Celebrating the biggest conservation wins of 2017

WWF supporters raised more than $250,000 to help bison in Badlands National Park
In early March, nearly 2,500 people donated a total of $256,512 to extend bison habitat at the park from 57,640 acres to 80,193 acres. This will allow the park to achieve and sustain a herd of more than 1,000 bison, and will allow more park visitors to see and learn about the United States’ National mammal.

WWF and Apple are working together to protect China’s forests
In July, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certificates were awarded for more than 320,000 acres of forest land in southern China. Nearly two-thirds of the land is owned and managed by one private company, Maoyuan Company. The remainder is owned and managed by Guangxi Qinlian Forestry Company, a state government entity. The land includes semi-natural forests and forest plantations.

WWF teamed up with hotels to reduce their food waste
WWF began working with the American Hotel & Lodging Association and its member hotels to reduce food waste. Starting with 10 hotel properties, WWF and AHLA tested waste-reduction strategies, including low-waste menu planning, staff training and education, and customer engagement. Overall, participating properties reduced food waste by at least 10%, and lowered food costs by 3%–5%.

Originally posted 2017-12-13 13:00:00.

Latrine Spotting: The Meditative Poo

An Exploration into the Studies of Spider Monkey Poop

Its 5am and the forest is just waking up. Under the canopy it’s still pitch black, but the rustles of the daytime animals emerging from their dens and stretching their legs is audible alongside the singular call of the howler monkey telling the rest of the forest it’s time to get up. Above me I can hear the spider monkeys talking to each other and affirming group cohesion, much like how we say, “good morning.” Suddenly, I feel a warm, light drizzle on my head, followed by the sound of something dense splattering on the ground not too far from me. I smile.

Spider monkeys are an incredibly important part of the forest ecosystem on the Osa Peninsula. They’re known as primary seed dispersers, which means the seeds they digest from eating fruit gets spread around the forest as they poop it out. One study found that seeds were dispersed from 83 meters to 1741 meters, but most figures were well over 100 meters – and they considered their study an underestimate.1

Close up of one of our most active latrines. You can see the Inga seeds in the feces.

This is why the spider monkey is called an ecosystem engineer, and why they are important for biologists to study. As ecosystem engineers, these primates have the ability to help rebuild damaged and cleared forests which is important in the larger goal of keeping our rainforests healthy.

There is one important aspect of spider monkey behavior that is rather unusual: they poop after they wake up and before they go to bed, but will rarely poop in random spots through the forest. This creates these massive buildups of poop under specific trees around the forest, which are called latrines.

My work with Osa Conservation centered around these latrines, and the ecosystem they create. That’s right – these piles of poo create entire ecosystems. When the poop falls, a whole host of insects are attracted to it: dung beetles, all types of ants, and flies. Then, their predators—which include anoles, all types of frogs, including poison dart frogs, and ant birds—are attracted to the latrines. Not only are predatory animals attracted to these sites, but seed eaters are attracted as well. We were able to collect camera trap footage of a whole host of seed predators and secondary seed dispersers, including the agouti, all types of small mice and rats, and pacas. These rodents exhibit a behavior called seed caching, where they stuff as many seeds as they can into their cheeks and bury them somewhere else, often forgetting where. The latrines we were studying ranged in size from 1 meter across, to the entire edge of a stream bank—about 17 meters!

Close up of another latrine, this time with an abundance of moldy feces.

These latrines are where I spent most of my time in the forest. A co-worker of mine on multiple occasions had spotted the green and black poison dart frog gathering in groups of four or five at the latrines. This is incredible because these frogs are aggressive and territorial and will attack another frog for entering the territory. My job was to figure out why they were tolerating each other and what they were doing at the latrines.

The set up was simple: create an ethogram, sit 5 meters from the latrine with a camera and binoculars and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

——–

For twenty days I spent five hours in the morning and three and a half hours in the afternoon sitting at these latrines doing observations. That’s a combined 170 hours of time watching these latrines.

——–

I saw no poison dart frogs.

——–

This time spent alone in the forest allowed me to do some quiet meditation and reflection on what the hell I was doing spending all my time sitting in the middle of the rainforest staring at piles of poo.

And every time a troop of monkeys would swing by, or a tamandua would plod along quietly near me, or a swarm of army ants would cause me to run head over heels from where I was sitting, I would be reminded.

A green and black poison dart frog that was found elsewhere in the forest. Like most amphibians, they’re most likely to be found near water sources like streams and ponds.

  1. Arroyo-Rodriguez, V. (2017). Parent-parent and parent-offspring distances in Spondias radlkoferi seeds suggest long-distance pollen and seed dispersal: Evidence from latrines of the spider monkey. Journal of Tropical Ecology. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1017/S02664674170000

New weather stations support climate and water research in Bhutan

Researchers have set up four weather stations in a preserve in the mountains of north Bhutan for the first time, allowing them to monitor conditions at various altitudes over the long-term. Data collected by these stations will help determine the best ways to help wildlife in the region adapt to climate change.

The Ugyen Wangchuk Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research (UWICER) set up these hydro-meterological (hydromet) stations at elevations between 9,100 feet and 13,400 feet along a slope in the institute’s research preserve to monitor weather data, and help gauge long-term climate trends. These weather stations, set up with support from WWF’s Conservation and Adaptation in Asia’s High Mountains (AHM) project and funded by USAID, are part of an integrated, climate-smart approach to conservation and adaptation in the region.

The hydro-meteorological data collected—such as daily precipitation, temperature, and the volume of water moving down a river or stream during a given period—will fill a gap in climate information at the edge of snow leopard range in Bhutan, and complement ongoing studies at the institute. The institute currently assesses animal and plant life; sets and monitors camera traps; safely captures and tags birds; and studies tree growth and the amount of energy stored in forests.

Data from these weather stations will be at the core of new studies on the impact of climate change on the water cycle and stream ecosystems. Researchers have already mapped 350 water sources around the research preserve with AHM support, and this new data will provide the needed climate angle.

AHM has also established two climate-smart demonstration villages in partnership with UWICER, that provide remote communities with biogas, greenhouses, water source management, and solar fencing to help them adapt to the climate changes they are already experiencing. The project has also supported the development of the institute’s expertise in water and climate science.

By building weather stations to collect climate data, establishing demonstration sites that allow the testing of adaptation interventions, and organizing events at which researchers can come together and share both their research and practice, WWF is helping UWICER lay a foundation for better climate research and interventions for years to come.

Learn more about Asia High Mountains.

Originally posted 2018-01-18 13:00:00.

WWF is saving black rhinos by moving them

Will you help save rhinos today?

Black rhino and calf in Africa

Every dollar you donate will support WWF’s efforts to save rhinos from extinction.

Donate

Rhinos, one of the oldest groups of mammals, are virtually living fossils. They once roamed across Africa’s savannas and Asia’s tropical forests, but today, very few rhinos survive outside of national parks and reserves.

WWF has worked for decades to stop rhino poaching, increase rhino populations, and protect their vital habitats. By conserving land for rhinos, we also help protect other important wildlife that share rhino habitat, such as elephants.

Specifically, WWF’s Black Rhino Range Expansion Project (BRREP) in South Africa has been working with passion, commitment, and determination to ensure a brighter future for the critically endangered black rhino for more than a decade. BRREP works to grow black rhino numbers by creating new populations and provides equipment and training to rangers to monitor, manage, and protect rhinos.

How WWF safely moves rhinos to help the species thrive
Looking back over years of moving black rhinos to create new populations as part of the Black Rhino Range Expansion Project, it’s worth noting how capture and release techniques have improved. Check out how WWF safely and efficiently completes this essential conservation measure.

Originally posted 2017-12-14 13:00:00.

New species discovered in the Greater Mekong

The freshwater loach fish from Cambodia sports striking black and brown stripes on its elongated body. So far these fish have only been found in smaller streams and not in any larger mainstream rivers, where large hydropower dams and agricultural runoff can threaten wildlife.

Since 1997, more than 2,500 species have been discovered in the Greater Mekong region. It’s a positive sign of biodiversity in a region where wildlife remains under tremendous threat. Intense development—from mines to roads to dams—threatens the habitats so many species call home. Poaching for bushmeat and the illegal wildlife trade puts wildlife at dire risk. As a result, many species could be lost before they are even discovered.

WWF is working to stop the illegal wildlife trade by shutting down the biggest illegal markets in the Greater Mekong. Working with partners and across borders, WWF aims to significantly reduce illegal trade in key threatened species such as elephants, tigers and rhinos through legislation, transboundary cooperation and improved law enforcement. By safeguarding these species, we protect biodiversity and keep important natural landscapes intact.

Originally posted 2017-12-19 13:00:00.

Artificial nests bring new hope for vulnerable shy albatross

“Shy albatross lay a single egg in late September and those eggs have now hatched,” said Dr. Rachael Alderman, a biologist with the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment. “At this stage in the trial, the breeding success of pairs on artificial nests is 20% higher than those on natural nests. There are many more months ahead for all the chicks, and a lot can change, but so far it’s very promising.”

Endemic to Australia, shy albatross only nest on three islands off the coast of Tasmania—Albatross Island, Pedra Branca, and Mewstone. In some parts of the Albatross Island colony, birds struggle to find and keep sufficient nesting material, resulting in poor quality nests.

Conservation scientists and funding partners from the Tasmanian and Australian governments, WWF-Australia, WWF’s Wildlife Adaptation Innovation Fund, CSIRO Marine Climate Impact, and the Tasmanian Albatross Fund have worked together to place nests in areas where they were typically of lower quality. Recent monitoring shows that the birds are accepting the nests and personalizing them with mud and vegetation.

“Albatross Island gets hit with wild weather,” said Darren Grover, WWF-Australia’s head of living ecosystems who recently visited the project site. “Good quality nests keep eggs and chicks safe and sound. The artificial nests were all intact, but many of the natural nests were already starting to deteriorate. That’s not the best start in life for a chick.”

When the chicks are fully grown and about to fly from the island for the first time, scientists will attach tiny satellite trackers to them to capture the movements of their first few months at sea. This will provide crucial information about why fewer juveniles are surviving.

As the climate continues to change, scientists need to develop, test, and evaluate new approaches to protecting vulnerable species. This collaborative innovation is an encouraging step for the future of the shy albatross and can serve as a model for other wildlife recovery efforts.

“It’s fantastic to see this project come to fruition,” said Dr. Sally Box, Australia’s threatened species commissioner. “We all have a role to play in protecting our threatened species, and thanks to contributions by government, scientists, and non-government partners, we are starting to see some really positive outcomes for the shy albatross in Tasmania.”

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