US wolf re-introduction still leaves aspens quaking


The re-introduction of wolves in a US National Park in the mid-1990s is not helping quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) to become re-established, as many researchers hoped.

In a study published in the journal Ecology showed that the population of wolves in Yellowstone Park was not deterring elks from eating young trees and saplings.

It was assumed that the presence of wolves would create a “landscape of fear”, resulting in no-go areas for elks.

Researchers writing in the Ecological Society of America’s (ESA) journal said that the aspens were not regenerating well in the park as a result of the elk eating the young trees.

However, they added that the conventional wisdom suggested that as the wolves were predators of the elk, it was thought that the elk would eventually learn to avoid high-risk areas in which the wolves were found.

This would then allow plants in those areas – such as aspen – to grow big enough without being eaten and killed by the elk. And in the long-term, the thinking went, the habitat would be restored.

In this latest study, lead author Matthew Kauffman – a US Geological Survey scientist – suggested the findings showed that claims of an ecosystem-wide recovery of aspen were premature.

“This study not only confirms that elk are responsible for the decline of aspen in Yellowstone beginning in the 1890s, but also that none of the aspen groves studied after wolf restoration appear to be regenerating, even in areas risky to elk,” Dr Kauffman explained.

Because the “landscape of fear” idea did not appear to be benefiting aspen, the team concluded that if the Northern Range elk population did not continue to decline (their numbers are 40% of what they were before wolves), many of Yellowstone’s aspen stands were unlikely to recover.

“A landscape-level aspen recovery is likely only to occur if wolves, in combination with other predators and climate factors, further reduce the elk population,” observed Dr Kauffman.

The paper, Are wolves saving Yellowstone’s aspen? A landscape-level test of a behaviorally mediated trophic cascade, has been published online in Ecology. The authors of the paper are: Matthew Kauffman (USGS), Jedediah Brodie (University of Montana) and Erik Jules (Humboldt State University).

Source: ESA press release

Date: 01/09/2010

Campaigners link tiger attacks to deforestation


The Sumatran tiger, a critically-endangered subspecies, is hanging on by a thread in its island home, reports Mongabay.com.

Biologists estimate that, at most, 500 individuals remain, with some estimates dropping as low as 250.

Despite the animal’s vulnerability, large-scale deforestation continues in its habitat mostly under the auspices of one of the world’s largest paper companies, Asian Pulp and Paper (APP).

Shrinking habitat and human encroachment has led to a rise in tragic tiger encounters, causing both human and feline mortalities.

While the connection between deforestation and tiger attacks has been put forth as a possible reason for the rise in attacks, a new study that looks at 12 years of tiger encounters confirms it.

Eyes on the Forest, a coalition of 25 environmental organizations, has mapped out encounters between humans and tigers, many of which ended tragically, and found that the majority took place adjacent to forested areas being cleared by APP.

In Riau Province, Sumatra, 55 people and 15 tigers have lost their lives due to the conflict. An additional 17 tigers have been captured and removed from their habitat.

The study found that 60% of the encounters (147 out of 245) between humans and tigers occurred in areas associated with expanded deforestation by APP and associated companies, under the umbrella of Sinar Mas Group (SMG).

Since 1985, Sumatra has lost half of its remaining forest. Worsening the situation for tigers is the continual decline of prey for the tigers due to heavy poaching by humans.

“With so much forest loss, the tigers have nowhere to go” said Ian Kosasih of WWF-Indonesia.

“In the last month alone, four tigers have been killed in Riau. There are fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers estimated to remain in the wild and every tiger killed is a significant loss to the population of this critically endangered subspecies.”

Since beginning operations in 1980, campaigners say the company has been responsible for more deforestation in Sumatra than any other corporation.

It is estimated that APP has pulped a total of 2.5 million acres.

Calls for the company to stop logging natural forests by Eyes on the Forest and other NGOs have so far fallen on deaf ears.

APP supplies Target and Unilever in the United States. Other corporations like Staples, Walmart, Home Depot, and the Australian company, Woolworths Limited, have all cut ties with the paper giant due to an increasingly troubling environmental record.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 18/03 /2009

Battle on to save Scotland’s red squirrels


More than £1m is to be spent over the next three years on saving Scotland’s red squirrels and protecting routes into their northern strongholds, the BBC News website reports.

The number or reds has been in decline since the arrival of the grey squirrel from North America in the 19th Century.

Greys compete with reds for food and can also carry the squirrel pox virus, which can kills reds in about 14 days.

There are currently about 121,000 red squirrels in Scotland and the country is home to 75% of the UK’s reds.

There are thought to be between 200,000 and 300,000 greys in Scotland.

The £1.3m Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS) project is being launched in Dunkeld, Perthshire.

See a map of shifting red and grey squirrel territories

It will develop habitats in which the red squirrel can flourish but will also try to control the greys, which will involve killing them.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS), and the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association (SRPBA) are involved in the project.

Environment Minister Mike Russell said: “The red squirrel is one of our most beautiful and valuable native species. Therefore its loss would be absolutely unforgiveable.

“Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels is a true partnership organisation and I am hopeful that its activity will see the red squirrels able to thrive once again in this country and ensure that future generations are able to enjoy them.”

Ron McDonald, from SNH, said that grey squirrel control would be focussed on the key routes being used by grey squirrels to spread north.

“Greys have already displaced red squirrels from most of England, Wales and Scotland’s central belt, but much of the north still remains grey-free,” he said.

“With sightings of greys becoming more frequent in northern Perthshire and Angus, and a population of grey squirrels already established in Aberdeen, it is imperative that we act quickly to protect red squirrels north of the central belt and prevent the grey’s further migration.”

Stuart Brooks, from SWT, added: “I can understand and empathise with those people who do not like the prospect of killing wild animals, but it is disingenuous to say that there are viable alternative solutions to saving the red squirrel in Scotland.

“Work is under way on a vaccine for squirrel pox but it is not around the corner and habitat improvements are a key component of our longer-term strategy.

“To do nothing now will certainly consign our native squirrel to a painful and lingering death.”

The SSRS project is expected to start work properly in April.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 10/02/2009

Wildlife trade ‘creating empty forest syndrome’


The illegal trade in wildlife products around the globe risks creating an “empty forest” syndrome, a US researcher has warned.

Mongabay.com reports Elizabeth Bennett, from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), as saying that for many endangered species it is not the lack of suitable habitat that has imperiled them, but hunting.

She made her remarks during a presentation at a Smithsonian Symposium on tropical forests, which Take Cover featured last week.

She outlined the perils for many species of the booming and illegal wildlife trade.

Dr Bennett added that pristine forests, although providing perfect habitat for species, stood empty and quiet because the areas had been drained by hunting for bushmeat, traditional medicine, the pet trade, and trophies.

“Hunting has long been known as a primary cause of wildlife species depletion in tropical forests,” she explained.

But she added that the problem had increased exponentially in the past few decades.

Between 1992 and 2002, trade in wildlife has increase by 75% and showed no signs of slowing down.

The US researcher highlighted several factors that had prompted the rapid growth: rising populations; a steady decrease in forest cover, and remaining forests becoming more accessible; and more efficient methods of hunting.

For the last factor, Dr Bennett used the example of hunters in Cambodia using landmines to kill tigers.

However, the most important factor, she said, was the commercialisation and globalisation of the wildlife trade.

Increasing demand for endangered species from countries like China has led to more people trekking into their forests for incomes.

In addition, increasing wealth has allowed many more consumers to afford illegal items made from endangered species on the black market.

To give a picture of the scale of this underground trade, Bennett pointed a number of examples:

  • in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, there are an estimated 1,500 restaurants selling wildlife meat
  • in Jakarta, Indonesia, the Pramuka market sells 1.5 million birds annually
  • a recent seizure of two shipments en route to China contained 14 tonnes of scaly anteater from Sumatra and 23 tonnes from Vietnam (the shipment contained an estimated 7,000 animals)

China is the world’s largest importer wildlife products, including an insatiable demand for turtles, ivory, tigers, pangolins, and many other species used for food or medicine.

Perhaps surprisingly, the USA is the second largest importer. According to Dr Bennett, many tonnes of bushmeat arrive in the US from Africa every month, and the US is large destination for the illegal pet trade.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 19/01/2009

Escaped beaver felling trees in SW England


A beaver that has been felling trees in south-west England after escaping from a farm is being hunted by conservationists, the BBC News website reports.

The beaver is one of three that broke out of the farm in Lifton, Devon, in October, owner Derek Gow said.  The other two have since been re-captured.

The last six-stone (38kg) animal is believed to be felling trees up to 20 miles (32km) away on the banks of the River Tamar, near Gunnislake, Cornwall.

Mr Gow said he was to use “honey traps” to find the missing animal.

Mr Gow keeps 24 of the animals under licence from government agency Natural England as part of a wildlife photography business.

He said the escaped animal was one of three that got out of Upcott Grange Farm and it was suspected the electric fence around the beaver pen failed after flooding in the area.

He said: “We’ve checked the fence, we can’t find any holes at all. We can’t think of any other way they might have got out.”

The other two, both females, were soon recovered after from a nearby lake, but not before they had felled a number of trees on the River Thrushel.

It is believed the male has travelled further in a bid to find a mate.

Mr Gow said: “I know where he is, but he’s occupying a territory of probably a kilometre in length.”

He added that he planned to catch the escapee by using a number of “honey traps”, boxes that have the scent of a female beaver.

“Using the scent from one of the female beavers, we’ll be able to catch the male beaver fairly quickly,” he explained.

Beavers were hunted to extinction in England and Wales during the 12th Century and disappeared from the rest of the country 400 years later.

They were hunted for their fur and throat glands, which were believed to have medicinal properties.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 30/12/2008

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