Articles Posted in the Conservation category

Namibia first to auction ivory stockpile

October 28, 2008
Posted in Conservation

The first of Southern Africa’s legal ivory auctions will be held today in Windhoek, Namibia. Willem Wijnstekers, the secretary-general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), which sanctioned the auction, is in Namibia to oversee the sale. The country will sell nine tonnes of ivory.

Japan and China have been approved as buyers. Mr Wijnstekers will hold talks with Chinese and Japanese authorities, as well as traders, on the details of how Cites will monitor the ivory on its arrival in those countries and thereafter, said Cites in a statement.

Cites has stipulated that the proceeds of the sales must be used exclusively for elephant conservation and community development programmes within or next to elephant ranges. “The revenues are expected to boost the countries’ capacity to conserve biodiversity, strengthen enforcement controls and contribute to the livelihoods of the rural people in Southern Africa. All this without affecting negatively African and Asian elephant populations,” said the organisation.

The next auction will be of Botswana’s 44 tonnes on October 31. Then follows Zimbabwe’s four tonnes and South Africa’s 51 tonnes next week.

In a BuaNews report, South African National Parks (SANParks) said the sale of South Africa’s stockpiled ivory will benefit elephant research, conservation and community development. “There is no argument that this money will go a long way towards enhancing conservation research, boosting our enforcement capabilities and helping communities who share land with elephants,” said David Mabunda, the SANParks CEO.

According to BuaNews, the money will also improve conservation through the employment of additional game rangers, obtaining more vehicles, erecting elephant-proof fences where needed and the purchasing of equipment.

But some conservationists argue that legal ivory sales open the doors for laundering of illegal poached ivory. Although conservation efforts in southern and eastern Africa have been successful enough that elephants moved from vulnerable to near threatened on the latest IUCN Red List earlier this month, not all elephants in Africa are adequately protected from poaching, they argue.

The last legal sale was held in 1999, when Japan paid $5-million for almost 50 tonnes of stockpiled ivory. According to Traffic, a joint programme of the WWF and IUCN that monitors the trade in wildlife around the world, the illicit trade in ivory “declined over the next five years” after the 1999 one-off sale. “We hope a similar result is achieved this time,” Traffic said in a statement earlier this year.

In June, Dr Susan Lieberman, director of WWF International’s Species Programme, said: “The sight of ivory openly and illegally on sale in many African cities is likely to be a far more powerful encouragement to those contemplating poaching and smuggling, than a strictly controlled one-off sale. The only way to end elephant poaching is through an effective clampdown on illegal domestic ivory markets.”

Traffic said that China had gained approval to buy ivory in the latest legal sale because it had convinced Cities that it had acted successfully against its own illegal domestic market. Tom Milliken, director of TRAFFIC East/Southern Africa said: “Now China should help other countries do the same, especially in Central Africa where elephant poaching is rampant and Chinese nationals have been implicated in moving ivory out of the region.”

Sources: AFP, BuaNews, Traffic, Cites, BBC

Unique ecosystem found 2,8km down Witwatersrand gold mine

October 14, 2008
Posted in Green News

The rod-shaped D. audaxviator was recovered from water collected in the Mponeng Mine. (Micrograph by Greg Wanger, J. Craig Venter Institute, and Gordon Southam, University of Western Ontario, used with permission)

An organism has been found living in its own little ecosystem 2,8km below the surface of the Earth in the Mponeng gold mine on the Witwatersrand near Johannesburg.

The rod-shaped bacterium, called Desulforudis audaxviator, exists in complete isolation, total darkness, a lack of oxygen, and 60-degree-Celsius heat. It constitutes the first known single-species ecosystem, say researchers.

The bacterium gets its energy from hydrogen and sulphate produced by the radioactive decay of uranium. Because it lives alone, researchers believe that it builds its organic molecules by itself out of water, inorganic carbon, and nitrogen from ammonia in the surrounding rocks and fluid.

Researchers made their remarkable discovery when they drilled into fluid-filled fractures in the mine and extracted about 5,000 litres of water, which they filtered to extract DNA. Using the techniques of environmental genomics, also called metagenomics, the researchers sequenced and analysed the bacterium’s genome.

Just one species

“We knew from previous work in these mines, using molecular biology techniques, that there seemed to be very simple communities living down there,” says Fred Brockman of the Biology Department of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, where the DNA was extracted from the filtered cells.

“We expected we’d have a good chance of assembling one entire genome of the most dominant species, or perhaps 70 to 80 percent of several species.”

But, to the surprise of the researchers, only one organism was present in the DNA.

Dylan Chivian, the bioinformatics lead at the Joint BioEnergy Institute in Berkeley, California, says: “What we instead discovered was that there was only one organism present in the sample. More than 99.9 percent of the DNA came from that single organism, and the tiny remainder appeared to be trace contamination from the mine and the laboratory.”

Even before the analysis was complete it was evident that the lone species’s genome was remarkable, the researchers say.

Completely independent

The genome contained everything needed for the organism to sustain an independent existence and reproduce, including the ability to incorporate the elements necessary for life from inorganic sources, move freely, and protect itself from viruses, harsh conditions, and nutrient-poor periods by becoming a spore.

“One question that has arisen when considering the capacity of other planets to support life is whether organisms can exist independently, without access even to the sun,” says Chivian. “The answer is yes, and here’s the proof. It’s sort of philosophically exciting to know that everything necessary for life can be packed into a single genome.”

D. audaxviator not only has the equipment to get its energy from sulphates, it appears to have “borrowed” genes by horizontal gene transfer from archaea. Some 280 types of bacteria and 44 types of archaea have been found in microbial communities in the South African mines.

Carbon sources

D. audaxviator can get its carbon from a number of sources, depending on the local surroundings, the researcher say. It can digest sugars and amino acids, suggesting that one source of carbon might be the dead cells of other microbes. But in the fluid from the Mponeng mine, it gets carbon from carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, bicarbonate, formate, and other nonbiological sources.

Its nitrogen comes from ammonia released from rocks and dissolved in the fluid, but could, if necessary, extract nitrogen from its surroundings after first converting it to ammonia, say the researchers.

About the only thing D. audaxviator can’t do is resist oxygen, which suggests it hasn’t been exposed to pure oxygen for a very long time – perhaps millions of years.

D. audaxviator’s remarkable capabilities gave rise to its remarkable name. The genus name Desulforudis is from the Latin for “from sulphur” and “rod,” noting its shape and its ability to get energy from sulphates. Audaxviator comes from Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, in a message in Latin deciphered by Verne’s protagonist, Professor Lidenbrock, which reads in part, “descende, Audax viator, et terrestre centrum attinges.” It means “descend, Bold traveller, and attain the centre of the Earth.”

The researchers reported their results in the 10 October 2008 issue of the journal Science.

Source: Berkley Lab

Mammals face extinction crisis, says IUCN report

October 7, 2008
Posted in Conservation

“The damage industries and commerce do to people and the environment is real, it is considerable, and it is unacceptable,” said Valli Moosa, the president of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), who was, until recently, the chairman of South Africa’s electricity utility Eskom.

Speaking at the opening of the conservation body’s 10-day meeting in Barcelona on Sunday, the former SA minister of environmental affairs called on businesses to change their attitudes to environmental issues and largely blamed them and unfettered markets for the world’s environmental woes, the BBC reports.

“Leading entrepreneurs and markets have certainly contributed to the growth of the global economy; yet while individuals may be moral, markets are not,” he was quoted as saying.

A day later the conservation body released its 2008 Red List, the “global standard for conservation monitoring”, which paints a grim picture of the state of the environment. It confirms that the world’s mammals and amphibians face an “extinction crisis”. Read more

We passed Earth’s ecological limit on September 23

October 2, 2008
Posted in Conservation

Since September 23 we Earthlings have been living beyond our ecological means. In fact, by the end of the year we will have used 40 percent more of our planet’s resources than nature can replenish, says the Global Footprint Network, a non-profit organisation committed to a world where all people have the opportunity to live satisfying lives within the means of one planet.

This year we have already overshot the Earth’s biological capacity and the result is that our supply of natural resources – trees and fish and such – will dwindle, while our waste, primarily carbon dioxide, accumulates. We are in ecological debt and we have been for about 20 years.

Every year the date on which the world begins to go into ecological deficit – or Earth Overshoot Day, as it is called – moves forward. The GFN calculated that the first Earth Overshoot day was on December 31 1986. By 1996 humanity was using 15 percent more resources in a year than the planet could supply and Earth Overshoot Day fell on November 21. By 2050 they estimate that it’ll fall in July.

Our ecological footprint has grown rapidly. As recently as 1961 humanity used just over half of the planet’s biocapacity, now we need 1.4 planet Earths to sustain us, says the GFN. If we carry on using the Earth’s resources the way we are we will need the equivalent of two planets by 2050. Read more

Even common birds are in trouble, says BirdLife report

September 22, 2008
Posted in Conservation

Around the world, the numbers of once common birds are falling, providing evidence of a rapid deterioration in the global environment, says BirdLife International in a new publication, State of the World’s Birds, and website, which were launched today.

“Birds provide an accurate and easy-to-read environmental barometer, allowing us to see clearly the pressures our current way of life are putting on the world’s biodiversity”, said Dr Mike Rands, BirdLife’s CEO. Read more

Coral species in hot water

July 11, 2008
Posted in Conservation

A third of the world’s reef-building coral species may be in danger of extinction, reports ScienceExpress. A new comprehensive study of reef-building species suggests that they are surprisingly fragile and sensitive to changes in their environment — such as nutrient overloads caused by agricultural runoff, invasive species, and ocean acidification — the report says.

Most affected are species growing in the Caribbean Sea and in the “Coral Triangle” of the western Pacific, which spans parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, says the report. It adds that the researchers estimate that as recently as a decade ago less than 5% of the affected species would have been considered threatened or near-threatened. Read the full report on ScienceExpress

Picture credit: NOAA

Africa’s environment then and now

June 13, 2008
Posted in Conservation

The satellite pictures on the left show the loss of fynbos in the Western Cape to agricultural and urban expansion between 1978 and 2006. The satellite images are among more than 300 taken all across Africa published in the Atlas of Our Changing Environment, compiled by the UN Environment Programme. The atlas was launched at the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) which met this week in Joburg. The photographs span some 35 years and serve as “before” and “after” shots, showing how Africa’s environment has changed over the years.

The 400-page atlas can be downloaded in pdf fomat There’s also an interactive version where you can explore world maps. Apparently about 120 sites from the atlas can be seen on Google Earth. Read more

Good news for slow-growing trees

March 7, 2008
Posted in Green News

tropical-forest-new.jpgA massive collaborative study of the world’s tropical forests, undertaken in an attempt to clarify what the effect of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and higher temperatures could be on tropical forests, has shown that biodiversity loss may not be as bad as previously thought. A group of 30 forest scientists joined forces to look at 20 year’s worth of tree-width measurements – more than 2-million in all – from 12 tropical forests, ScienceNow Daily News reports.

Previously, studies had suggested that higher carbon dioxide levels and warmer temperatures would benefit fast-growing trees, which would eventually crowd out the slower growing species, resulting in overall biodiversity loss. The results of the latest study show that this does not appear to be the case: fast- and slow-growing trees increased roughly equally in biomass during the years of study, the report said.

Another theory is that climate change could have a “fertilisation effect” that helps all forest species to grow faster. The study did not show clearly whether this is in fact the case, though. Overall forest biomass was found to have increased, but it may not be anything to do with carbon dioxide and warming temperatures, a co-author of the study said. The forest may have been recovering from other stressors such as logging or El Nino events. Another study is planned for later this year in the Amazon to look further at the fertilisation issue.

African Development Bank to fund Congo forest conservation

February 27, 2008
Posted in Conservation

The African Development Bank Group has announced that it plans to invest $814-million in biodiversity conservation and natural resources management in the Congo Basin.

The Congo Basin contains the second largest remaining humid tropical forest in the world, but it is threatened by commercial logging, mining and large-scale commercial hunting for bush meat and ivory.

Via:: Environment News Service