Wednesday, February 8, 2017

US birds in ‘widespread decline’

Posted in Environment, Featured Articles, Travel by admin | Tags: , , , ,
baldeagle cornell US birds in widespread declineAlmost one third of the 800 species of birds found in the US are “endangered, threatened or in significant decline”, a report has concluded.

Described as the most comprehensive assessment of its kind, the study listed habitat loss and invasive species as being the main threats.

But where conservation measures had been taken, some bird populations had shown signs of recovery, it added.

The US State of Birds report was commissioned by President Bush in 2007.

It was compiled by a partnership of organisations, including the US Geological Survey and the American Bird Conservancy, from three long-running bird censuses stretching back 40 years.

Habitat concerns

One of the key findings was that more birds were at risk in Hawaii than anywhere else in the US.

“Habitats such as those in Hawaii are on the verge of losing entire suites of unique bird species,” warned David Pashley, American Bird Conservancy’s vice president.

As a result of the encroachment of human activities, nearly all of the bird species on the Hawaiian Islands were in danger of extinction unless urgent conservation measures were implemented.

“In addition to habitat loss, birds also face many other man-made threats, such as pesticides, predation by cats, and collisions with windows, towers and buildings,” Dr Pashley added.

The report also found that at least 39% of ocean bird species were declining, and about half were of “conservation concern”.

It also highlighted that half of coastal migrating shorebirds had declined, “indicating stress in coastal habitats besieged by development, disturbance and dwindling food supplies”.

The researchers said it indicated deteriorating conditions and that effective “management policies and sustainable fishing regulations were essential”.

But the report also presented evidence that populations of birds recovered quickly when conservation measures were taken.

The data revealed “dramatic increases” in wetlands species, such as pelicans, herons, egrets, ospreys and ducks.

“These results emphasise that investment in wetlands conservation has paid huge dividends,” observed Kenneth Rosenberg, director of conservation science at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

“Now we need to invest similarly in other neglected habitats where birds are undergoing the steepest declines.”

Robotic Pollution Fish

Posted in Technology by admin
roboticfish1 Robotic Pollution FishA robotic fish designed by UK scientists is the latest tool in the fight against water pollution. The robotic fish are designed to swim independently via wireless technology in seas, ocean, rivers and lakes to detect sources of pollution.

As part of a three-year research project funded by the European Commission and organized by BMT Group Ltd, an engineering and risk management consultancy, the carp-shaped robotic fish will be used to detect pollution in the port of Gijon in northern Spain.

Five of the robotic fish are currently being designed and built by Professor Huosheng Hu at the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex.

Each robotic fish costs £20,000 to make and will measure 1.5 metres (1.6 yards) in length (roughly the size of a seal) and swim at a maximum speed of about one metre (1.1 yards) per second. The fish are expected to mimic the movements of real fish and will be equipped with small chemical sensors to locate potentially hazardous pollutants in the water.

The robotic fish are designed to transmit information to a central hub via wireless technology. The fish will also return to the hub to recharge their batteries. The transmitted information will enable authorities to map in real time the source and scale of the pollution.

Unlike previously designed robotic fish that work with remote controls, the WIFI fish will have autonomous navigation capabilities, allowing the robotic fish to swim independently without human interaction. The robotic pollution finding fish are expected to be in use by the end of next year.

Fruit Picker Killed In Komodo Dragon Attack

Posted in Nature by admin
komodo Fruit Picker Killed In Komodo Dragon AttackMuhamad Anwar was attacked on Komodo, one of three islands in eastern Indonesia where the endangered giant reptile is found in the wild.

The incident happened minutes after the 31-year-old fell out of a sugar apple tree, police sergeant Kosmas Jalang said.

Mr Anwar was left bleeding badly from bites to his hands, body, legs and neck after the two waiting dragons attacked.

He died at a clinic on the neighbouring island of Flores soon afterwards, his neighbour Theresia Tawa said.

Attacks on humans by Komodo dragons are rare but appear to have increased in recent years.

An eight-year-old boy died after being mauled in 2007, while a park ranger survived a similar attack last month.

The latest mauling came as a zoo in Indonesia celebrated the birth of 32 Komodo dragons.

All of the babies hatched in the last two weeks, while another 14 eggs are still incubating at Surabaya Zoo.

Spokesman Agus Pangkat said it was the Komodo’s most successful breeding year at the zoo.

Komodo dragons can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh as much as 150 pounds.

Four seal species in danger of slipping away

Posted in Environment by admin
Hawaiian Monk Seal photo in water Four seal species in danger of slipping awayAs Canada kicks off its controversial seal hunting season this week, several species of seals around the world face uncertain futures.

In Finland, the Saimaa ringed seal (Pusa hispida saimensis), one of the world’s few freshwater seals, is likely to become extinct in a few years, according to the Finnish natural resources agency, Metsähallitus. Its population has dropped to just 260 due to “warmer winters, drownings of seals caught in fishnets and traps, and the dispersed nature of the seals themselves,” The Helsingin Sanomat newspaper reports.

Saimaa ringed seals form dens in snow and ice. In warmer winters, those dens melt, exposing young seals to the elements before they have had a chance to acquire their protective layers of fat. Lack of snow and ice also leave them exposed to fishermen, who sometimes kill them to prevent them from competing for their catch.

Disappearing ice is also becoming a problem for Baltic ringed seals (Phoca hispida botnica). “Climate models predict that the ice on the Baltic Sea will decrease by 50 to 80 percent by the end of the century,” Antti Halkka, chair of WWF Finland’s seal unit, told the Finnish news service YLE Uutiset. Like the Saimaa ringed seal, Baltic ringed seal pups live in ice dens where they are protected from predators and icy waters and fed by their protective mothers. Last year, according to WWF Finland, more than half of Baltic seal pups born in three of their four habitats died because ice levels were too low.

Another freshwater seal, Canada’s Lac des loups marins harbour seals (Phoca vitulina mellonae), could soon become listed as an endangered species in Canada, according to a report in The Nunatsiaq News. There are just 100 to 600 of these rare seals left (although most scientists believe the number is closer to the lower end of that range), and according to documents at the government’s Species At Risk Public Registry website, planned hydroelectric plants on the seals’ home lakes would result in the “disappearance of under-ice shelters and ice-free zones, changes in the availability of prey and mercury contamination.”

One seal species that doesn’t rely upon ice is the Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi). But that doesn’t mean it is less endangered. Research by Jennifer Schultz, a doctoral candidate at the Department of Zoology and Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology at University of Hawaii, Kaneohe, shows that Hawaiian monk seals face a genetic bottleneck, with the lowest genetic diversity of any mammal species ever studied. According her paper, published in the January-February 2009 issue of Journal of Heredity, this increases the risk that the species could be wiped out by disease. As to what caused this lack of genetic diversity, Schultz’s DNA tests revealed that all existing monk seals are probably descended from as few as 23 individual seals after the species was hunted to near-extinction in the Nineteenth Century.

Meanwhile, despite protests by many conservation and animal-rights organizations, Canada’s seal hunt continues, with an increased government-set quota of 338,000 baby harp seals (Phoca groenlandica). According to The Canadian Press, about 9,500 seals were killed on Monday, the first day of the season. Harp seals aren’t endangered — in fact, an estimated 6.5 million of them live in Canada — but many believe this hunt will not put the species on good footing for the future.

“The last time Canada allowed this many seals to be killed, the harp seal population was reduced by as much as two thirds within a decade,” Rebecca Aldworth, director of the Canadian branch of Humane Society International, said in a statement.

Those fighting the seal hunts — who say the hunting techniques are inhumane and that there is no real economic market for the seal furs — did gain some support in recent weeks: Russia has decided to ban the hunting of baby seals, and the European Union is considering a ban on trade in products made from seals.

Triumph of the bumbarrel

Posted in Animals by admin
bumbarrel Rex Triumph of the bumbarrelOne of Britain’s most charming small birds, once known as the bumbarrel, has entered the garden birdwatch top 10 for the first time. The tiny long-tailed tit is so small – the tail is longer than the body – that it is very vulnerable to cold weather. In harsh periods as many as 90 per cent may die.

However, the recent run of mild winters (with the exception of 2009) has produced a population boom, and in this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch, run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the long-tailed tit was the 10th commonest bird seen in gardens across the country – almost double the previous number.

During the weekend of 24 and 25 January, more than half a million people took part in what is thought to be the biggest natural history mass-participation exercise in the world, observing their gardens for an hour and recording all the birds that visited. This was a week before Siberian weather conditions hit Britain – and may also have hit long-tailed tits, to an extent which is not yet known.

During the observation weekend, the birds were very much in evidence, numbers having nearly doubled from 2008. An average of 1.34 long-tailed tits were seen per garden, compared with 0.71 per garden last year. They are typically seen in small foraging parties.

In Birds Britannica, Mark Cocker writes that “outside the breeding season they rove through their communal territory enveloped in a perpetual cocoon of soft, bubbling contact notes”. When a party flew off, he said, “they resemble a succession of whirring sticks with globular, pink ping-pong ball foreparts”.

More than 552,000 people took part in the survey this year – a record number – counting over 8.5 million birds, with a total of 73 species recorded in 279,000 gardens across the UK. The house sparrow retained its top spot for the sixth year running, with an average of 3.70 seen per garden. The starling, a former number one, came second with an average of 3.21 per garden. The blackbird completed the podium spots with 2.84 per garden.

Although remaining at the top of the list, both house sparrow and starling have suffered huge declines since the survey began 30 years ago, the former going down by 63 per cent, and the starling by 79 per cent. Ten sparrows were seen per garden in 1979, compared with 3.70 this year, while 15 starlings were seen in gardens 30 years ago, compared with only 3.21 in 2009.

All the other birds in the top 10 – blue tit, chaffinch, woodpigeon, collared dove, great tit, robin and long-tailed tit – were slightly up in numbers. “Many species have seen a very slight increase in the last year,” said the Big Garden Birdwatch co-ordinator Sarah Kelly.

“The significant increase in long-tailed tit sightings highlights the impact that feeding can have on some species. They have only started coming to feeders fairly recently, and more people are seeing them as this behaviour develops. As more and more people realise the importance of feeding and gardening for wildlife we are seeing an increasing variety of birds on our tables and feeders.”

The goldfinch dropped out of the top 10 rankings after its entry for the first time last year. Both the goldfinch (in 11th place) and the greenfinch slipped a place in 2009, although both species have steadily increased in recent years. Another finch, the striking siskin, which made it into the top 20 for the first time in the survey’s history last year, dropped back to number 26

New species found in Papua-New Guinea

Posted in Animals by admin
frog 1372382c New species found in Papua New GuineaA chirping frog, jumping spiders and a striped gecko were among more than 50 new animal species scientists have discovered in a remote, mountainous region of Papua New Guinea.Of the animals discovered, 50 spider species, three frogs and a gecko appear to have never been described in scientific literature before, said Conservation International. The Washington DC-based group spent the past several months analysing more than 600 animal species the group found during its expedition to the South Pacific island nation in July and August.

The new frogs include a tiny brown animal with a sharp chirp, a bug-eyed bright green tree frog and another frog with a loud ringing call.

One of the jumping spiders is shiny and pale green, while another is furry and brown.

“If you’re finding things that are that big and that spectacular that are new, that’s really an indication that there’s a lot out there that we don’t know about,” said Steve Richards, the leader of the expedition. “It never ceases to amaze me, the spectacular things that are turning up from that island.”

The findings are significant, particularly the discovery of the new frog species, said Craig Franklin, a zoology professor at The University of Queensland in Australia who studies frogs.

“They’re often regarded as a great bioindicator of environmental health,” said Mr Franklin, who was not involved in the expedition. “Often we see declines in frogs as a direct pointer to an affected environment.”

Researchers from Conservation International explored the region with scientists from the University of British Columbia in Canada and Montclair State University in New Jersey, as well as local scientists from Papua New Guinea.

The area the researchers explored provides a critical source of clean drinking water to tens of thousands of people living in surrounding communities and local clans rely on the region for hunting.

Crabs feel and remember pain

Posted in Animals by admin
crab Crabs feel and remember painThe study, which was carried out by Professor Bob Elwood and Mirjam Appel from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University, Belfast, looked at the reactions of hermit crabs to small electric shocks. It was published in the journal “Animal Behaviour.”

Professor Elwood, whose previous work showed that prawns endure pain, said his research highlighted the need to investigate the treatment of crustaceans used in food industries.

Hermit crabs have no shell of their own so inhabit other structures, usually empty mollusc shells.

In the research, wires were attached to shells to deliver the small shocks to the abdomen of some of the crabs within the shells. The only crabs to get out of their shells were those which had received shocks, indicating that the experience is unpleasant for them.

The research suggests that this response is not just a reflex, but that central neuronal processing takes place.

Hermit crabs are known to prefer some species of shells to others and it was found that that they were more likely to come out of the shells they least preferred.

The main aim of the experiment was to deliver a shock just under the threshold that causes crabs to move out of the shell, to see what happened when a new shell was then offered.

Crabs that had been shocked but had remained in their shell appeared to remember the experience of the shock because they quickly moved towards the new shell, investigated it briefly and were more likely to change to the new shell compared to those that had not been shocked.

“There has been a long debate about whether crustaceans including crabs, prawns and lobsters feel pain,” said Professor Elwood in a press statement.

“We know from previous research that they can detect harmful stimuli and withdraw from the source of the stimuli but that could be a simple reflex without the inner ‘feeling’ of unpleasantness that we associate with pain.

“This research demonstrates that it is not a simple reflex but that crabs trade-off their need for a quality shell with the need to avoid the harmful stimulus.

“Such trade-offs are seen in vertebrates in which the response to pain is controlled with respect to other requirements. Humans, for example, may hold onto a hot plate that contains food whereas they may drop an empty plate, showing that we take into account differing motivational requirements when responding to pain.

“Trade-offs of this type have not been previously demonstrated in crustaceans. The results are consistent with the idea of pain being experienced by these animals.”

Previous work at Queen’s University found that prawns show prolonged rubbing when an antenna was treated with weak acetic acid but this rubbing was reduced by local anesthetic.

According to Queen’s University the findings from both studies are consistent with observations of pain in mammals.

But Professor Elwood says that in contrast to mammals, little protection is given to the millions of crustaceans that are used in the fishing and food industries each day.

“More research is needed in this area where a potentially very large problem is being ignored,” said Elwood.

“Legislation to protect crustaceans has been proposed but it is likely to cover only scientific research. Millions of crustacean are caught or reared in aquaculture for the food industry.

“There is no protection for these animals (with the possible exception of certain states in Australia) as the presumption is that they cannot experience pain.

“With vertebrates we are asked to err on the side of caution and I believe this is the approach to take with these crustaceans

Brits flee to Godzone

Posted in Environment by admin
Flood2304 Brits flee to GodzoneNew Zealand is becoming a “lifeboat island” for environmental refugees, fleeing climate change that they fear will make the larger land masses of the Northern Hemisphere barren and uninhabitable.

One of the world’s most distinguished environmentalists, Professor James Lovelock, says in his new book, The Vanishing Face of Gaia, that New Zealand could be one of the world’s last havens as global warming fundamentally changes the planet.

And scientists at the Copenhagen climate science conference this month warned that equatorial regions in Asia and Africa would not be able to grow enough food, forcing a rush of eco-migrants to more temperate nations like New Zealand.

The fear of rising waters in England persuaded Lizzy and Mike Larmer-Cottle to move their family from London to Albany, half an hour north of Auckland, surrounded by rolling hills and beaches.

They say, New Zealand will provide a better quality of life for their sons.

“England was just having more and more flooding – half of it’s going to be under water,” said Lizzy..
Liam Clifford, a director of London-based GlobalVisas, writes on the company’s website that while some eco-migrants are from low-lying island nations, many are wealthy Americans and Europeans choosing to start a new life in New Zealand.

“It is seen as a country with a temperate climate that will escape extreme weather. It has a superior environmental record and is developing renewable fuels, and is shielded from conflicts by the Pacific Ocean.”

Figures from Statistics NZ show the numbers of permanent migrants arriving here from Europe increased 1 per cent to 26,870 in the past year.
The figures from the bigger continents are more dramatic: immigrant numbers from Asia increased by 14 per cent to 26,640, and those from the Americas climbed 12 per cent to 7357.

Adam Fier and his wife Misbah Sadat moved their family from Maryland in the United States to New Zealand late last month.

Fier, a computer security professional who used to work at Nasa, told the Washington Post the decision was made because of his two girls.

“Quite honestly, I feel in 100 years, one of my daughters is still going to be alive and this planet is going to be a mess,” he said.

Of course, the British have always been attracted here by the good climate, open spaces and lower pollution. But the new breed of eco-migrant is fleeing more than just crowds and smog.

Some scientists predict rising sea levels and increased rainfall could affect the homes and land of five million people.

Coupled with a predicted rise in the UK population to 71 million by 2031, some are choosing to leave now.

John Zamick chose New Zealand as a new home for his family for entirely environmental reasons.

In the UK rising temperatures and sea levels threatened to turn the “semi-arid” East Anglia region into a desert – if the low-lying plains are not swamped by rising seas instead.

The businessman, who now co-directs a biodiesel company in Nelson, saw the writing on the wall when he studied the droughts and other long-term environmental effects of global warming in Europe and North Africa.

“The whole Mediterranean basin is warming up at four times the speed of the planet,” he said.

His friend James Hardy was also influenced by global warming when he chose to move to Nelson.

Hardy compared the potential effects of global warming on the UK environment to the American movie The Day After Tomorrow. The blockbuster shows the world being ravaged by an ice age and floods.

He, his wife and three children decided to move south three-and-a-half years ago.

“New Zealand has land, New Zealand has wind and a far more sustainable climate,” he said.

Save Last Cross River Gorillas

Posted in Animals by admin
cross river gorilla campaign Save Last Cross River GorillasThe Cross River Gorilla Campaign assists the international efforts of the Great Ape Survival Project (GRASP) to secure a long-term viable future for great apes in the wild. GRASP is a project of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Goal of the campaign is to focus attention and raise awareness about the relatively unknown Cross River gorilla as well as to raise funds for its conservation. These elusive gorillas are hard to spot deep in the rainforest. Two important expeditions to the highland rainforests of South West Cameroon have been organised in 2006 and 2007.

For 2009, a third expedition has been planned to survey the entire range of the remaining gorilla family groups and identify suitable locations for a rescue and research facility.

The team also takes part in one of the most daunting challenges in Africa – the Mount Cameroon Race – raising awareness and involving youth of the local communities – and took the 3rd position this year. The Mount Cameroon Race, climbing up to 4,100m above sea level, remains the most dangerous race for people because of its terrain, climate and topography.

The Cross River Gorilla is listed as being critically endangered and can only be found in a small area (12,000 km2) around the Cross River straddling the border between Cameroon and Nigeria. Critically endangered means that gorilla numbers have decreased, or will decrease, by 80% within three generations if the situation remains the same.

Currently there are less than 300 Cross River gorillas in the wild. Like many endangered species, Cross River gorillas are being threatened by the loss of habitat due to human encroachment into their natural habitats.

“Cross River Gorillas face an additional danger because they are hunted for their meat,” said Arend de Haas, director of ACF. “In many communities, bushmeat makes up a large proportion of the animal protein being eaten, up to 84% in some communities living near the rainforest”. Gorillas have also been killed by local residents due to perceived danger and or human-wildlife conflicts such as crop-raiding.

Since 2003, ACF has been working together with ERuDeF on the conservation of great apes and their habitat, the montane rainforests in South West Cameroon. Conservation efforts for the cross river gorilla under the Regional Action Plan adopted in 2007 include the establishment of community managed protected areas, education and training of former poachers, transboundary conservation planning, development of ecotourism as well as improved legislation and law enforcement.

Crossrivergorilla.org has been developed as a global education and fundraising platform – visitors can learn more about this unique great ape and stay up to date with the latest developments.

High realist gorilla and other wildlife fine art prints have been created by award winning Canadian artist Daniel Taylor and are available at crossrivergorilla.org and at art-for-africa.net.