Aerial drones used to monitor poaching activity in India

April 15th, 2013

The Kaziranga National Park in India has deployed aerial drones to monitor poaching activity to protect the endangered one-horned rhino population.

Wild Indian rhinoceros in Kaziranga National Park. Photo by Yathin S Krishnappa.

  • Two-thirds (approx. 2,300) of the world’s one-horned rhinos live in this park, which also houses elephants, tigers, and other wildlife.
  • However, 21 rhinos have fallen victim to poaching last year and the use of drones may be needed to prevent this from happening.
  • The aerial drones can fly their route at a maximum elevation of 200m (656ft) for up to 90 minutes.
  • They are also light enough to be launched by hand and will be able to take images of the ground below with a still or video camera.
  • The Kaziranga National Park is using a similar system that was used by the WWF in the Chitwan National Park in Nepal, which turned out to be a great success.
  • This will be the first time that drones have been used to monitor wildlife in any Indian National Park and it will now be possible to keep an eye on the remotest parts of the enormous park (185 sq miles).

Want to learn more? Read the full story here: Using drones to monitor wildlife in India

Endangered tortoises rescued from smuggler

April 15th, 2013

Thai authorities arrested a 38-year-old man attempting to collect a bag of 75 critically endangered tortoises at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport.

Ploughshare and radiated tortoises confiscated in Bangkok. Photo by: P.Tansom/TRAFFIC.

  • The bag contained 54 ploughshare tortoises and 21 radiated tortoises, which are both only found in Madagascar.
  • These species are listed as Critically Endangered and protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)
  • Even though they are protected, they are huge targets for the black-market pet trade because of their scarcity and beauty.
  • Experts currently estimate that only 400 ploughshare tortoises live in the wild, and the 54 stolen tortoises account for 13 percent of their entire population!
  • Meanwhile, the radiated tortoise once numbered in the millions, but habitat loss, pet collecting, and local hunting has decimated its population.
  • Fortunately the turtles were alive and safe since they were meant for the illegal pet trade and not consumption.
  • Authorities are hoping that the man will be heavily punished to serve as an example for other smugglers.


Chameleon’s of Madagascar Migrated from Africa

April 3rd, 2013

A study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B found that the color-changing chameleons of Madagascar actually migrated from the African mainland around 65 million years ago.

Parson’s chameleon in Madagascar

  • Researchers analyzed the genes of 174 species of chameleon to come to their conclusions.
  • These researchers found that chameleons crossed over from Africa 65 million years ago.  They then crossed again 17 million years later at 48 million years ago.
  • It is thought that both times the chameleons crossed as the other species who migrated, by catching a ride on floating debris traveling down the African river system.
  • When the chameleons finally made it to Madagascar, the split up in tons of different species.  This allows for Madagascar to be the world hub for chameleon biodiversity.
  • Chameleons today come in a wide variety of colors an sizes, ranging from a specimen the size of a fingernail to the one-meter-long Parson’s chameleon.

Calumma crypticum chameleon in Madagascar

Want to learn more?  Read the full story: Madagascar’s chameleons came from African mainland

More Books Using Recycled Paper

April 3rd, 2013

Between the years of 2004 and 2010, the amount of recycled paper used in books has grown from 5 percent to 24 percent.  That is an increase of almost 5 times the original amount!

Deforested peat forest in Indonesian Borneo. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

  • This data is from a report by the Book Industry Environmental Council (BIEC) and Green Press Initiative.
  • This same report, which comes from freely given information from the book industry, discovered that 89 percent of book publishers have environmental policies in place.  That is nearly all of them!
  • In the past few years, groups such as the Rainforest Action Network and Greenpeace have been angry with the book industry.  This is because some publishers have been linked to rainforest destruction in Indonesia.
  • Rainforests are very special places with thousands of different types of plants and animals, with many kinds that haven’t even been discovered yet.  It is very important to protect these places, not only because of all the special things that live there, but also because within the rainforests may be hidden some secret cures to diseases that exist in the world today.
  • It is thought that many top publishing companies established their environmental and sustainability policies because of the publishers caught participating in these activities
  • Because of these policies being put into place, 5.25 million trees were saved and greenhouse gas emission was reduced by 1.02 million metric tons.

Want to learn more?  Read the full story: U.S. book industry using 24 percent recycled paper on average

Africa takes action against elephant poachers

April 1st, 2013

Eight Central African countries have announced they will send a thousand soldiers after poachers responsible for killing 89 elephants in Chad earlier this month. The mobilization of soldiers and law enforcement officers is a sign that Central African countries are beginning to take elephant poaching more seriously.

Growing demand for ivory from elephant’s tusks in East Asia has caused poaching to rise. Elephant populations in Central Africa have been the hardest hit; a recent study in PLoS ONE estimated that 60 percent of the world’s forest elephants (found in the Congo rainforest) have been killed by poachers in the last ten years alone. In all, experts estimate that some 25,000 elephants were killed in 2011 for their tusks.

“Now, it is up to demand countries—[like] China and Thailand—to show that they have as much courage and determination as these Central African countries,” Bas Huijbregts, head of WWF’s Central African campaign against the illegal wildlife trade, said.

Scientists have cloned an extinct amphibian species that gives birth from its mouth

April 1st, 2013

Australian scientists have produced cloned embryos of the gastric-brooding frog, which was known for giving birth through its mouth.

An artist’s impression of the gastric-brooding frog. Artwork: Peter Schouten

  • This extinct animal swallowed its eggs, brooded the young in its stomach, and gave birth through its mouth.
  • Even though the gastric-brooding frog became extinct in 1985, a team of researchers was able to recover cell nuclei from frozen frog tissue collected in the 1970s and implant it into a fresh egg from another frog species.
  • Some of the eggs then developed into an early embryo stage, but unfortunately none of the implanted eggs survived longer than a few days.
  • Even though the process has not yet worked, scientists are confident that the hurdles ahead are technological and not biological and eventually the cloning of this species will succeed.
  • Scientists would also like to use this technology as a conservation tool when hundreds of the world’s amphibian species are in major decline.
  • They are also interested in the gastric-brooding frog’s ability to shut down the secretion of digestive acids because it might help develop treatments for gastric ulcers in humans.

Want to learn more? Read the full story here: Scientists clone extinct frog that births young from its mouth


Harnessing Sikh religion to protect the planet

April 1st, 2013

Many religious groups have taken on the role of environmental custodians, citing scriptures that urge living in harmony with plants and animals. The Sikh religion’s contribution to that effort is called “EcoSikh.” With 30 million followers, Sikhism (a religion based in the Punjab region of India) is the world’s fifth largest religion, making them a perfect candidate for environmental action.

Sikhs installed solar panels on the roof of their temple in Leicester, England.

Already, EcoSikh has made a big impact. The organization started Sikh Environmental Day on every March 14th. “Local Sikhs make the decision based on the awareness and needs of where they live,” explained Bandana Kaur, EcoSikh’s North American program manager. “Sikhs, Muslims and Sufis were working together on restoration projects. This past year, there was a school in Hariyana [in Punjab] that started a tree nursery within their school.”

The program has also been successful in making Amritsar, a holy city in the Sikh religion, more eco-friendly. EcoSikh has begun to help the city become more green. “Considering the amount of food that Sikhs are growing, cooking, and serving to people, we also see the potential for [community kitchens] to serve organic food, which would have a positive impact on our health, our land and the region’s farmers… Amritsar made a decision last year to install 30 concentrated solar dishes to capture energy from the sun to fuel heat for cooking, replacing about half of the liquid petroleum gas used…with a renewable resource.

Bandana Kaur concludes hopefully, “My great-grandmother used to say one thing a lot: “Kudrat bari beant hai.” That translates directly as “The Creative Force is so limitless,” and it basically means, ‘Nature is so generous.’ That sensitivity is inspiring for our generation. It’s been incredibly powerful for me.”

Want to learn more? Read the full interview: Harnessing religious teachings about stewardship to protect the planet – an interview with Sikh activist Bandana Kaur

Common crop pesticides are harming the brains of bees

April 1st, 2013

According to new research, exposure to popular pesticides injures bee brain physiology, is capable of devastating bee hives, and may be partly responsible for on-going Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

Honey bee (Apis mellifera) collecting pollen. Photo by: Jon Sullivan.

  • A research team exposed honeybees to two different pesticides at levels encountered in the wild, and found that both pesticides directly affected the ways the bees’ brains functioned.
  • This study is the first to explain why bees exposed to these pesticides have unusual behavior, including losing their way easily and slow reactions.
  • Scientists in both the U.S. Europe have recorded the complete collapse of hives due to exposure.
  • Fortunately this research has spurred some policy movement and the European Union (EU) proposed a ban on one of the pesticides for two years.
  • Most recently, nine beekeeping and environmental groups sued the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to take action to protect bees.
  • Bees are important plant pollinators and in the U.S. alone, their pollination services are estimated to be worth $8-12 billion.
  • While bee declines have occurred in the past, researchers believe this one is much more severe.

Want to learn more? Read the full story here: Common pesticides disrupt brain functioning in bees


Scientists discover 8 new frogs in one sanctuary

April 1st, 2013

A new species discovered in the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary: Pseudophilautus sirilwijesundarai. Photo by: L.J. Mendis Wickramasinghe.

Two studies in the forests of Sri Lank’s Peak Wilderness Sanctuary have uncovered eight new frog species. While every year over a hundred new amphibians are discovered, eight new discoveries in a single park is very rare.

The eight new species aren’t the only discovery from the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary, which has been dubbed a World Heritage Site. A paper by L.J. Mendis Wickramasinghe, with the Herpetological Foundation of Sri Lanka and his team recently announced the re-discovery of the starry shrub frog (Pseudophilautus stellatus), which had not been seen for 160 years and was believed to be extinct.

However most of the species, including the starry shrub frog, should be listed as Critically Endangered, according to the scientists. Habitat loss, small hydropower plants, and pollution from visiting tourists are some of the major threats to these long-hidden frogs.

Experts say that are one third of the world’s amphibians are currently threatened due mostly to habitat loss, pollution, and diseases which has likely been spread by humans and exotic frogs. Scientists think that around 130 amphibians have gone extinct since 1980, about 20 of which were found in Sri Lanka.

“There are many more [new species] to be published this is just a fraction of what remains to be uncovered,” Wickramasinghe told Stay tuned.

New species: Pseudophilautus bambaradeniyai. Photo by: L.J. Mendis Wickramasinghe.

Pseudophilautus jagathgunawardanai. Photo by: L.J. Mendis Wickramasinghe.

Pseudophilautus puranappu. Photo by: L.J. Mendis Wickramasinghe.