Blood does not buy goodwill

In the paper published Guillaume Chapron and Adrian treves in Proceedings B of the Royal Society (Blood does not buy goodwill: allowing culling increases poaching of a large carnivore), the authors looked at whether removing protection for large carnivores would decrease illegal hunting. This idea is supported by many governments. Does it work as expected? Find out by watching this video and by reading the paper available at http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/283/1830/20152939.

Abstract of the paper:

Quantifying environmental crime and the effectiveness of policy interventions is difficult because perpetrators typically conceal evidence. To prevent illegal uses of natural resources, such as poaching endangered species, governments have advocated granting policy flexibility to local authorities by liberalizing culling or hunting of large carnivores. We present the first quantitative evaluation of the hypothesis that liberalizing culling will reduce poaching and improve population status of an endangered carnivore. We show that allowing wolf (Canis lupus) culling was substantially more likely to increase poaching than reduce it. Replicated, quasi-experimental changes in wolf policies in Wisconsin and Michigan, USA, revealed that a repeated policy signal to allow state culling triggered repeated slowdowns in wolf population growth, irrespective of the policy implementation measured as the number of wolves killed. The most likely explanation for these slowdowns was poaching and alternative explanations found no support. When the government kills a protected species, the perceived value of each individual of that species may decline; so liberalizing wolf culling may have sent a negative message about the value of wolves or acceptability of poaching. Our results suggest that granting management flexibility for endangered species to address illegal behaviour may instead promote such behaviour.

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Monitoring Rarity: The Critically Endangered Saharan Cheetah as a Flagship Species for a Threatened Ecosystem

A paper on  the first survey of the critically endangered Saharan cheetah Acinonyx jubatus hecki was recently published in the Journal PlOS ONE. The study was carried out over two field seasons (August-October 2008 and August-November 2010) in Ahaggar Cultural Park, South Central Algeria by Farid Belbachir and his colleagues.

A rectangular trapping grid was designed and overlaid on a satellite image of the study area using 40 camera trap locations, spaced 10 km apart, covering a total area of 2,551 km2. The survey used camera-traps which use passive infra-red motion detectors that trigger a photograph when animals pass in front of the camera.

Cameras were usually placed under the nearest tree within 1km of each pre-allocated grid point. Trees were selected as they were likely to be attractive to passing cheetah; however they had the added advantage of providing shade for the camera traps, protecting them from the heat of the day.

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Photographs were obtained from 15 captures of cheetah in 2008 and 17 captures in 2010. The data in 2008 and 2010 yielded captures of four adult cheetah (3 males and 1 of unidentified sex) and two adult cheetah (2 males) and one subadult (unidentified sex) respectively. Camera-trap effort totaled 1862 trap-days in 2008 and 3367 trap-days in 2010. Overall, an average of 124.1 and 198.1 trap-days were necessary to capture a single cheetah picture in 2008 and 2010, respectively. Continue reading

Judge rules to keep gray wolves on endangered species list

Great news from USA! Great job done by the Scientists. You can download the letter sent to the judge HERE.

As scientists with expertise in carnivore taxonomy and conservation biology, we are writing to express serious concerns with a recent draft rule leaked to the press that proposes to remove Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 States, excluding the range of the Mexican gray wolf. Collectively, we represent many of the scientists responsible for the research referenced in the draft rule. Based on a careful review of the rule, we do not believe that the rule reflects the conclusions of our work or the best available science concerning the recovery of wolves, or is in accordance with the fundamental purpose of the Endangered Species Act to conserve endangered species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. Continue reading

Japanese Firms Importing Illegal Russian Timber

Significant quantities of illegal timber products from the forests of Siberia and the Russian Far East are flowing into Japan, according to a new report by the US-based nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). While the United States and European Union have recently enacted new policies that prohibit the import of illegally sourced wood and wood products and require companies to conduct heightened due diligence in their sourcing practices, Japan’s failure to enact similar measures makes it an open market for illegal timber products from around the world.

The report, The Open Door: Japan’s Continuing Failure to Prevent Imports of Illegal Russian Timber, details supply chains for illegally cut Siberian pine, bought by Chinese traders and imported to China, manufactured into wood products and sold on markets all over Japan. In undercover interviews, officials from San Xia, one of the largest Chinese importers of Russian timber, detailed how they purchase this timber from illegal loggers deep inside Siberia and launder this timber across the border using documentation from their forest concession. In factories across northeastern China, San Xia transforms this timber into edge-glued lumber, 90% of which is sold to Japan for housing construction.

“The no questions asked market for wood products in Japan is fueling rampant illegal logging in eastern Russia,” said Kate Horner, Director of Forest Campaigns at EIA. “The time has come for Japan to join other developed nations in support legal forest products trade. Without swift action by the government to prohibit illegal timber from entering its market, Japanese consumers will continue to be unwitting financiers of the timber mafias that are raiding the world’s forests.”

Illegal logging is estimated to comprise at least 50% of total timber harvests in eastern Russia, with some estimates nearing 90%, and poses one of the gravest threats to both the region’s forest ecology and the future of the Russian forest products industry. This trade fuels corruption and environmental destruction, including some of the most biodiverse and pristine forests in the Russian Federation. These products directly compete with Japanese domestic timber, depressing prices globally and putting Japanese forest producers at a competitive disadvantage.

This report follows EIA’s 2013 Liquidating the Forests: Hardwood Flooring, Organized Crime, and the World’s Last Siberian Tigers. In the 2013 report, EIA investigators documented how Lumber Liquidators, the largest specialty flooring retailer in the United States, had purchased millions of square feet of hardwood flooring from a Chinese supplier who sources illegal oak originating in the Russian Far East, the northernmost range of the last 450 Siberian tigers in the world. In September 2013, the United Stated Department of Justice initiated a federal investigation of Lumber Liquidators reportedly for alleged violations of the Lacey Act.

“Organized criminal groups send out logging brigades to steal valuable hardwoods from protected areas, decimating Russian forests and depriving the Russian economy of millions of dollars in lost tax revenue,” said Horner. “Importing cheap illegal wood from eastern Russia is a tragic crime of convenience that directly undercuts Japanese business trying to play by the rules. Any company buying products containing wood from eastern Russia, whether directly or via China, should know that it may be using stolen wood and must take great care to ensure legality.”

Japan must take decisive and immediate action to close its market to the cheap, illegal timber that is undercutting both its domestic forestry operations as well as the forests and livelihoods of its trading partners.

Access to the report: http://eia-global.org/images/uploads/EIA_Liquidating_the_Forests.pdf

Editor’s Notes

1. Environmental Investigation Agency. 2014. “The Open Door: Japan’s Continuing Failure to Prevent Imports of Illegal Russian Timber.”
2. Environmental Investigation Agency. 2013. “Liquidating the Forests: Hardwood Flooring, Organized Crime, and the World’s Last Siberian Tigers.”

Source: http://eia-global.org/news-media/japanese-firms-importing-illegal-russian-timber

Coexisting with Carnivores—Why It’s Not a Zero-Sum Game

It was late in the summer, and the two young lions had been on a camel killing spree. Over a period of three months, they had entered the villages of the Samburu people at night and killed ten prized camels.

It wasn’t long before they paid the price. One hot, hazy day in early September, when the male lions were napping under a scraggly acacia tree, a group of five young men came upon them. The men fired their AK-47s. Lguret, whose name means “cowardly,” ran off. Loirish, who was the more aggressive of the pair, may have stood his ground. He may even have tried to fight back, but he was no match for the rifles.

Letoiye with Lorish head

Samburu warrior Letoiye mourns the loss of Loirish, a lion he had been tracking.

Then the men butchered Loirish. They used their knives, adorned in colorful plastic as all Samburu warrior knives are, to cut off the lion’s head and feet. Then they took Loirish’s head and burned it in a small fire, an unusual act that was probably meant to destroy the GPS tracking collar we had placed on him to track his movements so we could warn herders. By the time we got to the grisly site, Liorish’s feet were missing. The men had taken them, perhaps to be sold on the growing black market for traditional Chinese medicine.

Letoiye, a member of the Samburu tribe and a part of our field team which had been tracking Loirish up to that day, stared at the blackened head in the pit and asked no one in particular, “Why did they kill my lion?”

Warrior Watch

Liorish unfortunately shares his fate with a growing number of large carnivores around the world who have clashed with humans and didn’t survive. Of the 31 large carnivores species like him—including lions, tigers, cougars, wolves, and snow leopards—most live not in some pristine wilderness, as we’d like to believe, but in landscapes dominated by humans and their activities. As a result, these animals are caught in a struggle between two sides of humanity—the one that wants large carnivores preserved and the other that would like to see them eliminated.

Letoiye is a Samburu moran, or warrior, a group that has traditionally been neglected in conservation. He never went to school and instead roamed the countryside tending to his family’s livestock while keeping a watchful eye on the land around the village. Despite their lack of formal education, Letoiye and his fellow moran possess skills that are the envy of many biologists and wildlife authorities. Because their job is to ensure their community’s security—which in rural East Africa often involves watching for predators—the moran know an impressive amount about lions and other predators.

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A lioness gazes over the plain at Buffalo Springs National Reserve in Kenya.

Warriors like Letioye inspired us to set up Warrior Watch four years ago. They offer an intimate knowledge of the landscape and how lions and other wildlife move throughout it. In return, we teach Letioye and his peers how to identify each lion’s unique whisker spot pattern and how to discuss carnivore issues with fellow Samburu. We also offer weekly lessons on reading and writing in English and Kiswahili.

Before Warrior Watch, it wasn’t uncommon for moran to hunt and kill lions without question from their peers. But now, this program and others in Kenya are proving that attitudes towards lions and other large carnivores can change. A recent study of the program showed that participating warriors and their communities had a higher tolerance of lions and better understanding of their value.

The situation in the United States is not much different from the Samburu in Kenya. In California in 2013, for example, the state’s Department of Fish and Game issued 148 permits to eliminate cougars that had killed livestock and pets. As the suburbs expand out into once-wild areas, cougars are becoming more common in people’s backyards, where they occasionally kill goats and pets. While our livelihoods don’t always depend on our animals in the same way that the Samburus’ rely on their livestock, cougar-human clashes in California illustrate a broader point. The U.S. and Kenya share a bond that is at the heart of human-carnivore conflict: we both kill carnivores when we perceive them as threats to things we value.

Population at Risk

The reality is, of course, that we are a far greater threat to carnivores than they are to us. The cougar, for example, was all but eliminated from the eastern half of the United States during the 20th century. And in Africa, in the last half a century, the number of lions roaming in the wild has declined from 200,000 to fewer than 35,000. That’s mostly due to habitat destruction by humans. Lions used to roam most of the continent. Today, they occupy just 20% of their original territory, scattered across the continent and separated by cities, highways, villages, and farm fields. Some live on reserves, but that protected area isn’t enough to cover lions’ still expansive home ranges.

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moran scouts the savannah

A large number of conservationists favor creating more protected areas like national parks and reserves. After all, the largest intact populations of lions live in Selous and Ruaha National Parks, giant expanses of land under protection in Tanzania. These parks not only protect lions, they also support the entire ecosystem, fostering healthy savannahs that nurture gazelles and other prey species that keep lions sated. They also generate income through tourism, a not unimportant fact in many impoverished regions.

But protected areas haven’t been a panacea for large carnivores. As in the U.S., most African parks do not offer complete protection. Poachers have infiltrated many parks specifically to go after lions, while herders grazing their livestock inside park boundaries inadvertently take resources away from lion prey like gazelles and wildebeest.

Which is why some conservation biologists are suggesting that the only way to truly protect lions is to fully enclose reserves in fences. Yes, this would trap lions inside the parks, but it would also create a physical barrier between them and us. Such a move certainly has the potential to reduce poaching and limit human-animal conflict, but it could also reduce the viability of individual lion populations inside. Large carnivores like lions require expansive ranges to meet their daily needs. Plus, they can suffer from a phenomenon known as bottlenecking when overcrowded, which can lead to higher incidence of genetic disease and inbreeding. Fencing in lions to creating carnivore islands is one tool that might be effective in some cases, but given the potential for problems, it is not a “one size fits all” solution.

Building Tolerance

A better solution is to raise the tolerance of the land—and the people—living around protected areas. Lions, cougars, and other large carnivores will be able to live with people if they have safe refuge and as long as we keep ourselves and our property at a safe distance. Yet carnivores don’t belong in every human landscape, so we also need to carefully manage the areas where they can be supported.

That’s why we’re working hard in northern Kenya to create these landscape mosaics where local people can tolerate carnivores. We use a combination of high-tech research activities combined with low-cost community-sourced education programs like Warrior Watch. This year, we are fitting GPS-enabled tracking collars on ten young adult male lions. By mapping lion movements through the landscape, we can identify key corridors and refuges that might be prioritized for lions. The tracks also let us know which communities are in the lions’ territories so we can reach out to them with programs like Warrior Watch.

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One of the lions collared and tracked as a part of the Warrior Watch program

At the same time, we’re also using the GPS collars to tell herders where the predator hot zones are. That way they can keep their livestock clear, avoiding unnecessary confrontations and losses. We can also track lions like Loirish that are known for killing livestock. When we locate one, our warriors go in to tell the villagers to be especially vigilant.

We can apply these lessons here in the U.S., too. As cougar and other carnivore populations make a comeback, a mixed approach is key. Protected areas are certainly important, since they provide carnivores and their prey with crucial strongholds. But we also need people to develop a tolerance to carnivores if we are to sustain that coexistence.

It’s starting to happen in places like the Santa Cruz mountains where conservation groups, state agencies, academic institutions, and landowners are working together to improve tolerance of cougars. Homeowners are learning how to properly fence their goats to keep them safe from cougar attacks, which can reduce the need to kill cougars in retaliation. And local governments are installing culverts under roadways to let cougars cross highways without risking dangerous collisions with vehicles. There are other innovative measures, too, like the protection of a forest behind a cement plant that cougars took a liking to. Portions of the plant grounds are open for recreational hiking while the important cougar habitat is being left intact. There’s something for everyone.

Additionally, we need programs that educate hikers and pet owners as well as ones to work with groups, like the Samburu warriors, that haven’t been a part of traditional outreach programs.

Finally, the most important thing to remember is that everyone’s point of view needs to be included in the process. It’s useful to keep in mind that the Samburu don’t need to be told how to live with lions—they’ve been doing that for tens of thousands of years—or that Americans don’t like being pandered to. Together, we can figure out how humans, livestock, pets, and wild carnivores can live together in increasingly crowded landscapes.

Not Alone

Back in Kenya, Letoiye remains troubled by the killing of Loirish. In some respects, his new way of thinking clashes with the old ways that many of his people still follow. He no longer sees lions as a threat, but as a unique part of his identity. He feels a responsibility to protect them, and he works everyday to convey a message of coexistence. But not everyone wants to listen. Loirish’s death is perhaps the most vivid reminder of that.

Fortunately, Letoiye’s not alone. Another warrior on our team, Jeneria, once said something that gives me hope: “Lions are in my blood now.” Losing lions is something Letoiye, Jeneria, and their fellow warriors are no longer willing to accept.

Exotic pet trade a threat to wild populations?

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Vipera ammodytes ©Photo: Ruben Portas

Pet stores are filled with colorful critters originating from the wilds of other continents. All the cages and terrariums stay well stocked while many prized species decline in their native habitat. Does the global fascination with exotic pet species hasten their extinction?

One way to find out is to compare the list of traded species with a list of species in trouble. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) maintains records of reported legal exports from its 180 member countries. The conservation status of species are listed on the red list curated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Both datasets were analyzed by conservation biologists for a seven-year period of international trade in bird, reptile, and mammal species.

Birds were by far the most abundantly traded taxon. No surprise, parrots and their close relatives made up the bulk of the 56,792 individuals flown and shipped around the world. Almost a quarter of the birds were the first offspring of wild parents or were taken directly from the wild themselves. Reptiles, mainly turtles and tortoises, were second in demand: 6,210 were shipped out, but only 10 percent were taken from the wild. Among mammals, all those legally traded came from captive breeding programs and they were the least commonly traded taxon – there were 1,226 individuals reported during the study period – and consisted almost entirely of primates and carnivores.

The removal of over 13,000 birds from the wild may be disconcerting given that some populations of rare species are down to a few hundred individuals. Yet, despite the high volume of bird sales, the traded species were one and a half times less likely to be red listed than off-market species. Rarity may not be in vogue for bird owners, but short-term and high-volume trading, like three shipments totaling 5,400 Uruguayan monk parakeets imported by Mexico, could deplete wild populations. And surges in the popularity of a single species, such as Blue Macaw sales after the release of the animated film Rio, could tip the balance.

species counts Exotic pet trade a threat to wild populations?

In contrast to birds, the researchers found the demand for reptilian and mammalian pets was related to scarcity in the wild. Traded reptiles were five times more likely and mammals were three times more likely to be red listed than off-market species. The association could be an upswing in popularity of species as their global numbers decline, similar to the fervor of baseball card collectors on the scent of a Mickey Mantle. There could also be a real effect of trade on wild populations. Even though a smaller proportion of reptiles were removed from the wild, several of them, such as the radiated tortoise, have slow generation times insufficient to replace even a few removals. In addition, one animal that survives capture in the wild may represent several fatal failed attempts that go unreported in CITES data. Increases in illegal trading may also parallel legal trading, and those data are harder to track down. In the case of mammals, whom suppliers claim come from cages, wild populations may just be in trouble, period. Habitat loss, wildlife and human conflicts, and hunting for meat or body parts – ivory for example – are the real problem.

The international pet trade appears to carry less responsibility for declines in wild populations than other stressors, at least for birds and mammals. That could change as human population growth increases the demand and strain on desirable animals. Stepping up legislation and enforcement efforts could help. So might new mascot marketing strategies that mimic the waddle of Aflac rather than the sticky toes of Geico. – Miles Becker | 31 March 2014

Source: Bush, E.R. et al. 2014. Global trade in exotic pets 2006-2012. Conservation Biology doi: 10.1111/cobi.12240

Figure data © Bush et al. 2014 and IUCN red list

Source: http://conservationmagazine.org/2014/03/exotic-pet-trade-threat-wild-populations/

A king without a kingdom…

Lion population distribution map

Public Domain Public domain

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has been labelling the iconic lion as ‘vulnerable’ since 1996. Various estimates show that populations have been going down by about 30–50% over each 20-year period of the second half of the 20th century. Starting with a population of around 400,000 in 1950, lions are now down to around 16,500-47,000 living in the wild based on estimates from 2002–2004 (certainly less than that now).

What’s happening? Mostly habitat loss and conflicts with humans, as well as some disease outbreaks.

The best way to illustrate just how much things have changed for lions is with the map above. The red areas show the species’ historic range, while the blue areas show where they can be found today… Sad, isn’t it?

For more on this, see our previous article about the “catastrophic collapse” of lion populations in West Africa.

Personal comment:

I trully hope that this beautiful animal will not be devanished one day. Theere is nothing like hearing the lion roaring from your tenth. I had this amazing feeling both in Botswana and Namibia and there is nothing compaable to it!

To end this post, some lion pics from my last trips

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Lion, Botswana. Photo: Rubén Portas

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Lion, Botswana. Photo: Rubén Portas

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lion cub, Namibia. Photo: Rubén Portas

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Collared Lioness, Namibia. Photo: Rubén Portas

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Lion, Namibia. Photo: Rubén Portas