Saturday 31 December 2016

China announces a complete ban on its ivory trade by the end of 2017

On Friday December 30th China announced a complete ban on all ivory trade, and processing, to be implemented by the end of 2017.

The sale and processing of ivory by the first batch of traders will stop by 31st March 2017 and all registered traders will be phased out by the end of the year.

It is thought that 70%  of the trade in ivory takes place in China. Other big traders are Hong Kong and Japan, although the Japanese deny (wrongly) that there is any illegal ivory in their domestic market and state that they do not need to close it as it does not contribute to the poaching crisis.

International attention is now focusing on Japan, which voted against all CITES proposals to protect elephants. But a recent report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) found that the nation’s elephant tusk registration system is being subject to fraud and allows for poached tusks  from Africa to be sold legally in the domestic market.

Hong Kong has announced previously that it will also close its domestic market.

This is a massive step towards saving the elephant and for once I cannot praise the Chinese government enough for their decision.

However - let's hope that this does not simply mean that the trade will mushroom in other states such as Laos, Cambodia or Burma (Myanmar).

                                                                   "Thank you China"

Monday 31 October 2016

We are in the sixth mass extinction

More than two thirds of the world's wildlife could be gone by the end of the decade if action isn't taken soon, a new report from the World Wildlife Fund revealed on Thursday.

Since 1970, there has already been a 58% overall decline in the numbers of fish, mammals, birds and reptiles worldwide, according to the WWF's latest bi-annual living planet index.
If accurate, that means wildlife across the globe is vanishing at a rate of 2% a year.
"This is definitely human impact, we're in the sixth mass extinction. There's only been five before this and we're definitely in the sixth," WWF conservation scientist Martin Taylor told CNN.

Wednesday 27 July 2016

Africa's Environment Leaders and Experts Meet in Rwanda to Boost Global Forest Landscape Restoration

More than 50 environment leaders and experts are meeting in Kigali on July 26th and 27th to boost forest landscape restoration (FLR) across the region through two parallel events: the Africa High Level Bonn Challenge Roundtable, and the International Knowledge Sharing Workshop on FLR. New pledges that were made at the opening ceremony of the meeting have taken global FLR commitments to 100 million hectares.

Alongside the Roundtable, an additional 70 forestry experts from around the world will attend a workshop to exchange knowledge and experience in Forest Landscape Restoration. Topics to be discussed include participatory planning, landscape governance, institutional arrangements and regulatory frameworks, market mechanisms, funding and technical aspects of FLR operations on the ground.

As part of these efforts, the Government of Rwanda recently established one of Africa's newest national parks - the Gishwati-Mukura Forest, which is being rehabilitated under the principles of the Bonn Challenge commitment - restoring ecological integrity while also improving human wellbeing.

Wednesday 8 June 2016

Scientists trying to grow human organs in pigs

Scientists in the United States are trying to grow human organs inside pigs.

They have injected human stem cells into pig embryos to produce human-pig embryos known as chimeras.

The embryos are part of research aimed at overcoming the worldwide shortage of transplant organs.

Creating the chimeric embryos takes two stages. First, a technique known as CRISPR gene editing is used to remove DNA from a newly fertilised pig embryo that would enable the resulting foetus to grow a pancreas.

This creates a genetic "niche" or void. Then, human induced pluripotent (iPS) stem cells are injected into the embryo. The iPS cells were derived from adult cells and "dialled back" to become stem cells capable of developing into any tissue in the body.

The team at UC Davis hopes the human stem cells will take advantage of the genetic niche in the pig embryo and the resulting foetus will grow a human pancreas.

I don't see any big ethical issues here as we slaughter thousands of pigs for food every day. The possibility of reducing the queues for transplants and massively improving quality of life for the recipients is fantastic.

Tuesday 29 March 2016

How fast are we putting greenhouse gas into the atmosphere?

We are now putting carbon into the atmosphere at a rate unprecedented since at least the age of the
dinosaurs, scientists say.

Researchers looked at ocean sediments laid down during the  Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum - a dramatic warming event which took place around 56 million years ago.

The amount of CO2 going into the air at its onset was four billion tonnes a year at most. The influence of humans on the amount of carbon being pumped into the air is far greater than this. We are pushing C02 and other greenhouse gases such as methane (CH4) into the air ten times as fast as the PETM.

During this time the Earth's temperature rose about 5 degrees in short time, geologically speaking. The C02 concentration was thought to reach over 1000ppm, compared to 400ppm today (and only 300ppm 50 years ago).

It could have been caused by high levels of volcanic activity, spewing out C02, or even the release of large amounts of Methyl Clathrates which are normally locked in the cold ocean floor, especially near the poles, but which are released as the sea warms up. Methane clathrate (CH4·5.75H2O) or (4CH4·23H2O), also called methane hydrate, hydromethane, methane ice, fire ice, natural gas hydrate, or gas hydrate, is a solid clathrate compound (more specifically, a clathrate hydrate) in which a large amount of methane is trapped within a crystal structure of water, forming a solid similar to ice. Originally it was thought to occur only in the outer regions of the Solar System, where temperatures are low and water ice is common  However, large deposits of methane clathrate have been found under sediments on the ocean floors of the Earth. Its been calculated that there are around  1000 Giga Tons  of methyl clathrate deposits in the East Siberian Arctic shelf alone. (That should do it).

 Today this release is happening all the time and could cause catastrophic amounts of methane to be released into the atmosphere. methane traps heat 20 times better than C02. Huge quantities of methane are erupting from the seafloor of the East Siberian Sea and entering the atmosphere over the Arctic Ocean.

Back in the Palaeocene it was thought that between 0.6 and 1.1 billion tons of carbon was entering the atmosphere in one form or another per year.

At present, human emissions of CO2 are approaching 40 billion tonnes a year.

A lot of people in power need to pull their heads out of the sand and come out of denial before we all
suffer the results of runaway global warming. 

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Tiger numbers increase in Thailand

Tiger populations in Thailand are improving, according to a new study and surveys taken for the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Patrols in the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary have been substantially increased and the result is an increase in the tiger population.

"The protection effort is paying off as the years have progressed, as indicated by the increase in recruitment, and we expect the tiger population to increase even more rapidly in the years to come," Somphot Duangchantrasiri, lead author of the study, said in a news release.

The Government of Thailand entered in a partnership with WCS to increase protection in the HKK in the hope of increasing the population of tigers and their prey. It is one of the most important large source areas in Southeast Asia, with at least 90 tigers counted in it.

However, it will take another 10 to 15 years of intensive protection before prey populations attain the densities necessary to support its full carrying capacity.

Still it shows what can be done if there is buy in from the top.

We have lost 97% of wild tigers in just over a century. Tigers may be one of the most revered animals, but they are also vulnerable to extinction. As few as 3,200 exist in the wild today.

Friday 19 February 2016

Six packs of African Wild Dogs now released in the Serengeti

A total of 17 new  African Wild Dogs (Lycaon Pictus) have just been released in the Serengeti plains, bringing the number of the highly endangered carnivorous species in the country's second largest National Park to nearly 325.

The New Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Professor Jumanne Maghembe presided over the dogs release from the sanctuary in which they had been kept until they were settled.

There are now six packs of dogs in the Serengeti that have been released by the Wild Dog Conservation Project.

The dogs, also know as African Hunting Dogs, or Painted Wolves, were captured in the Loliondo hills, where they were in constant conflict with pastoralists and were in danger of being killed in retaliation for livestock losses.

Wild dogs are the most successful carnivores in terms of hunt to kill ratio.They are more successful
even than lions They bring down 70-80% of what they go after. They run their prey down until it can go no further and then tear at it until it either bleeds to death or dies of shock. They can tackle animals much bigger than themselves, such as the Greater Kudu, easily up to 500lbs weight.

Pack sizes can vary from 2-30 individuals. Apart from the Tazmanian Devil, they have the highest bite strength to size ratio of any carnivore. Only the Alpha male and female will breed but all pack members will take care of the cubs. Females eventually leave the pack they were born in to find a mate and start the nucleus of a new pack.

There fewer than 7000 wild dogs left in Africa thanks to them being regarded as pests by farmers who shot, trapped and poisoned them for many years. They inhabit less than 50 protected national parks and private game reserves in southern and eastern Africa, where the roughly three million-year-old species is making what amounts to a last stand.

They are the most amazing sight to see in the wild as they run through the bush and across the savannah. Luckily there are people out there who are trying to help them.

Tuesday 12 January 2016

Puff adders have some sort of scent camouflage to stop them being detected.

The African Puff adders, scientifically known as Bitis arietans, hunt by ambushing their prey. When annoyed, they often emit a hiss or puff sound – hence their name. The snake's main predators include honey badgers, warthogs, some larger birds and other snakes.

Puff adders catch prey by remaining motionless until it approaches within striking range. They can stay still for days. Since they are in this position for a long time above ground it should make them easy for predators to find using their sense of smell.  

However, researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand  discovered that the snakes have evolved an impressive visual and chemical camouflage that makes them virtually impossible to detect. They spent three years radio tracking 30 puff adders to see how effective their scent camouflage is in combination with their natural markings.

When dogs and mongooses, which have no problem in smelling other types of snakes, were released near the puff adders they were almost completely unaware of them, on occasion actually stepping on them and walking over them.

The puff adders, surprisingly, remained motionless, relying on their colouration and lack of obvious smell to protect them. This appears to be an adaption as a result this habit of keeping still, even when threatened.

Puff adders are usually only aggressive when they are on the move, presumably because they have given their presence away at that stage.

I wouldn't recommend testing it out though.

Tuesday 5 January 2016

New marine reserve around Ascension Island in the Atlantic ocean

The UK government is to create a marine reserve almost as big as the UK in the  waters of Ascension Island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.

Just over half of the protected area will be closed to fishing. It is the latest marine reserve to be declared around remote islands, which will increase marine conservation zones to about 2% of the ocean. This is still much less than  the 30% recommended by scientists to preserve species and expand fish stocks, but is a step in the right direction.

Various governments have designated marine parks at Palau in the North Pacific, Easter Island
and Pitcairn in the South Pacific, and New Zealand's Kermadec islands, in what has become a
landmark year for ocean conservation.

The latest reserve at Ascension Island is said to hold some of the largest marlin in the world, one of the largest populations of green turtles, which breed there, big colonies of tropical seabirds and the Ascension frigate bird. The bird has brownish-black plumage and a deeply forked tail. It has a wingspan of around 2 m (6.6 ft). The male has a striking red gular sac which it inflates to attract a mate. They feed mainly on Flying fish.

The reserve totals 234,291 sq km, slightly less than the size of the United Kingdom. It could
be ready by 2017, once further data has been collected and analysed.