Major highway in India threatens reptiles and amphibians

“Is it the road that crosses the habitat, or does the habitat cross the road?” ask scientists before agreeing that the wrong road at the wrong place is bound to cause various perils for the local wildlife, habitats and ecosystems.

Is it the road that crosses the habitat, or does the habitat cross the road?” ask scientists at Gauhati University (Assam, India) before agreeing that the wrong road at the wrong place is bound to cause various perils for the local wildlife, habitats and ecosystems. Furthermore, some of those effects may take longer than others to identify and confirm.

This is how the research team of doctoral research fellow Somoyita Sur, Dr Prasanta Kumar Saikia and Dr Malabika Kakati Saikia decided to study roadkill along a 64-kilometre-long stretch of one of the major highways in India: the National Highway 715. 

What makes the location a particularly intriguing choice is that it is where the highway passess between the Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Assam and the North Karbi Anglong Wildlife Sanctuary, thus tempting animals to move to and from the floodplains of Kaziranga and the hilly terrain of the Sanctuary to escape the annual floods or – on a daily basis – in search for food and mating partners.

In the beginning, they looked into various groups, including mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians, before realising that the death toll amongst frogs, toads, snakes and lizards was indeed tremendous, yet overlooked. Their findings were recently published in the peer-reviewed scholarly journal Nature Conservation.

“To our surprise, the death toll within that 64-kilometre stretch of the highway was indeed dramatic. We estimated that it has been over 6000 animals that have fallen under the wheels of motor vehicles within a single year. Prior to our study, similar research had focused on big charismatic species like the tiger, elephant and rhino, so when we took into account also the smaller animals: frogs, toads, snakes and lizards, the count went through the roof. Thus, we decided to make smaller species the focus of our work,”

comments Sur.

In conclusion, the scientists agree that roads and highways cannot be abandoned or prevented from construction and expansion, as they are crucial in connecting people and transporting goods and necessities. 

“Yet, we can definitely put some effort into designing and constructing them in a scientifically sound, eco-friendly and sustainable manner, so that they don’t become the bane for our ecosystems,”

the team concludes.

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Research article:

Sur S, Saikia PK, Saikia MK (2022) Speed thrills but kills: A case study on seasonal variation in roadkill mortality on National highway 715 (new) in Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong Landscape, Assam, India. In: Santos S, Grilo C, Shilling F, Bhardwaj M, Papp CR (Eds) Linear Infrastructure Networks with Ecological Solutions. Nature Conservation 47: 87-104. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.47.73036

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Citizen science data crucial to understand wildlife roadkill

In a first for science, researchers set out to analyze over 10 years of roadkill records in Flanders, Belgium, using data provided by citizen scientists.

The road is a dangerous place for animals: they can easily get run over, which can seriously affect wildlife diversity and populations in the long term. There is also a human economic cost and possible injury or even death in these accidents, while crashing into heavier animals or trying to avoid them on the road.

Making roads safer for both animals and people starts with a simple first step: understanding when, where, and how many animals get run over. This knowledge can help protect specific species, for example by using warning signs, preventing access to the roads for animals, creating overpasses and underpasses, or closing roads. Wildlife roadkill data can also help monitor other trends, such as population dynamics, species distribution, and animal behavior.

Thanks to citizen science platforms, obtaining this kind of data is no longer a task reserved for scientists. There are now dozens of free, easy-to-use online systems, where anyone can record wildlife collision accidents or roadkill, contributing to a fuller picture that might later be used to inform policy measures.

One such project is the Flemish Animals under wheels, where users can register the roadkill they saw, adding date, time and geolocation online or by using the apps. The data is stored in the online biodiversity database Waarnemingen.be, the Flemish version of the international platform Observation.org

Between 2008 and 2020, the project collected almost 90,000 roadkill records from Flanders, Belgium, registered by over 4,000 citizen scientists. Roadkill recording is just a small part of their nature recording activities – the multi-purpose platform which also allows the registration of living organisms. This is probably why the volunteers have remained engaged with the project for over 6 years now.

In a first for science, researchers from Natuurpunt Studie, the scientific institute linked to the largest Nature NGO in Flanders, with support from the Department of Environmental and Spatial Development, set out to analyze over 10 years of roadkill records in the region, using data provided by citizen scientists. In their study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Conservation, they focused on 17 key species of mammals and their fate on the roads of Flanders. 

The researchers analyzed data on 145,000 km of transects monitored, which resulted in records of 1,726 mammal and 2,041 bird victims. However, the majority of the data – over 60,000 bird and mammal roadkill records – were collected opportunistically, where opportunistic data sampling favors larger or more “enigmatic” species. Hedgehogs, red foxes and red squirrels were the most frequently registered mammal roadkill victims.  

In the last decade, roadkill incidents in Flanders have diminished, the study found, even though search effort increased. This might be the result of effective road collision mitigation, such as fencing, crossing structures, or animal detection systems. On the other hand, it could be a sign of declining populations among those animals that are most prone to being killed by vehicles. More research is needed to understand the exact reason. Over the last 11 years, roadkill records of the European polecat showed a significant relative decrease, while seven species, including the roe deer and wild boar, show a relative increase in recorded incidents.

There seems to be a clear influence of the COVID-19 pandemic on roadkill patterns for some species. Restrictions in movement that followed likely led simultaneously to fewer casualties and a decrease in the search effort. 

The number of new observations submitted to Waarnemingen.be continues to increase year after year, with data for 2021 pointing to about 9 million. Even so, the scientists warn that those recorded observations “are only the tip of the iceberg.”

 “Citizen scientists are a very valuable asset in investigating wildlife roadkill. Without your contributions, roadkill in Flanders would be a black box,”

the researchers conclude.

***

Research paper:

Swinnen KRR, Jacobs A, Claus K, Ruyts S, Vercayie D, Lambrechts J, Herremans M (2022) ‘Animals under wheels’: Wildlife roadkill data collection by citizen scientists as a part of their nature recording activities. In: Santos S, Grilo C, Shilling F, Bhardwaj M, Papp CR (Eds) Linear Infrastructure Networks with Ecological Solutions. Nature Conservation 47: 121-153. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.47.72970

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The research article is part of the Special Issue: “Linear Infrastructure Networks with Ecological Solutions“, which collates 15 research papers reporting on studies presented at the IENE2020 conference.

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Nature Conservation opens “Restoration of Wetlands” collection

The permanent topical article collection aims to bring together key insights into restoration of wetlands and coastal marine systems, thereby facilitating exchange among different disciplines.

The “Restoration of Wetlands” permanent topical article collection in the open-access, peer-reviewed scholarly journal Nature Conservation is now open for submissions, with the aim to bring together a wide spectrum of knowledge necessary to inform scientists, policy-makers and practitioners about key insights into restoration of wetlands and coastal marine systems, thereby facilitating exchange among different disciplines.

Being a permanent collection means that it is to welcome contributions indefinitely, whereas papers will progress to publication as soon as they are accepted by the editors. While they will be accessible from a central point: the collection, which is also assigned with its own DOI, the articles themselves will feature in different journal volumes, depending on their publication date.

Find more about the specificity of Special issues and Topical collections on the journal’s website.

The issue is managed by an international team of scientists:

“Worldwide, the loss of biodiversity in wetlands, like rivers and their floodplains and peatland but also in deltas and estuaries is dramatic,”

the guest editors explain.
Photo by Mathias Scholz.

Due to intensive land-use, including farming, urbanisation, drainage, construction of levees or bank stabilisation or straightening of river courses and coastlines, wetlands are losing their typical functions, such as carbon storage and habitat provision. As a result, the ecosystem services they provide are declining and so is the coastal biodiversity as a whole.

However, various restoration measures have been carried out to revitalise wetlands over the last decades, on a global scale. Some of those have already proved successful, while others are still on their way to improve wetland biodiversity and related ecosystem functions and services. For all these efforts, the end goal is to implement international biodiversity actions and policies for adaptation and mitigation of climate change.

Among others, the “Restoration of Wetlands” article collection in the Nature Conservation journal seeks to attract contributions addressing issues, such as the roles of society and planning, as well as biology in restoration; indicators to monitor and measure restoration success; the synergies between wetland restoration and climate change adaptation; and hands-on expertise in restoration.

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Find more about the “Restoration of Wetlands” collection on the Nature Conservation’s journal website. 

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The first Red List of Taxonomists in Europe is calling for the support of insect specialists

The Red List of Taxonomists portal, where taxonomy experts in the field of entomology can register to help map and assess expertise across Europe, in order to provide action points necessary to overcome the risks, preserve and support this important scientific community, will remain open until 31st October 2021.

About 1,000 insect taxonomists – both professional and citizen scientists – from across the European region have already signed up on the Red List of Taxonomists, a recently launched European Commission-funded initiative by the Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities (CETAF), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the scholarly publisher best-known for its biodiversity-themed journals and high-tech innovations in biodiversity data publishing Pensoft.

Insect taxonomists, both professional and citizen scientists, are welcome to register on the Red List of Taxonomists portal at: red-list-taxonomists.eu and further disseminate the registration portal to fellow taxonomists until 31st October 2021.

Within the one-year project, the partners are to build a database of European taxonomy experts in the field of entomology and analyse the collected data to shed light on the trends in available expertise, including best or least studied insect taxa and geographic distribution of the scientists who are working on those groups. Then, they will present them to policy makers at the European Commission.

By recruiting as many as possible insect taxonomists from across Europe, the Red List of Taxonomists initiative will not only be able to identify taxa and countries, where the “extinction” of insect taxonomists has reached a critical point, but also create a robust knowledge base on taxonomic expertise across the European region to prompt further support and funding for taxonomy in the Old Continent.

On behalf of the project partners, we would like to express our immense gratitude to everyone who has self-declared as an insect taxonomist on the Red List of Taxonomists registration portal. Please feel welcome to share our call for participation with colleagues and social networks to achieve maximum engagement from everyone concerned about the future of taxonomy!

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Read more about the rationale of the Red List of Taxonomists project.

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Follow and join the conversation on Twitter using the #RedListTaxonomists hashtag. 

Are zoos inadvertently complicit in wildlife trade? The case of a rare Borneo lizard

Should zoos display legally protected species that have been smuggled out of their range countries? A new study suggests that a pause and rethink may be needed, as it reports that accredited zoos have acquired a rare and legally protected reptile, the earless monitor lizard endemic to Borneo, without any evidence that the animals were legally exported.

The earless monitor lizard occurs only on the island of Borneo and has been described as a “miniature Godzilla” and “the Holy Grail of Herpetology.” Discovered by western scientists almost 150 years ago, for most of this period the species was known largely from pickled specimens in natural history collections, and wasn’t recorded from the wild for decades. In the 1970s, the three countries that make up Borneo – Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei – added it to their protected species lists. This means that the species can neither be legally traded within these countries, nor legally exported out of them.

Earless monitor lizard. Photo by Chien C. Lee, Wild Borneo.

Despite legal protection and lack of export permissions, reptile enthusiasts and unscrupulous traders have long been smuggling small numbers of earless monitor lizards out of Indonesia and Malaysia, eventually bringing them to Europe. This greatly accelerated in 2012, when the species’ rediscovery was announced in a scientific journal. In 2016, all 183 countries that are signatory to the Convention on international trade in endangered species agreed to regulate global trade in earless monitor lizards in order to limit the negative effects of smuggling on wild populations. Agreed export numbers were set at zero.

Enforcing the laws has proven to be challenging, however, and to date only two smuggling attempts have been thwarted. In both cases, German smugglers were apprehended at Indonesian airports while attempting to move respectively eight and seventeen earless monitor lizards out of the country.

The first zoo that proudly announced it had obtained earless monitor lizards was Japan’s iZoo in 2013. This zoo is not accredited, and the ways in which the animals were obtained remain questionable. In Europe, the first zoos to openly display earless monitor lizards were located in Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic. The animals were obtained from what zoos referred to as “private individuals” or “dedicated hobby breeders”, and, in one instance, from iZoo. Just like in Japan, how these animals ended up in Europe is questionable, but perhaps not illegal – and it is evident that no export permits were ever issued.

In recent years, more and more zoos in Europe, and since the beginning of this year also in the United States, have started displaying earless monitor lizards. Some cases were part of zoo exchanges, others were obtained from private individuals, and a handful were placed in zoos by authorities after they were seized, but it is clear that many were at one point illegally exported out of Indonesia, Malaysia or Brunei, or were illegally imported into non-range countries.

The acquisition of these protected lizards by zoos is neither in line with the intentions of national laws of their countries of origin, nor with international wildlife trade regulations. Moreover, it is diametrically opposed to the commitments the international zoo community has made to address illegal wildlife trade.

“To me, the current situation concerning the purchasing and proudly displaying of earless monitor lizards by accredited zoos can be compared with a road safety organisation posting online videos of its CEO doing wheelies on a motorbike and then adding that it was done on a private road where neither wearing a helmet nor having a driver’s licence is required,” said Vincent Nijman of the Oxford Wildlife Trade Research Group, author of the study that was published in the open-access journal Nature Conservation. “Both may be legal in a technical sense, but the optics are not good.”

“Modern, scientifically managed zoos are increasingly organising themselves with set ethical values and binding standards which go beyond national legislation on conservation and sustainability, but, unfortunately, this still only counts for a small proportion of zoos worldwide,” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, Executive Director of Monitor Research Conservation Society. “Zoos that continue to obtain animals that have been illegally acquired, directly or indirectly, are often fuelling the illegal wildlife trade, supporting organised crime networks and possibly contributing to the decline in some species.”

Seven years ago, the price for a single earless monitor lizard was in the order of EUR 8,000 to 10,000 , so any zoo or hobbyist wanting to have one or more pairs had to make a serious financial commitment. These high prices put a restriction on the number of people that wanted to acquire them and could afford them. It probably also gave potential buyers a tacit reminder that the trade was illicit. In recent years, however, prices have come down, to less than EUR 1,000. Now that earless monitor lizards are more affordable, and with accredited zoos giving a sense of legitimacy, Nijman is concerned that it might become more and more acceptable to keep these rare animals as pets.

“When I grew up in the 1970s, it was still perfectly acceptable for what we now see as accredited zoos to regularly buy rare and globally threatened birds, mammals and reptiles from commercial animal traders. Few questions were asked about the legitimacy of this animal trade. This has dramatically changed for the better, and now many of the animals we see in zoos today have been bred in captivity, either in the zoo itself, or in partner zoos”, Nijman said. He added that in many ways zoos are a force for good in the global challenge to preserve species and conserve habitats. “It is imperative that these efforts are genuinely adopted by all in the zoo community, and, when there is doubt about the legitimacy of animals in trade, that a cautionary approach is adopted.”

Original source:

Nijman V (2021) Zoos consenting to the illegal wildlife trade – the earless monitor lizard as a case study. Nature Conservation 44: 69-79. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.44.65124

Safe distance: How to make sure our outdoor activities don’t harm wildlife

Spending time outdoors is good for a person’s body and soul, but how good is it for the wildlife around us?

Outdoor recreation has become a popular activity, especially in the midst of a pandemic, where access to indoor activities might be limited. Long known to have negative behavioural and physiological effects on wildlife, outdoor recreation is one of the biggest threats to protected areas. Human disturbance to animal habitats can lower their survival and reproduction rates, and ultimately shrink populations or eradicate them from areas where they would otherwise thrive. Still, park planners and natural resource managers often can’t find clear recommendations on how to limit these impacts.

Human recreation and wildlife often overlap. Here an American black bear and hikers use the same trail hours apart in Sonoma County, California, USA. Image by the Wildlife Conservation Society

A new scholarly article in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal Nature Conservation from researchers at the Wildlife Conservation Society looked at nearly 40 years of research on recreation impacts on wildlife to try to find the point where recreation starts to impact the wildlife around us. Knowing when and to what extent a species is being disturbed can ultimately allow for more informed and effective management decisions and increase the chances of its successful conservation.

The researchers found that the impact or uncomfortable distance to humans, vehicles or trails for shorebirds and songbirds was as short as 100 meters or even less, whereas for hawks and eagles it was greater than 400 meters. For mammals, it varied even more widely, with an impact threshold of 50 meters for medium-sized rodents. Large ungulates – like elk – would rather have to stay 500 to 1,000 meters away from people.

While human disturbance thresholds can vary widely, large buffer zones around human activities and controlled visitation limits should always be considered during planning and maintenance of parks and protected areas. Based on their findings, the authors recommend that human activities should be considered to be impacting wildlife at least 250 metres away. Further, they call for future research to explicitly identify points where recreation begins or ends to impact wildlife.

Original source:

Dertien JS, Larson CL, Reed SE (2021) Recreation effects on wildlife: a review of potential quantitative thresholds. Nature Conservation 44: 51-68. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.44.63270

Conservationists concerned about illegal hunting and exploitation of porcupines in Indonesia

Porcupines are being illegally hunted and exploited throughout their range in Indonesia for local subsistence and commercial trade. They are reportedly in decline, yet there seems to be little control or monitoring on uptake and trade. A new study examining seizure data of porcupines in Indonesia found a total of 39 incidents from January 2013 to June 2020 involving an estimated 452 porcupines. The research was published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal Nature Conservation.

Porcupines are frequently traded across Asia, and Indonesia, home to five species, is no exception. They are targeted for a number of reasons: their meat as an alternative source of protein, their bezoars consumed as traditional medicine, and their quills used as talismans and for decorative purposes.

A new study examining seizure data of porcupines, their parts and derivatives in Indonesia found a total of 39 incidents from January 2013 to June 2020 involving an estimated 452 porcupines. The research was published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal Nature Conservation.

Malayan Porcupine. Photo: James Eaton

There are no harvest quotas for any porcupine species in Indonesia, which makes all hunting and trade in porcupines illegal. Of the five species found in the country, only the Sunda porcupine (Hystrix javanica) is currently protected, with its protected status only introduced in 2018. Interestingly, prior to 2018, the Malayan porcupine (H. brachyura) was the only protected porcupine species in Indonesia, but then it was removed from the updated species protection list and replaced with the Sunda porcupine. 

“The reasons for this are unclear, but certainly unwarranted, considering that the Malayan porcupine is the species most frequently identified as confiscated, and one can only assume the reason for its removal is due to its commercial value,” says Lalita Gomez, author of the study and Programme Officer of Monitor Conservation Research Society.

Porcupine for sale in an Indonesian bird market Photo: Lalita Gomez

What clearly emerges from this study is that porcupines are being illegally hunted and exploited throughout their range in Indonesia for local subsistence and commercial trade. Porcupines are reportedly in decline in Indonesia, yet there seems to be little control or monitoring on uptake and trade. This is particularly concerning because four of the five porcupine species in Indonesia have a restricted range, and three of them are island endemics – the Sumatran porcupine (H. sumatrae), Sunda porcupine, and Thick-spined porcupine (H. crassispinis).

Illegal hunting and trade of porcupines in Indonesia is facilitated by poor enforcement and legislative weakness, and it is imperative that effective conservation measures are taken sooner rather than later to prevent further depletion of these species. 

Gomez recommends that all porcupines be categorised as protected species under Indonesian wildlife laws and listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This would require any international trade to take place through a supervisory system, which would allow for regulation and make it easier to track and analyse trends, thus providing an early warning system in case wild populations begin to decline.

Original source:

Gomez L (2021) The illegal hunting and exploitation of porcupines for meat and medicine in Indonesia. Nature Conservation 43: 109-122. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.43.62750

Wildlife trade threats: The importance of genetic data in saving an endangered species

In a new study, published in the scientific journal Nature Conservation, a research team analyses the genetic diversity of the endangered Four-eyed turtle, a species that has fallen victim to the growing wildlife trade in Vietnam. Having identified several distinct lineages in field-collected and local trade samples, the scientists warn that confiscated animals must not be released back into the wild before they have their origin traced back to the locality they have been captured.

In Southeast Asia, wildlife trade is running rampant, and Vietnam plays a key role in combating wildlife trafficking.

Since the country opened its market to China in the late 1980s, a huge amount of wildlife and its products has been transported across the border every year. Species have also been exported to other Asian countries, Europe and the USA. Furthermore, in recent years, Vietnam has also supported the transit of pangolin scales and other wildlife products from across Asia and even as far as Africa all the way to China and other destinations.

Additionally, in line with the expanding wealthy middle class, consumption of wildlife and its products has risen dramatically in Vietnam. As a consequence, the country takes on all three major roles in the international wildlife trade: export, transit and consumption.

Four-eyed turtle captured in Pu Mat National Park, central Vietnam
Credit: Asian Turtle Program
License: CC-BY 4.0

Freshwater turtles and tortoises make up a large part of the international trade between Vietnam and China and the domestic trade within Vietnam. Meanwhile, due to the increasing use of social networks, wildlife trade is shifting to online-based platforms, thereby further facilitating access to threatened species. Consequently, the Vietnamese pond turtle and the Swinhoe’s softshell turtle, for example, are already on the brink of extinction. Despite the repeated recent survey efforts of conservation biologists, no viable populations of their species have been found.

One of the effective approaches to the conservation of the most endangered species is to have confiscated animals released back into the wild, following the necessary treatment and quarantine, or transferring them to conservation breeding programmes. However, in either of the cases, it is necessary to know about the origin of the animals, because the release of individuals at sites they are not naturally adapted to, or at localities inhabited by populations of incompatible genetic makeup can have negative effects both on the gene pool and ecosystem health.

In the present research article, published in the peer-reviewed open-access scientific journal Nature Conservation, turtle conservationist and molecular biologist Dr. Minh D. Le of Vietnam National University (Hanoi) and the American Museum of Natural History (New York), in collaboration with the Cologne Zoo (Germany) and the Asian Turtle Program – Indo-Myanmar Conservation (Hanoi), the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources (Hanoi) and Hanoi Procuratorate University (Hanoi), studies the geographic distribution of genetic diversity of the endangered Four-eyed turtle (Sacalia quadriocellata). The species, whose common name relates to the four eye-resembling spots, located on the back of its head, has traditionally been neglected by scientific and conservation efforts.

Having analysed field-collected and local trade samples along with confiscated animals, the researchers concluded that there is a significant number of genetically distinct lineages distributed in Vietnam and China, and that local trade samples could provide key data for resolving the genetic patterns of the species. They remind that Four-eyed turtles are getting more and more difficult to find in the wild.

Two four-eyed turtles captured in Pu Mat National Park, central Vietnam
Credit: Asian Turtle Program
License: CC-BY 4.0

On the other hand, the study highlights that confiscated animals are of various origin and, therefore, must not be released arbitrarily where they have been seized. Instead, the researchers recommend that captive programmes establish regular genetic screenings to determine the origin of confiscated turtles, so that the risk of crossing different lineages is eliminated. Such genetic screenings are of crucial importance to solve the current issues with biodiversity conservation in the country and the region.

Like other developing countries, Vietnam does not have any specific guidelines on how to release confiscated animals back into the wild yet. This and other similar studies emphasise the role of the government in the implementation of stricter laws and regulation,

said Dr. Minh D. Le, lead author of the study.

This research once more underscores the IUCN’s One Plan Approach, which aims to develop integrative strategies to combine in situ and ex situ measures with expert groups, for the purposes of species conservation,

added Dr. Thomas Ziegler of the Cologne Zoo.

The research was funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, the Partnership for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER), the United States Agency for International Development, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Vietnam’s Ministry of Science and Technology and IDEAWILD.

Trapping four-eyed turtles in Pu Mat National Park, central Vietnam
Credit: Asian Turtle Program
License: CC-BY 4.0

Original source:

Le MD, McCormack TEM, Hoang HV, Duong HT, Nguyen TQ, Ziegler T, Nguyen HD, Ngo HT (2020) Threats from wildlife trade: The importance of genetic data in safeguarding the endangered Four-eyed Turtle (Sacalia quadriocellata). Nature Conservation 41: 91-111. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.41.54661

Contact: 

Dr Minh Duc Le, Vietnam National University
Email: le.duc.minh@hus.edu.vn

Illegal trade with terrestrial vertebrates in markets and households of Laos

Extensive surveys on wildlife markets and households in the Khammouane Province of Laos showed overlaps between the most traded species at wildlife markets and those of highest conservation importance.

It’s not a surprise to anyone that numerous vertebrate species are being sold at different wildlife markets, but at the moment there is still no comprehensive understanding of how much people are involved in those actions in Laos (Lao PDR), nor what the impact on local wildlife populations really is.

East Asian bullfrogs with broken legs at a market in Laos
Photo by Dr Thomas Ziegler

The majority of Laotians live in rural areas and their income largely depends on wildlife. Since wildlife products are used as one of the major food sources, numerous species of terrestrial vertebrates are currently being offered at local markets.

Across the tropical regions, mammals and birds have been vanishing, with recent models estimating up to 83% decline by 2050. Furthermore, wild-caught reptiles have been reported from Southeast Asian wildlife markets for over 20 years, with Laos occupying the position of a very popular source.

Due to the large number of native endemic species, Lao PDR should assume the responsibility to introduce conservation measures to keep control over the predicted population declines. At the moment, the regulations on wildlife use and trade in Laos are mostly based on the Lao Wildlife and Aquatic Law, which, however, largely disregards international statuses of the species and other biological factors.

Slow loris (left), bats (top right) and squirrels (bottom right) offered at a food market in Laos
Photo by C.L. Ebert

Stricter and reinforced legislation is needed in the fields related to wildlife trade and consumption, since such practices are not only causing biodiversity loss, but also suggested to pose a great threat of wildlife-associated emergence of zoonotic parasites and pathogens to humans. As an immediate example, the outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is primarily considered to be a consequence of human consumption of wild animals.

An international group of students and scientists, led by Professor Dr. Thomas Ziegler at the University of Cologne and the Cologne Zoo (Germany), has conducted a number of extensive surveys on wildlife markets (66 observational surveys at 15 trade hubs) and households (63 households at 14 sites) in the Khammouane Province of Laos. The key question of the survey was: “Which species are traded and to what extent?” The results of the study are published in the open-access journal Nature Conservation.

The surveys showed overlaps between the most traded species at wildlife markets and those of highest conservation importance.

As for the households, approximately 90% of the surveyed respondents confirmed the use of wildlife. For the majority of the population, wildlife harvesting was found to be important for their livelihood and trapping activities were mostly aimed at self-consumption / subsistence. The reason for this could be explained by the prices of domesticated meat, which can be three times as higher as those of wildlife products.

A Buffy fish owl and a Chinese water dragon offered at a food market in Laos
Photos by K. Kasper and T. Ziegler

The demand for the species on the wildlife market remained the same over time, according to the opinions of 84,1% of respondents, while the availability of wild meats was reported to have decreased, due to increasing price.

“We recommend local authorities to assess the markets within the province capital Thakhek in particular, as they showed the highest quantity of wild meats. The markets at Namdik and Ban Kok turned out to be very active trade hubs for wildlife as well, regardless of the vertebrate group. The loss of certain species may cause a cascade of unforeseeable effects in the ecosystems. Therefore, the biodiversity of tropical Southeast Asian countries like Lao PDR must be protected,”

shares Dr. Thomas Ziegler.

To help the local population to avoid the crisis related to the change of activity and growing unemployment, scientists propose to introduce new activities in the region.

“Eco-tourism presents a great opportunity to combine conservation efforts and an alternative source of income. Former hunters with excellent knowledge of the forest and wildlife habitats can serve as professional wildlife tour guides or their involvement in the Village Forest Protection Group could help to protect natural resources in Laos”,

suggests Dr. Thomas Ziegler.

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Original source:

Kasper K, Schweikhard J, Lehmann M, Ebert CL, Erbe P, Wayakone S, Nguyen TQ, Le MD, Ziegler T (2020) The extent of the illegal trade with terrestrial vertebrates in markets and households in Khammouane Province, Lao PDR. Nature Conservation 41: 25-45. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.41.51888

Illegal hunting and bushmeat trade threatens biodiversity and wildlife of Angola

Hunting and bushmeat trade negatively impact wildlife worldwide with serious implications for biodiversity conservation. The current situation in Angola shows a concerning increase in bushmeat trade along main roads. In a recent publication in the open-access journal Nature Conservation, an international group of scientists presented data gathered on a roundtrip around five main Angolan cities. It turned out that the influence of those activities on wildlife population is very unsettling.

Hunting wild animals has been practised by humans for millions of years; however, the extraction of wildlife for subsistence and commercialisation has become a major biodiversity threat in recent decades. Meanwhile, over-exploitation is reported to be the second most important driver of change and biodiversity loss globally. 

To assess the state of affairs, an international group of scientists, led by Dr. Francisco M. P. Gonçalves of the University of Hamburg in Germany, went on a roundtrip along the roads between five main Angolan cities. Their observations made it possible to conclude that, despite the existing legislation, as well as government efforts to handle poaching and bushmeat trade, currently there is no effective law enforcement mechanism to help dealing with the situation.

Map of Africa showing the location of Angola (left) and the provinces covered by the study along the main road from Lubango (Huíla province) to Uíge (right).
Credit: Francisco Maiato P. Gonçalves

In their study, the team also states that Angola is one of the richest and most biodiverse countries in Africa with an estimated 6,850 native and 226 non-native plant species, 940 bird species (including many endemic species), 117 amphibians species, 278 reptile species, 358 freshwater fishes (22% of them endemic) and 275 species of mammals.

The long-lasting civil war in Angola has contributed to the dramatic loss of wildlife and led to the near extinction of many species, as a result of the increase in illegal poaching. A variety of fresh, smoked or dried bushmeat, as well as live animals, are being sold along the roads, mostly to urban dwellers travelling between the main cities of Angola.

Despite the recent outbreaks of diseases (i.e. Ebola in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo), animals still appear to be obtained directly from hunters and slaughtered with no sanitary measures, while the consumption of wildlife in Africa is frequently associated with an increased risk of acquiring zoonotic diseases.

The major trade road runs between the provinces of Bengo and Uíge, where the animals sold include many species of antelopes, monkeys, snakes and a globally protected species of pangolin (Manis tricuspis). Multiple species of wading birds and parrots are often sold in pet shops, as well as along the streets. At fairs and entry points to the main cities, these can be found offered by young boys.


Wild animals and smoked bushmeat on sale along the roadside of the Sequele village, between Bengo and Uíge provinces: Blue duikers, Talapoin and Vervet (green) monkey in the cage on the ground on the left,  Northern Rock Python on the right top and Tree pangolin (bottom right).
Photo by Francisco Maiato P. Gonçalves

Although there is no evidence of cross-border trade, there might, however, be cases of bushmeat trade in the informal markets at the principal border posts. Commercial activities between the countries are not regulated and stay intense, note the scientists.

“We witnessed a Chinese customer looking for pangolins in one of the villages; pangolin scales, when soaked, are trusted for having medicinal properties for a large variety of human illnesses mostly in Asia. It is currently estimated there are 0.4–0.7 million pangolins hunted annually, representing an increase of around 150% only for medicinal purposes over the past four decades,” share the researches.

Wild animals and smoked bushmeat on sale along the roadside of the Sequele village, between Bengo and Uíge provinces: Blue duikers, Talapoin and Vervet (green) monkey in the cage on the ground on the left, Northern Rock Python on the right top and Tree pangolin (bottom right).
Photo by Francisco Maiato P. Gonçalves

Trying to find a solution, the Angolan government has undertaken a number of measures, including: a list of species prohibited for hunting and trade (five of those species were found on the markets during the survey); banning hunting of certain species outside the hunting season; introducing compensation fees.

However, despite the legal basis, local authorities (i.e. police checkpoints close to the road markets) do not take the necessary measures to discourage hunting and bushmeat trade practices in the region. Due to lack of clear definition and responsibility arrangements, the hunting and trade of wild animals remain uncontrolled.

All these recent observations bring us to the necessity for a re-assessment of the wildlife in Angola and the need to produce appropriate legislation to be efficiently enforced across the whole territory of the country.  This can be achieved through better-educated police officials and alternative sources of meat supply in rural areas. These actions should bring down the demand for bushmeat and reduce the overharvesting of wildlife, suggest the scientists.

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Original source:

Gonçalves FMP, Luís JC, Tchamba JJ, Cachissapa MJ, Chisingui AV (2019) A rapid assessment of hunting and bushmeat trade along the roadside between five Angolan major towns. Nature Conservation 37: 151-160. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.37.37590