Tag Archive | "threats"

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Russian Sturgeon

Posted on 09 January 2013 by RE Team

The Scientific Name : Acipenser gueldenstaedtii

Where is it found?

The Russian is currently found the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea. In the Caspian sea region it spawns in the rivers Ural and Volga, where in the Black Sea spawning occurs in the lower Danube and Rioni rivers. Once it was found in abundance in the Azov Sea basins, which is now considered as extinct as no known native spawning population is there in that region. The species prefers shallow water of the coastal sea and deep regions of large rivers where the current is strong.


Russian Sturgeon Range


How does it live?

The Russian Sturgeon feeds on a wide variety of benthic molluscs, crustaceans and small fish. Males attain maturity at around 8 years, while females at around 10 years. The females reproduce every 4-6 years while males 2-3 years. This long reproduction cycle is a major threat for the fish. After maturity they migrate from the sea to the fresh water rivers into several hundred kilometers. It usually happens in the Autumn of in the Spring when the temperature rises above 10 deg C. Juveniles mostly spend their years in the sea till they attain maturity.The maximum age ever recorded of a Russian Sturgeon is 48 years.

How does it look?

Russian Sturgeon is a gigantic fish usually reaches a length of 2 meters and weight more than 100 kg. The juveniles look beautiful with white diamond like scales that become grey with age. They grow very fast, 1 ft/year, for initial few years. Body Of the Russian Sturgeon is spindle-shaped and proportionally wide. Dorsal scutes can range from 8 to 18, lateral scutes 24-50 and ventral scutes 6-13. It differs from other species of the Acipenser genera by its short snout with rounded tip, as well as by its lower lip, which is interrupted at its center. Barbells are not fringed, they are short, curved and situated near the top of the snout.

What are the threats?

The Russian Sturgeons are struggling hard to survive. The spawning grounds for the species have been lost to various large river dams created in the Danube, Don and Volga river. It is estimated that the species has lost more than 70% of its spawning grounds since 1950s. Annual catch for the fish has dropped drastically since 1980s from 90 – 100% i n most of the regions. Fishing, which is now strictly banned, is also one of the major threat to the fish currently. The caviar of the Russian sturgeon is one of the most sought after, and the flesh of the fish is also in demand always making poaching of the fish more frequent. High levels of pollution (from oil and industrial waste), in both the Black and Caspian Sea basins have altered hormonal balance, and increased the number of hermaphroditic fish. In 1990, 55,000 sturgeon were found dead on the shore of the Sea of Azov as the result of pollution.

Conservation Efforts

The fishing of Russian Sturgeon is made illegal many years ago in Russia and Iran both. But the enforcement of the law is not happening. The increasing demand is luring the poachers. General conservation measures for the fish is also weak or never applied. Fish lifts and artificial spawning grounds have been introduced to parts of the Caspian region without much success. The pollution level of the Caspian and Black sea have been decreasing in recent years, but the fish is still not out of danger from genetic deformation.

The Russian Sturgeon Conservation

Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Saola – The Discovery and Threats

Posted on 04 June 2012 by RE Team

In May 1992, Vietnamese and Foreign Biologists were taken by surprise by the discovery of three pairs of horns. These were horns of trophies killed by the local people of central Vietnam’s Vu Quang Nature reserve. The biologists were on field survey in the area. The size of the horns suggested about the existence of a large animal completely unknown to the outside world.


Saola - courtesy WWF


This discovery took the science community by shock. It was believed that after centuries of exploration by explorers across deserts, rainforests of the planet with even high technology left no place or large species unkown to the science.

After this discovery, scientists did extensive research in the area. In next few years this research led to the discovery of 20 partial specimen of this species, including three complete skin and several photos. Researchers were also able to trap the species in remotely set camera in the rain forests. With all these evidences, scientists came to the conclusion that this is a completely new species and it was named as Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis).

Saola was name already local people have been referring to this animal .  Sao means Spindle and La means post. The generic name Pseudoryx , of the species refers to slightly curved, backward-sweeping horns, resembling to those Oryxes found in Africa and Arabia. Saola is very distantly related to these arid-adapted antelopes though. The specific name of the scientific name   refers to efers to the two Vietnamese provinces Nghe An and Ha Tinh close to where it was found.

The saola stands about 85 cm at the shoulder and weighs approximately 90-100 kg.   The coat is a dark brown with a black stripe along the back. Its legs are darkish and there are white patches on the feet, and white stripes vertically across the cheeks, on the eyebrows and splotches on the nose and chin. All saolas have slightly backward-curved horns, which grow to half a meter in length. The genetic analysis reveals that it is a primitive member of the cattle family.

All known locations for the species are mountainous with steep river valleys, covered by evergreen or semideciduous forests between 300 – 1800 m (1000 – 6000′), with low human disturbance.  It is only found in the foothill of the Tuong Son range. Its distribution within this known ranges is uneven and fragmented in small patches. This range occurs in the border between Laos and Vietnam. It stays in the higher elevations during the wetter summer season, when streams at these altitudes have plenty of water, and moves down to the lowlands during the winter, when the mountain streams dry up.

Even after two decades of discovery, very little known about this large mammal. In the discovery article of Saola, the team proposed  a three months survey to observe the living animal. But Even after intense efforts, scientists have not been able to see a Saola in wild in its natural setting yet! Most of the information on the Saola is gathered from photos and local people’ knowledge.

Local people have reported having seen saola traveling in groups of two or three, rarely more.  Villagers say that the ox eats the leaves of fig trees and other bushes along riverbanks. Saola mark their territories by opening up a fleshy flap on their snout to reveal scent glands. They subsequently rub the underside against objects leaving a musky, pungent paste. The saolas’ colossal scent glands are thought to be the largest of any living mammal.

Though very little known about Saola, one thing is certain that its in a very critically threatened state. In 1994 IUCN listed the species as “Endangered”. But in 2006 its given “Critically Endangered” status due to reducing population.  The animal can’t survive in captivity. All efforts to keep in captivity have failed, the latest being late August 2010.  A Saola was captured by villagers in Laos but died in captivity before government conservationists could arrange for it to be released back in to the wild.

The actual size of the remaining population is unknown and its rarity, distinctiveness and vulnerability make it one of the greatest priorities for conservation in the region. The current population is thought to be a few hundred at maximum and possibly only a few dozen at a minimum.

In April 2011, a reserve was declared to help protect saolas. The Quang Nam’s People Committee inaugurated the Quang Nam Saola Nature Reserve in the Annamite mountains along the border of Vietnam and Laos.  This recent development has created hope for this extremely rare mammal in the world.

Comments (0)

Tags: , , ,

Radiated Tortoise

Posted on 14 May 2012 by RE Team

The most beautiful tortoise in the world, Radiated Tortoise, endemic to Madagascar may face extinction soon due to constant exploitation on the species in recent years.

The Scientific Name : Astrochelys radiata

Where is it found?

The Radiated Tortoise is endemic to Madagascar. The tortoises natural distribution is limited to xeric spiny forests on the Mahafaly and Karimbola plateaus of southwestern Madagascar. Historically, the range of the Radiated Tortoise encompassed a 50 km band along Madagascar’s southwestern coast, from northeast of Morombe to the Bay of Ranofatsy. But in late 90s the tortoise population became highly fragmented in the south east and north regions. In 1995 the population of the tortoise was estimated to around 2-4 millions. There were an estimated decline of population by around 30% in 2003 as compared to in 1975. Currently the core-area of the tortoise’s range is the Mahafaly and Karimbola plateaus, from Lake Tsimanampetsotsa to Cap Sainte Marie. The total area spans approximately 10,000-16,000 km2. The core are has a population density of around 2500 individuals per square km. Radiated tortoises live in dry regions of brush, thorn bushes and woodlands. They are herbivorous, feeding on grasses and succulents, including the Opuntia cactus, which was introduced to Madagascar and spread quickly. The native calls this species as “Sokakes”.

How does it live?

The Radiated Tortoise prefers new growth plants rather than mature plants due to the high protein and low fiber content of the vegetation. They graze in the same area for an extended period of time, keeping the vegetation in that area trim. These tortoises don’t prefer warm temperature, drink lot of water to avoid any dehydration. They are diurnal and active during daytime. The mating of the radiated tortoises may become a noisy affair. The male involves into mating after it reaches a size of around one foot (30 cm). They males fight for the females and the winner makes hissing and grunting sound while mating. The female tortoise digs a hole on the ground post mating to form a nest. it normally lays around 3 to 12 eggs. Incubation period for the eggs is long, from 145 to 231 days. The hatch-lings measure between 3 to 4 cm in length and they develop their carapace quickly after hatching. The radiated tortoise makes very shrilling voice at times believed to be scare away any unwelcome enemies. If the tortoise is captures, it makes similar sound which can last upto an hour or more. The tortoise can live upto 50 years in wild, but in captivity they can live way beyond 100 years.

Radiated Tortoise Distribution

How does it look?

The radiated tortoises are considered as the most beautiful tortoise species by many. It has a high-domed dark colored carapace/shell with yellow lines running down from the center of the carapace. The tortoise was named as radiated tortoise because of the radiation pattern of it’s shell. The leg, feet and tail are of yellow color. An adult radiated tortoise may weigh up to 16 kg and can grow up to 40 cm in length. Males have slightly longer tails and more protruding scutes.

What are the threats?

There are three major threats to the Radiated Tortoise, habitat loss, poaching for food and international pet-trade of the species. The wild population of the tortoise has been declining in a very faster rate due to these threats. It is estimated as the populations have decreased by around 50% in the past 10 years. Interestingly, the tortoise’s geographic range is roughly coincident with regions occupied by the Mahafaly and Antandroy, local peoples who have a taboo against touching or eating tortoises. This kept the tortoise safe for centuries in the Madagascar with very little exploitation. The exploitation of the species for pet-trade, food and aphrodisiac started only after the outside immigrant started living in the area. The tortoise smuggling has become one of the most profitable business in Madagascar shipping loads of tortoises to Asia for further exploitation. Another important threat of habitat loss is outcome of various factors. Years of extreme drought in the tortoise region have sucked the moisture. Madagascar’s remaining forests are being systematically cleared for the charcoal and agriculture..It is estimated that less than 10% of its original forest, the tortoise’s natural habitat, remains. many experts predict the extinction of the species in just 20 years, if no drastic measurement has not been taken.

Conservation Efforts

In 1985 A Species Survival Plan (SSP) was established for the radiated tortoise by the American Zoo and
Aquarium Association (AZA). In recent years, Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have been working towards the survival of the species. International trade in radiated tortoises is prohibited by its listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The captive breeding of the species has been successful and it has been also introduced to the islands of Réunion and Mauritius. But due to lack of local political pressure, the trading and habitat loss of the tortoise is still on the way and the species is heading towards extinction.

Conservation Thoughts

The Radiated tortoise is reproducing very well in the wild, so if we can save its habitat and poaching, the population will grow naturally. Local education and awareness for the protection of the species is very necessary. As the species breed well in captivity, tortoise farming can be done to meet the meat and pet demand in the market. Although Madagascar government has laws to protect the Radiated Tortoise, the laws need to be enforced properly and should give strict punishment to the offenders. Cattle grazing and other pet intruders like dogs should prohibited in the tortoise habitat. The cutting of forests in for agriculture or industrial development should be stopped. Instead, the eco-tourism and sustainable development should be encouraged to meet the required growth for the region.

A documentary on Radiated Tortoise conservation

Comments (4)

Tags: , , , , , ,

Greater One Horned Rhino

Posted on 29 April 2012 by RE Team

Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros, also known as Indian Rhinoceros, is exclusively found in Assam state of North-East India and in the in the Terai region of Nepal. Its most significant difference to African Rhinoceros is the single horn on its head compared to two horns of the African counterpart.

The Scientific Name: Rhinoceros Unicornis

Where is it found?

One-horned rhinos once ranged across the entire northern part of the Indian subcontinent, along the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra River basins, from Pakistan to the Indian-Burmese border, including parts of Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan. They may have also existed in Myanmar, southern China and Indochina. But their habitat shrunk due to human influences and now confined to only eastern region of India and Terai region of Nepal. Two Third of the wild population of the species is found in Brahmaputra valley of Assam, North-East India only. Kaziranga National Park in Assam is home to more than 1500 One Horned Rhinoceros.

How does it look?

Greater one horned rhino is the largest living species of Rhinoceros, with African White Rhinoceros. The males are larger in size than the females. It weighs 1800 – 3000 Kg on average, but the largest specimen is known to have weighed around 4000 kg. Males have an average length of 3.1–3.8 meters with a shoulder height of 1.6-2.0 meters, while females have an average length of 3.0–3.4 meters and a shoulder height of 1.4-1.8 meters(6 feet). Greater one-horned rhinos have one horn, present in both adult male and female. It typically grows around 20 cm long, and weighs up to 2-3 kg. The longest ever recorded horn is 58 cm. The horn is pure keratin, has the same structure as the hooves of horses and re-grows if broken. It is not used for fighting but for the search of food and foraging for roots. Armour-plating appearance is the most interesting feature of Greater one horn rhino along with it’s horn. The Armour plating is actually thick folds of shin. Several prominent folds of skin protect the neck. The skin can have a maximum thickness of 4 cm; the subcutaneous fat is 2-5 cm thick and well supplied with blood, which helps therm-regulation, so that the animal is able to regulate its own body temperature in varying weather conditions. Between the folds, around the stomach, the inner legs and the facial area, the skin is rather soft and thin.

How does it live?

The Indian One horn Rhinoceros live on wide variety plants, mainly grass, fruits, leaves, branches of trees, shrubs, submerged and floating aquatic plants and sometimes agricultural crops too. Due to their love of aquatic plants, they are usually found near water sources. Socially the One-horned Rhinos mostly live in solitary. Two mature Rhinos are found together only during mating season. The calf accompany mother up to 4 years. Sometimes mother allow even the older calf to accompany with a new born. Though the One horn Rhinos are solitary in nature, they are usually friendly to each other when confronted. But males are known to fight with each other and this fights can even turn out to be fatal to the weaker contender at times. The territories of males are also defined loosely and often overlaps. The territory can extend 4-8 square km in area. The female attains maturity at the age of 7 years while the males after 10-12 years. The gestation period is 16 months. The average life of One-horned Rhino is around 40 years. The maximum recorded age is 47 years.

What are the threats?

In the early 20th century the One horn Rhinoceros almost reached a phase of extinction. This was attributed to habitat shrinking due to human population rise and agriculture. Sport hunting during 1800-1900 was another grave reason to it’s decline. According to reports, in 1908 only 12 Rhinos were surviving in the Kaziranga. But strict conservation measures were put for the species and the population increased encouragingly in specific pockets. But the Rhino faced extinction in most of the ranges in northern India. In recent times, poaching is considered as the most alarming threat to the Greater One Horn Rhinoceros. In Traditional Chinese belief, the Horn of the Rhino is considered cure to many diseases like fever, rheumatism, gout etc. and also it is considered as aphrodisiac. Like China, the Rhino horn has traditional demand in various other countries of Asia. Though there is no scientific base for all these believes, the Rhino horn fetches exotic price in the black market. This is the main reason for increasing poaching of the species which mounts to more than hundred every year. Apart from poaching, Rhino habitat mostly coincides with populous human habitats. This continuously is bringing the wetlands and other habitat of the species as those lands are converted into cultivation. Increasing human-wildlife conflicts also is a major threat to the species. In some places, human interventions have also brought invasive alien plants into Rhino habitat shrinking their food availability.

Conservation Efforts

Since the beginning of 20th century, major conservation efforts have been put to save the Magnificent Rhino species. All Rhinos in wild now live in special protected zones in both India and Nepal. There are anti-poaching measures placed in all these zones, but it requires strict implementation and proper infrastructure and resources. There have been efforts to prevent invasive plants and also to increase the area of habitat. The species is listed in CITES Appendix I since 1975. WWF has been very active in conserving the species along with other local organizations. There have been also efforts on translocation of the One horn Rhino since 1980s.

Comments (4)


Photos of Nature