funded
camera traps to support monitoring work in the Scottish
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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."