November 21st, 2013
Bouba, WCS Queen’s Zoo’s newest Andean bear. Photo by Julie Larsen Maher / WCS.
The Andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus) is the only endemic bear on the continent of South America. The IUCN lists the species as Vulnerable to risk of extinction, with habitat loss and hunting as drivers behind its dwindling numbers. This elegant species is sometimes referred to as the spectacled bear due to occasional markings around the eyes that resemble glasses.
The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Queens Zoo has welcomed an ambassador of the Andean bear, a 2 year-old male named Bouba. Hailing from a zoo in France, Bouba will share his new home with a female friend of the same species, Spangles.
WCS conducts research on Andean bears across multiple countries in South America and aims to develop local habitat conservation of the Andean bear and mitigate threats such as human-wildlife conflict. WCS works in tandem with Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and Cleveland Zoological Society, the Andean Bear Conservation Alliance, and other supporters to protect the future of the Andean bear. You can learn more about their efforts or donate to the projects by going to wcs.org.
November 7th, 2013
A 285 lbs baby Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), that is.
Max and his mom. Photo courtesy of Stefan Groeneveld / ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.
Max was on his feet in just a few minutes and entertaining his keepers and elephant family with his independent and playful nature.
Max is now three weeks old and zookeeper Stefan Groeneveld said: “[He] has come on so much in just three weeks and is already showing an independent streak. He’ll happily leave his mum’s side to go and play in the paddock with the rest of the herd.”
Asian elephants are listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and scientists estimate there are just 30,000 to 35,000 of these giants left in the wild, with major threats including habitat loss, forest degradation and fragmentation, and human-elephant conflict. ZSL and the Elephant Conservation Network (ECN) have been working in collaboration with the Salakpra Wildlife Sanctuary in Thailand for years to address conflict, protecting swaths of forest and helping locals develop sustainable practices that allow the forest to remain intact.
Max enjoying his new home. Photo courtesy of Stefan Groeneveld / ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.
October 31st, 2013
By Simon Bradley and Tammy Mildenstein
It’s Halloween time again, and around much of the world people are decorating with images of ghosts, vampires, witches, black cats, and, of course, bats.
For the superstitious, there may be nothing scarier than the flying foxes of the Philippines, whose 2-meter wingspans make them the largest bats in the world!
In keeping with a popular fear and mistrust of nocturnal animals, Philippine flying foxes (which are actually fruit bats) are associated with a rogue’s gallery of eerie spirits that haunt Philippine nights and minds. While entertaining and spine-tingling, the lingering power of these associations can present challenges for bat conservation, but can also open up opportunities for engaging with the public. Tammy Mildenstein of SOS – Save Our Species project Filipinos for Flying Foxes, describes some of the legends she has encountered in her time working to protect these creatures.
The evening departure of thousands of flying foxes overhead could send the superstitious running for cover. Credit Tammy Mildenstein, Filipinos For Flying Foxes
Perhaps, most closely resembling this magnificent bat is Manananggal whose legend mirrors the same distribution pattern throughout Southeast Asia as flying foxes. This “aswang” – a Filipino term for a variety of vampire-like creatures – is a woman by day, but transforms into a fearsome predator after dark. As families prepare to slumber, Manananggal’s torso detaches in the middle, while the upper half grows bat wings allowing her to fly through the night in search of her prey: unborn babies. According to the myth, Manananggal lands on the roof of a home and drops her long, needle-thin tongue into the belly of a pregnant woman in her sleep to feast. Grisly and chilling? Yes. True? Unlikely, but a great ice-breaker for talking about flying foxes and setting the record straight on the true cultural and economic value of flying foxes, according to Tammy Mildenstein. Flying foxes are fruit bats, she explains, they don’t feed on human blood much less unborn babies.
Indeed there are others in the menagerie of mythological and winged menaces – all seemingly drawing inspiration from the Philippines’ rich diversity of bat species. For example there is Tik-tik and Wak-wak – both similar to Manananggal, named respectively, for their “tik-tik” nocturnal calls and the “wak-wak” sound of their airy flapping wings, both of which are reminiscent of the sounds made by flying foxes in flight at night. Yet another is Tiyanak – a creature in the form of a human baby, but with fangs and sharp claws that flies away as a black bird. Capre and Tikbalang take on other animal forms, and are said to be found in fig trees at night with red reflective eyes just like fruit bats.
Meanwhile, aside from inspiration for scares at bedtime, scientific research has shown these amazing creatures are vital to human survival. As pollinators and seed dispersers, flying foxes for example, are essential for maintaining natural forests, often the only source of fresh water, air, and timber and non-timber forest products. Flying foxes are also known to pollinate hundreds of agriculturally important crops for the region, explains Mildenstein.
Ironically, being nocturnal it is flying foxes which can become easily stressed by diurnal human presence near their nest sites. That is why a central component of the Filipinos for Flying Foxes project is to establish six roost sanctuaries to boost species populations allowing the bats and local communities to live in harmony.
So the legends may live on, and keep a couple of kids awake at night, but maybe if Filipinos for Flying Foxes is successful, staying up past bedtime will be to marvel at the sight of the world’s largest bat taking to the sky as darkness falls….all around you! Mwuhahaha! Happy Halloween!
October 30th, 2013
By Eleanor Warren-Thomas
Ladybird, Amazon-style. Photo by Eleanor Warren-Thomas.
The day begins at around 5 a.m., when the sounds of motorbikes revving, dogs barking, wood being chopped and shouting men start to permeate the room. I haven’t needed to set my alarm for weeks.
I am here to help run a project on Brazil nut harvesting from lowland rainforests in Madre de Dios, in the Peruvian Amazon. Brazil nut collection from these forests forms a huge part of many people’s livelihood in this area, and the project aims to improve knowledge about the variation in Brazil nut production, which changes among trees and between years for as-yet unknown reasons.
Brazil nut trees, known locally as castaña, take decades to mature and start producing nuts in the wild, so the majority of the productive trees in these concessions are enormous – at least a meter across at the base – and are some of the tallest trees in the forest. Brazil nut trees are protected by law, and in some areas they stand alone in areas cleared for pasture. In many other areas, they form part of standing intact forest within concessions owned by local people, who walk well-managed trails through the forest each year to collect the nuts by hand.
Today we are starting out from the only hospedaje in the little town of Alegria, and will travel about 20 km along a dirt road to visit a castañero who lives in his Brazil nut concession. My colleague and I load the rear pannier of the motorbike with two rucksacks full of tents, food and multiple pairs of socks. Calling in at our favorite breakfast spot, we find that there is ‘no quinoa in town’ so make do with sweet bread and strawberry yogurt from one of the grocery shops. Sitting outside the shop, we attract the attention of two kittens who attempt to scale our trousers, and a puppy who finds he doesn’t have the ability to climb, but is happy to make do with finishing off the yogurt pot.
Motorbike loaded and ready to go. Photo by Eleanor Warren-Thomas.
Squeezed onto the motorbike, we head along the tarmac road out of town, and turn off onto a red dirt road. After rain, these roads take on the texture of butter and are perilous for motorbikes, but today it is dry and fine. The morning is cool and the clouds are low, rubbing out the tops of trees and swirling across the road. We fly along the road and the plastic bag full of eggs and bread that I am clutching flaps madly in the wind. The road is full ofhazards – soft rivulets of mud, hidden bumps, the occasional wooden bridge – requiring expert driving.
The red road. Photo by Eleanor Warren-Thomas.
Forty minutes later we arrive, windblown, under an enormous mango tree dripping with fruit that guards the front of our host’s house. Set in a field of tough tropical grass are several wooden buildings that house grandparents, a daughter, a son and their spouses. Ducks and chickens roam about amongst the fallen fruit, and two dogs bark in cautious greeting. It is mango season here, and the soft thumps of fruits hitting the ground are frequent. We are invited into the kitchen, an airy building with a handmade thatched roof, where a neat three-ringed charcoal burner made of compacted mud is roaring. Two cups of hot “chapo” are handed to us as a welcome second breakfast – sweet plantain mashed with sugar and spices using a specially selected stem of a young “quillabordon” tree that naturally forms a whisk-like shape.
Under the mango tree. Photo by Eleanor Warren-Thomas.
Photo by Eleanor Warren-Thomas.
As the day starts to heat up, our 77-year-old host dons his canvas shoes, picks up his machete and leads us into the forest. We quickly leave the strong sun behind on the open road and enter a perfect green corridor as we follow a narrow logging road into the forest. The huge tire tracks have formed long-lasting puddles in the soft clay soil, that are filled with tadpoles. This part of the forest feels special – we walk for about half an hour without encountering any logged trees, and the forest seems particularly dark green. Hidden birds shout from all around us, and the soft mud reveals the presence of deer, peccary and agouti. The soft ground after rain tells all sort of secrets – in other forests we have seen fresh tapir tracks only hours old, and even ocelot prints.
Ocelot prints. Photo by Eleanor Warren-Thomas.
We veer off the road onto a carefully cleared path, the ground cloaked in big brown leaves from the towering castaña trees. As we crunch along, I have the odd impression of being on a walk through an English woodland on a summer’s day, until my eye is caught by a 6-inch electric blue butterfly floating along the path. Blue morpho butterflies seem to be found everywhere here, often in what seem to be leks of male butterflies flashing their wings at each other in clearings and on paths.
Blue morpho butterfly wing. Photo by Eleanor Warren-Thomas.
Brazil nut trees tower over us at regular intervals, some more than an arm-span in diameter and 40 meters high. The carefully maintained paths lead from tree to tree, each trunk cleaned of lianas and giving the appearance of columns holding up the green canopy. Piles of emptied “cocos” – the hard outer shells that contain sets of individual brazil nuts – lie at intervals along the paths, partially hidden under leaves and ready to twist the ankles of unwary walkers.
A castañero makes a temporary shelter from the rain. Photo by Eleanor Warren-Thomas.
High-pitched squeaking from the trees betrays the presence of saddle-backed tamarins which peer inquisitively at us as we respond with our own squeaky noises. They seem reasonably confident around people despite the fact that they are often taken from the wild as pets here. In the past week howler monkeys, titi monkeys and spider monkeys have all also come within earshot, or even partially into view.
The presence of so many animals despite so much human activity in the forest is wonderful, and seems to demonstrate how fundamental the economic value of brazil nut trees is for the health of these forests. Although selective logging and hunting of local wildlife continues, the presence of producing castaña trees preserves patches of forest where its structure is undisturbed and the shade is deep and cool. Wildlife is persisting well into disturbed areas, but for me the dark green patches feel like safe havens.
After five hours of walking along forest trails our host leads us back to his house in time for lunch, where we are served rice, beans and fried plantain washed down with sweet tea. His wife and daughter spend the day in the house, preparing food for us strangers along with the family without a thought. At 77-years-old, our host understandably prefers to spend the afternoons napping on a bench in the shade of his mango tree, leaving us free to visit the stream that runs past the house and bathe in the sandy bottomed pool they have created through clever use of a log dam. Tiny fish swim about, palm trees provide shade overhead and the musical song of oropendulas drips from the trees. More tamarins swing past to peer at us, as we nibble on mangos and cool our feet in the water. I can’t help but smile as I think back on the day and hope to myself, long may the dark green persist.
Brazil nut flowers. Photo by Eleanor Warren-Thomas.
October 29th, 2013
Reader contribution by Matthew S. Luskin
Indonesians are committed to ensuring the persistence of Sumatran tigers. The gamut of island-wide conservation efforts was discussed this week in Padang, West Sumatra, during the annual meeting of HarimauKita (harimau means “tiger” in Indonesian), which brought together a consortium of stakeholders for Sumatran tiger conservation. Members worked late into each night to coordinate and evaluate existing research and conservation efforts across all 8 Sumatran provinces.
The all-Indonesian collaborative forum included scientists from Indonesian universities and big NGOs (Flora and Fauna International, World Wildlife Fund, and Wildlife Conservation Society), as well as representatives from the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry, the Asia Pulp and Paper (the largest logging company in Sumatra), the oil palm producer PT Tidar Kerinci Agung (TKA), PT Chevron Asia Pacific, and the for-profit conservation organization PT Restorasi Ekosistem Indonesia (REKI). The diversity of stakeholders with different approaches to conservation enabled lively discussions and out-of-the-box thinking.
HarimauKita in progress.
Discussions focused on accurately tracking tiger populations (no easy task), mitigating human-tiger conflict, such as attacks on humans or livestock, and connecting tiger forest habitats, such as with habitat corridors. To track tiger populations, HarimauKita reviewed the activity of 19 ongoing research programs spread across Sumatra, most of which primarily employ camera traps. HarimauKita members working in these landscapes reported high tiger occupancy in some previously logged forests and in forests fragmented by agricultural expansion. While this offers a glimmer of hope for tigers in the face of Sumatra’s rapid forest conversion, poaching and human-tiger conflict also continue to be an issue, particularly in areas with high human activity, such as near villages or plantations. Notably, Mrs. Katrini of the TKA oil palm grower described TKAs construction of a tiger rehabilitation center to facilitate the capture, relocation, and release of problem tigers.
HarimauKita’s strategic conservation programs, such as training anti-poaching teams, and spirit of collaboration that facilitates effective communication among stakeholders, are integral to insuring that the Sumatran tiger does not follow in the footsteps of Indonesia’s two other extinct tiger subspecies. HarimauKita’s approach and role in tiger conservation may well become a model for other species conservation.
Photo by Rhett A. Butler / mongabay.com
October 10th, 2013
By Simon Bradley / Save Our Species IUCN
Friday, October 11th is World Egg Day, when agribusiness promotes the consumption of eggs as a healthy source of protein. When it comes to one of Indonesia’s national icons however, the Endangered maleo bird (Macrocephalon maleo), conservationists such as the Alliance for Tompotika Conservation (AlTo) an SOS – Save Our Species grantee, are trying to discourage the practice of eating its giant eggs for special occasions.
Maleo digging. Photo by ALTO – Kevin Schafer
This distinctive megapode – about the size of a chicken – is endemic to Sulawesi and Buton Islands, where it once blackened the beaches during egg-laying season, when the usually solitary animals would march out of the jungle to mate and bury eggs deep in the sands. Nowadays, the unusual life-cycle of the maleo is an increasingly rare sight. Using its big claws to hatch and tunnel to the surface, the lone chick can walk, feed itself and fly within a matter of hours, being independent of its parents and leaving evolutionary biologists to ponder how individuals recognize each other later in life. A remarkable bird indeed, the maleo is also strikingly beautiful and has been legally protected in Indonesia since 1972. Yet old habits die hard and maleo eggs – like most megapode eggs – are very high in protein, making a tasty dish for those who can find them.
Consequently, as with so many species, it seems effective maleo conservation hinges on local support and participation in the process. Going beyond awareness-raising to protecting eggs on site has proven an effective strategy implemented by conservation organization AlTo which has been actively engaged with local Taima community members for the past decade.
Protecting nest sites and allowing eggs to hatch naturally has seen a 62% increase in bird populations in one site where AlTo works, for example. Meanwhile the impact of using other methods including incubation has yet to be measured and gauged. According to Marcy Summers, director of AlTo, “doing conservation as close to possible as keeping things in their natural wild state is generally the first way to go for effective conservation efforts.”
The giant maleo egg in a man’s hand. Photo by ALTO – Marcy Summers
AlTo’s strategy to date has been to educate local community members to identify, survey, monitor and protect egg sites and to report incidences of harvesting these precious eggs. As AlTo integrated into the community it has also begun to conduct surveys to identify other possible nesting beaches, often tapping into local knowledge and experience. But the organization also works with local authorities to support the enforcement of laws. Meanwhile, the recent official recognition of the area as one of seven Essential Ecosystems by the Indonesian Federal government is a boon for all local conservation efforts.
Naturally funding from external sources helps AlTo maintain and develop the program. For SOS a global coalition initiated by three founding partners—IUCN, World Bank, and GEF–it was the combination of an excellent grassroots project with proven results and the prospect of real conservation success that made AlTo’s maleo bird project the seventh active SOS project in Indonesia and its third in Sulawesi alone.
For Marcy Summers and the community of Tompotika, such support helps continue the slow but steady progress toward restoring the maleo bird to being more than just a national symbol, but a living breathing success story that everyone helped make happen. So perhaps today on World Egg Day, spare a thought for the maleo and its giant egg and get involved. Hopefully through the efforts of groups like AlTo we may yet be celebrating new calendar days like Maleo Egg Day instead!
A maleo pair. Photo by ALTO – Kevin Schafer
ALTO staff train villagers on maleo data. Photo by ALTO – Marcy Summers
September 23rd, 2013
By Phyllis Sena
Eastern hellbender. Photo by Julie Larsen Maher / WCS.
The WCS’s Bronx Zoo is joining the fight to save the world’s largest salamander, the Eastern Hellbender, by teaming up with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Buffalo Zoo in reintroducing 38 of these animals into wild streams in the state of New York. Juvenile eggs were collected from the Allegheny River drainage at the start of the program, and they were raised off-location and returned to that same drainage. Each amphibian was tagged with a chip for future surveys and species health assessments after exposure to their natural environment.
This program will enable conservationists to release young hellbenders back to the wild at an age that will enable them to survive and live a full life in the state of New York. Currently this state lists the Eastern Hellbender as a species of Special Concern, due to several factors including disease, pollution, and habitat destruction.
Hellbenders are found in rocky streams and are entirely aquatic. Some of their nicknames include devil dogs, Allegheny alligators, and snot otters. Hellbenders can measure nearly two feet in length as adults, and join a category of two other giant salamanders, the Japanese giant salamander and the Chinese hellbender, which can grow to up to six feet long.
Photo by Julie Larsen Maher / WCS.
September 5th, 2013
The famous Gus, surveying his NYC home. Photo by Julie Larsen Maher / WCS.
Gus was visited by more than 20 million zoo goers in the 24 years he graced the waters of The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Central Park Zoo. Sadly, Gus, the adult male polar bear, passed away last week at the age of 27.
“Gus was an icon at the Central Park Zoo and a great source of joy for our visitors and staff,” said Jim Breheny, WCS Executive Vice President of Zoos and Aquarium. “He was an important ambassador for his species bringing attention to the problems these bears face in the wild due to a changing environment. Polar bears are apex predators – the kings of their domain, but vulnerable in a world affected by climate change brought on by human activity.”
Polar bears, the largest carnivore on land, actually spend much of their time in the water and Gus was no different. However, during his time in Central Park, Gus gained media attention for his repetitive swimming pattern. The public and zoo keepers were concerned for this magnificent animal’s mental health in such close quarters. WCS Central Park Zoo staff created an enrichment program that included such elements as food scavenger hunts, motor skill enriching toys, and personalized positive reinforcement training sessions.
There is no doubt Gus’ kin are in serious peril. Polar bears are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List and their habitat in the Arctic is disappearing at alarming rates due to climate change.
Though Gus might have been cramped at times in his New York City home, we can find some comfort in the fact that he helped spread the message about the beauty, majesty, and importance of these animals in our world, calling on us to make the changes necessary to save his species. On behalf of 20 million of us, thank you, Gus.
Gus posing for the camera. Photo by Julie Larsen Maher / WCS.
September 5th, 2013
Photo by Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay.com
A shocking 449 species of reptiles call Sundaland home, of which 249 are endemic to the region. Indonesia has an extremely high level of biodiversity, which is most likely due to the great size and tropical archipelago make-up of the land. The Indonesian fauna is so vivid, that the colors of these snakes actually camouflage them into the background. Each of these snake’s coloring has evolved to blend in with where it tends to reside, meaning the brown snake most likely lives within the dead leaf litter and the green ones within the trees.
Population numbers of these animals has started to suffer as a result of the rapid industrialization of the nation and high population growth. Many species of Indonesian snakes have been subject to habitat exploitation, illegal logging, fires, or habitat loss in one way or another.
August 13th, 2013
By Natalie Millar
The triplets. Photo courtesy of the ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.
At eight weeks old, the three lynx kittens Ruby, Amber and Opal finally made themselves known to the public, playing in the enclosure under the watchful eye of mother, Maja. Lynx litters usually remain inside a den constructed by the female until they’re big enough to venture outside, at around seven weeks old. With their characteristic ear tufts, the playful lynx kittens are frequently spotted napping on logs or more likely play-fighting with their sisters. These triplets are the third litter for Maja and male Timo, adding to the success of the lynx breeding programme at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.
The European or Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) is native to Scandinavia and Russia, and is the largest of the four lynx species – with males weighing up to 30kg. It is also the only lynx species that relies on ungulates such as musk or red deer as a primary source of food, however when these are scarce, the lynx feed on mountain hares and various bird species. Populations of European lynx are currently classified as stable, being listed as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List.
Mom pays some attention to one of the litter. Photo courtesy of ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.
One of the adorable triplets. Photo courtesy of the ZSL Zoo.