Thursday, June 26, 2008

Help Save the Cheetahs

West to Help
Save Cheetahs
Iranian and western wildlife experts are working together to save rare cheetahs from extinction in Yazd province which is an arid and a mountainous region.
US- and British-based conservation groups are backing a campaign spearheaded by Iran’s Department of Environment (DoE) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to prevent the endangered Asiatic cheetah from dying out.
Iran is believed to host the only 60 - 100 Asiatic cheetahs left in the wild. Some eke out a living in a forbidding terrain of jagged peaks, deep gorges and bone-dry plains in the Kuh-e Bafgh protected area in Yazd province in central Iran, Reuters reported.
The sleek and spotted cats once roamed between the Arabian peninsula and India, but their number in Iran is estimated to have fallen by roughly half in the last three decades.

“This is a wonderful case of the urgent conservation needs of the cheetah transcending political differences,“ executive director Luke Hunter of Panthera, a non-governmental organization (NGO) in New York, said in an e-mail.
But Hunter, an Australian, said he believed “both Iranians and Americans realize that we cannot afford to allow politics to affect the cheetahs. If we did, we could lose them.“
Iranian officials expressed similar views.
“I love anybody who works for conservation and wildlife protection. It doesn’t matter who it is,“ said Ali Akhbar Karimi, a 59-year-old veteran from Iran’s Department of Environment in Yazd province.
Until the first half of the 20th century, Iran was home to four of the so-called big cats -- including lions and tigers -- but now only leopards and cheetahs remain.
The Asiatic cheetah is closely related to its better-known African counterpart, a killing machine that can reach speeds of over 60 miles an hour in pursuit of its prey.

Population Pressure
In Iran, cheetahs have been pushed close to extinction by increased population pressure and a lack of resources to protect them, with villagers hunting their prey for food and herds of sheep and goat encroaching on their habitats.
“We need to do something urgent to save them,“ said Iranian biologist Houman Jowkar, field director for US-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Yazd.
“It is a national treasure.“
The Kuh-e Bafgh Protected Area, stretching for 885 sq km (342 sq miles) across a remote part of Yazd, is one of five such pockets of land in Iran where the cheetah still holds out, despite the poaching of gazelles and other prey.
It is hard to believe anything or anybody can thrive in the rocky and bushy landscape, parched brown already in May.
Temperatures here soar to around 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) in the summer and plunge below freezing in winter.
Karimi said he had seen several cheetahs this year, including females with cubs, offering hope for the future.
None was in sight, however, when he took this reporter and a photographer on a three-hour trek across ravines and ridges.
Scanning the landscape with his binoculars, Karimi said he suspected a leopard or a cheetah was nearby as the wild goats normally grazing here seemed to have been frightened off.
“These are the remains of a cheetah kill,“ he said pointing at a white bone lying on the ground.

Iran’s Department of Environment and the UNDP joined forces to launch the cheetah project in 2001, with the help of well-known US wildlife biologist George Schaller.
His emergency recommendations included increased anti-poaching efforts and the appointment of new game guards.
Panthera and the WCS provide funds, expertise and training, while the Zoological Society of London also gives money.

Flagship Conservation Project
In early 2007, the WCS introduced a program to trap up to eight of the cheetahs and fit them with radio-tracking collars to follow their movements and learn more about them.
“You must know where it lives exactly,“ said Jowkar.
Adapting to the harsh surroundings, Iran’s cheetahs have developed different behavior from the cheetahs living in greater numbers on the savannahs of Africa.
Jowkar said there were signs the Iranian cats were active at night, and they also had thicker fur during winter.
Only two cheetahs have been caught so far and fitted with collars, and one of those was later killed by a leopard in a fight over food. But Jowkar said he hoped the capture season starting in November would be more successful.
“We know the area better, we know the habitat better, and probably we can catch more cheetahs,“ he said.
Mehdi Kamyab, a senior UNDP official in Tehran, described the campaign to save the wild cat as a “flagship conservation project“ using new techniques and methods.
The initial $750,000 budget, for which the UNDP was responsible, has been virtually depleted but more would be injected, he said. The WCS and the DoE also provide funding.
“This is just a start, obviously. We need to build on this,“ Kamyab said. “It is still an endangered species.“
Hunter said the program had so far been “reasonably successful“ as cheetah numbers seemed to have stabilized. He praised the DoE for raising local awareness and increasing penalties for those killing the animals.
“However, there is still a very serious problem with the hunting of the cheetah prey in some areas,“ he said.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sparrows on a snow covered tree in Tehran.

093069.jpg Sparrows on a snow covered tree in Tehran.

Olm a blind salamander and Chinese giant salamander

Amphibians at Risk
Olm (left) a blind salamander and Chinese giant salamander (right) that can grow up to 1.8m in length.
They could all merit a place in a gallery of Nature’s strangest creatures. But apart from their strange looks and shapes they have one thing in common--they are all in danger of extinction.
Amphibians as a rule are not cute and cuddly which puts them way down the pecking order of species that need to be saved, reported.
But they are a key indicator species and if they start to decline it is a clear warning that the environment is in trouble.
The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) has drawn up a list of some of the world’s most extraordinary creatures threatened with extinction.
They found 85 percent of the top 100 of the ’world’s weirdest and most endangered creatures’ are receiving little conservation attention and will disappear if no action is taken.
They include exotically-named species such as the Lungless salamander and the Betic midwife toad.
All amphibian species were assessed according to how Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered they are and as a result ZSL has launched an amphibians conservation and fundraising initiative which it has called EDGE.
The amphibians are those with few close relatives and are highly distinct genetically.
They are also critically endangered and desperately in need of immediate action to save them.
By mathematically combining a measure of each species’ unique evolutionary history with its threat of extinction, the scientists were able to give species an EDGE value and rank them accordingly.
ZSL has identified and is starting work to protect 10 of the most unusual and threatened EDGE amphibian species this year. They include:

-Chinese giant salamander (salamander that can grow up to 1.8m in length and evolved independently from all other amphibians over 100m years before Tyrannosaurus rex)

-Sagalla caecilian (limbless amphibian with sensory tentacles on the sides of its head)

-Purple frog (purple-pigmented frog that was only discovered in 2003 because it spends most of the year buried up to 4m underground)

-Ghost frogs of South Africa (one species is found only in the traditional human burial grounds of Skeleton Gorge in Table Mountain, South Africa)

-Olm (blind salamander with transparent skin that lives underground, hunts for its prey by smell and electrosensitivity and can survive without food for 10 years)
-Lungless salamanders of Mexico (highly endangered salamanders that do not have lungs but instead breathe through their skin and mouth lining)

-Malagasy rainbow frog (highly-decorated frog that inflates itself when under threat and can climb vertical rock surfaces)

-Chile Darwin’s frog (a frog where fathers protect the young in their mouths. This species has not been officially seen since around 1980 and may now be extinct)

-Betic midwife toad (toads that evolved from all others over 150m years ago--the males carry the fertilized eggs wrapped around their hind legs)

Leatherback sea turtles

Turtle Sets Record
Leatherback sea turtles
A turtle has set a new record for the longest recorded migration journey through the ocean.
The tagged female leatherback turtle crossed the Pacific from west to east and then part of the way back again.
It was tracked by satellite for 647 days and covered at least 12,774 miles before the signal was lost, according to
The turtle’s epic journey took it from Jamursba-Medi beach in Papua, Indonesia where it was first recorded nesting, to Oregon on the Pacific northwest coast of America.
Of vertebrates that travel through the ocean, the leatherback’s journey was the longest ever recorded.
The leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) is the most widely distributed marine reptile on the planet and is found in warm open seas across the world including the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans.
But they have also been seen in freezing waters off Argentina, southern Chile, and Tasmania as well as the subarctic northern latitudes off Alaska, Nova Scotia, and the North Sea.
They are massive creatures and can span nine feet from the tip of one front flipper to the tip of the other and can weigh 1,200lbs.
Adults migrate from their temperate feeding and foraging areas to tropical breeding grounds and tagging is gradually unlocking some of the secrets of their migration paths.
Work by the US National Marine Fisheries Service, at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, with international partners in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands has revealed that leatherĂ°backs living in the North Pacific, including waters near the US west coast, are part of the western Pacific breeding population.
Details of the turtle’s odyssey were given in the State of the World’s Sea Turtles (SWOT) magazine at the 28th Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation, being held in Loreto, Baja California Sur, Mexico.
Scott Benson, one of the scientists involved in the research, said: “Understanding sea turtles’ and other marine animals’ movements in this way is critical to ensuring their protection.
Ocean-going animals often pass through multiple nations’ territories and international waters as they migrate, making their survival the responsibility of not just one nation but many.“
Roderic B Mast, chief editor of SWOT, said: “SWOT report is all about providing a global perspective of sea turtles to encourage international protection of these ancient, endangered animals.“
He added, “This one leatherback’s migration provides a perfect example of how marine conservation strategies must be as global as the ocean life we are trying to safeguard.“