Armenian leopards update

This video from Armenia is called Bezoar Goats, Caucasus Wildlife Refuge.

From Wildlife Extra:

Endangered Caucasian leopard confirmed in Armenia

Leopards clinging on in the Caucasus

February 2013. … Conservation workers’ efforts to preserve habitat for the endangered Caucasian Leopard in Armenia have been boosted by confirmation of the leopard’s presence in a protected area.

Staff of the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem have run a series of genetic tests on samples of fur and faeces found in an area managed for conservation by Armenian NGO, the Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (FPWC). In the past few days, the zoo has confirmed that the samples are indeed from a rare Caucasian Leopard.

The news from Jerusalem Zoo confirms what FPWC field experts have believed but so far have been unable to prove. Ruben Khachatryan, Director of Yerevan Zoo, and founder of FPWC describes the scientific proof as highly important: “It demonstrates beyond any doubt that this majestic but unfortunately highly endangered predator still dwells in Armenia and that our efforts to protect its habitat are not in vain.”

Mary Tibbett, Conservation Programmes Officer at World Land Trust (WLT), which is supporting FPWC’s work, adds: “This finding is a great boost to conservation efforts in Armenia. Although possibly reduced to as few as 15 animals in Armenia, the Caucasian Leopard subspecies is resilient and we believe it can be saved. But if it is to prosper in the wild, we need to see better research and monitoring, improved protection for habitat, and tougher action against hunters and poachers. If we do not take steps now, it may be too late.

“FPWC are doing a tremendous job in this challenging environment and I urge anyone who cares about conservation to help secure the future of this magnificent creature by donating to WLT’s Caucasian Leopard Special Appeal, which is running until the end of April.”

FPWC’s rangers have increased the number of Bezoar Ibex in the area by reducing hunting, this increase in prey is critical to the survival of Caucasian Leopard.

“The confirmed presence of the leopard shows that the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge is increasingly becoming a safe haven for flora and fauna,” adds Marc Hoogeslag, IUCN Netherland’s Small Grants Coordinator for the Purchase of Nature Programme. “For top predators such as the Caucasian Leopard, the reserve is an attractive habitat because it shelters populations of prey species such as the Bezoar Goat.”

Largest leopard

The Caucasian Leopard is the largest sub species of leopard. It ranges across several different countries including Iran, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Georgia. In recent years, their population has been devastated by uncontrolled hunting and habitat destruction.

Iran & Azerbaijan

“Leopards don’t know borders,” explains Ruben. “Their migration routes cover not only a corridor through Armenia but also reach out in particular to Iran and Azerbaijan. Much more field exploration is necessary to map and understand this regional leopard corridor.”

FPWC is working to strengthen regional cross-border cooperation in order to form a leopard coalition uniting relevant NGOs and governmental institutions in all countries of the South Caucasus.

According to Ruben: “The involvement of international partners such as World Land Trust and IUCN NL is of vital importance for this process in the South Caucasus as they can foster cross-border dialogue and cooperation even where official contacts are difficult. ”

International charity World Land Trust (WLT) was formed in 1989 to acquire threatened land of high biodiversity value for the purposes of nature conservation. WLT’s Patrons are Sir David Attenborough, David Gower and Chris Packham.

WLT has been supporting FPWC’s work since 2010, and has recently funded the extension of FPWC’s Caucasus Wildlife Refuge and the employment of rangers to protect the site.

The first hints of a leopard in the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge (CWR) date from spring 2012, when rangers found foot prints in the snow. These were later identified by FPWC experts as typical for a big cat – most probably a leopard.

The first indication of the presence of a leopard in the Wildlife Refuge needed more thorough exploration. In the summer of 2012, FPWC field experts started a systematic investigation of all areas of the refuge considered ‘leopard friendly’. During these excursions they collected scat and pieces of fur the animal had most probably lost while passing thorny shrubs. Though the experts were sure that the samples came from a leopard, final confirmation could only be proved by genetic analysis.

The Caucasus Wildlife Refuge offers excellent habitat for this rare predator. Due to recent measures to prevent hunting, populations of prey species such as Bezoar Goats have increased tremendously so there is plenty of potential leopard prey.

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Tourists’ whale shark photos help scientists

Like human fingerprints, whale shark spot configurations are wholly unique and allow individual sharks to be identified. Photo WWF-Philippines

From Wildlife Extra:

Scientists using holiday snaps to identify whale sharks

Holiday snaps could be a major research tool

February 2013. Holidaymakers’ photos could help scientists track the movements of giant endangered sharks living in the waters of the Indian Ocean. A new study, led by a researcher from Imperial College London, is the first to show that these publically sourced photographs are suitable for use in conservation work.

Tourists scuba diving and snorkelling in the Maldives frequently take underwater pictures of the spectacular and docile whale shark, the world’s largest fish. Conservationists have long hoped to use this photographic resource to help them trace the sharks’ life history, relationships and geographic distribution, although the value of these amateur snapshots has never been properly measured.

Tim Davies of Imperial’s Department of Life Sciences is the lead author on a study published in Wildlife Research, the first to examine how reliable photographs sourced from the public actually are. He and his team did this by comparing results using tourist images with results based on surveys by marine researchers specifically aiming to track the sharks.

Spot pattern used for ID

In order for a shark to be clearly identified, any photograph must capture the distinctive pattern of spots located directly behind the gills. This unique marking serves as a ‘fingerprint’, which can then be scanned with a computer programme to tell the animals apart.

85% id success

The study looked at hundreds of images taken by the public, of which many were downloaded from image-sharing websites such as Flickr and YouTube. Individual whale sharks could be successfully identified in 85 per cent of cases, surprisingly close to the 100 per cent identification possible in photographs taken by researchers.

Speaking about the results, Davies said: “Globally, this outcome provides strong support for the scientific use of photographs taken by tourists for whale shark monitoring. Hopefully, this will give whale shark research around the world confidence in using this source of free data. In the Maldives in particular, where whale shark tourism is well established and very useful for collecting data from throughout the archipelago, our results suggest that whale shark monitoring effort should be focused on collecting tourist photographs.”

Although they are widely thought to be rare, the conservation status of the whale shark has long remained uncertain. This study therefore allowed the team to measure the populations of whale sharks in the area, which they estimate have not declined in recent years. Davies added: “Hopefully, as more data come in from tourists over the years and from further across the archipelago, we will be able to build up our understanding of the Maldives population and monitor its status closely.”

Holidaymakers heading to the Maldives, as well as to other regions, can assist researchers in monitoring whale shark populations by uploading their shark photos to the ECOCEAN whale shark identification library website (

For more information on Maldivian whale shark visit the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme website.

March 2013. Plans to capture and keep some Whale sharks in an enclosure off the south coast ok Kenya threatens Kenya’s hard fought for reputation as a responsible tourism destination. Under the sham pretence of conservation, the company involved is hoping to make money from visits and people paying to swim with whale sharks: here.

May 2013. A new-born Whale shark pup that was recently freed by fishermen from nets in the Indian state of Gujarat has provided a clue that that the world’s largest fish may be breeding off the coast of Gujarat: here.

Coral-destroying starfish research

This video from Oman says about itself:

The crown of thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci ) [is] one of the oceans’ most efficient coral predators. They can grow to more than 1 m in diameter; have 16 to 18 arms, the entire upper surface of its body covered in long venomous spines. This species was recorded in our … survey at Musandam peninsula.

From Wildlife Extra:

Reef devastation caused [by] Crown-of-thorns outbreaks still a mystery to researchers

Researchers tackle the coral-killing starfish

February 2013. Crown-of-thorns Acanthaster planci is the principle natural enemy of reef-building corals. Outbreaks of this coral-feeding starfish occur periodically, due to reasons that remain unclear. It decimates entire reefs in the space of just a few years, as has been the case in French Polynesia since 2004. A new study conducted by IRD researchers and their partners describes this population explosion around Moorea, the “sister island of Tahiti“. The rate of living coral cover in ocean depths and lagoons alike dropped from 50% (healthy reef) to under 5% in 2009. The ecosystem will need at least a decade to be restored to its original state.

The starfish has spread from island to island

The archipelago has been suffering from a new population explosion of the predatory starfish since 2004. It is one of the most intense and devastating outbreaks ever recorded. The outbreak of Acanthaster began in a very specific location in the Austral and Leeward Islands, then in 2006, the starfish colony spread to Tahiti and Moorea. Thanks to a dozen stations around the island of Moorea, scientists were able to make spatio-temporal observations of the dynamics of the infestation of coral populations. Thus, in a new study published in PLoS One, they described the spread of the coral reef invasion.

Ocean depths and lagoons alike

The starfish first settled in the deeper areas along the outer slopes of the reef, around 20 to 30 metres below the ocean surface. It then rose to a depth of approximately 6 metres, and even colonised certain parts of the lagoon. The damage was gradually observed: from 47% of living coral cover at one of the stations in 2006, for example, this rate dropped to 21% in 2007, 6% in 2008 and 2% in 2009: a disastrous state of affairs that disrupts the structure and functioning of all reef communities (including other coral-feeding species, such as butterflyfish, etc.).

The causes remain unclear – High rainfall is an indicator

What are the reasons behind outbreaks of Acanthaster planci? In Australia, where the pest is also rife, invasions occur after years with high rainfall. Rainfall leads to the excess release of nutrients from human activities and the proliferation of algae on which echinoderm larvae feed. In Polynesia, however, anthropic pressure seems too low and localised to explain such an outbreak of the starfish. The current lack of data on the subject means the phenomenon remains a mystery.

Since the causes of outbreaks remain unclear, there is limited ability to fight against Acanthaster planci in order to protect economic activities around the coral barrier, such as tourism and diving. Researchers are currently studying processes to “recruit” new corals, in other words to repopulate the reef and make it more resilient. Without a new widespread disturbance, a coral ecosystem would need 10 to 30 years to be restored to its original state.

One of the greatest mysteries of modern coral reefs is how they evolved from ancient corals. A critical knowledge gap has long existed in the record of coral evolution. This evolutionary gap occurs during a period of dramatic fluctuations in sea level and changes in the Earth’s climate between 1 and 2 million years ago. During this period many “old” corals went extinct, and the modern reef corals emerged. To fill this key temporal gap and understand the evolutionary and ecological transition to modern Caribbean reefs, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) has funded a University of Miami (UM) project to study corals along the southern coast of the Dominican Republic. It is one of the few areas that contain a record of coral reefs from this period of climatic change: here.

Study finds starfish shed arms to protect against overheating: here.

A mystery illness is turning starfish to goo: here.

Massive outbreak killing California’s starfish, melting them into goo: here.