An update on my wildlife articles
What's happened up to April 2012?
Over the last few years, there have a number of interesting developments in the field of conservation of wildlife. New information and stories continually hit the newspapers, much of it relevant to articles that I have written for Infobarrel. With this article, I want to update those facts and share interesting snippets.
Savannah Exhibit, Perth Zoo
Perth Zoo, Western Australia, has introduced an innovative idea and now has a new 'savannah outlook tower' at its giraffe enclosure. Standing on the tower puts one some five metres above ground level - about the level of the giraffes' heads - and gives a panoramic view over the zoo. Twice a day for a small fee, part of which goes to the conservation of threatened species in the wild, the public can stand on the platform and feed the five resident giraffes. A lick from Armani, the male, has been the highlight of many a child's day at the zoo.
Four Perth groups have joined forces to fight to save critically endangered Asian animals. The new charity, Wildlife Asia, will be run by Leif Cocks, who has quit his post as long-time head of exotics at Perth Zoo. The four former projects are the Orang-utan Project, Silvery Gibbon Project, Asian Rhino Project and Free the Bears. Each group will remain independent but hopes to provide more effective action on the ground in Asia. With the global recession and reduction in consumer and business confidence, the general public have had to tighten their purse strings and donations have fallen away.
All four species involved are all coming close to extinction. An estimated 200 Sumatran rhinos remain in the wild. Sumatran orang-utans may well be extinct within a decade. Borneo orang-utans are in a similar position with deforestation forging ahead in Indonesia and Malaysia. Although Free the Bears has rescued and rehabilitated hundreds of animals, thousands more are at risk from the illegal wildlife trade. Silvery gibbons are hanging on in only 2% of their original natural habitat. Population estimates range from 400 to 3000 left in the wild in their native west and central Java.
The biggest threat to all these animals is the conversion of their native rainforests into pulp paper and palm oil plantations. Poaching is also a huge problem. Although illegal, it is nearly as lucrative, and as large, and as hard to counteract, as the drug trade.
Two orang-utans were born at the Perth Zoo in March 2012. This has brought the number of orang-utans at the zoo to thirteen. Sungai, a male, and Lestari, a female, were greeted with great joy by zoo staff. The births were seen as a triumph for the captive breeding program. These little creatures may one day join six-year-old Semeru, a male, also born at the zoo, who was released last year into a protected rainforest area. In 2006, Temara, then 14 years old, was the first zoo-raised orang-utan to be released into the wild and has made herself quite at home there. The orang-utans were released into the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Sumatra.
While it may seem improbable, small frog species are an important part of a countries' natural resources.
Amphibians make up one of the most important elements of many food chains. When numbers of small amphibians fall below a certain point, invertebrates such as mosquitoes prosper. This can mean the spread of disease or the ruin of crops. Bigger predators such as snakes disappear because of lack of prey.
Small frogs are very sensitive to any threats and can be the first group of species to suffer when things go wrong. There is a world-wide decline in amphibian species with up to a third of all species considered at risk of extinction.
It was reported in 'The West Australian' on 27 December 2011, that a young female Sumatran rhino had been captured by Malaysian wildlife authorities. It has taken nearly 18 months to capture Puntung, as she is called. She belongs to the Borneo subspecies, of which it is estimated that only 30 to 50 remain. Puntung is between 10 and 12 years old. She is being kept at Tabin Wildife Reserve in Sabah where a lone male rhino, 20 year old Tam, also resides. Tam was rescued from a palm oil plantation in 2008. It is hoped they may mate in the future.
This may represent a last chance of saving the species from extinction. In the 1980s and 90s attempts to breed the Sumatran rhino (Borneo subspecies) failed. With only 30 to 50 of the subspecies remaining, hope is fading for subspecies, which is distinguished from other Sumatran rhinos by its distinctively shaped head, small teeth and relatively small size. They are mostly solitary except during courtship and when rearing their young. As these rhinos are not mating in the wild, this is a last ditch effort to save the species.
During the heatwave of February 2012, endangered ringtail possums in Busselton in Western Australia's south-west were so distressed that they were falling out of trees suffering from heat exhaustion. Hotter summers, climate change and habitat loss were all having a disastrous effect on the possums. Householders could help by placing shallow containers of water as high in trees as possible. This was preferable to putting water containers on the ground. Possums either would avoid coming to ground because of the danger of falling victim to dogs and cats or, if they did come to ground, could be taken by predators.
Increased Rhino Poaching
A record 448 rhinos were poached in South Africa in 2011. This follows an increased demand from middle-class Asians for powdered rhino horn and has led to the adoption of extreme measures in an endeavour to halt the slaughter. Rhinos are now being sedated and the horns treated with a dye, insecticide and/or tracking devices. It is hoped this will deter poachers. The dye could help in tracing horn shipments.
The sedation is not without risk. At the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve near Pretoria, a male rhino died early in 2012. This was the first death among 20 rhinos that had been treated. The World Wildlife Fund has been sedating rhinos for 50 years and believes the benefits outweigh the risks. Rhino owners were desperate to protect their animals from poachers.
New Discoveries in the Kimberleys
Late in 2011, a three-week field trip to the Kimberley in northern Western Australia discovered a new species of seaweed, a new genus of algae and a host of interesting and seldom seem specimens. The group of 14 researchers came across an octopus, Ameloctopus litoralis, which has a 2cm head and arms of 14 cm. There is no ink sac but the arms can be 'dropped' if the animal needs to escape a predator.
The marine habitat was filmed, weather quality analysed and DNA samples collected. About 1500 specimens and 1000 DNA samples were collected on the trip. The group also saw a coral that turns purple when stressed and another that produces mucous to clean itself. The new seaweed species of seaweed has been named Rasta weed because of its similarity to Rastafarian deadlocks.
In February 2012, poachers slaughtered 200 elephants in northern Cameroon. The massacre took place in a national park with about a third of the elephant population being killed. Orphaned calves had been seen and were likely to die, compounding the impact of the poaching. It was common for professional gangs of poachers to cross from Sudan, kill the elephants and smuggle the ivory out of West and Central Africa. The ivory was sold in Asian and European markets funding arms purchases.
In the same month, an orphaned South African rhino had had its vision restored by surgery. The young rhino was hit on the head in the same attack that killed its mother . Roccy the rhino has now been released in the Elandela game reserve in the north-east of South Africa.
South Africa is home to around 20,000 rhinos. This is 70 to 80% of the total global population. Although only 13 rhinos had been killed in 2007, estimated figures jumped to 333 in 2010 and 448 in 2011.
More on Rhinos
A catastrophe occurred at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, New South Wales when four of their seven white rhinos succumbed to a mystery illness and died. Another is ill (March 2012). The animals show neurological damage with symptoms of stumbling. Their keepers are understandably distraught at this loss and extensive tests are being carried out to try to determine the cause of death. All the easy options have been ruled out and experts throughout the world are baffled by the deaths.
Still More on Rhinos
In November 2011, The West Australian ran a story on moving rhinos in South Africa to fresh breeding grounds. The article included a magical photo of a rhino upside down with its legs roped and suspended from a helicopter. Nineteen rhinos were moved in this way from an inaccessible area in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa to an undisclosed location in northern Limpopo province. The World Wildlife Fund Black Rhino Range Expansion Project has moved 120 animals in the last eight years.
The animals are darted and put to sleep before spending 20 minutes in the air being lifted out of their home range. They are then taken by road 1600 kilometres to their safe haven. Elephants in Malawi have also been moved successfully using similar techniques.
A new chameleon was discovered early in 2012 on a small island off the Madagascar mainland. Brookesia micra and three other new species were discovered in an area of just a few square kilometres. B.micra is just 3cm long and can probably lay claim to being the world's smallest reptile. However the title for the world's smallest vertebrate goes to a frog native to Papua New Guinea, Paedophryne amanuensis. The little frog is around 2.5 cm long.
Rescue Centre Raided
It was reported in February 2012 that the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand Centre in south-west Thailand had been raided by Thai officials. Around 100 armed men, some wearing balaclavas, removed some 103 animals including Asiatic black bears, macaques, gibbons, civets, leopard kites and other endangered animals. The raid is believed to be in retaliation for the group speaking out about the illegal capture of elephants for the tourist camp trade. Staff were spat on and abused by the officials.