Amur Tiger Population in Russia Rises Since 2010

Over the last decade, the Amur tiger population in Russia has increased to as many as 540. According to an interim census by the Russian government, there are between 480 and 540 tigers, including 100 cubs, over 58,000 square miles of habitat.

Around 2,000 specialists were involved in the field research using technologies like GPS tracking, satellite navigators and camera traps. These numbers represent an increase from the last census in 2005, which showed between 423 to 502 tigers.

Amur Tiger2
Image credit: Ronnie Macdonald / CC BY 2.0

Russia’s Far East has 95% of the global population of Amur tigers. Recent anti-poaching efforts in the area have been crucial to increasing numbers, including harsher punishments and newly established criminal charges for illegal hunting, storage and trafficking of the tigers. Head of WWF-Russia Igor Chestin says:

“I am pleased to see that the number of Amur tigers in Russia has increased in all the key areas where WWF has been working for many years. This success is due to the commitment of Russia’s political leadership and the tireless dedication of rangers and conservationists in very difficult conditions.”

Poaching is the principal threat to wild Amur tigers today, with such a high demand of tiger parts throughout Asia still in existence. The number of Amur tigers dropped to just 40 animals in the 1940s, but through conservation efforts, the population has come back from the brink of extinction.

Three Amur Tigers
Image credit: Tambako The Jaguar / CC BY-ND 2.0

As part of an effort to double global tiger numbers by 2022, the World Wildlife Fund is urging every country with Amur tigers to conduct a census. The goal, known as Tx2, requests urgent and comprehensive censuses across South East Asian countries with tigers. Leader of the WWF Tigers Alive Initiative Mike Baltzer states:

“The key is strong political support. Where we have it, in countries like Russia and India, we are seeing tremendous results. However, in South East Asia, where political support is weaker, we are facing a crisis. These countries stand to lose their tigers if urgent action isn’t taken immediately.”

Specialists in Malaysia have suggested that the country’s tiger population may have dropped to 250-340 from approximately 500, making it critical to perform a census there. Other countries in dire need of counting tigers include Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar.

Other countries, however, have been tracking their Amur tiger populations. In January, India released its latest census showing an increase in tiger population to 2,226 , up from 1,706 in 2010. Nepal, which has zero-tolerance for poaching, carried out a census in 2013.

Additionally, China is planning to count tigers this summer, Bangladesh and Bhutan are expected to release their official consensus later in the year and Russia will release its final results in October 2015.
 
 
Featured Image: Tambako The Jaguar / CC BY-ND 2.0

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Mountain Gorilla in Uganda

Photo by Rod Waddington / CC BY-SA 2.0

Mountain Gorilla in Uganda

Polar Bear Jumping

Photo by Arturo de Frias Marques, Bering Land Bridge National Preserve / CC BY-SA 2.0

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India’s Asiatic Lion Population on the Rise

India’s population of endangered Asiatic lions has increased by 27% since 2010, a great victory for the species.

Found only in the Gir forest of Gujarat, the Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica) is the smaller cousin of the African lion and has a fold of skin along its stomach. They were once critically endangered but have steadily increased.

Asiatic Lioness
Image credit: Shaunak Modi / CC BY 2.0

Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel stated that this year, officials tallied 523 lions total, over five days in May in the 7,700 square mile or 20,000 square kilometer sanctuary and surrounding forest. Patel states:

“There are 109 male lions, 201 females and 213 cubs in the Gir sanctuary and nearby forest areas of Junagadh district.”

2,500 people, including wildlife experts from India’s top universities, used direct sightings, photographs and GPS tracking to document the lions and avoid double counting.

Asiatic Lion
Image credit: Shaunak Modi / CC BY 2.0

The census showed 359 in 2005 and 411 lions in 2010, making this year’s 523 a triumphant 27% population increase over the last five years. However, while the rise in numbers is a victory for the lions, it poses new challenges managing habitat and conflict with humans. World Wildlife Fun India director Diwakar Sharma says:

“This is good news on the conservation front but bigger populations in bigger areas increases the challenge of managing land, human and animal conflict.”

There is a great deal of international scrutiny over India’s conservation efforts because it is home to several endangered species. Fortunately, conservation in India is being recognized today, as various populations have experienced increases in the recent years, including a 30% increase for tigers since 2010.
 
 
Featured Image: Shaunak Modi / CC BY 2.0

World’s Largest Herbivores At Risk of Extinction From Hunting and Habitat Loss

Elephants, rhinos, hippopotamuses, gorillas and several other of the world’s largest herbivores are in danger of becoming extinct. According to a study by an international team of scientists, not only will the current trends be devastating to these animals but they will also have serious consequences for the ecosystems in which they live and other species as well.

The study, called “Collapse of the world’s largest herbivores,” was published in the open-access online journal Science Advances in May. In their research, scientists studied 74 different species of herbivores that weigh an average of 220 pounds at adulthood – essentially the size of reindeer or larger. They found that 60% of species in the study are now considered threatened. UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and study co-author Blaire Van Valkenburgh says:

“For some of the largest animals, such as elephants and rhinos, it is likely a matter of a few decades before they are extinct — and no more than 80 to 100 years for the rest of the large herbivores. Even though an individual elephant or rhino might persist in the wild somewhere in Africa, they will be functionally extinct in terms of their impact on the ecosystem.”

Image credit: William Warby / CC BY 2.0
Image credit: William Warby / CC BY 2.0

The study explains that the two largest threats to these animals are hunting and habitat loss. Other factors include increasing human populations and competition with livestock, particularly in developing nations where livestock production tripled from 1980 to 2002.

Research showed that:

  • From 2002 and 2011, the number of forest elephants decreased by 62%.
  • From 2007 to 2013, the number of poached rhinos jumped from 13 to 1,004 per year.
  • From 2010 to 2012, more than 100,000 elephants or one-fifth of the world’s wild savannah elephant population were poached.

Van Valkenburgh says:

“Decades of conservation efforts are being reversed by the entrance of organized crime into the ivory and rhino horn markets. If this were to keep up, there would be very few or no savannah elephants in 10 years, and no African rhinos in 20 years.”

Young rhino
Image credit: Franco Pecchio / CC BY 2.0

One major problem is that the financial incentive for hunting these animals is huge. For instance, rhino horns are more valuable by weight than gold, diamonds or cocaine, reaching as high as $60,000 per pound in Asia. Because of this, the study proposes creating counter financial incentives for people living near the animals to safeguard them, so it would become more profitable to protect the animals than to poach them. The study also stresses the need for social marketing and education campaigns to drive down demand for animal products as food and consumer goods.

The scientists say:

“Large herbivores, and their associated ecological functions and services, have already largely been lost from much of the developed world. Now is the time to act boldly, because without radical changes in these trends, the extinctions that eliminated most of the world’s largest herbivores 10,000 to 50,000 years ago will only have been postponed for these last few remaining giants.”

Image credit: Diana Robinson / CC BY-ND 2.0
Image credit: Diana Robinson / CC BY-ND 2.0

The study also notes that the Pleistocene Epoch, which ended around 11,700 years ago, saw more than 40 species of herbivores in which adults weighed 2,200 pounds or more, but today there are only eight. The extinction of these “mega-herbivores” has drastically influenced our planet’s ecosystems. For example, large herbivores are the primary food source for predators and scavengers and the way they walk over and consume plants affects how vegetation grows. In addition, they are relied on for food on by humans, especially in developing nations, with an estimated 1 billion people depending on wild meat to survive.

The conclusion to the study states:

“Without radical intervention, large herbivores (and many smaller ones) will continue to disappear from numerous regions with enormous ecological, social, and economic costs.”

Featured image: Diana Robinson / CC BY-ND 2.0

What Marine Ecosystem is Most Threatened By Human Impact?

What marine ecosystem is most at risk of extinction from human impact? An international team of scientists used 23 million years of fossil records to conclude that the tropics are most at risk of extinction today.

In a paper published in the journal Science, researchers found that the predictors of extinction vulnerability, geographic range and the type of organisms have remained consistent over the past 23 million years.

Study co-author and professor at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, University of Queensland John Pandolfi states:

“We used these estimates to map natural extinction risk in modern oceans, and compare it with recent human pressures on the ocean such as fishing, and climate change to identify the areas most at risk. These regions are disproportionately in the tropics, raising the possibility that these ecosystems may be particularly vulnerable to future extinctions.”

Coral Reef, Santo, Vanuatu
Image credit: Roderick Eime / CC BY 2.0

With these records, the scientists were able to assess a baseline extinction risk for tropical ecosystems and marine animals like sharks, whales, dolphins, snails, clams, corals and more. They then mapped the regions where those species with high risk were most impacted by humans and climate change.

By identifying these regions, humans can now target the tropics and the species that dwell there in conservation efforts and policies. From Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, co-author Dr. Sean Anderson says:

“It’s very difficult to detect extinctions in the modern oceans but fossils can help fill in the gaps. Our findings can help prioritize areas and species that might be at greater risk of extinction and that might require extra attention, conservation or management – protecting vulnerable species in vulnerable places.”

Pulau Rawa, Rawa Island, Malaysia
Image credit: Phalinn Ooi / CC BY 2.0

Featured Image: Greg McFall, NOAA’s National Ocean Service / CC BY 2.0