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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Flu epidemic killing bonobos in Congo sanctuary

Located in sixty acres of forest, the Lola Ya Bonobo sanctuary is a place for bonobos who have been confiscated by police following attempts to sell them to pet markets in the US, Europe, or Middle East. The sanctuary provides rehabilitation for the bonobos and educates the local populace about the apes in an effort to curb hunting bush meat, one of the major threats to bonobos and apes across Africa. The center eventually hopes to reintroduce some of the bonobos back into the wild.

Bonobos are smaller than Common chimpanzees. They also sport pink lips and a black face. Behaviorally, bonobos are quite different from common chimpanzees. Whereas common chimpanzees live in patriarchal groups, bonobo groups are dominated by females. They are less violent than chimpanzees and do not engage in warfare like common chimpanzees. In addition, bonobos are famous for their sexual openness, including using sexual activity as a greeting and a way of mitigating conflict.

Bonobos are listed as endangered by IUCN's Red List. Only found in the DRC estimates of their population vary widely, from 5,000 to 50,000 individuals. Bonobos are threatened by habitat loss, deforestation, the pet trade, the bushmeat market, and even for use in witchcraft.

Six bonobos, a species of chimpanzee, have died from a flu epidemic in a month at the Lola Ya Bonobo in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Ten more have contracted the flu.

“There is no fever. Antibiotics don’t do anything. The bonobos have severe respiratory infections and then they can’t breath for 3 days then they die,” writes a staff member on the sanctuary's blog through the conservation organization WildlifeDirect. The staff of Lola Ya Bonobo have sent out a plea for help and donations, as the flu continues to sweep through their center.

Taken from:
Flu epidemic killing bonobos in Congo sanctuary
Jeremy Hance
March 29, 2009

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Howler monkeys poisoned because of misinformed link to yellow fever

There have been numerous reports of howler monkeys poisoned in the southernmost Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul due to misinformation regarding the monkeys and the yellow fever virus. Some locals believed that the monkeys, which also suffer from yellow fever, were in fact the disease-carriers, but yellow fever is carried by mosquitoes not monkeys.

A new campaign headed by Dr. Julio Cesar Bicca-Marques wants to set the record straight. The campaign, entitled ‘Save Our Guardian Angels’, is working to inform the public of the actual and important role of howler monkeys in yellow fever outbreaks.

Adult male brown howler monkey. Photo Julio Cesar Bicca Marques.
“Howler monkeys are more susceptible to the [yellow fever] virus and often die a few days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. The death of howlers alerts local health offices to the local spread of the virus in the region enabling the implementation of local vaccination campaigns. Far from being seen as a threat,” Bicca-Marques explains, “the Brazilian Ministry for Health considers these monkeys important ‘sentinels’ for the circulation of the virus. So howler monkeys are in fact our ‘Guardian Angels’! Their disappearance would mean our discovery of the arrival of yellow fever in a given region would only occur once the disease had been contracted by people, and for many by that time it may well be too late!”

Since the end of 2008, seven people have died from yellow fever in Rio Grande do Sul, while nine more have succumbed to the disease in the state of Sao Paulo. It was this sudden outbreak of the disease that led some unknown locals to poison the howler monkeys. Bicca-Marques, a primatologist at Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul, says that the media is partly to blame for the misinformation that leading to the howler monkeys’ death.

Female black-and-gold howler monkey. Photo by: Julio Cesar Bicca Marques.
“[The media] has frequently related the disease with the observation of sick, but especially, dead howler monkeys, without taking the appropriate steps to stress that mosquitoes are the vectors of the yellow fever,” Bicca-Marques told Mongabay.com. “In the absence of this essential information on the mode of transmission, people have wrongly interpreted that the monkeys are the responsible for the current yellow fever outbreak.”

Howler monkeys in Brazil are not just suffering from human ignorance. Other threats have caused the two species of howler monkey in the state to be listed as Vulnerable on the Red List in Rio Grande do Sul.

“In addition to the current high mortality by yellow fever and the killing of monkeys as a consequence of this misinformation, both black-and-gold Alouatta caraya and brown Alouatta guariba clamitans howler monkeys are threatened by habitat loss, and the illegal hunting and pet trade,” Bicca-Marques says. “As a consequence they live mostly in small populations in highly fragmented and isolated forest patches within an agricultural and cattle ranching landscape.”

Infant brown howler monkey with parent. Photo Julio Cesar Bicca Marques.
Deforestation may not only be negatively affecting the howler monkeys; it may also play a role in the sudden rise in yellow fever. “State health authorities observed a population explosion of mosquitoes in the last spring and summer, likely related to climate changes and habitat alteration,” says Bicca-Marques.

Bicca-Marques hopes that his campaign will effectively educate local Brazilians about the innocence of howler monkeys when it comes to yellow fever. In fact, the monkeys are actually more susceptible to the disease than people, often succumbing within a few days of being bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus.

“It is crucial to inform the population that there is no possibility that the spread of the disease within the State of Rio Grande do Sul, or the State of São Paulo where an outbreak began this year, has any relationship with the howler monkeys,” Bicca-Marques says. “The campaign Protect our Guardian Angels has this goal.”

Taken from
Howler monkeys poisoned because of misinformed link to yellow fever
Jeremy Hance
April 22, 2009

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Brazil could triple agricultural output without touching the Amazon rainforest

Brazil could triple its agricultural without the needing to clear additional rainforest in the Amazon Basin, Roberto Mangabeira Unger, Brazil's Minister of Strategic Affairs, told Bloomberg in an interview.

“For every acre under cultivation in Brazil, there are more than four acres given over to low-intensity ranching and much of that has become degraded pasture land,” Unger was quoted as saying. “If we could recover even a small part of that territory, we could double the area under cultivation and triple our agricultural output in a brief time without touching a single tree.”

soybean expansion in the legal amazon of brazil, 1990-2005
Over the past decade more than 10 million hectares – an area about the size of Iceland - was cleared for cattle ranching as Brazil rose to become the world's largest exporter of beef. Now the government aims to double the country's share of the beef export market to 60% by 2018 through low interest loans, infrastructure expansion, and other incentives for producers. Most of this expansion is expected to occur in the Amazon were land is cheap and available. 70 percent of the country's herd expansion between 2002 and 2006 occurred in the region.
The argument that Brazil can expand its agricultural production without harming the Amazon is a mantra among Brazilian officials. The country has vast tracts of pasture and agricultural land that are being underutilized or have been abandoned: by some estimates up to 50 million hectares of degraded pasture could be available for intensive crop production, including oil palm, sugar cane, corn, soy, and tree plantations. But rapidly appreciating land prices, coupled with poor governance and inconsistent enforcement of environmental laws, means that it is often more profitable to clear new forest land — using timber sales as a subsidy — than to rehabilitate pasture. Cleared land is worth more than four times standing forest in parts of the southern Amazon in the states of Mato Grosso and Pará.

Conversion for cattle pasture has lately accounted for more than 80 percent of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon as the country has rapidly expanded its cattle herd and become the world's largest exporter of beef. Brazil is now also the leading exporter of other agricultural crops, including sugar, coffee, and orange juice, and is the second largest soy producer.

Nearly 20 percent has the Brazilian Amazon has been cleared over the past 30 years. Scientists fear that continued clearing, together with increased incidence and severity of drought and fire due to climate change, could result in a large scale die-off of Earth's largest rainforest by the end of the century.

Rhett A. Butler,
April 15, 2009


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