Artificial nests bring new hope for vulnerable shy albatross

Artificial nests bring new hope for vulnerable shy albatross

Dozens of fluffy shy albatross chicks sitting on artificial nests are a promising sign for scientists behind an innovative plan to give the vulnerable species a boost to help counteract the negative impacts of climate change.

Over 100 specially built mudbrick and aerated concrete artificial nests were airlifted on to Bass Strait’s Albatross Island off the northwest coast of Tasmania in July 2017 to trial a program aimed at increasing the breeding success of the shy albatross.

Higher air temperatures and increased rainfall associated with climate change are reducing breeding success for Australia’s only albatross, and the rapid warming of the ocean may also make it harder for foraging parents to find prey. Monitoring shows that birds with inferior nests are less likely to successfully raise a chick.

Luckily, the artificial nests appear to be working.

“Shy albatross lay a single egg in late September and those eggs have now hatched,” said Dr. Rachael Alderman, a biologist with the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment. “At this stage in the trial, the breeding success of pairs on artificial nests is 20% higher than those on natural nests. There are many more months ahead for all the chicks, and a lot can change, but so far it’s very promising.”

Endemic to Australia, shy albatross only nest on three islands off the coast of Tasmania—Albatross Island, Pedra Branca, and Mewstone. In some parts of the Albatross Island colony, birds struggle to find and keep sufficient nesting material, resulting in poor quality nests.

Conservation scientists and funding partners from the Tasmanian and Australian governments, WWF-Australia, WWF's Wildlife Adaptation Innovation Fund, CSIRO Marine Climate Impact, and the Tasmanian Albatross Fund have worked together to place nests in areas where they were typically of lower quality. Recent monitoring shows that the birds are accepting the nests and personalizing them with mud and vegetation.

“Albatross Island gets hit with wild weather,” said Darren Grover, WWF-Australia’s head of living ecosystems who recently visited the project site. “Good quality nests keep eggs and chicks safe and sound. The artificial nests were all intact, but many of the natural nests were already starting to deteriorate. That’s not the best start in life for a chick.”

When the chicks are fully grown and about to fly from the island for the first time, scientists will attach tiny satellite trackers to them to capture the movements of their first few months at sea. This will provide crucial information about why fewer juveniles are surviving.

As the climate continues to change, scientists need to develop, test, and evaluate new approaches to protecting vulnerable species. This collaborative innovation is an encouraging step for the future of the shy albatross and can serve as a model for other wildlife recovery efforts.

“It’s fantastic to see this project come to fruition,” said Dr. Sally Box, Australia’s threatened species commissioner. “We all have a role to play in protecting our threatened species, and thanks to contributions by government, scientists, and non-government partners, we are starting to see some really positive outcomes for the shy albatross in Tasmania.”



Published February 15, 2018 at 06:00AM

Conservation on the move

Conservation on the move

One muggy morning, a group of uniformed fifth graders files from their classroom and forms a circle in the grassy common of State Elementary School 192. At their center, wielding a microphone, a compact, energetic man named Samsuardi counts them into groups of three, and announces their roles: Ones and threes will grasp each other’s shoulders, representing large, shady trees in the forest; twos are elephants, which must hide under the trees for shelter.

The elephants dutifully find trees to crouch beneath. “HUNTER!” Samsuardi shouts, his high-pitched voice ricocheting off the compound walls. The elephants scurry out from under the trees to the edge of the field. He calls them back, then bellows, “LOGGER! LOGGER!” This time the trees flee, giggling as they miraculously uproot themselves and leave the elephants exposed.

The game looks like anything you’d expect to see on a playground, until Samsuardi ends it with a mini conservation lesson. “It’s important to keep elephants and trees together,” he tells the students, his tone serious now. “If there is no forest, the elephants will suffer.”

State Elementary School 192 serves Tri Makmur Village in central Sumatra. Since the mid-1980s, small-scale and industrial farming operations have gnawed away at the Indonesian island’s rain forests, steadily replacing its lush native trees and vegetation with palm oil and rubber plantations. As those forests have shrunk, critically endangered Sumatran elephants and Sumatran tigers have been pushed into smaller and smaller habitats—and more conflict with nearby human communities

The rapid deforestation of Sumatra has caused severe consequences for people too, Local villagers lose the built-in services provided by intact forests—including flood and erosion control. They may also suffer from health-endangering haze when land is illegally cleared by slash-and-burn methods on a massive scale. Tri Makmur Village lies close to a forest known as Thirty Hills (Bukit Tigapuluh in Bahasa), one of the last remaining havens for Sumatra’s elephants and tigers.

Samsuardi, an awareness education specialist for WWF, directs the Mobile Education Unit , a conservation program started in 2016 and funded by the Michelin Foundation. Through games like the elephant-and-tree exercise, a mobile library, and a series of lessons taught by School 192’s teachers, the MEU is helping students here—along with those at nine other local elementary schools—learn how to protect vulnerable wildlife and prevent conflict with elephants and tigers. 

The program also works to educate local adults and companies. “As of June 2017, we’ve already engaged 400 community members, about 350 students, and employees at two companies,” Samsuardi says.

The hope is that each resident will become an ambassador for protecting the forest and its species. For students at School 192, that means going home and sharing what they’ve learned from the MEU with their families.

"Teach these stories and games to your mothers, your fathers, your brothers, and your sisters,” Samsuardi tells the whole student body at the end of the MEU’s visit. “Tell them about the importance of protecting the forest. Habitat is home, so it’s important to protect our home.”



Published February 07, 2018 at 06:00AM

Dams planned along the Mura River would devastate the “Amazon of Europe”

Dams planned along the Mura River would devastate the “Amazon of Europe”

As a little boy, WWF Freshwater Expert Arno Mohl would chase lizard and frogs along the free-flowing rivers that meandered through Central Europe. He would catch fish with his parents along the rivers' shores, enjoying the amazing scenery and plethora of life. Now he clings to these memories as the wild rivers that anchored them have transformed into chains of reservoirs.

For several decades, the pressure on river landscapes has increased steadily. People are straightening and regulating rivers to better serve their needs; mining them for gravel and sand, which are critical to construction industries; or harnessing them for hydropower.

"You have to travel farther to find river landscapes and floodplain forests of the kind that were typical of the whole of Central Europe in the past," said Mohl. "Most flowing water bodies fall victim to electricity production."

Some pristine wilderness remains along the floodplains of the Mura, Drava, and Danube rivers, which flow through Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia, and Serbia. The area is justifiably referred to as the “Amazon of Europe” due to its immaculate natural beauty and abundance of life. The rivers provide opportunities for recreation and nature tourism, and they supply clean drinking water and natural flood protection. In 2011, the governments of all five countries signed an agreement committing to the long-term protection of this area.

Unfortunately, the Mura river—a relatively connected stretch of water that serves as one of the last refuges for wildlife and rare fish like otters and the Danube salmon—is at significant risk of dam development. Eight currently proposed dams, the first of which is in Hrastje-Mota, would devastate wildlife habitat and more than 31 miles of river. Endangered migratory fish species would no longer be able to move up and downstream, and river bed deepening would dry out floodplain forests, oxbows, and agricultural areas. The loss of natural water retention areas would lead to increased flood risk for communities downstream.

Damming the Mura, and consequently transforming the river into eight lifeless reservoirs, also goes against the Slovenian government’s commitment to ensure international protection of the area.

Last year, Slovenia’s Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning, with the support of the Slovenian government, nominated the area to join a future multi-national UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. At 1.9 million acres, it’s the largest and first protected area in Central Europe that crosses country borders. The area is also part of the European Union’s protected areas network called Natura 2000, designated for the protection of vulnerable habitats of specific species. Damming the river would breach both Slovenian legislation and EU environmental law.

Together with our partners, WWF is urging the Slovenian government to stop the eight hydropower dams planned on the Mura. This river needs to remain free-flowing for the people and wildlife that depend on it.

"In some places, the river paradise of my childhood still exists,” Mohl said. “We will fight to keep them.”

You can help. Sign our petition to Irena Majcen, Slovenia’s Minister for Environment and Spatial Planning, and urge the stopping of the eight hydropower dams planned on the Mura.



Published February 05, 2018 at 06:00AM

5 interesting facts about the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland

5 interesting facts about the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland

Wetlands—places where the land is covered by water, either salt, fresh, or somewhere in between—cover just over 6% of the Earth's land surface. Sprinkled throughout every continent except Antarctica, they provide food, clean drinking water, and refuge for countless people and animals around the world. Despite their global significance, an estimated one-half of all wetlands on the planet have disappeared.

Amid the loss, one specific wetland stands out: the Pantanal. At more than 49.4 million acres, the Pantanal is the largest and one of the most pristine wetlands in the world. The Pantanal sprawls across three South American countries—Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay—and supports millions of people there, as well as communities in the lower Rio de la Plata Basin.

WWF is working on the ground to conserve the region through the creation of protected areas and promoting sustainable use of natural resources.

Check out these facts about the Pantanal that every wetland enthusiast should know!

1. The Pantanal is larger than 29 US states and at least nine European countries.

That’s right! If the Pantanal was overlaid on the US it would be bigger than New York, Florida, and Wisconsin, among 25 other states. Put the Pantanal over Europe, and it would be larger than at least nine countries, including England, Austria, Hungary, Greece, and Ireland.

 

2. The Pantanal comprises about 3% of the entire world’s wetlands.

A conservative, cumulative estimate of the size of the world’s wetlands places the figure at 1.4 billion acres. Though only a fraction of that figure, the Pantanal remains more intact and pristine that most other wetland systems.

 

3. The Pantanal is a refuge for iconic wildlife.

This massive wetland has the largest concentration of crocodiles in the world, with approximately 10 million caimans. Jaguars, the largest feline in the Americas, hunt caiman in the Pantanal, which has one of the highest density of jaguars anywhere the world. The Pantanal is also home to the biggest parrot on the planet, the hyacinth macaw. Sighting these animals and others help attract the 1 million tourists who visit the Pantanal every year.

 

4. Less than 5% of the Pantanal is protected.

The areas that are protected are globally significant, with parts that fall under an agreement called Ramsar that requires national governments to conserve and wisely use wetlands, and some that are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Biosphere Reserves. Around 95% of the Pantanal is under private ownership, the majority of which is used for cattle grazing.

 

5. Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil are creating a new way to manage the Pantanal across borders.

WWF supports a new initiative in which the three countries are working on a tri-national agreement for the sustainable development and conservation of this globally significant freshwater resource. The framework they're creating could be replicated in other places around the world. 

 



Published January 31, 2018 at 06:00AM

South Africa’s rhino poaching trends show a slight decrease—but death toll remains too high

South Africa’s rhino poaching trends show a slight decrease—but death toll remains too high

New rhino poaching numbers out of South Africa show a small decrease from the previous year, but the death toll remains perilously high.

The South African Department of Environmental Affairs announced that poachers killed 1,038 rhinos in 2017, down from 1,054 in 2016. Officials recorded a record loss of 1,215 rhinos in 2014.

Much of the poaching has shifted to rhino populations living outside of South Africa’s Kruger National Park to places where the risk of getting caught is lower and the benefits are greater.

Unfortunately, we’re seeing an increase in poaching numbers for other species in Kruger. Elephant losses grew to 67 in 2017 from 46 in 2016.

“Wildlife trafficking remains a pervasive threat to rhinos, and increasingly to other species such as elephants and lions which bring tourists and jobs to our important protected areas,” said Dr. Jo Shaw, African rhino lead for WWF International. “These crimes also affect people living around our parks by exposing them to criminals connected to international trafficking syndicates.”

Despite the still dangerously high rhino poaching numbers, the South African government has made some progress in tackling the issue. It has increased the number of convictions for illegal activities relating to rhinos, especially higher up within the criminal syndicates behind the poaching. And it’s working closely with communities to get them involved in the legal wildlife economy, including ecotourism.

WWF is supporting and experimenting with community-based approaches to addressing wildlife trafficking and building relationships between key protected areas and people who live among or close to Africa’s wildlife. We’re also providing equipment and scientific support for rhino protection and safely moving rhinos to more secure areas where their numbers can grow.

You can help rhinos. Pledge to stop wildlife crime and commit to preserving nature's beauty for future generations.



Published January 29, 2018 at 06:00AM

Gorilla twins of Dzanga-Sangha turn 2 years old

Gorilla twins of Dzanga-Sangha turn 2 years old

Inganda and Inguka are, in many ways, typical two-year olds. Inganda sticks close to his mother, often riding on her back. While Inguka is a bit more independent and loves to climb.

Despite these ordinary behaviors, these siblings are quite extraordinary: Inganda and Inguka are the first twins born to habituated western gorillas in the Dzanga-Sangha Protected Areas complex in the Central African Republic (CAR).

As the twins mark their second birthday, conservationists are celebrating. “I have observed many infant gorillas grow and develop from birth into sub-adults,” says Terence Fuh Neba, a primate conservationist working for WWF-CAR, “But observing the twins is a heartening and an extraordinary experience for me.”

Western lowland gorillas like Inganda and Inguka are Critically Endangered. They face serious threats from poaching, disease and habitat loss across Central Africa.

To protect these gorillas and their forests, WWF and the government of the CAR launched the Primate Habituation Program in the Dzanga-Sangha Protected Areas in 1997. Together, we work habituate gorillas for tourism and research.

Habituating great apes to human presence is important for conservation as it not only increases scientific knowledge and understanding of the species, it can also generate funding for conservation activities and revenue for local economies, strengthening the link between conservation and communities.

To date, the program has successfully habituated three western lowland gorilla groups while two additional groups are presently undergoing habituation. The program is also a major source of employment for local people. This includes indigenous Ba’Aka people hired as trackers and Bantu people working as guides. Today, the Primate Habituation Program is considered one of the most successful Western Lowland Gorilla tourism and research programs in Central Africa.

Meanwhile, Iganda and Inguku continue to explore the world around them. Inganda seems to be his morther Malui’s preferred twin—or maybe just the weaker one-- and spends most of his time riding on her back. Inguka, on the other hand, has gained his position within the group, staying close to the silverback and interacting with other group members. Inguka is most often on the ground and can climb to nearly 100 feet without assistance. The twins’ older siblings have played a great role in raising Inguka, making the job easier for Malui.

“Every day with the gorillas is special,” says Terence. Though Western gorilla populations are declining, the mountain gorillas’ story offers hope for the species and its forest home.  



Published January 25, 2018 at 06:00AM

Gorilla twins of Dzanga-Sangha mark their 2nd birthday

Gorilla twins of Dzanga-Sangha mark their 2nd birthday

Inganda and Inguka are, in many ways, typical two-year olds. Inganda sticks close to his mother, often riding on her back. While Inguka is a bit more independent and loves to climb.

Despite these ordinary behaviors, these siblings are quite extraordinary: Inganda and Inguka are the first twins born to habituated western gorillas in the Dzanga-Sangha Protected Areas complex in the Central African Republic (CAR).

As the twins mark their second birthday, conservationists are celebrating. “I have observed many infant gorillas grow and develop from birth into sub-adults,” says Terence Fuh Neba, a primate conservationist working for WWF-CAR, “But observing the twins is a heartening and an extraordinary experience for me.”

Western lowland gorillas like Inganda and Inguka are Critically Endangered. They face serious threats from poaching, disease and habitat loss across Central Africa.

To protect these gorillas and their forests, WWF and the government of the CAR launched the Primate Habituation Program in the Dzanga-Sangha Protected Areas in 1997. Together, we work habituate gorillas for tourism and research.

Habituating great apes to human presence is important for conservation as it not only increases scientific knowledge and understanding of the species, it can also generate funding for conservation activities and revenue for local economies, strengthening the link between conservation and communities.

To date, the program has successfully habituated three western lowland gorilla groups while two additional groups are presently undergoing habituation. The program is also a major source of employment for local people. This includes indigenous Ba’Aka people hired as trackers and Bantu people working as guides. Today, the Primate Habituation Program is considered one of the most successful Western Lowland Gorilla tourism and research programs in Central Africa.

Meanwhile, Iganda and Inguku continue to explore the world around them. Inganda seems to be his morther Malui’s preferred twin—or maybe just the weaker one-- and spends most of his time riding on her back. Inguka, on the other hand, has gained his position within the group, staying close to the silverback and interacting with other group members. Inguka is most often on the ground and can climb to nearly 100 feet without assistance. The twins’ older siblings have played a great role in raising Inguka, making the job easier for Malui.

“Every day with the gorillas is special,” says Terence. Though Western gorilla populations are declining, the mountain gorillas’ story offers hope for the species and its forest home.  



Published January 25, 2018 at 06:00AM

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