Category Archives: Europe

There Are Now More Than 400 Iberian Lynx, One of the World’s Most Endangered Cats

The Iberian lynx was found to be the world’s most endangered cat in 2002. More than a decade later and the population has reached it’s highest number since then.

A census released by the government of Andalusia found the population to be 404, up from 327 in 2014. The survey identified 120 breeding females over five areas of the Iberian Peninsula: Portugal’s Vale do Guadiana and Doñana, Sierra Morena, Montes de Toledo, Valley Matachel, all in Spain. Head of WWF-Spain’s species programme Luis Suarez says:

“WWF welcomes the heartening results of the 2015 Iberian Lynx census. This is a historic landmark that comes with the heavy responsibility of strengthening our commitment and conservation actions to protect this most endangered species.”

Director of WWF’s global species programme Carlos Drews says:

“The increasing numbers and expansion of Iberian lynx show that concerted conservation efforts pay off. This endangered cat is symbolic of the plight of numerous threatened species worldwide that require sustained conservation efforts over several decades. But the job is not completed yet – it’s on the right track, but still distant from a full recovery.”

Despite the rise in population, the Iberian lynx is still threatened by road accidents, with a total of 51 lynx killed on the roads in the last three years. The cat is also threatened by declines in prey species. In particular, a viral disease has caused rabbit populations have dropped over 50% in lynx territory. Suarez says:

“It is essential that all competent authorities take action on the threats to rabbits and begin to implement better monitoring plans and actions for species recovery. Otherwise, we will see a real ecological catastrophe given the key role of the rabbit in Mediterranean ecosystems.”

 
 
Featured image by Steve Slater / CC BY 2.0

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Both Puffins and Turtle Doves Face Extinction

Puffin and turtle dove populations have dropped so drastically that they now face the same threat of extinction as the African elephant and lion.

For the first time, Atlantic puffins and European turtle doves have been added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list. In total, four UK bird species were added, doubling the number of commonly-seen bird species with “vulnerable” statuses. Furthermore, 14 UK species are now considered “near threatened.”

RSPB conservation director Martin Harper says:

“Today’s announcement means that the global wave of extinction is now lapping at our shores. The number of species facing extinction has always been highest in the tropics, particularly on small islands. But now the crisis is beginning to exact an increasingly heavy toll on temperate regions too, such as Europe. The erosion of the UK’s wildlife is staggering and this is reinforced when you talk about puffin and turtle dove now facing the same level of extinction threat as African elephant and lion, and being more endangered than the humpback whale.”

Climate change, gill net fishing, invasive predators and high breeding failures are the major factors in the puffin’s population decline. Atlantic puffin numbers are suffering in Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, which constitutes 80% of the European population. Numbers are also declining in Fair Isle and Shetland, UK.

Photo by Andy Morffew / CC BY-ND 2.0
Photo by Andy Morffew / CC BY-ND 2.0

The turtle dove has also suffered drastic declines across Europe, with more than a 30% decline in the last 16 years. More than 9 out of every 10 birds have been lost since the 1970s. Potential causes include hunting while migrating, shifts in land-use patterns and climate change. RSPB spokesman Grahame Madge says:

“We are researching a number of different reasons why, including changes in agricultural practice across Europe, which means a struggle to find food and nesting sites…We do know there is strong illegal hunting of turtle dove around the Mediterranean.”

 
 
Featured image by Brian Gratwicke / CC BY 2.0

World’s Most Endangered Big Cat May Be Coming Back From the Brink of Extinction

In 2007, the Amur leopard population dropped to just 40 adults – a dangerously low number that indicated they were on the edge of extinction.

But according to a 2014 census, the population appears to have doubled as 80 or more leopards were counted, with some even repopulating part of its historic range in China. The census was conducted over two years by federal nature reserve Land of the Leopard National Park, located on Russia’s far southeastern border shared with China. Using cameras, researchers were able to analyze and identify individual leopards.

Photo by flickrfavorites / CC BY 2.0
Photo by flickrfavorites / CC BY 2.0

The Amur leopard is a subspecies of the well-known leopard of the African savannas, who is adapted to a cold and snowy climate. It was once native to a wide range of eastern China, eastern Russia and the Korean Peninsula.

But poaching and habitat loss have drastically decreased the species’ numbers in the 20th century. By 1996, the IUCN Red List declared the Amur leopard critically endangered, as they were extinct from the Koreas, functionally extinct in China and existed in only small numbers Russia.

But this recent rise in the leopard’s numbers is a testament to Russia’s commitment over the last few years to saving the animal from extinction. In 2012, the Russian government created the Land of the Leopard National Park by combining three other smaller protected areas with a nearby unprotected land. It’s 1,011 square miles of forest habitat for Amur leopards and Siberian tigers, along with the deer and boar they prey on. Russia has also strengthened penalties for poaching.

Wildlife biologist collaborating with Russian scientists and conservationists in the region Jonathan Slaght says:

“There could in fact be 80, but more likely the number is a little bit less,” he said, because some leopards are likely to be moving between Russia and China and encountering the networks of camera traps on both sides of the border. What needs to happen, to evaluate that number of 80, is to join the Chinese data to the Russian data. It’s looking like both sides are willing to do one of these unified database analyses.”

Featured image by Tim Strater / CC BY-SA 2.0

Blue Whale Sighting in English Waters is the First Since Near Extinction

The world’s largest animal, the blue whale, has been seen in English waters for the first time since the 1900s.

The creature was photographed 250 miles from the coast by scientists aboard the RRS James Cook, which is studying marine life in the Whittard Canyon off England’s south-west coast. Oceanographers believe the photos are the first to show a blue whale in the region since in the early 20th century when they were nearly hunted to extinction in the north-east Atlantic.

The crew captured two photos, one showing the glimpse of spray from the whale’s blowhole and another showing its bluish-gray back and tiny dorsal fin. Chief scientist of the expedition from National Oceanography Centre (NOC) Veerle Huvenne says:

“There was huge excitement on board as many people got a glimpse of their first blue whale, but only later did we realize that this is probably the first to be photographed within English waters. The Biscay margin is already recognised as a hotspot for whales, dolphins and seabirds – our new data further underlines the importance of this area for iconic marine life.”

This sighting, along with others by observers on ferries crossing the Bay of Biscay, indicates the species may be slowly recovering from its near-extinction. Also recorded on expedition were more than 20 fin whales, which are the second largest animal in the world and also endangered.

Photo by National Oceanography Centre
Photo by National Oceanography Centre

Featured image by NOAA Photo Library / CC BY 2.0

U.S. and Russia Have Joined Forces to Save the Polar Bear

The U.S., Russia, Canada, Denmark and Norway have teamed up to save the polar bear. The five countries – each with territory above the Arctic Circle and all signatories to a 1973 treaty to preserve the species – signed a new agreement to protect the bears as climate change melts its home.

The agreement involves a new 10-year plan that brings the countries together in a pan-Arctic approach. Scientists will work together to collect better estimates of current polar bear populations and evaluate the effects of climate change, pollution and disease. They will meet every two years to report on the progress and collaborate further.

Director of the World Wildlife Fund’s Global Arctic Program Alexander Shestakov says:

“After 40 years of cooperation, this is the first time when parties came together to agree on one circumpolar action plan for polar bears. It doesn’t mean for 40 years they weren’t doing anything. But there was a real need for a pan-Arctic approach.”

Photo by Christopher Michel / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Christopher Michel / CC BY 2.0

When the countries first signed the 1973 treaty to protect polar bears, the major threat was uncontrolled hunting. Now, the biggest threat is climate change and warming temperatures in the Arctic, as polar bears overall lack the ability to survive in warmer temperatures

Specifically, higher temperatures result in melting sea ice, which takes away the polar bears only habitat and the habitat of its prey. Melting ice has also stranded polar bears on land for longer periods in the year, leaving them with less access to food and more risk from people.

This summer proved to be another near record melting of sea ice. An image of an emaciated polar bear in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago by German photographer Kerstin Langenberger shows just how terrible this issue has become. She posted the image to Facebook on August 20 and it quickly went viral, becoming the latest symbol of climate change. Sadly, Langenberger says it was not an unusual sight:

Photo by Kerstin Langenberger
Photo by Kerstin Langenberger

Polar bears cannot survive in the wild unless the Arctic remains cold enough and covered by a good deal of ice year-round. But temperatures will continue to rise and ice will continue to melt if we don’t take action. Over the next few decades, countries around the world must cut burning coal and oil. If not, scientists believe the Arctic summer sea ice will disappear by the middle of the century and with it, the polar bears will likely disappear too.

 
 
Featured image by Kerstin Langenberger

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