zaterdag 29 december 2012

Crayfish Harbor Fungus That's Wiping Out Amphibians

Exotic animal trade thrives in China

Exotic animal trade thrives in China

Updated: 2012-10-23

By Wang Xiaodong (China Daily)

A long, yellow-gray snake lay motionless in a glass box. On one side, in a separate container, a hairy, black spider about the size of a chicken egg stalked its lair. On the other, a lizard fidgeted in a sand box.
It was the kind of display ordinarily found at a zoo.
A woman kisses a lizard as people gather together to share experiences about
cultivating cold-blooded reptiles at Jilin in Jilin province.

Yet the unusual menagerie was not in a zoo but in a nondescript Beijing store — and all of these exotic creatures were for sale.
On a weekend afternoon, roughly a dozen people crammed into a small, square room in a secluded corner of Guanyuan Pet Market in the capital's Haidian district. Some were there out of curiosity, others to buy.
"The store owner just told me the lizards are 3,000 yuan ($480) each," said Li Zhi, a middle school student who had been browsing with a friend. "It's too expensive. My spider only cost 170 yuan."
He said he bought the spider — a species called Chilean rose — from an Internet trader. It lives in a glass cage in his living room.
"It's about 10 cm in diameter now" Li said. "I like spiders. They look cute, they don't bite unless cornered, and even if I am bitten, it doesn't matter because they are not poisonous. Having a spider is no big deal."
Several other stores in the two-floor, underground market also had lizards, scorpions and spiders on display.
Yet, wildlife protection experts have warned that buying an exotic animal without knowledge of how to care for it can be extremely dangerous, not to mention illegal.
"Many wild animals are aggressive by nature and do not make suitable pets," said Zhang Jinshuo, a zoologist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences. "Even tamed wild animals are likely to attack. They also spread disease.
"And, if they are abandoned or they escape, they pose potential danger to the public," he added.
The media has been awash with stories about exotic animals on the loose in Chinese cities this year.
Over the summer, a crocodile was spotted in a Beijing public pool and a giant salamander was discovered in another residential complex, while in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province, a woman alerted authorities after her Burmese python escaped.
There have been countless tales of snakes and spiders appearing in streets and on subway trains in large cities, such as Shanghai and Guangzhou.
"Many wild animals are dangerous," said a handler at the Beijing Wildlife Protection and Nature Reserve Management Station, who gave his name as Yang. "A snake may look quiet and gentle in a box at a pet market, but that's because the box is not very hot. When the temperature rises the snake will become very active.
"Even trained handlers like us are sometimes bitten by these animals."
He said his station is constantly receiving calls about abandoned exotic pets, which they must then find and collect.
"We've taken in at least eight monkeys alone this year," Yang said. "Most were actually sent to us by residents who realized they couldn't handle them. This puts even more pressure on us because keeping pets isn't what we are here to do."
Wild animals require special, controlled environments to survive. For example, he said, snakes need to be kept in tanks set to the right temperature and humidity.
A beastly trade
According to Zhang at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, such animals should not be available to shoppers in the first place because the breeding of many exotic animals is outlawed by regulations.
"No individual can breed or sell protected wildlife without permission from the government," Zhang said, quoting the regulations. "That includes the crocodiles and some turtles commonly seen at pet markets."
Li Li, who heads the Panther Protection Station for Wild Animals, a nonprofit group in Beijing, said permits are usually only issued to wildlife protection or research institutes, or large, animal reproduction centers. It is "virtually impossible" for an individual to get one, he said.
But as the pet industry continues to boom — Chinese people are expected to spend 7.84 billion yuan on pet care this year, according to market research by Euromonitor — traders are circumventing the law to cater to the demand for exotic species.
As is often the case, the Internet is the main channel for such dodgy dealings.
Traders often target online forums for owners of exotic pets to advertise and sell their animals, including raccoons, slow lorises, foxes, chameleons, poisonous snakes and rare turtles.
A vendor in Beijing's suburban Daxing district, who gave his name as Wang, was offering crocodiles for sale on a forum hosted by Baidu, a major Chinese search engine. He said the creatures were from a small farm owned by a friend.
A 60-cm-long crocodile costs 900 yuan, he said. "Many people have bought them to slaughter and eat, or just keep as pets."
He was also offering a type of crocodile native to Malaysia, which is smaller but much more expensive, costing 6,000 yuan each. "It was smuggled (over the border) and there are only a dozen crocodiles of this type in China," he said.
When asked how safe it was to keep the reptile as a pet, he recommended owners by a 1-meter-high tank and "always throw the food in quickly" as the crocodile can jump very high and will bite fingers.
The manager of an online store run from Beijing, who declined to give his name and would only communicate online through instant messenger, had a rare, large white cobra, which was pictured in a steel cage. He said he had caught it in the wild.
At a pet market near Panjiayuan, in Beijing's Chaoyang district, a vendor said his lizards are from Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, which borders several Central Asia countries. However, he would not disclose the exact source.
Yang at the Beijing Wildlife Protection and Nature Reserve Management Station said he suspects some of the pets they receive from residents were illegally traded.
"Wild animals are more dangerous to keep and are more likely to hurt people and transmit disease," he said. "We advise residents to report such cases to the police."
A staff member on the law enforcement and monitoring team at the capital's landscape and forestry department said the authority is investigating several traders suspected of selling protected animals.
"We are still collecting information," said the staff member, who declined to give his name. "We've received many reports from residents recently, but it's difficult, as most suspects reveal little information about themselves except their instant messenger number."
He added that his team conducts regular patrols at pet markets and will punish vendors who are found selling protected wild animals without a permit.
However, experts say ultimately consumers should be educated to avoid breaking the law.
"The government should increase publicity to make people aware that many wild animals are actually not allowed to be traded," said Wang Yue, spokeswoman for the Beijing Dog Breeders Association.

Contact the writer at

vrijdag 26 oktober 2012

Indonesia remains epicenter for illegal wildlife trade in reptiles and amphibians

By: Liz Kimbrough
October 24, 2012

Illegally traded lizards (left to right): black tree monitor (Varanus beccarii), Reisinger's tree monitor (Varanus reisingeri), emerald monitor (Varanus prasinus), and the blue-spotted tree monitor (Varanus macraei). Photo courtesy of Jessica Lyons.

Demand for exotic pets is driving the illegal harvest and trade of herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians) in Indonesian New Guinea, according to a recent study published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation. 

Wild carpet pythons (Morelia spilota) are traded on a legal quota system, but researchers say the quota is often exceeded. Photo courtesy of Jessica Lyons.   

Between September 2010 and April 2011, Daniel Natusch and Jessica Lyons of the University of New South Wales surveyed traders of amphibians and reptiles in the Indonesian provinces of Maluku, West Papua and Papua.

The authors encountered a slew of species being exploited for trade including: the green python (Morelia viridis), boelens python (Morelia boeleni), frilled necked lizard (Clamydosaurus kingii), New Guinea snapping turtle (Elseya branderhorsti), blue tongue lizard (Tiliqua scincoides), the green tree frog (Litoria caerulea), and several species of monitor lizards (Varanus sp.).

Illegally traded green pythons (Morelia viridis) in the black market pet trade. Photo courtesy of Jessica Lyons.

According to the paper, they recorded, "5,370 individuals representing 52 species collected solely for the pet trade. At least 44 % were either fully protected or had not been allocated a harvest quota, making their harvest and trade illegal. Approximately half were listed within the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)."

Illegally traded blue-spotted tree monitor (Varanus macraei) in a crate. Photo courtesy of Jessica Lyons.

CITES, which Indonesia became a party to in 1979, regulates international wildlife trade. Under CITES, certain species are assigned a harvest quota; a specific number of individuals that can be collected from the wild. Animals listed as "fully protected" or without an assigned harvest quota cannot be legally collected or traded.

The Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation (PHKA) is responsible for the monitoring and enforcement of CITES regulations in Indonesia. Natusch and Lyons' findings suggest that there are some key gaps in PHKA’s enforcement.

"Illegal trade is due, partly, to an inadequate understanding of the species being traded and is facilitated by poor monitoring and enforcement at key trade hubs," they write.

A 2011 paper, also by Lyons and Natusch, focusing on the illegal laundering of green pythons asserted similar findings. A report submitted by Indonesia at the CITES Asian Snake Trade Workshop in 2011 claimed that there was no illegal trade in Indonesian snakes. However, Lyons and Natusch uncovered a different story—that breeding farms were being used to illegally launder wild caught snakes.

Illegally traded green python (Morelia viridis) with head injury likely due to being in a cramped, wet cage. The snake may have rubbed itself raw trying to escape. Photo courtesy of Jessica Lyons.

Between April 2009 and Sept 2011, the authors surveyed traders who supplied the market for green pythons (Morelia viridis). Commercial trade in green pythons is legitimate when the traded individuals are bred in captivity, but harvesting green pythons form the wild is strictly illegal. However, it appears that many traders are taking advantage of an inadvertent loophole in the system. Local collectors harvest snakes in the wild, and sell them to breeding farms, which pass these snakes off as captive bred.

"Extrapolation of monthly collection estimates provided by traders revealed that at least 5,337 green pythons are collected each year, suggesting that at least 80% of the green pythons exported from Indonesia annually are illegally wild-caught," the scientists wrote last year.

The authors suggest many methods to counter the laundering of illegally caught wildlife. One novel method is ensuring that the snakes are sold along with their eggshells, which can be measured to verify authenticity.

"Merely the requirement of having to enclose eggshells within shipments (and not even measuring them) would curtail much of the trade," Lyons told

As of yet, this method has not been implemented.

In addition, Natusch and Lyons recommend, "the need for increased monitoring and enforcement, improving the knowledge base of species traded and educating consumers about the effects their demand for pets has on these species."

CITATION: Lyons, J.A., Natusch, D.J.D. Wildlife laundering through breeding farms: Illegal harvest, population declines and a means of regulating the trade of green pythons (Morelia viridis) from Indonesia. Biological Conservation. (2011), doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2011.10.002

Natusch, D. J. D., and Lyons, J.A. Exploited for pets: the harvest and trade of amphibians and reptiles from Indonesian New Guinea. Biodiversity and Conservation. (2012), 
doi: 10.1007/s10531-012-0345-8

vrijdag 13 juli 2012

Only 18 snakes left !!!

 Meet the world's rarest snake: only 18 left

Jeremy Hance
July 10, 2012
It's slithery, brown, and doesn't mind being picked up: meet the Saint Lucia racer (Liophis ornatus), which holds the dubious honor of being the world's most endangered snake. A five month extensive survey found just 18 animals on a small islet off of the Caribbean Island of Saint Lucia. The snake had once been abundant on Saint Lucia, as well, but was decimated by invasive mongooses. 
World's rarest snake: Saint Lucia racer.
Photo by: G. Guida.

For nearly 40 years the snake was thought to be extinct until in 1973 a single snake was found on the Maria Major Island, a 12-hectare (30 acre) protected islet, a mile off the coast of Saint Lucia (see map below). After catching and tagging 10 individuals, scientists now believe 18 may survive in total. The island is free of the mongoose that have killed off the population of Saint Lucia. Non-venomous, the Saint Lucia racer feeds on local lizards.

"It was a huge relief to confirm that a population of the racer still survives," Matthew Morton, Eastern Caribbean Program Manager for the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (DWCT), said in a press release, "but that relief is tempered by the knowledge of how close we still are to losing it forever."

The DWCT is working with Fauna & Flora International, the Saint Lucia National Trust, and the Saint Lucia Forestry Department to save the species with additional funding support from the Balcombe Trust, the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Conservationists working with the Saint Lucia racer are closely looking at successful efforts to save the Antiguan racer (Alsophis antiguae). With a population that hit a nadir of 50 individuals in 1995, the Antiguan racer today has a population of over 900. Eradicating invasive predators, such as mongoose and rats, as well as education efforts have helped the Antiguan racer bounce back. Researchers are now looking to reintroduce the snake to more habitats as an insurance policy against extinction, especially as climate change raises sea levels. 
Stephen Lesmond holding one of the world's last Saint Lucia racers.
Photo by: T. Ross with DWCT.

"Tens if not hundreds of West Indian animals have already been lost because humans have unwisely released harmful species from other parts of the world, and we cannot allow the gentle Saint Lucia racer to be the next casualty" Jenny Daltry, Senior Conservation Biologist with Fauna & Flora International says. "To do nothing is not an option."


zondag 8 juli 2012

Crocodylus siamensis

3,600 crocodiles rescued from smugglers in S. China


NANNING - Police in Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region said Saturday they had seized more than 3,600 smuggled crocodiles, saving them from being served as exotic dishes.
Veterinarians are providing medical treatment to the endangered reptiles, with some having died from heatstroke during transportation, said an official from the public security bureau of Chongzuo city.
The Siamese crocodiles were seized in the city on Tuesday night as their trucks crossed the China-Vietnam border. Smugglers intended to supply them to restaurants in neighboring Guangdong province, the official said.
Siamese crocodiles are a critically endangered species native to most Southeast Asian countries. Their fresh is served as delicacies in some southern Chinese cities, creating an underground market of the reptiles, animal rights activists said.

Note 1...

Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis) is a freshwater crocodile native to Indonesia (Borneo and possibly Java), Brunei, East Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam. The species is critically endangered and already extirpated from many regions. Its other common names include: Siamese freshwater crocodile, Singapore small-grain, cocodrilo de Siam, crocodile du Siam, buaja, buaya kodok, jara kaenumchued, and soft-belly. (wikipedia)

Note 2...

SIAMESE CROCODILE (Crocodylus siamensis)
The Siamese crocodile is a Southeast Asian reptile that lives in slow-moving freshwater habitats such as rivers, swamps and streams. It has a broad snout, powerful tail and grows to a length of about 12 feet. Populations of Siamese crocodile are rapidly decreasing due to hunting and loss of habitat.

IUCN Status: Critically Endangered
USFWS Status: Endangered
Major Threats: Conversion of habitat to agricultural land and poaching
Habitat: Swamps and the sheltered parts of rivers, streams and lakes
Location: Borneo, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam
Diet: Mainly fish; also amphibians, reptiles and possibly small mammals

Alligator sinensis

San Diego Zoo gets two Chinese alligators in preservation effort

The reptiles arrive from Florida as part of a long-term strategy to keep the species, listed as critically endangered, from going extinct in the wild.

SAN DIEGO On her first full day in her new home, Xiao was tentative Tuesday, but the sun finally lured her out of the pool onto the sand. Xidi was less adventuresome, preferring the water.

The pair of Chinese alligators had just arrived at the San Diego Zoo from the St. Augustine (Fla.) Alligator Farm Zoological Park as part of a long-term strategy to keep the species from going extinct in the wild.

Xiao is one of two Chinese dragons, both females, now at the San Diego Zoo.
Unlike their American cousin, the world’s only other alligator species, they are armored top and bottom.
(John Gibbins, UT San Diego)

The alligators are among the smallest and most endangered members of the crocodilian family. Unlike their American cousin — the world's only other alligator species — they are armored top and bottom. Their tapered snouts turn up slightly at the end, and their blunt teeth are good for crushing clams and snails.

For eons, Chinese alligators were found in much of eastern China. They were called "muddy dragons" and lived along the wetlands of the Yangtze River.

But dams along the Yangtze destroyed nearly all their habitat, farmers poisoned the rats they ate and hunters killed them, spurred by beliefs that alligator meat cures ailments and prevents cancer.

Kevin Torregrosa, the reptile expert at the St. Augustine alligator farm, said the latest estimate is that there may be fewer than 100 Chinese alligators in the wild. The species is listed as critically endangered.

A population of the animals on a Chinese preserve is imperiled by inbreeding, and there are not many wild places where they could be reintroduced.

Enter a "species survival program" for the Chinese alligator under the auspices of the Maryland-based Assn. of Zoos and Aquariums. Torregrosa is the program director. With the loan of Xiao and Xidi to San Diego, the St. Augustine park retains 15 Chinese alligators.

The survival program is working to mix and match male and female alligators among the 28 zoos and reptile parks that have one or more of the animals, which grow to a length of 5 to 7 feet, and 80 to 100 pounds.

Which brings us to the arrival Monday of Xiao and Xidi by air freight, eagerly awaited by curators at the San Diego Zoo.

Both of the animals are females. Next year the zoo hopes to get a male Chinese alligator so propagation can begin. Artificial insemination among reptiles has not been perfected.

For now, Xiao and Xidi will swim and lounge in their open-air grotto, part of a new reptile and amphibian exhibit called Reptile Walk, which includes Surinam toads, Malayan giant turtles, Mexican giant tree frogs, rosy boas, kingsnakes and more. The exhibit opens Wednesday.

The Chinese alligators do not pose a threat to humans, except possibly in the most extreme of circumstances. They are warm-weather creatures; the balmy clime of Southern California should be ideal.
Juvenile Alligator sinensis (Photo: Fons Sleijpen)

"It's sad when something so small and benign is reduced to such small numbers in the wild," said Kim Lovich, associate curator of herpetology at the zoo. "I don't have a favorite reptile, but I do love the crocodilians."

After being on display in Florida, Xiao and Xidi are accustomed to being watched and, once they get used to their new digs, probably will spend more time on the sand than submerged.

"They have neat little personalities: a little like bulldogs, stocky, with a little attitude," said Torregrosa. "You're going to like them."


zaterdag 5 mei 2012

China to release alligators into wild

The original article can be found here

HEFEI - A nature reserve in east China's Anhui province will release six captive-bred alligators into the wild as part of an experimental program to boost the population of the endangered animal.

Juvenile Chinese Alligator (Alligator sinensis) Picture: Fons Sleijpen (C)

The Anhui Yangtze Alligator Nature Reserve is preparing to put the alligators in a natural environment later this month, marking the center's eighth attempt to do so since the program started in 2002.
So far, the nature reserve has succeeded in releasing 45 Chinese alligators into the wild, and the six new members will bring the total to 51, sources with the reserve said.
"The experiments were successful, as the released alligators began laying eggs in 2008 and the alligators that hatched in the wild are in good conditions," said Wang Chaolin, deputy director of the nature reserve.
Wang said researchers need to choose young and healthy alligators so they will survive harsh natural conditions. The alligators will also undergo DNA testing before being released to avoid in-breeding.
The researchers will install radio transmitters on the reptiles to trace their whereabouts and collect data for scientific study, Wang said.
Anhui is home to the majority of the country's Chinese alligators, which are widely known as the Yangtze alligators because they live along the lower reaches of the Yangtze River.
China has put the Chinese alligator as a priority on its protection list and established the Chinese Alligator Breeding Research Center in Anhui in 1979.

Juvenile Chinese Alligator (Alligator sinensis) Picture: Fons Sleijpen (C)

Thanks to human efforts to aid in the animal's survival such as enlarging their habitats, the number of the critically endangered Chinese alligators living in the wild has been growing over the past few years.
The number of wild Chinese alligators is currently estimated to exceed 150, excluding the scores of captive-bred animals that have been reintroduced to the wild, in contrast to about 100 in 2005, Wang said, citing a recent census.
The breeding center now has more than 1,000 captive alligators.

dinsdag 1 mei 2012

In Everglades, tracking pythons may provide clues to vanishing wildlife

The original article can be found here

EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, Fla. — Kristen Hart’s search for a cold-blooded killer came to an end at a perfect hideout — thick scrub brush, dense trees and shade. She crouched with three scouts and whispered.
“Do you see her?” asked Hart, a research ecologist for the U.S. Geological Survey. “Yeah, she’s in there,” answered Thomas Selby, a wildlife biologist. “I think she knows we’re here,” said Brian Smith, another biologist.


Within seconds, the 161 / 2-foot Burmese python uncoiled and made a run for it. What happened next is a drama that plays out every week or so, as state and federal biologists try to prove — or disprove — that the giant invasive snakes are the reason for the near disappearance of rabbits, opossums, raccoons, foxes and even bobcats in the southernmost section of the 1.5 million-acre Everglades.
Smith and Selby charged into the trees. “I’ve got the head!” Smith shouted. “Grab the tail!” They stumbled out with the writhing snake in a chokehold, huge mouth agape, ready to bite.
It was actually the second time biologists got their hands on Python 51 — the 51st caught. Two months ago, they surgically fitted her with a radio transmitter, motion detector and global positioning system to study her diet and movements.
Now, the snake’s days of squeezing the life out of prey and giving birth to about four dozen babies every year are over. The scientists want to retrieve their expensive equipment and the data it contains. She was euthanized last week, along with an even bigger snake, the largest ever captured in Florida, at 171 / 2 feet — more than twice as long as former basketball player Shaquille O’Neal is tall.
Burmese pythons are native to Southeast Asia. No one knows for certain how the invasive snake entered the Everglades. The belief that Hurricane Andrew blew them there from exotic pet shops and houses in 1992, or that numerous pet owners released them when they grew too large, is likely a myth, according to Frank J. Mazzotti, a professor of wildlife ecology and conservation for the University of Florida.

“All it takes is three snakes,” he said, mating and laying an average of 50 eggs, and up to 100 eggs, per year.
Their population in the Everglades is estimated at anywhere between 5,000 and 100,000 by USGS. The National Park Service says that more than 1,800 pythons have been removed from the park and surrounding areas since 2002. No one in the park has ever been attacked by a python.
Some game officials and citizens have suggested sending bounty hunters with guns and machetes into the park. Bounty hunters are great at capturing snakes — when they find them, which is rare. Hunters are also known to execute small native snakes, mistaking them for python hatchlings.
“Someone could tell you there are 10 pythons in this area, and you could walk all day and not see them,” Smith said as he leaned on a truck, dirty and tired after wrestling Python 51 and leading the team on a two-mile hike with her live 140-pound body draped over their shoulders.
Pythons prefer warmth, but many in the Everglades have managed to survive hard freezes, leading some biologists to worry about their ability to adapt and travel north. The snake has already been swimming and slithering south toward the Florida Keys.

Venomous Snake Farming High-Stakes Business in China

The original article can be found here

Apr. 30, 2012 - Snake farming is becoming a lucrative business in China as the nation's middle class grows, with products being used as food, in traditional medicines and exported for use in research to help cure disease. Bloomberg's Margaret Conley reports from one farm outside of Shanghai where snakes have become a million-dollar business, and witnesses first-hand how dangerous the occupation can be. (Source: Bloomberg) (Bloomberg)

Man sentenced to 21 months in prison for smuggling turtles from Japan to US in snack boxes

The original article can be found here

LOS ANGELES — A man was sentenced to nearly two years in prison Monday for smuggling dozens of live turtles and tortoises from Japan into the U.S. by hiding them in snack food boxes.
Atsushi Yamagami was given 21 months in prison and ordered to pay more than $18,000 in fines after pleading guilty in August to one felony count of smuggling. He could have faced a maximum sentence of 20 years.

In a letter to U.S. District Judge George King, Yamagami apologized and promised never to engage in animal smuggling again.
“I am extremely ashamed and remorseful about my actions,” he wrote.
Federal agents arrested Yamagami, 39, and Norihide Ushirozako, both of Osaka, in January 2011 at Los Angeles International Airport as part of an undercover investigation known as Operation Flying Turtle.
The 55 turtles and tortoises were hidden in snack food boxes found in a suitcase. Federal prosecutors argued the measures taken by the men constituted animal cruelty and the reptiles posed a risk of transmitting salmonella.

Most of the animals are protected by an international endangered species agreement and can only be imported with a permit.
After the animals were smuggled into the U.S., Yamagami sold or traded them at pet shows and used the proceeds to purchase snakes, turtles and tortoises native to North America, which were then smuggled to Japan for resale, authorities said.
Yamagami paid couriers to hide wildlife inside luggage, according to court documents. Authorities believe Yamagami and his couriers took more than 40 trips to and from the U.S. between 2004 and 2011.
Ushirozako also pleaded guilty in August to a smuggling charge and was released from federal custody after being sentenced to time served, which totaled about seven months.

Bumblebee-Colored Gecko Discovered on the Admiralty Islands

The original article can be found here

A team of biologists from the Papua New Guinea National Museum and the U.S. Geological Survey has discovered a new species of slender-toed gecko on Manus Island, the largest island of the Admiralty Islands, Papua New Guinea.

The Bumblebee Gecko, Nactus kunan (Robert Fisher / US Geological Survey)

The new species of gecko, described in the journal Zootaxa, measures about 5.7 cm (2.2 inches) in body length and is adorned like a bumblebee with black-and-gold bands and rows of skin nodules that enhance its camouflage on the tropical forest floor.
“The discovery of a new species from deep in the forests of New Guinea is a cause for celebration, adding one more chapter to “The Book of Life,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “Now the real work begins! To fill those pages with the wonders of this new creature, its place in the forest ecosystem, its adaptation to its environment, and perhaps even novel strategies for coping with disease from which we will ultimately benefit.”
“We’ve officially named it Nactus kunan for its striking color pattern — kunan means bumblebee in the local Nali language,” explained Dr. Robert Fisher, a herpetologist at the USGS Western Ecological Research Center. “It belongs to a genus of slender-toed geckos, which means these guys don’t have the padded, wall-climbing toes like the common house gecko, or the day gecko in the car insurance commercials.”
Dr. Fisher collected two specimens of the bumblebee gecko on Manus Island in 2010 and analyzed their genetics to show that the lizards were new and distinctive.
“This species was a striking surprise, as I’ve been working on the genus since the 1970s, and would not have predicted this discovery,” said Dr. George Zug, a herpetologist at the Smithsonian Institution and a curator emeritus at the National Museum of Natural History.
“Exploration of Manus Province is in its infancy, with many new species possible, and this joint expedition was our first to this region,” added Dr. Bulisa Iova, a reptile curator at the Papua New Guinea National Museum.

24 New Species of Skinks Discovered on Caribbean Islands

24 New Species of Skinks Discovered on Caribbean Islands

The original article can be found here

A team of biologists from Penn State University has discovered 24 new species of lizards known as skinks, all from islands in the Caribbean.

The Anguilla Bank skink, one of the 24 new skink species
discovered by Penn State scientists (Karl Questal / Penn State University)
The newly discovered skinks are reported today in a 245-page article in the journal Zootaxa.
About 130 species of reptiles from all over the world are added to the global species count each year in dozens of scientific articles. However, not since the 1800s have more than 20 reptile species been added at one time.
Primarily through examination of museum specimens, the team identified a total of 39 species of skinks from the Caribbean islands, including 6 species currently recognized, and another 9 named long ago but considered invalid until now.
“Now, one of the smallest groups of lizards in this region of the world has become one of the largest groups,” said Blair Hedges, a professor of biology at Penn State University and a lead author. “We were completely surprised to find what amounts to a new fauna, with co-occurring species and different ecological types. Some of the new species are 6 times larger in body size than other species in the new fauna.”
These New World skinks, which arrived in the Americas about 18 million years ago from Africa by floating on mats of vegetation, are unique among lizards in that they produce a human-like placenta, which is an organ that directly connects the growing offspring to the maternal tissues that provide nutrients, Prof. Hedges also explained.
“While there are other lizards that give live birth, only a fraction of the lizards known as skinks make a placenta and gestate offspring for up to one year,” Prof. Hedges said. He also speculated that the lengthy gestational period may have given predators a competitive edge over skinks, since pregnant females are slower and more vulnerable.
The researchers note that about half of the newly found skinks already may be extinct or close to extinction. The loss of skink species can be attributed primarily to predation by the mongoose – an invasive predatory mammal that was introduced by farmers to control rats in sugarcane fields during the late nineteenth century.
“The mongoose is the predator we believe is responsible for many of the species’ close-to-extinction status in the Caribbean,” Prof. Hedges said. “Our data show that the mongoose, which was introduced from India in 1872 and spread around the islands over the next three decades, has nearly exterminated this entire reptile fauna, which had gone largely unnoticed by scientists and conservationists until now.”
This newly discovered skink fauna will increase dramatically the number of reptiles categorized as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in their Red List of Threatened Species.
“According to our research, all of the skink species found only on Caribbean islands are threatened,” Prof. Hedges said. “That is, they should be classified in the Red List as either vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered. Finding that all species in a fauna are threatened is unusual, because only 24 percent of the 3,336 reptile species listed in the Red List have been classified as threatened with extinction. Most of the 9,596 named reptile species have yet to be classified in the Red List.”


24 newly discovered lizard species face extinction

The original article can be found here

WASHINGTON: Half of the 24 new lizard species known as skinks, all discovered on the Caribbean islands, may be close to extinction and the other half are also under threat.

Researchers led by Blair Hedges, professor of biology at Penn State University, attributed their loss to the mongoose, a predatory mammal introduced by farmers to control rats in sugarcane fields during the late 19th century.

"The mongoose is the predator we believe is responsible for many of the species' close-to-extinction status in the Caribbean," said Hedges, the journal Zootaxa reports.

"Our data show that the mongoose, which was introduced from India in 1872 and spread around the islands over the next three decades, has nearly exterminated this entire reptile fauna, which had gone largely unnoticed by scientists and conservationists until now," said Hedges, according to a Penn statement.

About 130 species of reptiles are added to the global species count each year in dozens. However, not since the 1800s have more than 20 reptile species been added at one time.

Primarily through examination of museum specimens, the team identified a total of 39 species of skinks from the Caribbean islands, including six species currently recognized, and another nine named long ago but considered invalid until now.

"We were completely surprised to find what amounts to a new fauna, with co-occurring species and different ecological types," Hedges said. He added that some of the new species are six times larger in body size than other species in the new fauna.

Hedges also explained that these New World skinks, which arrived in the Americas about 18 million years ago from Africa by floating on mats of vegetation, are unique among lizards in that they produce a human-like placenta, which is an organ that directly connects the growing offspring to the maternal tissues that provide nutrients.

"While there are other lizards that give live birth, only a fraction of the lizards known as skinks make a placenta and gestate offspring for up to one year," Hedges said.

He also speculated that the lengthy gestational period may have given predators a competitive edge over skinks, since pregnant females are slower and more vulnerable.

Rare Reptiles Breed in Wild

The original article can be found here

Two baby ploughshare tortoises born to parents raised in a captive breeding program are discovered in Madagascar, validating the conservation effort.

By Jef Akst | April 27, 2012

As few as 500 adult ploughshare tortoises roam the bamboo scrub of Baly Bay in north-western Madagascar. Fortunately, many others are thriving in the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust’s captive breeding colony. Since 1998, 65 sub-adult tortoises have been reintroduced into the wild. And now, a local field team has discovered the first progeny of those released animals.
“The importance of the discovery of the baby ploughshares cannot be over-emphasised,” Lee Durrell, the Trust’s Honorary Director, said in a press release. “They represent a beacon for the future of not only the iconic ploughshare in Madagascar but many other species whose survival relies on similar conservation breeding programmes.”
Measuring just 5 centimeters in length and weighing just 30 grams, the two babies are believed to be approximately 1 year old. The question now is will they survive. “The Madagascar habitat that is their home is a tough one—there are bush pigs, buzzards, a harsh climate, and poachers to contend with—but they are healthy and strong and we believe they stand a good chance,” Durrell says.
Read more about the ploughshare tortoise’s poaching woes in this month’s “Marked for Life.”

Researcher Forms Group to Save Turtles

The original article can be found here

Posted: April 25, 2012 by Ashleigh Johnson

COLUMBIA - Residents concerned about the safety of turtles crossing busy roads have formed a group committed to helping the creatures called Turtle Crossing Como. University of Missouri natural resources researcher Brice Hanberry started the group after moving to Columbia and noticing the large population of turtles in the area.
"In the spring and the summer, they're crossing the roads quite often," Hanberry said Wednesday.
The goal of the group is to convince the city council to add some turtle-friendly additions to the roads as they undergo routine maintenance. Turtle Crossing Como suggests road signs, ramps leading down from curbs, indentions in curbs and possibly tunnels underneath roads for turtles to cross through safely.
For their suggestions to become reality, Hanberry said the support of the community is needed.
"The city council wouldn't feel any kind of obligation to do anything unless the citizens were interested in it happening," Hanberry said. She encourages residents to attend a series of town hall meetings underway now and speak in favor of turtle-friendly additions to the roads.
The additions have been put on a list of other possible changes to be made to Columbia roads in the future, but the list has not yet been presented to the city council.

zondag 29 april 2012

Living up to their good luck: Rare Philippine turtles smuggled to Hong Kong returned to Manila

The original article can be found here

MANILA, Philippines — Turtles represent longevity and good luck, and that’s certainly true for 18 rare smuggled turtles that were returned from Hong Kong to their native Philippines.
Philippine Wildlife Bureau head Mundita Lim says the pond turtles were confiscated at the Hong Kong airport in February from a Chinese student, along with 13 more common box turtles.

Pond turtles (Siebenrockiella leytensis) live only in forests on Palawan Island southwest of Manila. Only about 120 remain in the wild. Lim says they are prized as novelty pets or food.
Philippine officials took the unprecedented step of traveling to Hong Kong and retrieving the turtles because they are so rare. Palawan’s governor received the turtles at the Manila airport Friday.
The 18 will be rehabilitated before being released in the wild.

Chambal sanctuary a killing field for gharials

The original article can be found here

KANPUR: Illegal fishing in the National Chambal Sanctuary is killing endangered gharials like the one found dead in the Chambal river in Etawah on Thursday last. The tragedy continues unabated despite the fact that now there are very few gharials left in the region.

The gharials (Gavialis gangeticus) have been declared as a 'critically endangered specie' by the International Union For Conservation of Nature. The National Chambal Sanctuary, which falls in UP as well as Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, is a known as a habitat for the endangered gharial and other aquatic animals. It is spread in an area of 5,000 sq km.

Experts say illegal fishing, using boat and synthetic net, is posing a serious threat to the endangered gharials nesting in the sanctuary. Only on Monday, a 16-ft-long gharial was found hacked into pieces at Lal Pura Khar in Bhareh area of Etawah and on Monday a boat and a large synthetic fishing net was seized by the forest department personnel of the National Chambal Sanctuary.

Such illegal practices are still on despite a ban on fishing by authorities in the sanctuary to ensure the safety of the aquatic animals. There is an urgent need to check the rampant killing of gharials and other rare aquatic animals, including dolphins and turtles and to strictly enforce the ban. Nesting of the endangered gharial have recently been sighted along the Chambal river, at present, there incubation period is underway and hatching of egg is expected to take place in the last week of May or first week of June, the National Chambal officials said.

"The female gharial lays 30 to 40 eggs in each nesting site. These eggs are incubated and hatched due to sand's heat. Then the baby gharials emerge from their eggs and creep into the river," the expert informed.

"Areas known for the notoriety of hunters start from Panchnada to Bansuri, which is nearly a 15 km of stretch, then from Siddhbaba temple upto Pali, a 6km spread of land downstream, besides from Barchauli to Kasauwa, Ranipurwa to Lakhanpurwa and from Gati to Kheda," said a forest department official. 

Most of these reptiles are victims of by-catch in fishing nets. Sand-mining also poses one of the most significant threats to gharials, Gangetic dolphins and turtles in the Chambal sanctuary. "What is more shocking is that these endangered aquatic species are being killed by fish poachers as these reptiles become victim of by-catch. Sand-mining is other illegal practice within the sanctuary, but there is no one to check those involved in the illegal trade," says Rajiv Chauhan, secretary, Society for Conservation of Nature.

He further informed that earlier there was a guard especially employed for guarding gharials in the region but the post has been lying vacant since the past eight-nine years following retirement of the previous staff.

Fishermen are active both in the upstream (Madhya Pradesh) and downstream in (Uttar Pradesh).

Another wildlife enthusiast claimed that big contractors are in cahoots with local fishermen and use them for fishing. "Such contractors are least bothered about the welfare of the environment and are using every possible means available to earn quick money," he said.

"This is a big problem and there's a lot of manpower needed to trap these illegal fishers. However, we will leave no stone unturn to check the illegal fishing practice to save endangered species," says Uma Shanker Dohre, Wild Life warden, while talking to TOI.

In 2007, from November till March 2008, more than 112 gharials died in the Chambal due to unknown reasons. Further investigations by the IVRI suggested the possibility of poisoning by metal pollutants. Just 200-300 gharials are believed to be left in the Chambal and Katarnia Ghat. All over India, there are 2,000-3,000 gharials left. 

Limbless amphibian species found

The original article can be found here

A UK-Indian team of scientists have announced the discovery of a new species of limbless amphibian.
The animal was identified by accident in the Western Ghats area in the state of Kerala, South India.
The specimens were found inside moist soil after digging the shrub-covered bank of a mountain stream.
The creature - about 168mm in length and pink in colour - belongs to an enigmatic, limbless group of amphibians known as the caecilians.
Ramachandran Kotharambath, lead author of the report, told the BBC Tamil Service that the animal was identified as a new species following extensive comparisons with other, similar examples from this amphibian group.
According to the researchers, specimens of the novel caecilian - named Gegeneophis primus - were collected during field works in two consecutive monsoons, first in October 2010 and then in August 2011.

The caecilians are an enigmatic group of limbless amphibians

They were discovered at a valley on a plantation in the Wynad district of Kerala.
Active collaboration The new finding was made as part of a longstanding research collaboration between the department of zoology at the University of Kerala and London's Natural History Museum. The Central University at Kasargod in Kerala also contributed to of the discovery.
The finding has been reported in the latest edition of the academic journal Zootaxa.

The wider distribution, natural history and habitat preferences of the species are yet to be determined.
The discovery of this species indicates that the caecilian amphibians might have great diversity all along the Western Ghats area said Mr Ramachandran.
"The discovery on a plantation points out that these elusive animals are very vulnerable to anthropogenic activities and are living silently right under our feet," he explained
The new species do not face any immediate threat as long as the habitat structure is maintained, according to the scientists.
They also say that they need to know how far and wide this species is distributed and what are the habitat requirements.
Though these tiny amphibians are at least safe now, any major modification in the plantation structure could dangerously affect the species survival, said Mr Ramachandran
Co-author Dr Oommen says the discovery was significant since the finding ended a hiatus of almost half-a-century. "It highlights the fact that the knowledge of caecilian amphibians of the Western Ghats remains incomplete and in need of further study."

More about these animals

dinsdag 24 april 2012


RATTLESNAKE TORTURED for Photo Opportunity in Apache

This rattlesnake was tortured for photo opportunities in Apache, Oklahoma. They freeze the snakes (which starts the crystallization of their blood) and then sew their mouths shut. Snakes are then used like props for photos and are left baking in the hot sun all weekend long. Snakes feel pain and suffer just like any other living being does.
Rattlesnake roundups & felony animal cruelty are OK in Oklahoma? THIS weekend in Waurika & Waynoka, Oklahoma they will hold their annual rattlesnake roundups. Waurika is one of the towns where they have sewn snake mouths shut & put them on display. To help put an end to rattlesnake roundups and to learn more about them please visit these sites and share this with others...

People who do this should be put in a freezer for three days...


donderdag 19 april 2012

A turtle baby boom

The original article can be found here

Green Turtle nesting boom in Philippines

A turtle baby boom on the Baguan Island of Turtle Islands in the Philippines has produced a record 1.4 million eggs according to Conservation International (CI) Philippines citing figures from the Department of Environment and Resources (DENR).
In 2011, a total of 14,220 Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) nests were counted on Baguan Island, the highest number since recording at the site began in 1984. This adds up to over 1.44 million eggs which will provide a huge boost to the population of the Green Turtle which is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.
“1.44 million green turtle eggs in one year is an astounding number for a nesting beach that’s only a little over one kilometer in length. This definitely presents great hope for boosting green turtle populations,” said Romeo Trono, CI Philippines Country Executive Director and IUCN SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group Member. “With an average of 90% hatching success and 1% survival rate up to sexual maturity, Baguan in 2011 alone could contribute up to 13,000 to the adult turtle population.”
Baguan is one of the nine islands in the Turtle Islands Heritage Protected area (TIHPA), a protected area which is jointly managed by two countries; Malaysia and the Philippines. Baguan is one of six islands in the Philippines’ Turtle Islands Wildlife Sanctaury and there are three islands located in Malaysia’s Sabah Turtle Islands Park (TIP).

The nesting success has been attributed to the combined conservation efforts of CI Philippines, DENR, local government and the Malaysian park management authority Sabah Parks. A protection area was set up around Baguan and law enforcement to prevent poaching, egg collection and habitat destruction was strengthened by training park wardens, law enforcers and community volunteers. Patrolling efforts were also increased and the enforcements team included officers from the Philippine Coast Guard and Philippine Navy Marines.
“Bold protection measures such as the establishment of Baguan no-take zone and the complete protection status of the Turtle Islands Park in Sabah have been instrumental in ensuring a safe haven for turtles while other beaches in the region were being lost to coastal development,” says Dr. Nicolas Pilcher, director of Sabah-based Marine Research Foundation and Co-Chair of the
International Union for Conservation of the Nature Marine Turtle Specialist Group.
Dr Nicolas Pilcher and Romeo Trono, who are both members of the IUCN SSC Marine Turtles Specialist Group, along with Dr. Mundita Lim and Renato Cruz at DENR, Joel Palma at WWF Philippines and Paul Basintal at Sabah Parks, who are all also members of the IUCN SSC Marine Turtles Specialist Group, have been leading turtle conservation projects in Malaysia and the Philippines for over 20 years. They have worked closely to link government agencies and NGOs and have developed a joint network of protected areas to safeguard turtles at all stages of their life cycles. Records kept by DENR show there are more Green Turtle nests on Baguan when the area is protected proving that conservation action and protection can work.
“The hatchlings that emerge from the Turtle Islands still face great risks throughout their lives as they journey through the ocean,” added Romeo Trono, “but at least here in the Turtle Islands, we are determined to provide them with a good start.”

Related links:

International Union for Conservation of Nature Marine Turtle Specialist Group.

Frogs at front of germ warfare

A TINY frog that lives in the rainforests of North Queensland could provide humans with a cure for deadly bacterial diseases. 

Nuclear scientists are searching for ways to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as golden staph, which kills thousands of hospital patients each year.
They have found chemicals secreted from the skin of two amphibians, the Australian green-eyed tree frog and the growling grass frog, can form a defence to the bacteria.
The cutting-edge research is being carried out at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation's nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney.
Melbourne University Professor Frances Separovic, who is leading the project team, said they had characterised several small proteins - known as peptides - from the skin glands of the frogs, which had been found to host defence compounds with strong antibacterial activity.
The peptides work by attacking the membranes of unwanted bacteria found on the frogs' skin, killing them before they can present a danger to the frog.
HOPE: Researchers hope frogs can help
unlock a cure for deadly bacterial diseases.
Litoria genimaculata

"By understanding their 3D structure and mechanism of action at the molecular level, we may be able to increase their antibiotic potency or antimicrobial potency and specificity," Prof Separovic said.
The nuclear reactor is being used to analyse, on a molecular level, how and why peptides from the frog skin secretions work, and how well they can kill bacterial cells.
"Given that we don't want them to attack healthy human or frog cells, we also need to establish whether and how these antimicrobial peptides are selective for bacterial cells," Prof Separovic said.
It is hope the research will be completed by the end of the year, providing a blueprint for scientists to develop new drugs that can combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The two frog species have been selected for the project, as the skin secretions from the animals are known to protect the frogs against a broad range of bacteria.
The green-eyed tree frog, also known as the tapping green-eyed frog, lives in rainforests in North Queensland, often found near rocky creeks.
The species gets its name from the brilliant green colour over the brow of each eye. The frog grows to about 7cm long. It has adapted its appearance to blend in with the moss-covered forests, with most having a brownish-green body with rust-coloured blotches that match the lichen-covered rocks of the creeks and streams of its habitat.