Spring 2006
Also in this Issue
Fighting for Siberut: Saving the Galapagos of Asia
Expedition to Pic Macaya uncovers Haitian treasures
Win-win-win conservation in Ecuador
Release of 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reveals ongoing attrition of biodiversity


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Madagascar safeguards two AZE sites

The Malagasy giant jumping rat (Hypogeomys antimena, EN) will benefit from the protection of its only known site, the Menabe Forest. © Olivier Langrand
Madagascar, the fourth largest island on Earth, is part of the Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands Hotspot. Madagascar and its neighboring island groups are a prime example of species evolution in isolation, harboring species assemblages with extremely high levels of endemism. For this reason, the Malagasy government has demonstrated steadfast commitment to biodiversity conservation through its ambitious plan to triple the size of the nation’s protected area network.

Menabe Forest, in western Madagascar, is an exemplary case of a site that merits protection within this expanded protected area network. The Menabe Forest is an Alliance for Zero Extinction site due to the presence of the Malagasy giant jumping rat (Hypogeomys antimena), the flat-backed spider tortoise (Pyxis planicauda) and the amphibian Aglyptodactylus laticeps, all of which are Endangered according to the IUCN Red List. The Menabe Forest was previously an unprotected site that was heavily impacted by subsistence farming, wood extraction, and livestock ranching. But on March 28, 2006, the Minister of the Environment, Water and Forests, Sylvain Rabotoarison, signed a decree upgrading 125,000 hectares of forests and mangroves in Menabe Forest to temporary protection status. This temporary protection is the first step towards making the site an official protected area. Over the next year, community and conservation groups will undertake a consultative process to agree on the official boundaries and goals of the new protected area.

The addition of Menabe Forest to the nation’s protected area network follows on the heels of another government declaration in December 2005, safeguarding the Daraina/Loky-Manambato AZE site in northeast Madagascar. The Critically Endangered Golden-Crowned Sifaka (Propithecus tattersalli) occurs at this site, which was also given temporary protection status late last year. The protection of two AZE sites in less than three months presents an excellent model that should be commended and will hopefully encourage other countries to follow suit.

Learn more about the Madagascar and Indian Ocean Islands Hotspot
Fighting for Siberut: Saving the Galapagos of Asia

The rich endemic biodiversity of the Mentawai Islands is most famously represented by the pig-tailed snub-nosed monkey (Simias concolor, EN) and three other endemic, threatened primate species. © Richard Tenaza
Given their small size, the Mentawai islands of the Sundaland Hotspot host an extraordinary diversity of endemic species, including the Mentawai macaque (Macaca pagensis, CR), Mentawai snub-nosed pigtail (Simias concolor, EN), Kloss’s gibbon (Hylobates klossii, VU), and Mentawai langur (Presbytis potenziani, VU). This March, Conservation International Indonesia, in partnership with the Indonesian Science Agency (LIPI) and the Department of Forestry, led a month-long biodiversity assessment on Siberut Island off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. The survey of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and plants in the northwest of the island highlighted the biodiversity value of the area.

Unfortunately, the species endemic to Siberut and the other Mentawai Islands are seriously threatened by human activities. There is continued disturbance and expansion into forest habitats throughout the islands. Hunting for bushmeat and cultural purposes has been a threat since humans first arrived on the islands between two and four thousand years ago. Interestingly, the threats posed by hunting and habitat disturbance have led to the development of avoidance behaviors in the Kloss’s gibbon: highly specific calls that signal human presence, and a strong preference for liana-free sleeping trees (the latter is presumably an attempt to elude nocturnal predation by humans).

Due to high levels of forest fragmentation and hunting pressure on the other Mentawai islands, Siberut effectively provides the last stronghold for these primates and other endemic species, with about 60 percent of original forest cover remaining intact. However, even this last refuge is under grave threat. In April, the Indonesian department of forestry granted PT Salaki Summa Sejahtera a 49,450 hectare logging concession in northwestern Siberut. The conservation significance of this forest block cannot be understated: the CI-led survey discovered populations of four primate species in this area and also documented several bat, amphibian and reptile species that were previously unknown from Siberut. The survey data also suggest that one or more species new to science may occur on Siberut. These new data build on earlier estimates that primate density in the old growth Peleonan Forest (within the concession) was three times higher than in the nearby Siberut National Park, perhaps due to the prevalence of fruiting trees. The secondary forest surveyed by CI and its partners yielded similar population estimates for Kloss gibbon and Mentawai langur, and an even higher population estimate for Mentawai macaque density.

Conservation International Indonesia and other organizations are working to safeguard the endemic biodiversity of the Mentawai Islands and have plans to purchase the logging concessions on Siberut. However, their work will not be nearly as effective over the long term if logging begins, and public opposition is probably the best way to convince the Indonesian government to conserve this key biodiversity area.

Learn more about the Sundaland Hotspot
Expedition to Pic Macaya uncovers Haitian treasures

Pic Formon, Haiti. © Chris Rimmer
An international team of Hispaniolan and North American ornithologists recently led a field expedition to Pic Macaya, Haiti, in the Caribbean Islands Hotspot. At nearly 2,350 meters in elevation, it represents the highest peak in Haiti’s Massif de la Hotte. This remote and isolated mountain range, much of which is formally protected within the 5,500-hectare Macaya Biosphere Reserve, supports some of Hispaniola’s highest levels of biological diversity and endemism. Yet, it is also seriously threatened by the ongoing loss of forest habitats that has ravaged the rest of Haiti’s landscape. The Alliance for Zero Extinction has identified Massif de la Hotte as the site containing more Critically Endangered or Endangered species (13, all amphibians) restricted to it than any other site worldwide. Conservation efforts must be successful here to prevent a dramatic loss of biodiversity.

The expedition’s primary goal was to survey bird populations and habitat conditions of Pic Macaya and nearby areas. The team, led by scientist Chris Rimmer of the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, retraced the route of Charles Woods, Jose Ottewalder, Florence Sergile, and associates, who had conducted pioneering avian surveys on Macaya in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Despite a number of logistical challenges, the expedition documented high levels of avian biodiversity still remaining. In three days of mist-netting at a mid-elevation karst broadleaf forest site that had been surveyed by Rimmer and colleagues in February of 2004, the site was found to have suffered no further habitat loss or visible degradation. Some areas were actively regenerating from prior clearing for subsistence agriculture. Over 125 birds were mist-netted, including eight birds banded in 2004, three of which were North American migrants: one Bicknell's Thrush (Catharus bicknelli, VU) and two Black-throated Blue Warblers (Dendroica caerulescens). The remainder of the expedition focused on the high elevation cloud forests of Pic Formon and Pic Macaya. The summit’s extensive ridgeline was found to be covered by an intact pine forest that is essentially untouched by humans. This virgin forest had been damaged several months earlier by an intense fire, which had swept up Macaya’s west slope and across the entire summit, killing most broadleaf understory and small to medium-sized pines. However, the towering mature pines (some over a meter and a half in diameter) that dominate the ridgeline’s north end had escaped the fire's effects. Two birds heard while the expedition camped on Pic Formon suggest that Macaya’s cliff-nesting colonies of Black-capped Petrel (Pterodroma hasitata, EN) remain active.

The team documented 16 bird species during its brief visit to Pic Macaya. Highlights included over 35 Yellow-rumped Warblers (Dendroica coronata), three Gray-crowned Palm-Tanagers (Phaenicophilu poliocephalus), eight Western Chat-Tanagers (Calyptophilus frugivorus, VU), and over 30 Hispaniolan Crossbills (Loxia megaplaga, EN). Most importantly, the group maintained crucial conservation momentum for Macaya, by training two promising Haitian biology students, involving local community members in the expedition, scouting logistics for future field surveys, and demonstrating a continued international commitment to ensure the long-term viability of this area’s unique biodiversity. Many serious threats remain to Macaya’s ecological integrity, but there is hope on the horizon.

Learn more about the Caribbean Islands Hotspot
Win-win-win conservation in Ecuador

The Black-breasted Puffleg (Eriocnemis nigrivestis, CR) is restricted to the Estribaciones Occidentales del Pichincha site in Ecuador. © Steve Blain/Tropical Birding
Conservation efforts struggle to be simultaneously successful in ecological, economic and social terms. Exciting news from Ecuador provides a shining example. The global population of the Critically Endangered hummingbird delightfully known as the Black-breasted Puffleg (Eriocnemis nigrivestis) is restricted to the Estribaciones Occidentales del Pichincha, near the Ecuadorian capital of Quito in the Tropical Andes Hotspot . A species of Critically Endangered frog (Eleutherodactylus hamiotae) is also only found at the site. The presence of these two endemic species has led the site to be highlighted by the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) and protected by the establishment of the Yanacocha reserve by the Jocotoco Foundation. However, the lower elevations of the site, seasonally important to the hummingbird and many other species, have long been degraded from native cloud forest habitat to cow pastures.

Meanwhile, Bird Holidays, a UK-based ecotourism company, which has for the last 14 years run sustainable tourism in over 40 countries worldwide, had been seeking options to offset the 248 tonnes of carbon dioxide released by the three million air miles traveled by their customers annually. Working with the World Land Trust, they identified the urgent need for reforestation downslope from the Yanacocha reserve. As a result, in March 2006, the company provided the funding necessary for the Jocotoco Foundation to add 65 acres to the reserve and employ local communities to re-plant the area with 20,000 native trees and manage it for the next 20 years. The carbon taken from the atmosphere and locked up in wood and soil by these trees will be roughly equal to the emissions of the company for these two decades. As such, Bird Holidays is the first travel company to fully offset its carbon dioxide emissions from both its staff and customers, and in doing so has substantially enhanced biodiversity preservation and local livelihoods at an AZE site - truly a conservation win-win-win.

Learn more about the Tropical Andes Hotspot
Release of 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reveals ongoing attrition of biodiversity

Amnirana occidentalis, an Endangered amphibian endemic to the Guinean Forests of West Africa Hotspot. © Piotr Naskrecki
In the rainforests of the Mesoamerica Hotspot, a crisis is unfolding. Scientists have discovered that frogs of the water-loving genus Plectrohyla are undergoing catastrophic declines, largely as a result of continuing habitat loss coupled with the synergistic effects of climate change and a devastating disease. This same scenario is playing itself out across many other areas of the neotropics, and has already led to the extinction of perhaps as many as 130 amphibian species in the region. "There is now irrefutable evidence that Central and South America will lose most of its montane, stream-associated amphibian fauna in the space of just a few decades," said Dr. Russell Mittermeier, President of Conservation International.

The ongoing decline of earth’s biodiversity and the impact mankind is having upon life on earth is brought into sharp focus by the launch of the 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Widely recognized as the most authoritative assessment of the global status of plants and animals, it provides an accurate measure of progress, or lack thereof, in achieving the globally agreed target to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010.

Currently, the number of known threatened species stands at more than 16,000, including one in three amphibians, a quarter of the world’s coniferous trees, and one in eight birds. This year, their ranks are joined by icons like the polar bear (Ursus maritimus, VU) and the hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius, VU); the predicted decline of the former is symptomatic of global climate change, and the latter follows a catastrophic decline due to unregulated hunting for meat and ivory in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where numbers have plummeted by 95%.

An important addition to the 2006 Red List of Threatened Species is the first comprehensive assessment of selected marine groups. Sharks and rays are among the first marine groups to be systematically assessed, and of the 547 species listed, 20% are threatened with extinction. This provides support to earlier suspicions that these mainly slow-growing species are exceptionally susceptible to over-fishing and are disappearing at an unprecedented rate across the globe.

Freshwater species are not faring any better, and have suffered some of the most dramatic declines; for example, 56% of the 252 endemic freshwater Mediterranean fish are threatened with extinction, while a further seven species are Extinct. “We need fish for food, but human activities in watersheds, through forest clearance, pollution, water abstraction and eutrophication are major factors influencing water quality and quantity. This has a major impact on freshwater species, and in turn on the well-being of riparian communities,” said Dr. Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Coordinator of the IUCN Species Programme.

“The 2006 IUCN Red List shows a clear trend: biodiversity loss is increasing, not slowing down,” said Achim Steiner, Director General of the World Conservation Union (IUCN). “The implications of this trend for the productivity and resilience of ecosystems and the lives and livelihoods of billions of people who depend on them are far-reaching. Reversing this trend is possible, as numerous conservation success stories have proven. To succeed on a global scale, we need new alliances across all sectors of society. Biodiversity cannot be saved by environmentalists alone – it must become the responsibility of everyone with the power and resources to act,” he added.

The IUCN Red List continues to serve as a call for action to reverse the decline of earth’s biodiversity. For example, swift action since the dramatic 97% population crash of the Indian Vulture (Gyps indicus), listed as Critically Endangered in 2002, means that the future for this and related species is more secure. The veterinary drug that unintentionally poisoned them, diclofenac, is now banned in India, a promising substitute has been found, and captive-breeding assurance colonies will be used for a re-introduction programme.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the international community will rally to the plight of the many amphibians currently undergoing rapid declines across the Neotropics, and for which an ambitious conservation action plan has been developed and endorsed by the world’s herpetological community. “There can be no doubt that species loss in this region is real” said Russell Mittermeier, “but the window of opportunity in which to pull off a daring rescue effort is narrow.”

Learn more about the IUCN Red List

© 2006 Conservation International
The most remarkable places on Earth are also the most threatened.
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