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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Prince Charles making progress in effort to save rainforests

Prince Charles of Great Britain has emerged as one of the world’s highest-profile promoters of a scheme that could finally put an end to destruction of tropical rainforests.

The Prince’s Rainforest Project, launched in 2007, is promoting awareness of the role deforestation plays in climate change—it accounts for nearly a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions. The project also publicizes the multitude of benefits tropical forests provide, including maintenance of rainfall, biodiversity, and sustainable livelihoods for millions of people. But the initiative goes beyond merely raising awareness. Prince Charles is using his considerable influence to bring political and business leaders together to devise and support a plan to provide emergency funding to save rainforests. The money would provide a financing bridge for tropical countries to begin taking steps necessary to reduce deforestation— a prelude to a broader U.N.-backed mechanism (known as REDD for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), which would compensate developing countries for their progress in protecting their forests.

“If deforestation can be stopped in its tracks, then we will be able to buy ourselves some much-needed time to build the low carbon economies on which our futures depend,” Prince Charles states on his web site. “I have endeavored to create a global public, private and NGO partnership to discover an innovative means of halting tropical deforestation. Success would literally transform the situation for our children and grandchildren and for every species on the planet.”

The “emergency package” would provide potentially billions of dollars a year and provide what it is hoped will be a bridge to a fully functioning REDD scheme. Such interim funding would likely come through commitments from developed nations, with money potentially raised through auctioning of carbon emission permits in national cap-and-trade systems, a levy on the catastrophe risk component of insurance premiums, or surcharges on emissions-generating products including commodities and aviation fuel. Additional financing might come in the form of a “rainforest bond,” a fixed income security that would provide upfront cash for rainforest conservation initiatives and low-carbon development; in return such bonds would offer investors a fixed rate of return together with the repayment of the principal on maturity some 15-years after issue. Governments of developed country would guarantee the bonds, which would be repaid from a portion of the revenue generated in future carbon markets as well as returns from clean development investments.

The Prince’s Rainforest Project, which has pitched the concept to insurers, pension funds, and private equity firms, has found strong institutional interest in the proposal. Political support also appears to be growing—heads of state and other government leaders formed a working group to study the concept after meeting with Prince Charles on the eve of the G20 summit in April. But broader support for the idea of saving rainforests is also critical. Thus the Project has launched a mass market advertising campaign—centered around an animated frog and celebrities—to engage the general public.

Juniper is one of Britain’ best-knowenvironmentalists and Special Adviser Trained as an ornithologist, Juniper served as the executive director of Friends of the Earth (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) from 2003-2008 before becoming an independent adviser on sustainability and the environment. In that capacity he works with the Cambridge University Program for Sustainability Leadership to help companies improve their environmental performance. Juniper also writes extensively, publishing several books and numerous articles. He writes a weekly column for the Sunday Times and is editor-in-chief of National Geographic’s new Green Magazine.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Employing dogs to save endangered species and places.

For millennia dogs have been helpers to humans: they have herded and protected livestock, pulled sleds, hunted game, led the blind, located people after disasters, and sniffed out drugs. Now a new occupation can be added: conservation aide.

Working Dogs for Conservation (WDC) was co-founded by Megan Parker in 2000: the idea, to use dogs' impeccable scent capabilities for conservation initiatives, appears so logical and useful when Parker talks about it, one is surprised it took environmentalists so long to realize the potential of dogs.

"Our mission is to benefit science and conservation by working with detection dogs. We help save wildlife by supporting conservation efforts to gather information on rare species in an accurate and non-invasive way," explains Parker. "We train dogs to detect rare samples and they excel at finding trained target odors from endangered species scats to invasive weeds on a huge landscape."

WDC has worked on a wide variety of projects across all regions of the United States. For example, they worked with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) on The Carnivore Connectivity Project where the dogs located scats of wolves, cougars, black and grizlly bears along the Idaho-Montana border.

"Thanks to our team of dogs, we’re proud to report that this work led to the protection of critical wildlife corridors by closing more than 40 miles of roads and preventing a development in a sensitive area," says Parker.

The group has also helped survey the comeback of moose in the Adirondacks and located threatened plants in Oregon and invasive snails in Hawaii, among many other projects.

Parker says for each of these projects the dog's nose is key: "canids have evolved as amazing scenting machines. Their noses, and the vast majority of their brains, are built to detect and discriminate small quantities of odor, picking out single scents among the millions of other scents in the environment. Dogs have been selectively bred for thousands of years to serve myriad human purposes, yet most dogs retain the architecture and ability to scent incredibly well."

WDC has even worked overseas: detecting snakes in the tropics of Guam, locating wild dog and cheetah scat in Kenya, and working with the Andean Cat Project in Argentina to find one of the world's rarest felines.

"We have really learned from our mistakes while working internationally, where the work periods are typically short and the work intense in unfamiliar territory where we have to find dogs and train handlers, which is different from how we usually work," Parker says. Despite such challenges, Parker believes that the program could easily be implemented in other countries.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Oil company in Ecuador transforms indigenous community into commercial poachers, threatening wildlife in a protected area

The documentary Crude opened this weekend in New York, while the film shows the direct impact of the oil industry on indigenous groups a new study proves that the presence of oil companies can have subtler, but still major impacts, on indigenous groups and the ecosystems in which they live.

In Ecuador's Yasuni National Park—comprising 982,000 hectares of what the researchers call "one of the most species diverse forests in the world"—the presence of an oil company has disrupted the lives of the Waorani and the Kichwa peoples, and the rich abundance of wildlife living within the forest. By building a 149 kilometer (92 mile) road through the protected forest and providing subsidies to the local tribes, the oil company Maxus Ecuador Inc. transformed some members of the tribes from semi-nomadic subsistence hunters into commercial poachers.

"We’ve found that a road in a forest can bring huge social changes to local groups and the ways in which they utilize wildlife resources," said Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) researcher Esteban Suárez, lead author of the study. "Communities existing inside and around the park are changing their customs to a lifestyle of commercial hunting, the first stage in a potential overexploitation of wildlife."

According to the new study by the WCS and the IDEAS-Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador, the creation of the single road allowed tribe members to transport game to a market where it is sold illegally. In addition, the subsidies and free access to the road, all provided by the oil company, make the transportation of the meat—and thereby the wild meat market itself—economically viable.

Although sale of wild meat and products in Ecuador is illegal, the researchers report that "local authorities and park rangers know about the market, [but] they lack the resources and political will to stop the illegal trade of wildlife in Pompeya, primarily to avoid conflicts with the local indigenous population."

Some communities of the Waorani tribe even abandoned their traditional semi-nomadic life and built settled villages along the road for easy transport of their game. They took up firearms (instead of the traditional blowguns), which became more prevalent following the arrival of the oil company.

"These changes," the authors explain, "are amplified by patronizing relationships in which large companies buy their right to operate in the area by providing local communities with resources, money or infrastructure without consideration of the social and ecological impact of these 'compensation plans'".

The study published in Animal Conservation found that the wild meat market appeared shortly after the road was constructed in early 1990s and free travel was given to the indigenous tribes. Between 2005 and 2007, 11,000 kilograms (24,000 pounds) of wild meat were sold at the Pompeya market every year. The amount of meat sold every day doubled between 2005 and 2007, from 150 kilograms (330 pounds) to 300 kilograms (661 pounds).

"While the magnitude of the wildlife trade occurring at Pompeya is still limited, its emergence and continuous growth are symptomatic of the dramatic changes that the area is experiencing under the influence of the oil industry and the absence of effective management and control strategies," the authors write.

Taken from: www.mongabay.com

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

New gecko discovered on bizarre and beautiful Socotra island

Lying in the Indian Ocean half way between Somalia and Yemen, the strange island archipelagos of Socotra offer a bewildering array of life found no where else on Earth. Thirty seven percent of its plant species, ninety percent of its reptiles, and ninety-five percent of its snail species are endemic.

Now biologists can add a new species to this list. Italian researchers unraveled the mystery of a gecko named Hemidactylus inintellectus (photo below). Inintellectus translates to 'misunderstood', since the gecko, which is common on the island, was consistently confused with other species.

"This new discovery raises the number of reptile species of Socotra to 26, with 23 species endemic of the island. And this is not a mere matter of numbers: when a species has no name it doesn’t exist, and it can’t be protected. That’s why biodiversity assessments are such an essential tool for conservation policies," writes one of the researchers, herpetologist Fabio Pupin of the University of Pavia.

According to Pupin, Socotra is a reptile's paradise (there are no amphibians on the island): "[Reptiles] are everywhere, from the high mountains of Haggeher to the desert lowland of the south coast, basking on tree branches as on nearly every rock around—and Socotra is a rocky place indeed! And even underground: there are, in fact, five worm-like reptiles, suited to a completely ctonian life."

The new species of gecko prefers rocky areas and is nocturnal.

Taken from: www.mongabay.com

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Monday, September 7, 2009

Snow leopard in Afghanistan.

Using camera traps, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has captured the elusive and rare snow leopard on film in Afghanistan for a second time. The feline was caught on film in the Sast Valley in Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor.

The snow leopard is currently listed as Endangered by the IUCN. The cat is also listed as protected under Afghanistan's new endangered species list, which outlaws hunting it. The IUCN estimates that only 100-200 snow leopards still survive in Afghanistan.

Researchers with WCS are conducting wildlife surveys in the remote region of the Wakhan Corridor with the goal to establish a new protected area. The region also contains the Pallas’s cat Otocolobus manul and the Altai weasel Mustela altaica, both are classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN.

Other notable mammals include the Marco Polo sheep Ovis ammon polii, Siberian ibex Capra ibex sibirica, brown bear Ursus arctos, wolf Canis lupus, red fox Vulpes vulpes, Eurasian lynx Lynx lynx,) , stone marten or beech marten Martes foina, stoat Mustela erminea, long-tailed marmot Marmota caudate, and the Tolai hare Lepus tolai.

Afghanistan announced its first national park, Band-e-Amir, on Earth Day (April 22nd) of this year.

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World's rarest duck flies closer to extinction's edge

The Madagascar pochard, the world's rarest duck, was already thought to be extinct once. After a last sighting in 1991 the species was thought to have vanished until nine adults and four hatchlings were discovered in 2006. However, conservationists have begun to fear that the species will never recover after a survey this year found only six females.

In addition, the survey conducted by the Durrell Wildlife Trust, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), and The Peregrine Fund (TPF) found that no young of the Critically Endangered species had survived from the previous year.

"The window of opportunity to save the species from extinction is incredibly small, and we must all muster the energy and resources necessary to stop another species from becoming extinct," said Durrell’s Project Leader, Dr. Glyn Young.

A new recovery plan has been established to hold remaining ducks in secure conditions in a facility set to be finished in 2010. In addition, scientists are looking at potential lakes for reintroduction of the species.

"The original plan was to take the first batch of eggs in 2010 but, following the expedition, discussions are underway to see if the timetable can be brought forward to this year’s breeding season, which would see the team return to the lake in October," WWT’s Aviculture Manager, Nigel Jarrett, said. "Once we have secured eggs from the wild, WWT’s and Durrell’s extensive experience of rearing endangered wildfowl, at Slimbridge and Jersey, will be used to breed the birds at a purpose-built facility in Madagascar. This will act as a 'safety net', greatly reducing the immediate risk of extinction. Within three years, the hope is to at least double the total numbers of pochards. In time, these will be released into the wild on suitable sites."

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