Showing posts with label conservation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label conservation. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Artificial Snake Hibernaculum A Succsess

Rob Carmichael, curator of the Lake Forest Wildlife Discovery Center, holds several brown snakes that spent the winter in a wine chiller in the center. The snakes were released Monday in Illinois Sate Beach Park in Zion. Michael Tercah/Chicago Tribune
The Chicago Tribune is carrying the following story.

After spending most of the winter curled up in a 6-foot-tall wine chiller in a Lake Forest wildlife center, scores of squirming reptiles were set free Monday and took up residence in new digs.

Beneath a sunny sky with temperatures hovering near a snake-friendly 50 degrees, Rob Carmichael placed handfuls of 4- to 10-inch long brown and garter snakes into a newly crafted outdoor den at Illinois Beach State Park.

There were 82 in all, including one western fox snake, some of them outfitted with microchips so their movements can be tracked.

“We hope these snakes will recognize this as their new home,” said Carmichael, director of the Lake Forest Wildlife Discovery Center, which hosted them for the last few months in the donated wine chiller.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Natrix natrix cypriaca, Court Ruling

A Cyprus Mail story By Poly Pantelides reports that the European Court of Justice yesterday said Cyprus broke EU law by failing to protect Paralimni lake and the endangered native grass snake.

“We hope (the ruling) will lead to swift action to properly protect the highly threatened Paralimni Lake, home to this unique snake and also a key site for birds,” said BirdLife Cyprus’ executive director, Dr Clairie Papazoglou. “We also hope it will lead to the authorities taking their obligations to implement EU nature directives far more seriously,” Papazoglou added.

However, Hans-Jorg Wiedl the reptile expert who rediscovered the grass snake after it was thought to be extinct for 40 years and who has been lobbying authorities for years, thinks “it’s too late”.

“It will take a miracle to save the snakes,” said, Wiedl better known as Snake George. “It breaks my heart,” he said almost in tears.

The endangered nonvenomous grass snake, Natrix natrix cypriaca, sometimes called the water snake can be found in Paralimni Lake and the Xyliatos Dam.

However Cyprus had not originally included the lake in its list of sites of community importance (SCIs) as part of the Habitats Directive.

The island’s federation of environmental and ecological organisations complained to the European Commission in May 2006, and in March 2007 the Commission launched an infringement procedure against Cyprus, asking the government in a letter of formal notice to include the lake in the CSIs list.

Cyprus said it would do this before the end of 2007 but eventually claimed the Commission did not follow proper procedure, so in June 2008 the Commission issued a reasoned opinion asking Cyprus to comply with the Habitats Directive.

Although the Republic responded with a list of measures it was taking to protect the grass snake and Paralimni Lake, the Commission received complaints on property development of the northern part of the lake.

By 2009, Cyprus included Paralimni Lake in the CSIs, except for the northern part of the site.

The Commission argued that the lake was essential to the survival of the grass snake but failing to include parts of it could not ensure the snake’s protection and conservation.

Cyprus said the snake was only found in the southern and eastern parts of the lake.

Because development in the area took place after the Commission launched the infringement procedure, the Commission’s arguments on the effect development could have on the snakes could not be admitted, the court said.

The court, however, said that excavation works in the northern part of the lake did disturb the snake and Cyprus “did not put in a system of strict protection in place”.

Cyprus broke EU law by not including the entire Paralimni Lake in the CSIs, “tolerating activities which seriously compromise the ecological characteristics” of the lake, “by not having taken the protective measures necessary to maintain the population” of the grass snake, and “by failing to take measures “to establish and apply a system of strict protection for that species,” the court said.

If Cyprus fails to act, the Commission may give it one final written warning before sending the case back to court, imposing potentially hefty financial penalties including a daily penalty payment for each day until the infringement ends.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Vava Suresh of Thiruvananthapuram

According to one article in The Times of India, five out of the ten best cities to live in India are located in Kerala. This Indian state is a popular tourist destination for multiple reasons, including its spectacular scenery, world class yoga, and Ayurveda treatments. Not mentioned in the article is the state's exceptionally rich snake fauna - it’s difficult to understand why this was overlooked. One Kerala man is exceptionally well known for his efforts to conserve snakes, Vava Suresh of Thiruvananthapuram. Locally he is known as the 'Snake Man' and is estimated to have rescued and conserved 5000 snakes which have strayed into the human world in and around Trivandrum. Vava Suresh attributes his passion for snakes from childhood experiences which started at about age twelve. He is well known for rescuing and releasing endangered species of snakes and collecting eggs and protecting them during incubation, and then releasing the neonates into natural habitats. One recent article about him included the following, "Time and again, he has paid the price for flirting with danger. Hardly a few months ago, he was battling for life in a hospital ICU after being bitten by an enraged cobra. The skin on his hands bears the mark of several viper bites." The photos below show Vava Suresh's snake handling and education efforts as well as documenting his encounter with a Russell's viper. The photos were recently sent to me by Dr. A. Biju Kumar at the University of Kerala.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Protected Geography Fails to Slow Decline in Biodiversity

Protected habitat has increased dramatically over the past 40 years yet the rapid decline in biodiversity continues. Seven million square miles of terrestrial habitat and one million square miles of ocean have been protected since 1960. Camilo Mora and Peter F. Sale have documented the problem in Marine Ecology Progress Series. Despite the number and size of protected areas the diversirty of terrestrial and marine species continues to decline during this 40 year period. Protecting land and water is a common conservation strategy worldwide, but it has failed to prevent the steady disappearance of the planets creatures. The following is an edited version of a Huffington Post article by Tom Zeller. The full article can be found here.
"The problem is bigger than one we can realistically solve with protected areas -- even if they work under the best conditions," said Camilo Mora, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and lead author of the study. "The protected area approach is expensive and requires a lot of political and human capital," Dr. Mora continued in an email message to The Huffington Post. "Our suggestion is that we should redirect some of those resources to deal with ultimate solutions."
The steady loss of biodiversity -- defined roughly as the rich variety of living things -- can, in turn, have profound implications for human civilization, which relies on healthy, variegated ecosystems to provide a host of ecological services from water filtration and oxygen generation to food, medicine, clothing and fuel.

The precise value of such services is difficult to quantify, but one economic analysis estimated they were worth as much as $33 trillion globally.

While the study concedes that individual protected areas that are well-designed and well-managed can be successful in preventing the imminent extinction of species and ecosystems, a variety of other forces conspire to further reduce biodiversity overall.
"Protected areas, as usually implemented, can only protect from over-exploitation, and from habitat destruction due to exploitation and other direct human actions within their borders. They are a tool for regulating human access and extraction," said Peter F. Sale, assistant director of the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, and the study's co-author. "Biodiversity loss is also caused by pollution, by arrival of invasive species, by decisions to convert habitat to other uses -- farms, villages, cities -- and by various components of climate change," he told HuffPost. "None of these are mitigated by the creation of protected areas except, possibly, the removal of habitat to other uses."
In other words, the researchers, who based their analysis on a broad range of global data and a review of existing literature, suggest that the implementation of habitat protection is unable to keep pace with other stressors contributing to species loss overall.
This is partly due to lack of enforcement. Only about 5.8 percent of terrestrial protected areas and 0.08 percent of marine sanctuaries see reliable and consistent enforcement.
Further, the authors note most research suggests that between 10 percent and 30 percent of the world's ecosystems need to be protected to preserve optimal biodiversity. But despite what appears to be a rapid increase in protected lands, the pace is too slow to achieve those targets anytime soon. On land, the 10 percent target, under the best of circumstances, would not be reached until 2043, the study estimated. The 30 percent target would not be achieved until 2197. The same target percentages for marine sanctuaries would be reached by 2067 and 2092, respectively.
And these projections are almost certainly too optimistic, the authors note, because the rate of establishment of new protected areas would be expected to slow considerably as conservation efforts runs up against the needs of a rapidly expanding human population.
Global population is expected to pass 7 billion in Octoberaccording to new estimates from the population division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs at the United Nations. That's an increase of 1 billion people in about a dozen years.

Other challenges include the size of protected areas -- which are often too small for larger species to survive -- and the lack of connectivity between protected areas, which is needed for healthy genetic dispersal.
The authors of Thursday's analysis suggest that reversing biodiversity losses will require a vast rethinking of conservation strategy -- one that redirects limited resources toward more holistic solutions. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Recover of the Blue Iguana

The Grand Cayman blue iguana was decimated
by habitat destruction, car-related mortality, 
and predation by introduced cats and dogs. 
In 2002 the species numbered between 10-25 
individuals. A recovery program -- assisted 
by health experts from the Bronx Zoo  has 
brought the number of free-ranging iguanas 
within Grand Cayman's protected areas to 
more than 500 animals. Photo Credit: Julie 
Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society
While thousands of species are threatened with extinction around the globe, efforts to save the Grand Cayman blue iguana represent a rarity in conservation: a chance for complete recovery, according to health experts from the Wildlife Conservation Society's Bronx Zoo and other members of the Blue Iguana Recovery Program.

Coordinated by the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, the Blue Iguana Recovery Program—a consortium of local and international partners—has successfully released more than 500 captive-bred reptiles since the initiative's inception in 2002, when the wild population of iguanas numbered less than two dozen.

"For the past several years, we've succeeded in adding hundreds of animals to the wild population, all of which receive a health screening before release," said Dr. Paul Calle, Director of Zoological Health for WCS's Bronx Zoo.
Fred Burton, Director of the Blue Iguana Recovery Program, said: "We expect to reach our goal of 1,000 iguanas in managed protected areas in the wild in a few years. After that, we will monitor the iguanas to make sure they are reproducing in the numbers needed to maintain the wild population. If we get positive results, we will have succeeded."

The Grand Cayman blue iguana is the largest native species of its namesake island, growing to more than 5 feet in length and sometimes weighing more than 25 pounds. The iguana formerly ranged over most of the island's coastal areas and the dry shrub lands of the interior before becoming endangered by a combination of habitat destruction, car-related mortality, and predation by introduced dogs and cats. The entire island's wild population in 2002 was estimated at only 10-25 individuals.

Recovery efforts to save the Grand Cayman blue iguana have mostly centered on the Salina Reserve, a 625-acre nature reserve located on the eastern side of the island. After being hatched and raised for a year or two in a captive breeding facility, each iguana receives a complete health assessment before release. This involves veterinarians taking blood and fecal samples for analysis, as well as weighing and tagging each reptile. The samples are analyzed in a nearby lab at the St. Matthews Veterinary School while sampling continues. The iguanas are released after the lab results are reviewed and health is verified. This year, the recovery program is releasing iguanas into a new protected area, the Colliers Wilderness Reserve, established last year and managed by the National Trust.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Decline of the Adder in the United Kingdom

Recent reports from the UK suggest that the only venomous snake found on the island nation is in serious trouble. Herpetologists from Natural England, Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Oxford University have teamed up examine the status of  the  Adder. In the last decade it has declined, and surveys suggest a third of remaining adder populations may comprise fewer than ten adults, and likely results from degradation and fragmentation of habitat. Small populations, particularly in the English Midlands, are not capable of maintaining a healthy level of genetic diversity, which makes them less resilient to disease, and make them more susceptible to enetic defects, which in turn could lead to local extinctions. Dr Trent Garner, Senior Research Fellow at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology is quoted as saying, “Genetic diversity has been shown to be a key component for successful adder populations in Sweden and Hungary, but has yet to be studied in the UK. Our goal is to provide the first insights into how population size and isolation may be related to genetic diversity of the UK’s adders.” Jim Foster, herpetologist for Natural England, said, “With around a third of adder populations now restricted to isolated pockets of habitat, and with only a handful of snakes per site, they could be especially vulnerable. As we have seen with natterjack toads, populations that are small and isolated can start to decline purely through genetic effects. This ground-breaking study will see if adders are suffering a similar plight....Fortunately, if there are problems we still have time to deploy a number of conservation remedies. Habitat restoration and the creation of wildlife corridors will help get these snakes back on the move. We may even consider moving adders between populations, to artificially promote “gene flow” - although that carries risks and we’d need to look more closely at the genetics results before proceeding.” [Photo: The Adder, Vipera berus. Photo Credit: Marek Szczepanek].

Tobias Uller of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology agreed, saying, “When populations become small and isolated, with it comes the risk of expression of harmful genetic variants that normally remain ‘hidden’ in larger populations. Loss of genetic variation may also compromise the population’s ability to evolve – a problem that is particularly acute when habitats change rapidly or if a new disease emerges.”

The Adder is one of four reptiles  species described as "widespread" because they are scattered over a large area in Britain. It can be found from the south-west England all the way north to Scotland. But this not dose not mean the species is abundant, within their large distribution, they are restricted to grassland, scrub and woodland edge, primarily on sandy soils.

In 2004, English Nature (now Natural England) surveyed naturalists around the country asking them to evaluate the health of Vipera berus populations, the results suggested "disturbance" was the greatest threat. A third of the populations were small (estimated as fewer than 10 adult snakes), and a third of the populations were isolated. Population declines and extinctions tended to be more frequent in small and isolated populations.

Make the Adder Count, is a project encouraging local Adder conservation and long-term monitoring of populations, information from a small but dedicated band of Adder-watchers around the countrymay be able to alert conservationists of populations in trouble. Disturbance can have different causes. In some cases it is destruction of habitat, but the snakes are still being killed by humans. And, disturbance can also result from people visiting well-known adder sites.
Baker, J. 2011. Why we must make the adder count., April, 3, 2011.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Thailand and the Trade in Reptiles & Amphibians

I have always had an eversion to crowds of people so a trip to the Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok is always a challenge. Not only is it shoulder to shoulder with fellow shoppers, if it rains - a common occurence in Bangkok - the entire market floods and then you are shopping in several inches of water. The 35-acre market has more than 8,000 stalls and a typical weekend draws 200,000 people all looking for a bargain.

However, this market is of particular interest because it includes a wide selection of wildlife, given the crowds it is the only reason I would attend more than once. In fact I have visited the market several times and am amazed as to the number of squirrels with collars and leashes pinned to vendor's shirts. Of course there are dogs, cats, birds, and many fish. But their are also many amphibians and reptiles for sale. Some are the typical pet shop species, boa constrictors, corn snakes, and iguanas. But, others have plastic bottles filled with unusual snakes, lizards, and frogs - often located under the counter.  Here its possible to encounter a Cryptelytrops venustus or a Naja sputatrix. But perhaps most surprisingly some of the large, rare softshell turtles of the Mekong drainage, like Chitra and Peltochelys are forsale from aquariums.
Cryptelytrops venustus, not from the market.

This week Vincent Nijman and Chris R. Shepard report on the role of Thailand in the international trade in CITES listed herpetofauna. Using data in the WCMC-CITES trade database, they establish that a total of 75,594 individuals of 169 species of reptiles and amphibians (including 27 globally threatened species) were imported into Thailand between 1990 and 2007. They found the majority of individuals (59,895, 79%) were listed as captive-bred and a smaller number (15,699, 21%) as wild-caught. Small numbers of individuals of a few species were imported into Thailand in the 1990's, but in 2003 both volume and species diversity increased rapidly. Wild-caught individuals were mainly sourced from African countries, and captive-bred individuals from Asian countries (including from non-CITES Parties). They found  significant discrepancies between exports and imports. While, Thailand reports importing less than 10,000 individuals (51 species) originating from Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan reports no exports of these species. Similar discrepancies, involving smaller numbers were found with other countries.
The Mekong Narrow Headed 
Softshell Turtle, Chitra chitra. Rescued
from the market.
They consider the international wildlife trade as one of the leading threats to conserving biodiversity. And, while it is a probelm - let's think about the larger problem - rampant habitat destruction by logging, mining, and draining wetlands. Often these activities are done to replace natural landscapes with agriculture - a direct result of population growth.

Nijman V, Shepherd CR (2011) The Role of Thailand in the International Trade in CITES-Listed Live Reptiles and Amphibians. PLoS ONE 6(3): e17825. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0017825

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

British Herps Disappearing

The following is based on a BBC article by Emma Brennand

The native adder is effectively disappearing from our landscape, a study has revealed.

The first nationwide survey of UK amphibian and reptiles has found that Britain's most widespread snake, the adder, is in decline.

Slow worms, common lizards and grass snakes are also becoming less widespread, as are the common toad, common frog and the great crested newt.

The only species found to be increasing its range is the palmate newt.

Dr John Wilkinson explains how to spot a common toad

These startling trends come from a report produced by the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) Trust, which has been gathering data on 12 species since 2007.

The trust's National Amphibian and Reptile Recording Scheme (NARRS) has presented its interim findings, which cover the first half of the six-year survey period from 2007 to 2012.

The full survey aims to establish baselines for widespread species - figures against which future status changes can be assessed.

The survey focuses on widespread amphibian and reptile population. These include the great crested, smooth and palmate newts, common toad and frog, common lizard, slow-worm, grass snake and adder, as well as the wall and green lizards and agile frog in Jersey.

The rarest species, such as the great crested newt, already have high levels of protection, but it is strongly suspected that some formerly common species now in decline.

For this reason, the UK government passed legislation in 2007 prioritising the protection of common toads and all UK reptiles.

But this survey suggests that their numbers continue to fall.

Out of approximately 250 square kilometres surveyed, adders were found in about 20.

Our reptiles and amphibians are doing poorly, adders in particular are of concern

"Though we suspected that adders were getting much less common, it is very alarming that they turn up in only 7% of reptile surveys nationally," Dr John Wilkinson, Research and Monitoring Officer for the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust, told BBC News.

"Adder occupancy is poor everywhere, making them our rarest widespread reptile by far and in need of serious conservation attention."

Historically, it was believed that adders were most at risk from persecution - people killing the snakes because they are venomous. But the ARC Trust say that their decline may also be caused by development and disturbance.

Other widespread amphibians and reptiles also appear to be in trouble.

"There is no single trend as different species are sensitive to different issues," explained Dr Wilkinson.

"Broadly, though, our reptiles and amphibians are doing poorly and adders in particular."

Common frogs are becoming less common in the south of England, particularly in areas which have experienced the most development in recent decades.

And, in the same area of England, the common toad is only half as widespread as the common frog.

"Great crested newts may be much rarer in Scotland than we thought - they haven't turned up in any of our NARRS surveys [there]," said Dr Wilkinson.

Common lizards, thought to occur throughout the UK, were seen rarely in the north and central regions, including Wales. Slow-worms were also found to be scarce in these areas.

Dr Wilkinson believes that this may be because these leg-less lizards are more difficult to find, as they burrow in undergrowth. So a reduced number of sightings may not necessarily reflect a decrease in their population

Surprisingly, palmate newt numbers are higher than expected, which might indicate changes in the quality of Britain's ponds.

Unlike many other amphibian species, these small newts thrive in acidic pools that are formed through acid rain fall or agricultural run-off.

The main drive of amphibian and reptile decline is thought to be habitat fragmentation and development.

Conservationists say this is a particular problem for toads, which are more sensitive than frogs to changes in habitat.

The final NARRS report is due to be published in Spring 2014.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Diabetes, Venom & the Conservation of Biodiversity

In the next 15 years it is estimated that 380 million people world wide will be diagnosed with diabetes. Obesity and the accompanying resistance to insulin result in the progressive failure of b-cells to produce type 2 diabetes. The chronic complications of diabetes comprise an increased risk of death and disability from coronary heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease, and microvascular disease, resulting in retinopathy, nephropathy and neuropathy. Diabetes is the major medical cause of blindness in developed countries, as well as a major cause of end-stage renal failure. Thus there is a major research effort to find new and effective therapies for diabetes. Byetta, a synthetic exenatide, was approved in 2005 as the first in class of a new molecules for treating Type 2 Diabetes. US sales peaked at $678 million in 2008. The development of Byetta resulted from two lines of investigation, these being the development of the ‘incretin concept’ and a parallel, at first unrelated, study of the venom of the American, the Gila Monster, Heloderma suspectum.The venom contained a molecule identified as exendin-4, a peptide mimicking the incretin hormone glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1). The  ‘incretin concept’ hypothesis proposed that hormones from the gut contributed to the insulin secretion in response to meals, led to the identification of glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) as an important ‘incretin’ hormone. GLP-1 not only increases insulin secretion but increases b-cell proliferation and survival, while suppressing glucagon secretion, it also delays gastric emptying and suppresses appetite, all of these actions contributing to a potential anti-diabetic effect. However, GLP-1 has a very short half, it is rapidly broken down by dipeptidyl peptidase IV and ectopeptidases. A systematic investigation of the composition and activity of venom from the Gila monster,  led to the isolation of a 39-amino acid peptide, designated exendin-4, showing 53% structural homology with GLP-1. Exendin-4 mimicked GLP-1 through stimulating the GLP-1 receptor. Exendin-4 is not broken down as easily ad GLP-1 and this led to its experimental and clinical evaluation as an anti-diabetic. There is no better argument for the conservation of biodiversity when it comes to arguing with greedy corporations, than stories like this.

Furman, B.L. 2011. The development of Byetta (exenatide) from the venom of the Gila monster as an anti-diabetic agent. Toxicon, In Press, doi:10.1016/j.toxicon.2010.12.016

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

On the Origin of St George Utah's Desert Tortoise Population and More Biodiversity vs the Economy

St. George, Utah has become known as "Utah's Dixie," its temperate climate with mild winters make it ideal or year-round golf and as a location for retirement communities, it is also a gateway to Zion National Park. Red Cliffs Desert Reserve is located in north of St George, in Washington County in a transition zone between three ecosystems: the Mojave Desert, the Great Basin, and the Colorado Plateau. The Reserve supports a unique flora and fauna with species from each of the regions, as well as endemics. Red Cliffs was originally created for the protection of the Desert Tortoise, Gopherus agassizii in 1996. The tortoise is listed as Threatened by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. However, the Reserve also protects habitat for other sensitive species.

Drew Allard, has now written a commentary for the Spectrum, a southwest Utah media outlet, questioning whether the Red Cliff’s tortoise population is worthy of protection. Allard suggests that the population is not native, and is the result of humans transporting the tortoises. He writes, 
“… early in the 20th century they were accidentally transported here from a department store on Utah Hill in the Beaver Dam Mountain range west of St. George. Dixie State College professor Glen Blakley said, "A free tortoise was given to people when they bought a bucket of water on Utah Hill to cool (their) overheated car. So by the time the people would get to St. George, the parents say to their kids, 'Put that thing out now.' This claim isn't denied or accepted by the Red Cliff Reserve’s Biologist Cameron Rognan, who acknowledges the story with a conceding grin. He admits that there are indications of tortoises from the Beaver Dam Mountain range getting a lift from humans, but he emphasizes that these hitchhikers were most likely additions to the already established St. George tortoise population. He suggests that the tortoises are probably native to both areas." 
The first reference to tortoises in Utah appears to be in Tanner (1927), when he refers to the presences of tortoises in a bird checklist for the Virginia River Valley of Utah. Angus Woodbury (1930) officially recorded the tortoise as part of the Utah fauna in 1930, And Woodbury and Ross Hardy (1948) started studying the Utah tortoise population in 1936. They marked 281 tortoises, 182 were recaptured a total of 812 times. Of interest is that found 17 specimens that showed signs of being in captivity, five specimens had holes drilled in their shells, probably so they could be tethered, two had initials carved in them. One bore the date 1932 and the initials “CR”, but by 1942 when the turtle had been recaptured, the initials had disappeared and the “1932 looked like “1132.” Thus, there is evidence that humans have been moving the Desert Tortoise around for a while. The straight line distance between The Beaver Dam Slope tortoise population and Red Cliffs is about 16 miles, but much of the distance is a mountain barrier that may have prevented the tortoises from colonizing the St. George area by itself. 

Allard cites an AP report that $96 million was spent in the U.S. on preserving desert tortoises between 1996 and 2006. And, notes that not only does the tortoise collect money, it prevents money from being made – the presence of the tortoise is blocking the construction of a solar energy complex that could generate billions of dollars for California's economy. However, the proposed site is located on BLM land― desert tortoise habitat.

As for southern Utah, Allard cites the Red Cliffs Reserve annual expense report showing the reserve has declining income, spending about $400,000 on all expenditures.. While in 2009 they spent $613,000; in 2008, they spent $805,000; and in 2007, they spent more than a million dollars. These amounts were Red Cliffs Reserve’s expenditures as a whole, not just for the tortoises. The Reserve is multi-purpose and used by hikers, bikers and rock climbers.

Thus the argument of the environment verses the economy continues. Some molecular work on the St, George tortoises could settle the problem of its origins. Unfortunately, it will not settle the issue of dollars vs conservation or dollars vs biodiversity.

Tanner, V. 1927. Notes on birds collected in the Virginia River Valley of Utah. The Condor, 29:196-200.

Woodbury, A. M. 1931. The reptiles of Utah. Bulletin of the University of Utah 21:1-129.

Woodbury, A. and R. Hardy. 1948. Studies of the Desert Tortoise, Gopherus agassizii. Ecological Monographs 18:145-200

Monday, March 7, 2011

Update on San Francisco's Sharp's Park and the California Red-legged Frog

Camden Swita, a reporter for the Menlo Park Patch is reporting that a group of environmental  organizations are suing San Francisco today over violations to the Environmental Species Act at Sharp Park Golf Course. 
A California Red-legged Frog egg 
mass at Sharp's Park that is drying out. 
Photo Credit Camden Swita.
The Wild Equity Institute had issued a 60-day intent to sue with the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (RPD), which manages the golf course, on Nov. 18, 2010, but nothing had been sent to a court until today. Joining  Wild Equity as plaintiffs are the Center for Biological Diversity, National Parks Conservation Association, Surfrider Foundation, Sequoia Audubon Society, and the Sierra Club.The plaintiffs' intentions in the suit are: to compel the RPD to adopt a complete habitat restoration agenda for Sharp Park west of Highway 1; second, to force the RPD to develop a habitat protection process for the land in accordance with ESA laws; and third, they want a cessation to endangered and threatened species deaths at Sharp Park. The plaintiffs' complain that currently the city and county of San Francisco are unlawfully killing frogs and snakes, and that damage has been done to these populations as recently as last week.

As recently as February 22, 2011, the Plaintiffs have discovered California red-legged frog egg masses exposed to the air due to the water management activities conducted by the City. Because these egg masses must stay moist to survive, egg masses exposed to the air quickly dry out, and all the frog eggs die. A single egg mass can contain thousands of eggs: thus, the loss of even one egg mass can result in significant mortality for the species. Follow this link to the whole story.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Phuket Cobras Running Out of Room, Into Houses

cobra rises to strike. Photo: Phuket
The following story is from the Phuket Gazzett Daily News, Thailand (February 28, 2011). It emphasizes that over development and displaced wildlife are problems almost every where. The human population is approaching 7 billion (today we are at 6,902,879,135). We need to get it under control- if not we will run out of room,  for us - and the squamates. Be sure to read the comments on this article.

PHUKET: A family in Phuket had their regular laid-back Saturday evening rudely interrupted by a cobra trying to enter their home.
“We had dinner with family and friends in the garden near the pool. After dinner, my wife, Nongyao, cleared the table, and on her way back to the kitchen she encountered a snake,” explained Lothar Schudt, who has lived in Rawai off Saiyuan Road, for 16 years.
“I was already in the pool enjoying the lovely evening when my wife started yelling: ‘Snake! Snake!’,” he said.
Despite his many years in Thailand, Mr Schudt said he initially had trouble understanding what his wife was screaming. “I couldn’t tell if she was yelling ‘Rat!’ [noo] or ‘Snake!’ [ngoo], which are very similar in pronunciation,” he explained.
After failing to get through to several numbers published as snake removal services, he called the Kusoldharm Foundation who promised to send someone immediately.
“Fifteen minutes later, Sayon Thommapun of Chalong Rescue and his assistant were at my house, where I had trapped the snake in a confined area.
“It took them only about five minutes to catch the snake, which turned out to be a female cobra,” said Mr Schudt.
“They promised to release the cobra in the hills,” he added.
 Although happy the snake would be released back into the wild, Mr Schudt expressed his concern over the extent of encroachment into snakes’ natural habitat on Phuket.
“Like many other wild animals in Phuket, snakes have lost most of their habitat due to construction and over-development. They have nowhere to go.
“This was the first time in all these years that we have had a cobra of this size on our property. We keep our house clean and there are no rodents, which cobras normally feed on, on our premises – but this animal had nowhere to go.
“In the end, all of us where very happy that Khun Sayon and his assistant did a very good job to secure the snake and release it in a proper area. Thank you for the quick response Khun Sayon,” he said.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

New population of Furcifer belalandaensis Discovered

Furcifer belalandaensis. University of Kent

Conservationists from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) have discovered a new population of Madagascar’s Belalanda chameleon.
The discovery took place just days after the team hosted an international conference to assess the conservation status of all Madagascar’s reptiles, three of which, including the Belalanda, are already very close to extinction and have been classified as Critically Endangered. The conference took place in Antananarivo, the nation’s capital, from 24 to 28 January.
Previously known only from a few trees in two small villages, the Belalanda chameleon is one of 75 species of chameleon that occur only in Madagascar, all of which are threatened by habitat destruction. The new population was discovered in a third village on the south of the main island.
Richard Griffiths, Professor of Biological Conservation at DICE and team leader for the project, described the find as ‘very important for this species, which is probably one of the world’s rarest reptiles’.
He also explained that DICE is working with the authorities in Madagascar to develop plans to manage chameleons in the wild. ‘Habitat loss and degradation is the main threat to chameleons and biodiversity in general in Madagsacar,’ he said. ‘Our teams are working closely with local communities and our partners to raise awareness of the plight of these amazing creatures.’
DICE’s local partner on the project is Madagasikara Voakajy, a Malagasy biodiversity organisation that uses conservation science and community participation to protect endemic Malagasy species – many of which are highly prized within the pet trade – and their habitats.
The DICE-Madagascar project is funded by the UK’s government’s Darwin Initiative and the British Herpetological Society.
DICE is part of the University’s School of Anthropology and Conservation. 

Monday, February 28, 2011

Here We Go Again: Jobs Vs an Endangered Lizard

There really has to be a better way to frame issues regarding threatened and endangered species and the economy. Otherwise, the economy will win every time. A story on NewsWest9, a West Texas media outlet is likely to get every uneducated, unemployed Texan pissed-off and the oil and gas lobby actively working with private landowners against the lizard. The Dune Sagebrush Lizard (Sceloporus arenicolus) is being considered for the endangered species list. The phrynosomatid lizard inhabits Shinnery Oak Dunes in West Texas and New Mexico and some of this habitat coincides with oil and gas hotspots. Really guys, this is so 1970's. Biodiversity needs to be seen as the valuable resource it is, one as valuable as oil and gas. And really, oil and gas needs to be seen as the energy source of the 19th and 20th centuries not the present century. The article quotes Morris Burns - as saying, "We're going to cut out some wells that would be drilled," oil and gas consultant, Morris Burns, said. "We're going to reduce the number of wells drilled in this formation. This is gonna cut out jobs." Morris, get with the program - you need some lessons in the importance biodiversity and a new job - consider being a consultant for wind and solar power, west Texas has plenty of both! Stop trying to scare people. You are doing society and the environment a great disservice. Be sure to watch the video that accompanies this article - talk about alarmist!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Conserving the Moroccan Herpetofauna

The herpetofauna of Morocco is characterized by high endemism (27.6%) and species richness (at least 98 species) and is the center of diversity for some reptile genera, such as Acanthodactylus, Chalcides and Blanus. The IUCN Global Category and Criteria suggest 9.7% of Moroccan species are threatened (9.7%) and the percentage increases to 12.4% when applying Regional Category and Criteria. The Kingdom possesses the richest and most varied herpetofauna in the Maghreb and the western Mediterranean. In addition to the endemics a number of European relict species also inhabits the country. Most studies of the fauna have not been concerned with conservation. Philip de Pous and colleagues have now identified those areas with the highest species richness; proposed future important biological and ecological sites and identified priority areas. They found species richness highest in four disjunct areas: the northernmost Tingitana peninsula; the eastern Mediterranean coastline; the Atlantic coastal area; and the Middle Atlas region. And, they identified regions with moderate to locally high richness along the Middle Atlas and High Atlas Mountains and the Sahara desert. Areas with low species richness include the semi-desert plain of Marrakech and the semi-deserts east of the High Atlas. The Anti-Atlas Mountains were also identified as having low species richness.

Pous, P. de, W. Beukema, M. Weterings, I. Dümmer and P. Geniez. 2011. Area prioritization and performance evaluation of the conservation area network for the Moroccan herpetofauna: a preliminary assessment. Biodiversity and Conservation, 20 (1): 89-118, DOI: 10.1007/s10531-010-9948-0.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Timber Rattlesnakes and Logging

The Timber Rattlesnake, Crotalus horridus, is a long lived (20 to 30 years) forest-floor predator that plays an important role in ecosystem energy flow.  As such, Timber Rattlesnakes contribute substantially to the stability of the structure and function of forest communities. However, over much of its distribution the timber rattlesnake is exposed to direct persecution and extensive habitat loss causing many populations to disappear. Currently Timbers are listed as threatened, endangered, extirpated, or a species of concern in most of the states it inhabits and the continued existence of viable populations is dependent on large forest tracts throughout Appalachia. The Timber Rattlesnake maintains sizable populations that are associated with large areas of publicly owned forest land which are multiple-use management areas. Thus the rattlesnake is sharing land that is used by humans for recreation, wildlife, and timber production. This association provides an opportunity for successful Timber Rattlesnake conservation but information on the direct or indirect effects of logging on this species has not been examined. Howard K. Reinert and colleagues have studied the direct impact of current logging practices and habitat alteration on a population of timber rattlesnakes in Pennsylvania before, during, and after commercial timbering operations; and examined the short-term response of snakes to logging activities. The research team monitored 67 snakes with radio telemetry over periods as long as four years, and marked and recaptured 306 snakes. Survey efforts were done before, during, and after commercial logging operations on three parcels of land. Snake mortality related to logging was low, less than 2% of the population per year, but potential mortality could have reached 7%. Logging and the subsequent habitat changes did not alter behavior or movement patterns of monitored snakes and the snakes with established activity ranges used these areas both during and after logging operations.Logging increased structural diversity of the habitat and, concurrently, diversity of habitat used by timber rattlesnakes increased. The results suggest that the opportunity exists to develop forest management practices that provide timber products while limiting the impacts timber rattlesnake populations. The authors suggest logging contractors be required to avoid killing snakes while they are working. The entire article can be found on-line.

Reinert, H. K., Munroe, W. F., Brennan, C. E., Rach, M. N., Pelesky, S. and Bushar, L. M. (2011), Response of timber rattlesnakes to commercial logging operations. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 75: 19–29. doi: 10.1002/jwmg.35

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Snake, the Frog & the Golf Course: Results of An Environmental Study

The latest news in the contenious issue of what to do about Sharp Park, an area that is inhabited by the San Franscico Garter Snake and the California Red-legged Frog and under the control of the San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department (SFRP) is the results of an environmental study recently completed by the Wild Equity Institute Currently much of the park is a golf course. Also see this related post. The entire article can be found at: Environmentalists Call New Sharp Park Study the Most Complete Ever, but Golfers Call it Spin Study counters 2009 San Francisco Recreation & Parks 2009 proposal, recommends doing away with golf course. By Camden Swita, February 12, 2011 San Carlos Patch. 

The Wild Equity Institute (WEI), a San Francisco-based environmental policy advocacy organization, sent a letter to the mayor of San Francisco and board of supervisors calling for the conversion of Sharp Park Golf Course to a nature reserve for endangered native frog and snake species and a park. The suggestion is contrary to those proposed in a 2009 study done by SFRP. The newest study,  prepared by ESA PWA, an environmental consulting firm, makes four assertions:

1) “The least costly restoration alternative that would most benefit endangered species at Sharp Park would remove the golf course and restore the natural ecosystem, saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in a time of budget crisis.”

2) “Restoring the natural processes of Laguna Salada will preserve the Sharp Park beach, while the Park Department’s proposal will result in the beach eroding away.”

3) “Sharp Park historically provided more extensive habitat for the California red-legged frog and the San Francisco garter snake, and only through reviving a natural functioning coastal lagoon system can a sustainable and resilient habitat for these endangered species be maintained at Sharp Park in the face of future climate change.”

4) “The proposed restoration will provide improved flood and erosion protection for surrounding properties.”

This is sure to stir up the golfers - but the newest study results look like a win for the City of San Francisco, its tax payers, and the herpetofauna if implemented.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

More on Ending Rattlesnake Roundups

The following commentary was on the Andalusian Star News  January 29, 2011

The City of Opp’s Rattlesnake Rodeo Web site cautions, “The advice given is to avoid contact with rattlesnakes by remaining observant and not approaching the animals.” Good advice. Why then has the city offered a new bounty on rattlesnakes? Has it purchased sufficient liability insurance to cover the potential death and injury that could result? Did the city attorney warn against using public funds to encourage inexperienced people to seek out and capture deadly snakes? For the sake of the youngsters, I urge those responsible to change this ill-advised policy. If that’s not reason enough, think how damages from a single lawsuit could bankrupt the city!

While I’m talking change, many people feel it’s time to reconsider the Rodeo’s outdated, controversial, and exploitative “conservation” philosophy. Whether you appreciate rattlesnakes or not, what kind of message is it sending our children when they attend an event where a declining species of native wildlife is rounded up, often mistreated, and then slaughtered for no reason other than it’s a snake? Other towns that once had rattlesnake roundups have wisely evolved into differently-themed events. At the San Antonio Florida Rattlesnake Festival, education presentations feature snakes that are not abused or harassed, the crowd is entertained and children go home with a new appreciation and respect for wildlife. That event draws 30,000 visitors and raises thousands of dollars for local nonprofits.

This is a great time for a much-needed change to the Rattlesnake Rodeo. By being less exploitative to wildlife and more educational, it can be an even greater asset to our community. It doesn’t need to change its name, as a “roundup” would. It’s becoming less and less about the snakes, anyway. You don’t need 100 wild-caught snakes to have a beauty queen, car race, or concert. Why not keep a few snakes in captivity to put on display each year? Or to take it a step further, a friend who is a renowned authority on the eastern diamondback rattlesnake has suggested that to retain the “snake hunt” heritage, the Rodeo could establish a captive population, such as a secure snake pit, in which “hunters” could enter while spectators watch, and collect the snakes. A one acre pit landscaped with natural vegetation would still make this challenging. This would provide a new entertainment value (patrons of the event would actually get to see snakes being captured rather than just unloaded from boxes in the back of pickup trucks) and there would be no impact on wild populations of rattlesnakes, gopher tortoises, and other burrow inhabitants. The Miami Serpentarium has such an exhibit.

Full disclosure: I’m a wildlife biologist, active in Alabama’s conservation community for nearly 30 years. I appreciate and respect diamondbacks, and I co-exist with a few on my property in south Covington County. I understand why some might not share my enthusiasm, but if the Rodeo ever morphs into a rattlesnake festival that teaches the value of wildlife and instructs the public about nature, including how to avoid snakebite and what to do if it happens, many of my colleagues would gladly offer our services to help in making a festival atmosphere successful. I wish the Opp Rattlesnake Rodeo a long and successful future, but only if it changes with the times.
Mark Bailey

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

King Cobra Habitat Loss in Kerala

The Hindu, Online Edtion, Monday, January 31, 2011 is carrying the following unedited story.

King cobra under pressure from habitat loss in Kerala
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Large-scale deforestation and the disturbances caused by poachers and illicit liquor-brewers could be forcing king cobras to migrate from their natural habitat in bamboo-rich dense evergreen forests to villages nearby.

A study conducted by the researchers of the Department of Zoology, University of Kerala, and the Reptile Study Group, Thiruvananthapuram, has revealed that the king cobra, the world's longest venomous snake, is under increasing pressure from habitat loss.

The study, presented at the first Indian biodiversity congress held here last month, was aimed at documenting the migration pattern of the dreaded snake in human habitats, recording the seasonal day-night data and establishing a baseline dataset for future comparison. It was based on a preliminary survey of the sightings of king cobras in human habitats during the period October 2008 to November 2010. Almost all the snakes were caught by local snake-catchers from bathrooms and courtyards of houses and public roads.

A total of 26 sightings were recorded across Kerala, most of which during the rainy season.

According to the paper, the occurrences were strange as king cobras were never known to trespass into human territory.

They also highlighted the danger to humans from the snake that was known to be fierce, agile and capable of delivering up to 600 mg of highly potent neurotoxic venom in a single bite.

The report, prepared by R. Dileep Kumar, S. Baiju, K. Anaswara, L. Divya and O.V. Oommen from the Department of Zoology, and B. Suresh of the Reptile Study Group, observed that much of the king cobra's rainforest-habitat had been lost as a result of deforestation due to an increasing demand for timber and farm land, fuelled by the spiralling human population.

Pointing out that the remaining rainforests of the Western Ghats were heavily fragmented, the study stressed the need for research, education and conservation, both for the survival of the king cobra's habitat and the welfare of the millions of people dependent on forest for resources and water.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Turtle Tales of Chennai

Volunteers of the Sea Turtle Protection Force tending to
injured turtles. Two Olive Ridley turtles with damaged
lippers were rescued by volunteers of the Sea Turtle
Protection Force at Kovalam and Panaiyur beaches.
In February of 2010. Supraja Dharini, Founder, TREE
Foundation, said while one turtle had lost its right fore
flipper and was stranded on the beach at Kovalam, the
other was stranded on the Panaiyur beach with both its
fore flippers cut. The left hind flipper was cut ninety per
cent. The turtle at the Kovalam beach could have
damaged its right front flipper nearly a month ago as it is
 getting healed, she said. The Sea Turtle Protection Force
 was formed by the Foundation. The turtle found in
Panaiyur had serious injuries, with the bone was visible.
The left hind flipper was hanging loose. The Hindu. 12
February, 2010.
by Shyam Balasubramanian
Express News Service
First Published : 13 Dec 2010 04:28:20 AM IST

CHENNAI: It is that time of the year when Olive Ridley turtles converge to the city’s coast for nesting. Chennai has an impressive record in turtle conservation. It all started in 1972, when renowned herpetologist and conservationist Romulus Whitaker took up the task of saving turtles. “We ran a small hatchery near the Cholamandal village. We did sea turtle conservation work for 10 years,” says Whitaker, Rom to all who know him. They had to stop in 1982 when the Forest Department took over conservation work of the protected sea turtle.

Rom says he found an interesting relationship between the turtles and fishermen during his conservation efforts. “Fishermen worshipped the turtle in a way. If a turtle crawled into their hut, they would feel honoured. In fact, they used to put wet sand on top of its shell and stick incense sticks on it. It was extremely funny to see these turtle crawling around with incense sticks on their back,” says Rom.

Students as Ridley saviours

Founded in 1987, the Students’ Sea Turtle Conservation Network (SSTCN) is Chennai’s oldest extant organisation involved in sea turtle conservation. Powered strictly by a force of student volunteers, SSTCN  continues to keep its operations small and entirely subject to the dedication of its volunteers.

The group has even refused corporate funding and aims at keeping consumption to a minimum.

“We prefer to reuse stuff. We avoid buying the materials. Sometime we rely on relatives in the countryside to send us used gunny bags and other stuff that we utilise for constructing hatcheries”, says Akila.

What has surprised long-time SSTCN members most is continuous support they have received. “At first I was worried over whether we would run out of volunteers to do the conservation work. Over the years, I have learnt that my worries were completely baseless. We get a steady stream of students volunteering to work and that is heartening”, says V Arun, who has been active with SSTCN for over 13 years.

In fact, the dedication and the camaraderie run deep for those who have worked under the SSTCN banner. Many early members still keep in touch and contribute in whatever way they can, despite the fact that they live across the planet now.

Fishing villages involved

Starting in 2002, TREE Foundation spent years earning the trust of the fishing villages as well as the government. Now, it has a team of fishermen called the Kadal Aamai Pathukavalar (KAP) or the Sea Turtle Protection Force, manning its hatcheries and scouting the beaches.

Every fishing village from Neelangarai to Marakkanam has seen frantic activity by TREE Foundation personnel during the Olive Ridley nesting season. They now inform the organisation about developments, not only about turtles, but also of all other marine life.

Over time, it has been accorded permission by the Forest Department to conduct rescue, rehabilitation and recovery operations. It is authorised to conduct necropsies in partnership with the Veterinary College.

The organisation, led by Dr Supraja Dharini, sees active participation of student volunteers. Some of them are from the Veterinary College or Zoology students. TREE Foundation keeps record of all its work.

Fishermen working with the organisation have turned trainers, talking to fishing communities and Wildlife officials about sea turtle conservation and its methods.

Better networking

An increasing number of fishing hamlets on the coast surrounding Chennai are being brought into the sea turtle conservation net. And orienting and training the fishermen of these villages in conservation activities has become an easier task. Especially after Pugalarasan and Ezhumalai started addressing the sessions.

The two fishermen have been volunteering with the TREE Foundation for eight years now and have learnt enough to talk conservation into their community in other villages. Better still, they have recently started addressing gatherings in English when necessary.

“It is easier for us to connect with our community. We know the lives of fishermen and the language they use. We can make them see the point behind conserving sea turtles”, says Pugalarasan, a fishermen from Periya Neelangarai.

They found that language was a barrier when they went to other States or for sea turtle conservation conferences. So they took training from TREE Foundation volunteers for making presentations in English.

“We are interacting with more and more conservationists who do not understand Tamil. Making our presentations in English really helps. We recently even addressed a gathering of officials of the Forest Department in English. It was a proud moment”, says Ezhumalai, a fisherman from Injambakkam.

The two say they want to get more familiar with the language to interact with foreign experts.

“When we address a session in Tamil, we are able to bring in anecdotal evidence to make out point effectively. But we are still not that comfortable with English. Often, we end up giving straight presentations and we stick to the script. I guess with a little more practice, we will become much better”, says Pugalarasan.

Currently, Pugalarasan and Ezhumalai are on a tour to the coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh. They will also visit the Olive Ridley mass nesting sites in Orissa, before returning.

Booming support

Conservation groups working along the Chennai coast to protect the Olive Ridley turtles are very happy with the support they received from State Forest Department. Officials have ensured that they have been given the requisite permissions. The department’s local functionaries show genuine interest in turtle conservation work, the conservationists say. But Chief Wildlife Warden and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests R Sundararaju is more pragmatic about the role of his department.

“It is the duty of the government to conserve and protect animals, through the Forest Department. That goal is important. Also, it becomes easier to achieve our goals when we work with a conservancy group that do good work”, says Sundararaju.

The Forest Department makes it a point to impart continued education to its personnel. It has organized workshops to educate its rangers and officials on a host of relevant subjects relating to conservation. Forest Department officials recently attended a workshop on turtle conservation as well.

Sundararaju feels training of this nature is yielding results. He points out that it is not possible for any one person to know everything about all animals. “Learning needs to happen every day. I just want to make sure training is imparted to all officials of the department”, he says.