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Extinction Stalks Meat-Eating Carnivores

PolarBears

Polar bears on thin ice near the North Pole, June 30, 2015 (Photo by Christopher Michel) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

HELSINKI, Finland, June 7, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – The African lion faces extinction by the year 2050, wildlife experts project, at risk due to indiscriminate killing in defense of human life and livestock, habitat loss, and prey base depletion from poaching and illicit trade.

While the number of tigers living in the wild this year increased by a few hundred to 3,890 animals, the first uptick in the global wild tiger population in 100 years, there are still more tigers in captivity in the USA alone than tigers surviving in the wild. Tigers face the same threats as lions, with the added threat of poaching for the Asian medicinal trade.

The most carnivorous species of bear, polar bears are newly threatened by pollutants and by the increase in resource exploration and development, ice-breaking and shipping in the Arctic, along with loss of sea ice brought on by the warming climate.

Other carnivores – jaguars, leopards, lynx, cheetahs, foxes, wolves, wolverines, civets, hyenas, mongooses, weasels – are also vanishing.

“It is well documented that we are facing the world’s sixth great extinction. And there is no doubt that this extinction event is caused by human activity across the globe,” says Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, UN Messenger of Peace, and IUCN Patron of Nature. “For many endangered species, the impacts of climate change, such as increases in extreme weather patterns and irregular seasonal changes, conversion of habitat, pollution, disease and trafficking, are just a few of the threats that impact their survival.”

While the decline of all animal species is of concern to Dr. Goodall, a new study confirms that the global conservation of carnivores is at greatest risk.

Published in the journal “Scientific Reports – Global priorities for national carnivore conservation under land use change,” the study models future global land conversion and estimates this will lead to range loss and conflict with local people in regions critical for the survival of these threatened apex predators.

The study, organized by researchers from the University of Helsinki in collaboration with an international team of conservation and land use change scientists, concludes that immediate action is needed.

Lead author Dr. Enrico Di Minin of University of Helsinki explains, “We assessed how expected land use change will affect priority areas for carnivore conservation in the future. The analysis revealed that carnivores will suffer considerable range losses in the future. Worryingly, it seems that the most important areas for carnivore conservation are located in areas where human-carnivore conflicts are likely to be most severe.”

Di Minin said, “Presently, South American, African, and South East Asian countries, as well as India, were found to contribute mostly to carnivore conservation. While some of the most charismatic species, such as the tiger and giant panda were found to be at high risk under future land use change, smaller, less charismatic species, with small ranges were found to be equally threatened by habitat loss.”

Lions once ranged from Northern Africa through Southwest Asia, where it disappeared from most countries within the last 150 years, west into Europe, where it became extinct almost 2,000 years ago, and east into India.

WildTigerPhotographers

Wild tiger and photographers in India’s Ranthambore National Park (Photo courtesy Girish Arora)

Tigers once lived across Asia, from Turkey in the west to the eastern coast of Russia. Over the past 100 years tigers have disappeared from southwest and central Asia, from two Indonesian islands, Java and Bali, and from large areas of Southeast and Eastern Asia. Tigers inhabit less than six percent of their historic range, with a 42 percent decline since 2006.

Dr. Luke Hunter, president and chief conservation officer of Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, and a co-author of the paper, said, “Carnivores like big cats have been squeezed out of their ranges at alarming rates for decades now, and we can now see that habitat loss and its shock waves on wildlife are only on the rise.”

Hunter says part of the answer to the carnivore extinction crisis is money. “In order to protect our planet’s landscape guardians, a far greater financial investment from the international community is needed for range-wide conservation approaches, both within and outside of protected areas where carnivores roam,” he said.

Co-author Professor Rob Slotow from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa says another crucial part of the equation is reducing conflict with humans outside of protected areas.

“Most priorities for carnivore conservation are in areas in the global south where human populations are increasing in size, agriculture is intensifying, and human development needs are the highest,” Slotow said. “There is need to implement conservation strategies that promote tolerance for carnivores outside protected areas and focus on the benefits that people derive from these species.”

Carnivores include some of the most iconic species that help generate funding for biodiversity conservation and deliver important benefits to humans. Conservationists argue that protecting carnivores will conserve many other bird, amphibian, reptile and mammal species that live in priority areas for carnivore conservation.

To prevent the sixth mass extinction, humans need to understand the threats to biodiversity, where they occur and how quickly change is happening. We need reliable and accessible data, but a separate study published in the journal “Science” shows we are lacking key information on important threats to biodiversity, such as invasive species, logging, bush meat harvesting, and illegal wildlife trade.

Over the past two years a consortium of 18 organizations, including: the University of Helsinki, UNEP-WCMC, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Luc Hoffmann Institute, a research hub at WWF International, and BirdLife International, compiled global data on biodiversity threats.

They reviewed nearly 300 data sets and marked them on five attributes required for conservation assessments. Datasets should be freely available, up to date, repeated, at appropriate spatial resolution, and validated for accuracy. Only five percent of the datasets satisfied all five attributes.

“We were surprised that so few datasets met all of the five attributes we believe are required for a gold standard of data,” says Lucas Joppa, who leads environmental research at Microsoft and was lead author on the data study. “We live in the age of Big Data, but are effectively flying blind when it comes to understanding what is threatening biodiversity around the world.”

One thing is for certain, the value of environmental crime today is 26 percent larger than previous estimates, having grown to US$91-258 billion today compared to US$70-213 billion in 2014, according to a rapid response report published June 4 by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the international police force INTERPOL.

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Lionskin rug covers a floor at Werribee Mansion near Melbourne, Australia, 2010 (Photo by Rexness) Creative Commons license via Flickr

The Rise of Environmental Crime,” released ahead of World Environment Day, June 5, finds that weak laws and poorly funded security forces have been unable to prevent international criminal networks and armed rebels from profiting from a trade that fuels conflicts, devastates ecosystems and is threatening carnivores and other species with extinction.

“Environmental crime is growing at an alarming pace,” said INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock. “The complexity of this type of criminality requires a multi-sector response underpinned by collaboration across borders. Through its global policing capabilities, INTERPOL is resolutely committed to working with its [190] member countries to combat the organized crime networks active in environmental crime.”

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner is grateful for the police support, saying, “The rise of environmental crime across the world is deeply troubling. The vast sums of money generated from these despicable crimes are fueling insecurity and keeping highly sophisticated international criminal gangs in business. It is essential the world acts now to combat this growing menace before it is too late.”


 

 

 

Wildlife Pays the Price for Ecotourist Fun

LOS ANGELES, California, November 16, 2015 (Maximpact News) – Drawn to the beauty of natural landscapes and the exotic animals that live there, ecotourists leave money behind when they go home, but they may also leave the wild animals they have enjoyed viewing more vulnerable because of their presence.

Protected areas around the world receive a total of more than eight billion visits each year. Ecotourism is supposed to enhance conservation through ecologically responsible travel.

But after analyzing over 100 research studies on how ecotourism affects wild animals, an international team of scientists in the United States, France and Brazil has concluded that such visits can be harmful to the animals.

When wild animals are habituated to the presence of humans, their behaviors may be altered in ways that put them at risk, the researchers have found.

When animals interact in seemingly benign ways with humans, they may let down their guard, said Daniel Blumstein, the study’s senior author and professor and chair of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“This massive amount of nature-based and ecotourism can be added to the long list of drivers of human-induced rapid environmental change,” said Blumstein.

As animals learn to relax in the presence of humans, they may become bolder in other situations, he said. If this transfers to their interactions with predators, they are more likely to be injured or killed.

The presence of humans can also discourage natural predators, creating a kind of safe haven for prey animals that may make them bolder.

For example, in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park, elk and pronghorns in areas with more tourists are less alert and spend more time eating, Blumstein and his colleagues report.

Interacting with people can cause a change in the characteristics of various species over time.

“If individuals selectively habituate to humans – particularly tourists – and if invasive tourism practices enhance this habituation, we might be selecting for or creating traits or syndromes that have unintended consequences, such as increased predation risk,” the researchers write.

“Even a small human-induced perturbation could affect the behavior or population biology of a species and influence the species’ function in its community,” they write.

Ecotourism has effects similar to those of animal domestication and urbanization, the researchers point out.

Research has shown that domesticated silver foxes become more docile and less fearful, a process that results from evolutionary changes, but also from regular interactions with humans, Blumstein said.

Domesticated fish are less responsive to simulated predatory attacks.

Fox squirrels and birds that live in urbanized areas are slower to flee from danger than their wild counterparts.

Blumstein hopes the new analysis will encourage more research into the interactions between people and wildlife.

“It is essential,” he said, “to develop a more comprehensive understanding of how various species in various situations respond to human interaction and under what conditions human exposure may place them at risk.”

This research is published in the current issue of the journal “Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

The study’s co-authors are Benjamin Geffroy, a postdoctoral researcher with France’s Institute National De La Recherche Agronomique in Rennes; Diogo Samia, a postdoctoral researcher in the department of ecology at the Federal University of Goias, in Brazil; and Eduardo Bessa, a professor at the State University of Ponta Grossa, also in Brazil.


 

Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Featured image: Tourists wait to photograph orangutans during feeding time at Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, Sabah, Malaysia. March 17, 2014 (Photo by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) under creative commons license via Flickr)
Slide image 01: Ecotourists stop a jaguar from crossing the river to reach a mate, Brazilian Pantanal, Aug. 22, 2011 (Photo by Paul Williams under creative commons license via Flickr)
Slide image 02: In Rwanda’s Virunga National Park a mother gorilla and her baby relax although a photographer is near. May 22, 2013. (Photo by Kwita Izina under creative commons license via Flickr)
Slide image 03: Ecotourists snorkel with fish in Brazil. (Photo by Benjamin Geffroy courtesy UCLA)