Newly developed camera system to aid the EWT in the prevention of power line collisions

The EWT recently took another important step towards minimising the impact of power lines on birds. As part of a long-term strategic partnership with Eskom, two specially designed cameras were fitted to a stretch of power line in De Aar located in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, with the aim of better understanding, and therefore minimising the threats to birds from energy infrastructure.
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The Bird Detection System (BDS) is a South African-designed concept that uses a high-resolution camera with image processing capabilities to detect movement, including birds, in the frame. It was designed when the EWT expressed a need for an affordable, versatile product that would assist in the research of bird collisions. After three years of hard work, dedication and testing, the product was ready to be trialled out in the field. The BDS, which is solar powered, is the first real-time system to transmit data such as video clips or photos directly to a user’s cell phone or data bank, with information uploaded straight to a cloud server for easy retrieval. This enables team members to count birds, identify species, and observe behaviour. The software and settings can also be configured remotely, eliminating the need for field maintenance, while the camera has an hourly self-check system and reboots every 24 hours. The BDS is fully adaptable to user requirements, and can also be used during Environmental Impact Assessments as a tool for specialists conducting surveys.

Eight years of research have shown that the installation location in De Aar is the most impacted by bird mortalities, making it an ideal site for this trial. The EWT Wildlife and Energy Programme Manager, Constant Hoogstad, says, “This device will enable us to gather information about the time of day or night these collisions occur, what the weather conditions are like at the time, and the behaviour of the bird right before colliding with a power line. This will give us far greater insight into what causes these collisions and allow us to find more effective ways to reduce them.”

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Contacts
Constant Hoogstad
Manager: Wildlife and Energy Programme
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
constanth@ewt.org.za

Belinda Glenn
Communication and Brand Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
belindag@ewt.org.za

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Join us in creating history and celebrating our froggy friends: the EWT’s Official Guinness World Record Attempt for the largest game of Leapfrog

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13 February 2017

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This February, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) is inviting you to leap into action for frogs – literally –  and stand the chance to make history by breaking the Guinness World Record for the largest game of leapfrog!

Leap Day for Frogs is held annually in the last weekend of February to raise awareness of the plight of these special amphibians and to celebrate the amazing diversity of South African frogs. Frogs are often met with negative reactions and mixed attitudes, and Leap Day for Frogs aims to help to dispel some of these connotations and educate people about the importance of frogs to our environment. The day calls on ordinary South Africans to leap into action and do something to celebrate and protect one of the most threatened group of animals on Earth: frogs! These important creatures, which are critical indicators of our freshwater health, are disappearing all over the planet, largely because of habitat destruction and pollution. Leap Day for Frogs is a national event and we invite everyone, wherever you are, to take part. We would love to hear what you are doing so please register your event and take a look at our website for ideas: http://www.leapdayforfrogs.org.za/help.html.
Frogs are famous for leaping across long distances and can manage up to 20 times their own body length in a single leap! The South African Cape River Frog holds the world record for Frog Jumping – the longest distance covered in three consecutive jumps – at 10.3 m…not bad for a 5 cm frog! So it seems only fitting that on Friday, 24 February 2017, as part of the overall Leap Day for Frogs, the EWT will be attempting to break the world record for the largest game of leapfrog. The record is currently held by New Zealand with 1,348 participants, so we are aiming for 1,500 participants. This exciting event will be held on the Durban beachfront promenade (near uShaka Marine World), in the process bringing people, especially school learners, to this wonderful area. We will be strictly adhering to Guinness World Record rules, including crowd management, counting systems, and health and safety. Event partners include eThekwini Parks and Recreation, and uShaka Marine World. Participants will receive a sponsored educational pack (per school class) as well as a refreshment. Spot prizes will also be awarded.
There are 125 frog species in South Africa, of which a third are threatened by habitat destruction, increasing levels of pollution in freshwater systems, disease and climate change. The EWT’s Threatened Amphibian Programme is working hard to secure populations of some of South Africa’s most threatened amphibian species (including the Critically Endangered Amathole Toad, the Endangered Pickersgill’s Reed Frog, and the Endangered Western Leopard Toad); protect key habitats for threatened amphibians; and raise awareness about frogs and their importance, making Leap Day for Frogs a very important day. It’s also a day to have fun, so round up your friends, family or school group on Friday, 24 February, and hop on over!
AGENDA
9:30 – Participants arrive
9:30-10:00 – Participants are allocated positions
10:00-10:10 – Participants take part in the leapfrog game
10:15-10:45 – Refreshments, spot prizes and educational packs (per school class attending) are handed out
11:00 – Departure
In keeping with Guinness World Record requirements, the event will be marshalled for safety and independently verified.
For more information on this frog-tastic event, please contact Dr Jeanne Tarrant at JeanneT@ewt.org.za or visit www.leapdayforfrogs.org.za
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Contacts
Dr Jeanne Tarrant
Manager: Threatened Amphibian Programme
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 83 254 9563
jeannet@ewt.org.za

Belinda Glenn
Communication and Brand Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
belindag@ewt.org.za

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CELEBRATING WORLD WETLANDS DAY

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1 February
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World Wetlands Day, celebrated annually on 2 February, provides an opportunity to celebrate a natural resource that is critical for people, the environment, and biodiversity. Wetlands come in all shapes and forms, from estuaries along our beautiful coastlines and high altitude inland wetlands within the grasslands of Mpumalanga, to the hard working wetlands within our urban landscapes. Much of our conservation effort within the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) is centred around the protection, restoration, and management of wetlands and the catchments that feed them, and we encourage you to celebrate World Wetlands Day with us.

Two of South Africa’s three crane species, the Grey Crowned and Wattled Crane, are completely dependent on wetlands for their survival – yet both are threatened with extinction. Their threatened status mirrors the loss of wetlands in our country, with an estimated 50% of wetlands completely transformed in South Africa. The African Crane Conservation Programme (ACCP), a partnership between the EWT and the International Crane Foundation, has used these charismatic, long-lived birds as flagships for wetland protection, restoration and management.

The ACCP’s South Africa Regional Manager, Tanya Smith, confirms that the efforts of the ACCP team and its partners have ensured the protection of nearly 100,000 ha of grasslands, wetlands and associated rivers in important catchments for people and cranes in South Africa over the past five years. The protection of the key water resources contributes to the long-term security of our water supply for millions of people in South Africa.

From large charismatic cranes to the small and slippery, wetlands are home to many. Globally, amphibians are the most threatened class of vertebrate with 32.5% of species currently listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable. Approximately 800 species of amphibians make exclusive use of wetland habitats. Here in South Africa, a tiny frog the size of your thumbnail is found only in 25 wetlands along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline. Therefore, a key focal species of the EWT’s Threatened Amphibian Programme (TAP), is the Endangered Pickersgill’s Reed Frog. These coastal wetlands are unique in their structure and are themselves classified as Critically Endangered. “The presence of flagship species that depend on wetlands for their survival really helps leverage support for the protection and restoration of wetlands,” says Dr Jeanne Tarrant, TAP Programme Manager. The EWT embarked on an ambitious journey to restore four of these wetlands in the Durban area through alien plant control, re-establishment of indigenous plants and assessing wetland rehabilitation needs and this year will be working towards formal protection of two of these wetlands through community stewardship models.

This year’s World Wetland Day theme is “Wetlands for disaster risk reduction” and this theme truly celebrates the services wetlands provide for us free of charge. Wetlands greatly reduce the impacts of flooding by slowing down the flow of water, and reduce the impacts of droughts by slowly releasing water to our streams and rivers. In the current drought gripping much of South Africa, the role and protection of healthy wetlands has never been more important.

The EWT is involved with several World Wetlands Day celebratory events around the country. In KwaZulu-Natal, World Wetlands Day will be celebrated at the Greater Edendale Mall wetland in Pietermaritzburg on 2 February from 10am. This is a collaboration of all partners of the KwaZulu-Natal Wetland Forum and will see over 300 children learning about and experiencing the value of wetlands. In the Eastern Cape, the EWT and the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa have partnered to get our future generation’s hands dirty experiencing the wetlands of the Amathole area, where the EWT has been implementing catchment restoration work for the past three years. Lastly, in Gauteng, World Wetlands Day will be celebrated on 17 February at Tembisa Esselen Park Pan. A fun day of activities is planned, so be on the lookout for the EWT stand.

Later on in the month, you can get involved in raising awareness for our special wetland dwellers, the frogs, by joining in on a number of Leap Day for Frogs activities, including the EWT’s attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the largest game of leapfrog on Friday, 24 February. This exciting event gets underway at 10am on the Durban beachfront promenade near uShaka Marine World. Find out more by visiting www.leapdayforfrogs.org.za or emailing JeanneT@ewt.org.za

You can make a difference to our wetlands all year round in a number of different ways, including:
  1. Planning a wetland clean up in your community with local schools and parents.
  2. Reducing your waste, reusing bottles and containers you would normally throw away, use reusable shopping bags and recycle! Our water resources like rivers and wetlands are heavily impacted on by litter and waste, so these small actions can make a huge difference.
  3. Reporting any illegal dumping in wetlands and rivers to your local municipality or police station.
  4. Supporting the efforts of organisations like the EWT in protecting wetlands on your behalf.
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Contacts
Tanya Smith
South Africa Regional Manager: African Cranes Conservation Programme
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 11 372 3600
tanyas@ewt.org.za

Dr Jeanne Tarrant
Manager: Threatened Amphibian Programme
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 11 372 3600
jeannet@ewt.org.za

Bridget Corrigan
Manager: Source to Sea Programme
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 11 372 3600
bridgetc@ewt.org.za

Belinda Glenn
Communication and Brand Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 11 372 3600
belindag@ewt.org.za

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Public Response to the Department of Environmental Affairs’ Proposed Captive Lion Bone Export Quota

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Endangered Wildlife Trust, Centre for Environmental Rights, Wildlands Conservation Trust, National Association of Conservancies / Stewardship SA

At the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), convened in Johannesburg in September 2016, the South African government undertook to CITES to set a “annual export quotas for trade in bones, bone pieces, bone products, claws, skeletons, skulls and teeth for commercial purposes derived from captive bred (lion) operations in South Africa”. At a meeting in Pretoria on 18th January 2017, the national Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and the Scientific Authority convened a stakeholder consultation meeting where they proposed that this quota be set at 800 skeletons (with or without the skull) per year for the international trade in lion bones, and that no trade will be allowed in bone products, fragments, teeth, etc. These skeletons can be sourced from captive animals that were hunted, euthanised or died naturally.

The undersigned organisations recognise that captive-origin lion bones have been traded from South Africa for several years and that trade volumes have increased annually since 2007. We firmly believe that trade quotas should be evidence-driven, and should only be set after robust scientific research has shown that there is no undue risk to wild populations. However, we also recognise that, given the historic precedent of South African lion bone exports, there could be unpredictable and unintended consequences for wild lion conservation (e.g. the poaching of wild lions to supply the demand), should the trade be summarily suspended through a zero quota (although these risks are purely speculative and not currently supported by any data).

In principle, the undersigned organisations:

  • Do not support the commercial captive breeding of carnivores because it does not contribute to the sustainable, responsible use of our wildlife resources and, in some cases, may have negative impacts on the conservation of these species in the wild.
  • Are concerned for the welfare of captive animals and about the current legislative loopholes that make policing and prosecution of welfare offences difficult.
  • Support the conservation of wild carnivores, such as lions, in their natural habitat, where they contribute to biodiversity conservation as keystone and flagship species, and where their health and welfare are not compromised.
  • Are concerned that promoting the captive breeding of wild animals for their parts is contrary to modern global trends and opinion. For example, at the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) World Conservation Congresses held in Honolulu, Hawaii, in September 2016, a formal motion was passed to stop the canned hunting and non-conservation based captive breeding of lion and other predators. Additionally, at the CITES CoP in Johannesburg a decision was made that tigers should no longer be bred for their parts or derivatives and only the minimum number of captive tigers should be kept to meet conservation requirements.

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We recognise that the South African government is in a challenging position and needs to balance the demands of the industry with the urgent need for effective wild lion conservation. We thus applaud DEA for taking positive steps towards better regulation of the captive lion industry and its related activities. We understand that the quota of 800 skeletons per year is not evidence-based, but that DEA and the Scientific Authority will also be undertaking a three-year study in order to better understand the industry, investigate impacts of the bone trade on wild lion populations and provide data for annual quota reviews. We understand that this process follows the principles of adaptive management, which are widely used in systems that are poorly understood.

We are mindful that this study will put South Africa in a better position to evaluate the impact of captive lion bone trade, however, in order to do this effectively, we urge DEA and the Scientific Authority to ensure that the study incorporates a range of broader questions including, but not limited to:

  • Does the government have the capacity to effectively monitor and enforce trade regulations including permitting, inspections and export controls?
  • Can effective traceability systems be implemented to track lion bones across the entire trade chain?
  • How will the quota be allocated by province and by breeder, and what systems need to be in place to avoid corruption and bribery?
  • How can lion bones from captive lions be distinguished from those of wild lions and what processes need to be in place to prevent leakage from illegal sources to legal ones?
  • How will the legal trade out of South Africa affect the illegal trade in the rest of Africa?
  • What are the current and predicted future dynamics of consumer markets and what impact will they will have on the future demand for, and prices of, lion bones?
  • What are the potential impacts of lion bone trade on wild lion populations?
  • What are the possible impacts on wild tiger populations through increased demand for tiger bone (as lion bone is a substitute product)?
  • To what degree do South African captive lion breeding facilities conform to or comply with internationally accepted animal welfare standards, and how will these be enforced?
  • How can legislative loopholes regarding captive wildlife welfare be addressed?
  • Does captive trade adequately adhere to the spirit of sustainable utilisation, where both wildlife and communities benefit from the utilisation of natural resources?
  • What is the potential damage to “brand South Africa” as a result of increased national and international public pressure to end captive carnivore operations, and which may have a detrimental impact on South Africa’s tourism industry?

If these questions cannot be adequately investigated and addressed, then it is evident that the practice of captive breeding for lion bone trade should not be considered a viable component of South Africa’s wildlife economy.

The undersigned organisations are prepared to, wherever possible, collaborate with and assist DEA and the Scientific Authority in the carrying-out of the CITES-recommended study, in order to achieve the best possible result for DEA, South Africa and its lion population.

The DEA has called for public input into this process. All documents and presentations from the stakeholder engagement workshop are available here. All comments to be directed to Mr Mpho Tjiane, Deputy Director: CITES Policy Development and Implementation, Biodiversity and Conservation mtjiane@environment.gov.za before 2 February 2017.

CONTACT:

Dr Kelly Marnewick

Manager: Carnivore Conservation Programme

kellym@ewt.org.za

082 477 4470

011 372 3600

 

Belinda Glenn

Communication and Brand Manager

Endangered Wildlife Trust

Tel: +27 11 372 3600

belindag@ewt.org.za

 

Dr Harriet Davies-Mostert

Head of Conservation

harrietd@ewt.org.za

082 507 9223

011 372 3600

 

The Centre for Environmental Rights

www.cer.org.za

Aadila Agjee

Attorney

aagjee@cer.org.za

084 673 4442

 

Wildlands Conservation Trust

www.wildlands.co.za

Dr Andrew Venter

Chief Executive Officer

AndrewV@wildlands.co.za

083 324 7487

033 343 6380

 

National Association of Conservancies / Stewardship SA

www.nacdnet.org

John Wesson

Chairman

jjwesson674@gmail.com

083 444 7649

012 504 1408

 

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2016 Red List of Mammals of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland

ewt-sanbi

The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) launched the 2016 Red List of Mammals of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland in December 2016. Each week, we’ll be bringing you new species assessments, and introducing you to our Mammal of the Week, based on this updated Red List.

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Four-toed Sengi (Petrodromus tetradactylus)

Our Mammal of the Week is the Four-toed Sengi. This little mammal, possibly the cutest and largest of the African sengi species, is the second most widespread sengi in Africa. Within the assessment region (South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland) they are limited to the northern region of the Kruger National Park and the eastern area of KwaZulu-Natal (specifically around iSimangaliso Wetland Park). When alarmed the Four-toed Sengi rapidly stamps its hind feet on the ground, which can be heard many metres away. Threats to the species include loss of habitat and the intentional use for bushmeat. Previously listed as Endangered, the Four-toed Sengi has been downlisted in the 2016 Regional Red List Assessment to Near Threatened as a result of new information gleaned over the past decade. READ MORE ON OUR WEBSITE – https://www.ewt.org.za/Reddata/reddata.html

The 2016 Red List of Mammals of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland was funded via the South African National Biodiversity Institute (through a grant by the Norwegian Government that aims to build capacity in the southern Africa region for undertaking assessments), the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the Department of Environmental Affairs, E Oppenheimer & Son and De Beers Group of Companies.

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WHY DID THE BULLFROG CROSS THE ROAD?

Would you cross a busy road, knowing that you might not make it safely across? Unlikely, so why do hundreds of Giant Bullfrogs do it each year?

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The Giant Bullfrog is the second largest species of frog in the world, and an iconic species in Gauteng, which is the stronghold of their distributional range in South Africa. Loss of grassland and pan habitat within this rapidly urbanising area is threatening the species’ survival. This includes both the direct impacts of roads, such as being killed by vehicles, and the indirect impacts, such as being prevented from reaching breeding sites from over-wintering sites. The species is also an explosive breeder – emerging from underground burrows where they spend much of the year for only a few weeks in summer. With the recent heavy rains in Gauteng, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) has received unprecedented reports of Giant Bullfrog sightings, including many of roadkill occurring at several sites.

The EWT is continuing its work to help prevent roadkill of this iconic species by informing members of the public when the bullfrogs are going to be active. January is anticipated to be the next period of activity for the bullfrog and we are calling on members of the public to assist us through being our watchdogs on the roads. If you find a bullfrog on the road, dead or alive, please send us a photograph, the location (preferably GPS coordinates) and road name, as well as the number of bullfrogs seen, to roads@ewt.org.za. If you find an injured bullfrog, it can still be saved by taking it to your local veterinarian.

Your reports will assist us in identifying breeding sites and areas that require potential conservation action to reduce the roadkill. Other plans to protect these animals include modification of under-road culverts and encouraging the bullfrogs to make use of these passages as crossing routes to their breeding sites. Reducing incidences of roadkill of this species will contribute to alleviating the threats facing these animals, and given their high visibility and short breeding season, is a project that could have high impact for their ongoing survival.

Together, we can make a difference on our country’s roads – will you help?

The EWT’s Wildlife and Roads Project is supported by Bridgestone SA, N3 Toll Concession, Bakwena Platinum Corridor Concession and TRAC N4.

Contacts

Wendy Collinson

Project Executant: Wildlife & Roads Project

Endangered Wildlife Trust

Tel: +27 11 372 3600

wendyc@ewt.org.za

 

Constant Hoogstad

Manager: Wildlife & Energy Programme & Wildlife & Roads Project

Endangered Wildlife Trust

Tel: +27 11 372 3600

constanth@ewt.org.za

 

Dr Jeanne Tarrant

Manager: Threatened Amphibian Programme

Endangered Wildlife Trust

Tel: +27 11 372 3600

jeannet@ewt.org.za

 

Belinda Glenn

Communication and Brand Manager

Endangered Wildlife Trust

Tel: +27 11 372 3600

belindag@ewt.org.za

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The revised Red List of mammals reveals larger battles for conservation

ewt-sanbi

The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) are excited to launch the 2016 Red List of Mammals of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. This Red List provides an up-to-date assessment of the state of our mammals, of which 57 (17%) are deemed to be threatened with extinction and 34 (10%) are Near Threatened. The general public will not be familiar with many of our threatened species as they have restricted ranges and are rarely seen, such as the Golden Moles (order Afrosoricida) or the endemic White-tailed Rat (Mystromys albicaudatusi).

Overall, 331 species, subspecies or subpopulations were assessed, compared to 295 in the 2004 assessment, where 19% of taxa were threatened and 13% were Near Threatened. While it appears that there are proportionately fewer threatened species currently, most of these changes were non-genuine due to improved knowledge on their distribution, abundance and taxonomy. However, of the genuine changes detected thus far, 19 (66%) are uplistings (more threatened). This indicates that no net conservation gains have been made over the past decade.

Life on Earth is undergoing its sixth major extinction crisis. To understand this crisis, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) established the Red List in 1963 to objectively categorise the probability of extinction for every species on the planet. Assessments are carried out through vast networks of scientists, conservationists and other stakeholders pooling their knowledge. Red Lists have become the backbone of global conservation as a unified and standardised tool to measure biodiversity loss and inform policy and conservation planning. The 2016 Red List of Mammals of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland was produced by the EWT and SANBI, with collaboration from the universities of Cape Town and Pretoria’s MammalMAP and the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC), provincial and national conservation agencies, museums and universities.

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The threats that mammals face are broad and complex, and conservationists must tackle multiple ongoing challenges to address them effectively. Habitat loss from agricultural, industrial (including renewable energy) and human settlement expansion continues to impact on key habitats, such as grasslands and wetlands. This expansion also fragments remaining habitats, with most of our larger species left isolated in fenced-off protected areas. Compounding this, climate change is projected to increase drought conditions in the western parts of South Africa and to reduce the amount of specific habitats, such as Afromontane grasslands (impacting the Forest Shrews Myosorex spp. amongst others) and ephemeral wetlands (impacting Roan Antelope Hippotragus equinus amongst others).

Agricultural, industrial and settlement expansion also tend to increase the rates of damaging human activities, such as fuelwood harvesting, overgrazing, pollution, electric fence erection and water abstraction, that continue to threaten species that rely on productive and connected habitats such as grasslands, wetlands and riparian corridors. This impacts many species, including the Riverine Rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis – Critically Endangered), African Striped Weasel (Poecilogale albinucha – Near Threatened) and Spotted-necked Otter (Hydrictis maculicollis – Vulnerable).

Expansion of human settlements, especially along protected area edges, also likely increases hunting intensity for bushmeat and/or traditional medicine and cultural regalia, as well as increasing the number of animals killed incidentally in snares, which impacts species ranging from African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus – Endangered) and Leopard (Panthera pardus – Vulnerable) to Temminck’s Ground Pangolin (Smutsia temminckii – Vulnerable) and Mountain Reedbuck (Redunca fulvorufula – Endangered).

Similarly, the expanding scale of illegal sport hunting with dogs directly threatens many species, such as Oribi (Ourebia ourebi – Endangered). Compounding this is the emerging threat of international wildlife trafficking syndicates that are beginning to heavily impact on species desired for overseas markets, such as rhinos (White Rhino, Ceratotherium simum – Near Threatened; and Black Rhino, Diceros bicornis – Endangered) and pangolins.

However, it is not all doom and gloom. South Africa boasts some real conservation success stories, often driven by cooperation between conservationists and the private sector. The Bontebok (Damaliscus pygargus pygargus – Vulnerable), for example, was saved from the brink of extinction by a few prescient landowners in Bredasdorp, and today both the Cape Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra zebra) and the South African populations of African Lion (Panthera leo) have been listed as Least Concern, due largely to their expansion on private protected areas. Innovative interventions such as the Badger Friendly Honey Programme, livestock guarding dogs and biodiversity stewardship schemes are beginning to have a positive impact on many species, from Honey Badgers (Mellivora capensis – Least Concern) to Oribi.

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Conservationists will continue to fight to protect all our species and landscapes. Citizens can help mammal conservation by contributing to citizen science projects, such as submitting sightings (especially outside protected areas), to virtual museum platforms (such as MammalMAP and iSpot), dropping internal fences to form conservancies (especially relevant for landowners) and simply visiting our many formally protected areas so that they can better perform their functions.

Overall, South African mammals exemplify contrasting trends in conservation. While many species are increasing in number and geographical distribution thanks to protected area expansion, biodiversity stewardship and private wildlife ownership, many others are declining, even within protected areas, due to ongoing habitat loss and degradation of sensitive environments, wildlife trafficking, and bushmeat hunting. For example, White and Black Rhino, Leopard, Mountain Reedbuck and Humpback Dolphin (Sousa plumbea – Endangered) all have a worse conservation status in 2016 than in 2004.

The 2016 Mammal Red List of South Africa Lesotho and Swaziland forms part of a series of national Red List projects recently completed by SANBI and partners, which include butterflies, reptiles and birds. The revision was made possible by over 400 experts who provided their data and expertise to inform each assessment. It was funded via the South African National Biodiversity Institute (through a grant by the Norwegian Government that aims to build capacity in the southern Africa region for undertaking assessments), the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the Department of Environmental Affairs, E Oppenheimer & Son and De Beers Group of Companies. The summary 2016 listings are available at https://www.ewt.org.za/Reddata/reddata.html and the full assessment accounts for all species will be released in early 2017.

For more information and to set up an interview contact:

Matthew Child
Mammal Red List Coordinator
South African National Biodiversity Institute
Email: m.child@sanbi.org.za

Dr Harriet Davies-Mostert
Head of Conservation
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Email: harrietd@ewt.org.za
Tel: +27 11 372 3600

Domitilla Raimondo
Threatened Species Programme Manager
Biodiversity Research and Monitoring
South African National Biodiversity Institute
IUCN Red List Committee
Email: d.raimondo@sanbi.org.za
Tel: +27 11 483 5000

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Unlikely heroes – rats to the rescue?

African Giant Pouched Rats (Cricetomys ansorgei) are well-known to be able to successfully detect landmines and tuberculosis, but can that success be extended to helping in the fight against wildlife crime? The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) is about to find out!

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The EWT is embarking on an exciting new trial, in partnership with Tanzanian based APOPO, and funded by US Fish and Wildlife Services, to determine whether these special rodents can help detect illegal shipments of pangolin skin and scales, with pangolins being the most widely trafficked mammals in the world; and hardwood timber in shipping containers. Kirsty Brebner of the EWT’s Wildlife in Trade Programme, who is heading up the project, explains: “The African Giant Pouched Rats’ keen sense of smell will, during this ‘proof of concept’ phase, first be assessed in a laboratory environment to see whether they are able to discriminate between the target substances and a wide variety of other control substances. During this initial phase, an appropriate indication mechanism will also be developed and the best operational option for the rats to detect hardwoods and pangolins in containers will be assessed.”

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Currently, contraband, particularly when smuggled in large volumes, is often transported from Africa in shipping containers. This presents a particularly challenging environment for law enforcement officials at ports. The sheer volume of cargo going through ports makes scanning every container using X-ray scanners virtually impossible, and X-ray techniques are unable to differentiate between different types of organic material. Dogs have been successfully used to detect wildlife contraband, and have been used for shipping containers. However, the fact that shipping containers are sealed, and only provide limited scent to the dogs, creates a challenging environment for detection. The use of a remote air sampling system, where air from a container is sucked onto a filter which is then presented to a dog to determine if contraband is present, has been used successfully. This exciting new trial by the EWT builds on the use of scent detection by dogs, but will take advantage of the rats’ added agility and ability to access the container vents, which would provide the most air from the container, and potentially the most scent. Alternatively, the rats will detect scents sampled onto a filter through the vents. The testing of these two options forms part of the initial trial.

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Should this ‘proof of concept’ prove successful, it would have a major impact on illegal wildlife trafficking. These unlikely heroes could then be further trained to potentially search for other widely trafficked species such as elephant ivory and rhino horn.

Contacts:
Kirsty Brebner
Rhino Project Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
+27 11 372 3600
KirstyB@ewt.org.za

Adam Pires
Wildlife in Trade Programme Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
+27 11 372 3600
AdamP@ewt.org.za

Belinda Glenn
Communication and Brand Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 11 372 3600
BelindaG@ewt.org.za

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Black Crowned Cranes: A Species at the Crossroads

Black Crowned Cranes Balearica pavonina are residents of the Sahel regions of Africa from Mauratania on the Atlantic coast in West Africa to the Western Ethiopian Highlands and Rift Valley in Ethiopia in the east.  This crane is the least well known of the world’s 15 crane species.  Although currently classified as Vulnerable, it is highly likely that this crane is in a far worse situation.  Affected significantly by droughts in the semi-arid environments it is often found in, this species is also threatened by habitat loss, human related disturbance which results in reduced breeding productivity, and the illegal removal of chicks and adults from the wild for domestic and international captive trade markets.  Sadly, its range too has reduced significantly from a once almost continuous distribution to a highly fragmented one.bcc-on-northern-baila-river-1

 

Black Crowned Cranes in Casamance

Since the status survey and action plan for Black Crowned Cranes was compiled in 2003 under the International Crane Foundation (ICF) and Wetlands International collaboration, several projects have been undertaken in West Africa for the species.  These have largely focused on broad scale distribution and status and the development of action plans across the region’s countries.

In October 2016, Richard Beilfuss (ICF CEO) and I visited Senegal for the 14th Pan African Ornithological Congress.  We used this opportunity to then visit the two key Black Crowned Crane sites in Senegal with Idrissa Ndiaye, a bird researcher in the country.  We first visited the Senegal River Delta in the Djoudj National Park in the north and then the Casamance region in the south.  My ideas around both Senegal and Black Crowned Cranes were completely wrong on all accounts, and I am thrilled that we have made the move now towards strengthening our efforts for Black Crowned Cranes.

Senegal is a vibrant, peaceful, colourful country, with food that strongly draws on its French background.  Unfortunately, the beaches and towns in Senegal are probably the most polluted I have ever experienced, but this is contrasted with far cleaner situations in the more rural locations.

I always had the idea that Black Crowned Cranes were very similar to Grey Crowned Cranes.  However, this is definitely not the case.  Idrissa has studied cranes for several years and has a wealth of knowledge on their behavior and nesting habits.  Although both cranes perch in trees, almost everything else they do is different.  The nests we saw were large mounds of vegetation either on islands or in large wetland systems where the nests were floating platforms surrounded by water.  Interestingly, the parents seem also to hide young chicks on islands as they head off together to forage in neighbouring rice fields a distance away.  I do not know of any crane species that will do this as a matter of habit.  The cranes were all extremely wary of people and we battled to come within several 100 m of any birds – we really battled to understand the cause of this considering the fact that local communities supposedly do not hunt, eat, trade in or harm the species.

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Idrissa at a nest on the Baila River in Casamance

Despite foraging in rice fields around these large floodplain and wetland systems, there appears to be very limited to no crop damage allegations.  It probably helps that it is only adult pairs of cranes that forage in rice fields close to harvesting – at a time when they have left their chicks hidden whilst they forage.  Flocks of cranes appear to only forage in rice fields following harvest in the dry season, and hence are then eating waste grain in these fields.

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Rice field in Casamance

The communities we interacted with all held the cranes in high esteem.  I had the fortune of meeting three community groups of the Jola people during our visit to Casamance.  Of particular interest is the Diedhou people within the Jola group – the Black Crowned Crane is their totem and is extremely highly regarded.  They have little understanding of the crane, but protect it vociferously.  The cranes are deeply embedded in their culture and stories.  They believe strongly that some of the women in the rice fields can understand and speak to the cranes, that cranes never damage rice crops of the Diedhou people and that a crane flying and calling over a village is announcing the death of someone.

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The Diedhou local dress in Casamance (note the Black Crowned Cranes on the dresses)

Sadly, many of the Black Crowned Crane strongholds are now no longer easily accessed by researchers and conservationists due to political instability, warfare and the fact that they are centered within extremist group strongholds, such as those of Boko Haram.  As a result, we are really only able now to focus attention on the species strongholds in Ethiopia and those along the West African coast extending from Mauratania to Guinea Bissau.  With smaller populations in these areas, it is going to be critical that we use the opportunity now to better understand the breeding ecology of this species and to ensure that they are secured in these sites.  Already assisting research in Ethiopia, the ICF / EWT Partnership will shortly start projects in Senegal and this West African region in collaboration with local NGOs and researchers.

 

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Community action to restore wetlands in Kabale District, Uganda

In the south western region of Uganda, wetlands have been extensively degraded and fragmented due to agricultural encroachment, much to the detriment of Grey Crowned Crane habitats. In such situations, when wetlands have shrunk  and become too fragmented to provide suitable breeding habitat for cranes, it is necessary to look beyond the mere protection of the remnant wetlands. One of our successful interventions in the Kabale District has been the introduction of community-based environmental actions aimed at restoring three interlinked aspects: wetland biophysical attributes, crane breeding habitats and socio-economic values attached to wetlands by local communities. We achieve these impacts through community-based wetland restoration. Community-based wetland restoration involves collective action by wetland users to re-introduce native plant species (mostly papyrus) in wetland sections degraded through unsustainable plant harvesting and land clearance for agriculture. It also involves delineation of wetland buffers and community agreements on permissible wetland-based livelihoods that are compatible with the maintenance of suitable crane breeding habitats.

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Community outreach to mobilise support for wetland restoration

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A crane defends its territory against cows at South Kiruruma Wetland

Our model of community-based wetland restoration was pilot-tested at Nyamuriro Wetland between 2006 and 2014. The pilot initiative demonstrated that wetland restoration can lead to increased wetland vegetation cover, protection of wetland patches for enhanced nesting success of cranes and restoration of socio-economic benefits (e.g., papyrus used as raw material for crafts and construction of roofs, ceilings and fences). Inspired by these successes, we introduced the model at another key crane site, South Kiruruma Wetland, in October 2016. Three community groups have started replanting papyrus on one section of wetland and agreed that there would not allow agricultural expansion into the restoration zone. The process of initiating the restoration project and securing community commitment was facilitated by Jimmy Muheebwa, EcoTrust Uganda’s Project Coordinator. EcoTrust is one of our national partners in Uganda. The project was funded by the Whitley Fund for Nature. Going forward, we will monitor the ecological impact of the restoration process and how it will translate into tangible benefits for the local community.

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Community members carrying papyrus rhizomes for replanting in the restoration zone

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Replanting papyrus to restore wetland vegetation cover

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