Tag Archives: threatened

Carnage in Victoria’s wetlands


(Birdlife Australia; 26 March 2017)

BirdLife Australia is calling upon the Victorian Government to close wetlands supporting large numbers of threatened birds to duck shooters after the illegal slaughter of hundreds of protected and threatened waterbird species on the opening weekend of the season.

At least 118 Freckled Ducks and 38 Blue-billed Ducks, both threatened species, were killed at First Marsh near Kerang last weekend.

The Game Management Authority (GMA), a statutory authority that regulates hunting and advises the relevant minister on wetland closures, rejected BirdLife Australia’s pre-season call for this wetland to be closed due to the presence of at least 200 Blue-billed Ducks. The GMA argued that Blue-billed Ducks are “rarely shot”—as “reluctant,” weak flyers that inhabit deep water and tend to dive rather than fly, they were at low risk of being in the firing line.

With almost 20 per cent of these birds now dead, it is clear that the GMA couldn’t have been more wrong.

Worse still, the carnage happened in plain sight of GMA staff, police and other authorities—but it’s highly unlikely that anyone will be prosecuted.

GMA have released a statement condemning the actions of hunters who have “done the wrong thing.” With over 1,000 ducks and other waterbirds left for dead on the First Marsh, it is clear that this admonishment is too little too late and that too many shooters are either unwilling or incapable of following the rules.

Only a fraction of the wetlands open to shooting were monitored last weekend and the numbers killed and left by shooters at The Marshes area alone far surpasses the infamous ‘Box Flat Massacre’ of 2013 where over 700 birds were illegally shot, including more than 100 threatened Freckled Ducks.

There is an unequivocal case that First Marsh and other wetlands carrying significant numbers of protected and threatened species should be immediately closed to shooters. The illegal shooting of over 1,000 birds on the opening weekend of the season brutally demonstrated the weakness of the GMA’s case and Ministers Jaala Pulford and Lily D’Ambrosio will have yet more blood on their hands if they do not act immediately to prevent these disgraceful yet predictable events being repeated.

In life, ivory gull draws crowd—and in death, will contribute to science

Ivory gull flying ovef water

(Elliot Nelson; 17 March 2017)

On the evening of March 9, 2017, Lauren LaFave, 16, was walking across a bridge over the Flint River on the campus of the University of Michigan-Flint. LaFave noticed an unusually white bird resting on the bridge and was able to snap a few quick pictures on her phone. After those photos were shared among a number of Facebook groups it was confirmed that the bird photographed was, in fact, one of the rarest birds in all of North America, an ivory gull.

To understand the rarity of finding an ivory gull in downtown Flint, one must understand a bit about the species. The ivory gull is a bird rarely found south of the Arctic Circle. In North America, ivory gulls breed in the high arctic regions of Canada on bare rocks exposed only during the summer months. Unlike most arctic birds that head south for the winter, the ivory gull spends its winters remaining in the arctic. It can be found foraging on pack ice in the Bering Sea as well as the ice edge region between 50°–65° north latitude around Labrador and Greenland. The bird research database Birds of North American Online notes that only 2000-3000 of these birds breed in North America. It is listed in the 2014 State of the Birds report as being a species that will most likely become threatened or endangered unless conservation actions are taken. The species decline is due in part to declining sea ice associated with climate change as well as high mercury levels that accumulate in their tissue.

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Mapping the world’s most threatened bird habitats


(Author: Alex Dale; Photo Peter Steward; 15 March 2017)

Since the 1970s, BirdLife International and its Partners has worked to identify and protect the areas on our planet – over both land and sea – that are of great significance to the conservation of the world’s threatened birds.

The result is the largest global network of significant biodiversity sites in the world – to date, over 12,000 Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) have been documented. And that number continues to grow all the time as our reach and our knowledge expands.

Unfortunately, the future of some of these IBAs is far from secure. Many IBAs lack any form of formal protection, and whether it be deforestation, climate change, war, urbanization or whatever, many of these crucial sites and habitats – and those that live within them – face being lost forever.

But we’re working to save them. Our IBAs in Danger initiative provides an essential focus for governments, development agencies, the international environmental and conservation conventions, business and wider civil society to act to prevent the further damage or loss of these sites.

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The hunt for the world’s only alpine (and carnivorous) parrot

You need to be sneaky if you want to catch a Kea in the wild. Here’s how Kimberley Collins went searching for the world’s only alpine parrot in Nelson Lakes National Park, New Zealand.

(Author: Kimberley Collins; Photo: Dave Buckton; 10 March 2017)

As I looked up at the 1300m peak looming over me, I instantly regretted not preparing myself mentally for a long, hard climb. I had just arrived in the Upper Wairau Valley with the Department of Conservation’s Kea team. We were heading into the St Arnaud Ranges in search of female Kea and their nests.

Because Kea are the world’s only truly alpine parrot, I should have known there would be a hill or two. Corey Mosen and Sarah Fisher work with Kea during their breeding season, which starts in August and runs through to December. They look for radio-tagged adults who show signs of nesting and visit nest sites they have found in previous years to find out whether birds are using them.

“The aim is to clap our eyes on eggs, chicks, and nests to monitor whether or not a new, independent Kea is added to the population at the end of the breeding season,” says Mosen.

Kea make their nests on the ground in natural caves and cavities in the rocks, as well as in the hollows and roots of large trees. This makes them vulnerable to predation by introduced mammals. Stoats can kill adult females and chicks, while rats and possums will hassle them in the nest and eat their eggs.

As I huffed and puffed up the steep incline, Mosen explained (without losing his breath) that it takes about four months for a Kea egg to hatch and become independent.

“They’re vulnerable for quite a long time and that’s why two-thirds of Kea chicks never fledge. Once the chicks are out of the nest and able to fend for themselves, their survival rates are good – so our team focuses on getting the chicks fledged successfully,” says Mosen.

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Why we need to protect the Ngaruroro River

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More than a year after Forest & Bird applied for a water conservation order to protect the natural values of the Ngaruroro River in Hawke’s Bay, the Minister for the Environment has appointed a special tribunal to consider the application. Amelia Geary writes about why the river is so important.

While most rivers in the North Island have a single channel, the Ngaruroro is a rare example of a braided river.

Starting high in the Kaweka and Kaimanawa Ranges, it ducks and weaves through the tussock dominated landscape, before winding through forested valleys and the gorges of Kaweka Forest Park and breaking into lots of smaller channels on the Heretaunga Plains at Whanawhana.

But once the Ngaruroro enters the plains, there is change in the character of the catchment and river. Almost all the native vegetation on the plains has been cleared and there is extensive agricultural land use on the river’s flanks.

Despite the intense modification of the river’s lower reaches, you will find a range of native wildlife and plants on the Ngaruroro – some threatened with extinction. It is a breeding ground for banded dotterels and black-billed gulls, which (along with 25 other species) share the conservation status of “threatened” meaning they are at risk of extinction.

It is also home to braided river birds that rely on this habitat for food and shelter, including New Zealand pipits, bitterns, Caspian terns, grey ducks, pied stilts, and red-billed gulls.

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Caribbean Against Wildlife Smuggling

St. Vincent Parrots, endemic to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, in flight. (Photo courtesy of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism Authority)

(Scott Johnson; 5 March, 2017)

Scott Johnson, Science Officer with the Bahamas National Trust, shares the work that he and his fellow conservationists are doing to help raise awareness about the issue of wildlife smuggling.

As a Caribbean native, I can wholeheartedly understand people’s obsession with our region. The lush green vegetation, white sandy beaches, turquoise waters, delicious food, and warm tropical climate are all hallmarks of the Caribbean experience. Every year many people, aka “snowbirds” flock to this region by the millions for a welcome respite from the frozen north.

In addition to “sun, sea and sand,” visitors also enjoy the Caribbean’s abundant wildlife, including the chance to spot spectacular native birds like parrots, trogons and todies, swim with sharks and rays, snorkel on a tropical reef, interact with rock iguanas, and even watch sea turtles laying their eggs in a nest they dig right on the beach. Unfortunately, some people want to do more than just observe the wildlife—they want to take a souvenir home, purchasing wildlife products for fashion, pets, and novel foods. This is causing a serious threat to the long-term survival of many native species.

The Caribbean is a virtual treasure trove of biological diversity. In fact, it is one of the most important biological hotspots in the world, home to thousands of endemic plants and animals. For example, 172 species of birds are Caribbean endemics, found no place else on earth. Many of these species are found on only one or two islands in the entire region. The novelty of these species unfortunately makes them key targets for smugglers.

Wildlife smuggling is one of the largest illegal activities in the world, a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide. Every year, tens of thousands of animals and animal products are smuggled to places like Asia, the US and other countries to satisfy people’s insatiable appetites for the new and exotic. In Trinidad and Tobago, birds like the Chestnut-bellied Seed Finch and Blue-and-Yellow Macaw are key species targeted by smugglers. In 2011, 74 eggs from both Black-billed Parrots and Yellow-billed Parrots were smuggled out of Jamaica into Austria in rum cake boxes by tourists visiting Jamaica. On the island of Hispaniola, Hispaniolan Parrots have been captured and sold in the wildlife trade and are illegally kept as pets, while a single St. Vincent Parrot is said to be worth $100,000 on the black market.

What’s being done to help curb this threat in the Caribbean?

Law enforcement is an extremely important tool in the battle against wildlife smuggling. Sadly, protection of native wildlife from illegal capture and smuggling has not been a major priority for many Caribbean countries. In addition, many enforcers do not have a well-rounded knowledge about their native species. This is where wildlife sensitization comes in.  For the past two years……….

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Can we bring vultures back to Thailand?

(Authors: Dr. Boripat Siriaroonrat and Kaset Sutasha; Photo: Lip Kee; )

It’s the most dramatic bird decline ever recorded – faster even than those that robbed our planet of the Passenger Pigeon Ectopistes migratorius or the Dodo Raphus cucullatus. Since the 1990s, a staggering 99% of the vulture population in Asia have disappeared – a drop from several million to just a few thousand.

As a result of these steep declines, four species of Asian vulture – White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis, Red-headed Vulture Sarcogyps calvus, Slender-billed Vulture Gyps tenuirostris and Indian Vulture Gyps indicus – are now assessed as being Critically Endangered – the highest threat category of all, and a status that indicates that if we do not continue to act, they will disappear from Asia’s skies within our lifetimes.

The main driver for the decline of vultures on the Indian subcontinent is well-publicised – the use of the veterinary drug Diclofenac to control pain and muscle fatigue in sick and aging cattle. Unfortunately, the drug proved lethal to vultures, who were unwittingly killed in large numbers in South Asia when they feasted on the poisoned carcasses of cattle who were left out in the open to die by herders.

Fortunately, the use of Diclofenac is now banned in India, Nepal and Pakistan, and thanks to the introduction of initiatives such as Safe Zones (areas in which threats are controlled within a 100kn radius, allowing viable populations to develop), vulture numbers are now finally stabilising on the Indian subcontinent. But why have vultures all but disappeared from other parts of Asia where Diclofenac isn’t an issue – as just as importantly, can we bring them back?

In Thailand, as in other parts of South-East Asia, Diclofenac isn’t an issue for vultures. Although the drug is widely available in pharmacies, it comes in cream and tablet forms, and is intended for human use – not for cattle. Despite this, the situation for vultures is even worse than it is in India – although two migratory species Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus and Himalayan Griffon Gyps himalayensis, can still be spotted every winter, all three of the species that were once resident in the country (Red-headed Vulture White-rumped Vulture and Slender-billed Vulture) are now extinct in Thailand.

Of the three, the Red-headed Vulture was the most abundant and could be found right in the center of Bangkok until the late 1960s-early 1970s, when burials were not widely practiced and dead bodies were left in the open waiting to be burned.  A cholera outbreak in Bangkok in the 19th Century is immortalised by sculptures of vultures feeding on corpses at the Golden Mountain (Wat Saket), which are still standing for us to see today even if the birds themselves are not. Vultures took advantage of the dead bodies until the modernization of the country in the 20th Century.  With cemeteries now becoming normal practice, vultures have struggled in the face of the reduced food availability

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