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Posts tagged ‘Animal Kingdom’

Tens of thousands of goats munch Greek island into crisis

October 06, 2019

SAMOTHRAKI, Greece (AP) — With oak and chestnut forests, waterfalls and rugged coastline, Samothraki has a wild beauty and a remoteness that sets it apart from other Greek islands. There are no package holidays here or even a reliable ferry service to the mainland. Island authorities hope to achieve UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status. Yet still, the natural environment is under threat from an insatiable assailant.

Goats outnumber human inhabitants 15-fold and they are munching stretches of Samothraki into a moonscape. After decades of trying to find a solution, experts and locals are working together to find a 21st-century way to save the island’s ecology and economy.

Semi-wild, the goats roam across the island, which is roughly three times the size of Manhattan, and can be spotted on rooftops, in trees or on top of cars as they scour the landscape for anything to eat. Their unchecked overgrazing is causing crisis-level erosion.

Torrential rains two years ago swept away the island’s town hall and severed its roads. There were no trees or vegetation left on the steep, goat-eaten hillsides to stop the mudslides caused by the downpour.

“There are no big trees to hold the soil. And it’s a big problem, both financial and real because (the mud) will come down on our heads,” says George Maskalidis, who helps run Sustainable Samothraki Association, an environmental group.

Samothraki, in the northern Aegean Sea, is a two-hour ferry ride south of Alexandroupoli, a Greek city near the country’s border with Turkey. With just 3,000 inhabitants and hard to access, the island has largely missed out on Greece’s tourism boom. Mountain herding is still a way of life here and despite trying for three decades, regional authorities have found it hard to build a local consensus on how to deal with the issue.

The goat population, meanwhile, soared fivefold to an estimated 75,000 by the late 1990s. Some parts of the countryside were simply nibbled away. The goat numbers have since dropped to below 50,000 as there is little left to graze on. But this has left the island in a trap. Most of its goats are malnourished and too scrawny to be used commercially for meat, animal feed is too expensive to maintain a sustainable business and much of the soil is too depleted for trees to grow back.

At the same time, prices for wool, leather, meat and milk have dropped, leading Samothraki’s farmers to grow increasingly desperate. Yiannis Vavouras, a second-generation goat farmer, says many island farmers have few alternatives.

“Most of us are ready to give up. If I had another job, I would drop the goats,” he says, speaking over the noise of jangling goat bells. “It doesn’t make enough to buy you a coffee.” Herds soared due to European Union subsidies, under a system that critics say was poorly monitored and lacked any long-term planning. It now may have to be reversed as a livestock reduction appears inevitable, along with grazing limits.

But that correction doesn’t have to be painful, at least according to the island’s resident optimist Carlota Maranon, a Spanish lawyer who settled here a decade ago. She heads the sustainability initiative and has eased islanders’ deep-rooted mistrust of solutions from the mainland or beyond.

The environmental group has worked with overseas researchers and helped create a herd management app, among many other pilot projects, to tackle the issue. Fiercely independent livestock farmers have even joined a new cooperative to try to pool resources and establish a brand for the island.

“It is possible to do things in a more sustainable way,” Maranon says. “That might mean fewer goats but that could actually work out better for the farmers.” Having a tight-knit community, she says, will also help.

“Everyone here is connected to the herders in some way, so this issue affects everyone. To live off the land, you have to keep it alive,” she said.

Extinction bites: countries agree to protect sharks and rays

August 25, 2019

GENEVA (AP) — Countries have agreed to protect more than a dozen shark species at risk of extinction, in a move aimed at conserving some of the ocean’s most awe-inspiring creatures who have themselves become prey to commercial fishing and the Chinese appetite for shark fin soup.

Three proposals covering the international trade of 18 types of mako sharks, wedgefishes and guitarfishes each passed with a needed two-thirds majority in a committee of the World Wildlife Conference known as CITES on Sunday.

“Today we are one step closer to protecting the fastest shark in the ocean, as well as the most threatened,” said Jen Sawada, who directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ shark conservation work. The measures don’t ban fishing these sharks and rays, but any trade must be sustainable.

The move isn’t final but is a key sign before an official decision at its plenary this coming week. Conservationists applauded and exchanged hugs after the tallies. Opponents variously included China, Iceland, Japan, Malaysia and New Zealand. The U.S. voted against the mako shark measure, but supported the other two.

Critics variously argued that the measures distanced CITES from its initial mandate to protect endangered land animals and plants, not marine life, and insisted the science didn’t back up the call to increase protections. They also noted that that millions of Mako sharks exist and even the CITES secretariat advised against the protections.

But proponents countered that stocks of sharks are in a deep dive, with tens of millions killed each year, and that measures need to be taken now — with what they call some of the most significant rules ever adopted for trade in shark parts.

Rima Jabado, a shark expert and lead scientist of the Gulf Elasmo project, said many of the species included in the CITES proposals are classified as “critically endangered.” Jabado said there has been an 80% decline in the number of wedgefishes, based on available data. Like giant guitarfishes, the enigmatic wedgefish has an elongated triangle-shaped head and can be found in oceans in Southeast Asia, the Arabian Sea and East Africa.

Makos are the world’s fastest sharks, reaching speeds of up to 80 mph (nearly 130 kph). But they often get caught up in the nets of fishing trawlers hunting for tuna. Several countries with large fishing fleets, including Japan, opposed the measure to protect mako sharks.

“Japan has been highly dependent on (live) marine resources from the ancient times,” said Hideki Moronuki, director of fisheries negotiations at the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. “It’s very, very important for us in Japan to sustainably use all those marine riches,” he said. He was among those who noted that even the CITES secretariat had recommended rejecting the mako shark proposal.

CITES concluded that “with the possible but uncertain exception of the Mediterranean, the population of (mako sharks) does not seem to have declined below the 30% threshold in different ocean regions” and that “it is currently not projected that declines would continue.”

Still, Jabado said some species of sharks and rays are becoming so difficult to find in the wild that scientists only often see them when they are on sale at local fish markets. “How are we ever going to save these species if we only see them when fishermen bring them in?” she said, adding that even if actions are taken now, it will be decades before shark populations start to recover. Losing more sharks and rays could also have other unintended consequences since they are top ocean predators and help to balance the ecosystems, Jabado said.

Scientists warn that although warming oceans and climate change are also hurting sharks, it is the demand for shark fin soup that is threatening to drive some species to extinction. The Pew Trust estimates that between 63 million and 273 million sharks are killed every year, mostly to feed the shark fin trade centered in Hong Kong.

Dried shark fin can draw up to $1,000 per kilogram. The fins are often turned into shark fin soup, a Chinese delicacy that symbolizes good fortune, in which the gelatinous fin is served in a broth whose recipe dates back to the 10th-century Song Dynasty. Fishermen often slice off a shark’s fin while the animal is still alive before tossing the writhing carcass back into the ocean.

While Chinese celebrities like retired basketball star Yao Ming are trying to persuade diners to abandon the soup, many aren’t convinced. “Shark fin soup is a Chinese tradition so why should I stop eating it?” Wilson Kwan said outside a seafood restaurant in London’s Chinatown. “I know some people say it’s cruel to sharks, but sharks are killers too.”

Last year, there were an estimated 66 unprovoked shark attacks on humans globally, including four fatalities, according to the Florida Museum, which tracks such incidents. It is exceedingly rare for sharks to bite humans — and when they do, it’s often because they have mistaken them for seals or other prey.

Conservationists say movies like “Jaws” have unfairly maligned society’s perception of sharks and in turn, made it difficult to garner support to protect them. “People would be outraged if they were serving dolphins in restaurants,” said Graham Buckingham of the British shark group, Bite-Back. “But because it’s a shark, they think it’s perfectly OK.”

Maria Cheng reported from London.

Giraffes move closer to endangered species protection

August 22, 2019

GENEVA (AP) — Nations around the world moved Thursday to protect giraffes as an endangered species for the first time, drawing praise from conservationists and scowls from some sub-Saharan African nations.

Thursday’s vote by a key committee at the World Wildlife Conference known as CITES paves the way for the measure’s likely approval by its plenary next week. The plan would regulate world trade in giraffe parts, including hides, bone carvings and meat, while stopping short of a full ban. It passed 106-21 with seven abstentions.

“So many people are so familiar with giraffes that they think they’re abundant,” said Susan Lieberman, vice president of international policy for the Wildlife Conservation Society. “And in Southern Africa, they may be doing OK, but giraffes are critically endangered.”

Lieberman said giraffes were particularly at risk in parts of West, Central and East Africa. The Wildlife Conservation Society said it was concerned about the multiple threats to giraffes that have already resulted in population decline, citing habitat loss, droughts worsened by climate change and the illegal killings and trade in giraffe body parts.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, hailed the move, noting that giraffes are a vulnerable species facing habitat loss and population decline. A key African conservationist said it could help reverse drops in giraffe populations, as the move would help better track numbers of giraffes.

“The giraffe has experienced over 40% decline in the last 30 years, said Maina Philip Muruthi of the African Wildlife Foundation. “If that trend continues, it means that we are headed toward extinction.”

Still, not all African countries supported the move. “We see no reason as to why we should support this decision, because Tanzania has a stable and increasing population of giraffes,” said Maurus Msuha, director of wildlife at the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism. “Over 50% of our giraffe population is within the Serengeti ecosystem, which is well protected. Why should we then go for this?”

CITES says the population of wild giraffes is actually much smaller than that of wild African elephants. “We’re talking about a few tens of thousands of giraffes and we’re talking about a few hundreds of thousands of African elephants,” said Tom De Meulenaar, chief of scientific services at CITES. He said the convention was intended to specifically address the international trade in giraffes and their parts.

“With fewer giraffes than elephants in Africa, it was a no-brainer to simply regulate giraffe exports,” said Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. The U.S. is the world’s biggest consumer of giraffe products, conservationists said. Sanerib said it was important for the U.S. to act on its own as well.

“It’s still urgent for the Trump administration to protect these imperiled animals under the U.S. Endangered Species Act,” she said in a statement. The meeting in Geneva comes after President Donald Trump’s administration last week announced plans to water down the U.S. Endangered Species Ac — a message that could echo among attendees at the CITES conference, even if the U.S. move is more about domestic policy than international trade.

Czech stud farm makes UNESCO’s World Heritage list

July 16, 2019

KLADRUBY NAD LABEM, Czech Republic (AP) — A Czech stud farm founded 440 years ago to breed and train ceremonial horses to serve at the Habsburg emperor’s court has been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list, acknowledging the significance of a tradition that has survived for centuries.

The National stud farm, located in the town of Kladruby nad Labem 90 kilometers (56 miles) east of Prague, is the first stud farm on the UNESCO’s list.

Here’s a look at it:

A ROYAL HISTORY

The farm officially started in 1579, when Emperor Rudolf II of the House of Habsburg gave an imperial status to an original stud established by his father, Emperor Maximilian II. The famed regular visitors to the site, which also has a small chateau and a church, included Emperor Franz Joseph I and his wife Elisabeth of Bavaria.

The stud farm survived wars and a devastating 18th-century fire until the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, when the newly established Czechoslovak state took over. That threatened its existence, since anything linked to the former empire was unpopular in Czechoslovakia. Yet somehow the horse breeding tradition weathered both that shift and 40 later years of communist rule.

In 2015, the whole site underwent a major renovation with European Union funds.

MAKING THE UNESCO LIST

The Kladruby site occupies 1,310 hectares (3,240 acres), about the same size since the 16th century. Located on flat, sandy land near the Elbe River, it contains fields and forests along with its classic stables, indoor and outdoor training grounds and a symmetrical network of roads.

UNESCO describes it as “one of Europe’s leading horse-breeding institutions, developed at a time when horses played vital roles in transport, agriculture, military support and aristocratic representation.”

Kladruby director Jiri Machek said UNESCO’s recognition is the confirmation of “the global uniqueness of this place.” “There are three unique aspects about it,” Machek told The Associated Press. “It’s not only about a tangible heritage, it is also the breeding of unique Kladruber horses, which means the landscape still serves its original purpose. And the third, unique thing — which is not mentioned so often — is the intangible heritage, the traditional way of doing things, that is we have been trying to operate the stud in a traditional way.”

ONE OF THE OLDEST HORSE BREEDS IN THE WORLD

Kladruby is the home of the Kladruber horse, a rare breed that is one of the oldest in the world with a population of only 1,200. Kladrubers were bred to serve as ceremonial carriage horses at the Habsburg courts in Vienna and Prague. A warm-blooded breed based on Spanish and Italian horses, a convex head with a Roman nose is among their significant features.

Since the late 18th century, the Kladrubers have come in two colors, grey and black. The grey ones were used for royal ceremonies while the black ones served high-ranked clergy. Today, they still do the same at the Danish court, while others are used by the trumpeters from the Swedish Royal Mounted Guard. Some carry police officers in the Czech Republic and the Netherlands.

The breed’s peaceful nature also makes them a popular riding horse among private owners around the globe, and some compete in international carriage driving events…

Prague Zoo sends 3 pelicans to London’s St. James’s Park

May 30, 2019

PRAGUE (AP) — Three great white pelicans are on their way from Prague Zoo to Britain to join a famed flock that has made London’s St. James’s Park home since the 17th century. Keepers were carefully carrying the birds one by one Thursday morning to transport cages on of a van will take them on the 17-hour drive to the British capital.

It is for the third time the zoo has sent its pelicans to the park. It started with four birds in 1995 when the zoo was one of the few in Europe capable of breeding them. Three others followed in 2013.

Two males, Sun and Moon, and a female, Star, who were born in February, will join the current colony of three in London. The pelicans were first introduced to the park near the Buckingham Palace in 1664 as a gift to king Charles II from a Russian ambassador.

Sierra Leone bans industrial fishing for a month

Freetown (AFP)

April 1, 2019

Sierra Leone has banned industrial fishing in its territorial waters for a month from Monday in a move to try to shore up stocks that was applauded by environmental activists.

The government also decreed an April 1-30 halt to exports by major fishing companies “to protect our fish stock from depletion”, said a statement from the fisheries ministry.

“All industrial fishing companies should stock their fish in cold rooms … during the period of closure,” Minister of Fisheries Emma Kowa Jalloh told AFP.

The West African states of Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea and Sierra Leone lost about $2.3 billion (more than 2.1 billion euros) a year from 2010 to 2016 due to illegal and undeclared fishing, according to the Greenpeace environmental group.

Sierra Leone National Fishermen Consortium chairman Alpha Sheku Kamara accused China and Korea of destroying stocks.

“We are happy that the government has declared fishing period closure after series of complaints,” he told AFP at the bustling Tombo fishing community outside the capital Freetown.

“Industrial fishing boats from China and Korea are destroying our nets and also depleting the fish stock,” he said.

“We are calling on the government to effectively enforce the ban with surveillance.”

Many coastal communities in Sierra Leone depend on fishing for food and their livelihood, said Steve Trent, executive director at Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF).

“We applaud the ban but the long answer is for legal, equitable and sustainable fishing industry management to be introduced.”

“We are working towards helping Sierra Leone with surveillance boats and regulatory framework for sustainable fishing methods,” Trent said.

“Illegal fishing accounts for about 30 percent of catches by industrial foreign fleets in Sierra Leone, according to the 2017 Sea Around Us project at the University of British Columbia, the University of California at Berkeley and five other organizations.

It found that in the past decade industrial foreign vessels have increased illegal activities off Sierra Leone either on their own or by enticing small-scale fishers into illicit partnerships.

Reduced monitoring and surveillance resulting from the withdrawal of development aid encouraged unlicensed operations, researchers said, noting an estimated 42,000 tonnes caught by illegal fishing in 2015.

A representative of a large Chinese fishing company in Sierra Leone declined to comment to AFP.

Source: Terra Daily.

Link: http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Sierra_Leone_bans_industrial_fishing_for_a_month_999.html.

Chinese official hands over new panda to Vienna zoo

May 20, 2019

VIENNA (AP) — A senior Chinese official has officially handed over a 19-year-old male giant panda to Vienna’s Schoenbrunn zoo. Yuan Yuan arrived in Vienna last month and has spent the last few weeks in quarantine. He was chosen as a partner for Yang Yang, the zoo’s 18-year-old female panda, who has been at the zoo since 2003 but without a companion since its previous male, Long Hui, died of cancer in 2016.

Li Zhanshu, the head of China’s parliament, handed over Yuan Yuan at a ceremony Monday. China lends the rare bears to other countries as a sign of goodwill in what is known as “panda diplomacy.” Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen described the animals as a “symbol of friendship” and said they have a “certain diplomatic mission.”

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