The Dwindling Sharks and Rays of the Western Indian Ocean

By Rhett Bennett

Sharks have been cruising the world’s oceans for millions of years. We know them as ferocious hunters, built for the kill. And some are. However, most shark and ray species have somewhat less aggressive feeding behaviour and, of course, many end up as food themselves.

These magnificent creatures have adapted to an incredible diversity of habitats, from the open ocean to deep ocean trenches, volcanic seamounts, coral reefs, mangroves, estuaries and rivers. There are even some that have evolved to live exclusively—or almost exclusively—in freshwater environments like the freshwater stingrays in South America and the river sharks in Southeast Asia and Australia.

In the waters off East Africa, in the Western Indian Ocean, nearly 230 shark and ray species have been identified, making this one of a handful of global shark and ray biodiversity hotspots. Because of this high diversity, including several species that are found only in this region, and because shark and ray species are millions of years old, the Western Indian Ocean is considered globally important for shark and ray conservation.

A shark is eviscerated and its fins are removed on the streets of Zanzibar. Photo credit: Rhett Bennett/WCS.

At the same time, in East Africa there are 70 million people living within 100 km of the coastline, many of whom are dependent on fishing and marine resources as their primary form of protein or income. Artisanal and traditional fishers use a range of fishing gears, such as handlines, longlines, spears, mosquito nets, beach seine nets, gill nets and even baited gill nets to target fishes, and many also target sharks and rays.

There are also small-scale commercial, commercial and industrial fishing vessels using deepwater trawl nets, shrimp trawl nets, deepset gill nets, longlines and purse seine nets. The result is that many of these either target—or result in considerable bycatch of—shark and ray species.

This heavy fishing pressure creates a major threat to sharks and rays. Most species grow much slower than other fish species and become sexually mature much later in life. They also tend to have very few offspring. Most will have just five or ten well-developed young per year, compared to some fishes that may release several million eggs in a single spawning event.

Wedgefishes dominate a drying rack. Photo credit: ©Michael Markovina.

While sharks and rays may have evolved the perfect biology to capitalise on all aquatic habitats, their reproductive design cannot support extensive fisheries. Approximately one quarter of the species found in the Western Indian Ocean face a high risk of extinction in the wild due to overfishing. Sawfishes have not been seen in East Africa in several decades.

Fishing of sharks and rays has increased exponentially in recent years, driven largely by the global trade in fins—especially guitarfishes and wedgefishes—to supply the demand for shark fin soup.

It is not only direct fishing pressure that has a negative impact on sharks and rays, but also the destruction of critical habitat. Examples include the burning of mangrove trees to create coal (mangroves provide nursery areas for many species of coastal sharks and rays), destruction of coral reefs for coastal development, and overfishing of fish species that provide food for sharks and some ray species.

WCS staff Dr Rhett Bennett and Katya Kalashnikova prepare to deploy a baited underwater video camera off Pemba Island, Zanzibar. Photo courtesy of Katya Kalashnikova.

A recent status report led by WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) in collaboration with several other organisations highlighted the key threats to sharks and rays in the Western Indian Ocean. These include directed and incidental mortality in several fisheries, a lack of ecological knowledge and information on catches in the different fisheries, as well as poor controls on trade and a lack of legislation specifically for sharks and rays.

Nevertheless, it is not all bad news for these animals. There has been a new wave of focus on shark and ray conservation in recent years, both globally and within the Western Indian Ocean. Seychelles and South Africa have developed national plans of action, for the conservation and management of sharks and rays in their waters.

In addition, WCS is supporting the Ministry of the Environment, Ecology and Forests of Madagascar and the Kenya Fisheries Service to produce national plans of action for shark and ray conservation and management in Madagascar and Kenya, respectively, while plans are underway to develop a guiding roadmap for shark and ray management in Mozambique, and hopefully Tanzania will follow soon.

A cowshark investigates an underwater camera in a South African marine protected area. Photo credit: Michael Markovina.

WCS has several conservation initiatives in the Western Indian Ocean aimed at addressing the threats to sharks and rays, through collection of ecological and fishery data, supporting governments to develop and implement regulations and legislation specifically for shark and ray species, and through engagement with fishing communities to raise awareness of the poor status of most shark and ray species, and the need for their conservation.

While sharks may kill four or five humans per year, the annual number of sharks and rays killed by humans exceeds 100 million! And most shark attacks are effected by just a few species. Ultimately, sharks and rays support many human activities and contribute essential ecological services, and they have very few negative impacts on humans.

Shark Week reminds us that it is time to improve our knowledge of sharks and rays, and support initiatives to protect these prehistoric species and their habitats, rather than persecute them.

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Dr. Rhett Bennett is Shark and Ray Conservation Officer for Madagascar and the Western Indian Ocean at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).

Originally posted 2018-07-29 02:11:26.

Top 25 Birds Protected by the MBTA

This week we honour the Migratory Bird Treaty Act on 1918, an act which has protected countless birds from being hunted and exploited for the last 100 years. The strength of this act is now being threatened by legislation changes which no longer make companies accountable for bird deaths. Here the birding community can have their say, we can all take to social media and voice our opinions on these changes. You can also sign the petition here. This week we present just 25 of the species that are protected by this act, although the act covers over 1000 different species! Legislation like this can make immense impacts on bird communities and this week we commemorate the many bird lives saved by this act.

The Black-tailed Godwit is one of the palearctic migrants protected by the MBTA, and rightly so as they are considered Near-Threatened. This is mainly due to the intensification of agriculture in their breeding range (Vipul Trivedi)This beautiful Collared Kingfisher was photographed in Goa, India (Vishal Monakar)Many Tern species undertake long migrations but the Greater Crested Tern appears to be fairly resident around their breeding areas (Kishore Reddy)These Little Stints breed in the Arctic Tundra and overwinter in Africa and India (Edwin Godinho)The Mountain Bluebird of North America migrates within the continent between the USA and Canada and Alaska. The MBTA protects birds moving between these countries (Tim Nicol)During the breeding season the Reed Bunting switches its diet from seeds to invertebrates, the protein is important for developing chicks (Antonis Tsaknakis)The Light-mantled Sooty Albatross is a pelagic seabird of the Southern Ocean, they breed on islands here such as Marion Island (Judi Fenson)The Bluethroat breeds in northern Eurasia and Alaska and overwinters in southern Eurasia and central Africa (Aman Sharma)Wood Ducks inhabit water bodies surrounded by woodland, they also prefer ponds created by beavers (Barbara Wallace)Eurasian Siskins appear to migrate in stable groups which are maintained year by year (Edwin Godinho)This Brown Pelican was photographed in California, USA by Leslie ReaganThis Northern Hawk Owl occurs in northern Eurasia, Alaska, Canada and northern USA (Teri Franzen)Common Redpolls belong to the finch family and as such they eat mainly seeds and small insects (Jola Charlton)Peregrine Falcons hunt predominantly birds, 200 different bird species have been recorded in their diet (Vipul Trivedi)Common Sandpipers can fly distances of up to 4000 kilometres without stopping! (Asutosh Pal)Little Stints are sociable, they can be found in groups of several thousand birds (Riya Roy Pahuja)This Pine Bunting was photographed in its wintering range in northern India (Rick Toor)Calliope Hummingbirds breed in the north of North America before migrating up to 4500 kilometres to Mexico for a milder winter (Tim Nicol)A Common Eider photographed in Grindavík, Iceland by Michal RichterThe White-throated Sparrow breeds in Canada and north-eastern USA and spends the winter further south in the USA, this individual was photographed in Pennsylvania (Melissa Penta)A group of Tufted Ducks take flight (Subhamoy Das)Ospreys are powerful hunters, they can take fish up to two kilograms (Pallabi Mitra)A Black-tailed Godwit probing for food in the water (Radhakrishnan Sadasivam)The Green Heron is a sub-species of the Green-backed Heron. The gReen-backed Heron occurs throughout the globe, asides from the polar regions, but this sub-species occurs only in the uSA  (Barbara Wallace)The Acorn Woodpecker occurs along the west coast of North America. They prefer oak woodlands, as they feed mainly on acorns (Judi Fenson)

Our mission is to build a global community around the freedom and beauty of birds in the wild as ambassadors for the natural ecosystems that they depend upon. They are the music, decoration, and character of every terrestrial habitat on the planet and have been around since the dinosaurs. They are the witnesses and ambassadors of the awesome power of nature. The wide availability of good, cheap optics has opened their world to us for the last few decades. Amazing, affordable DSLR cameras with long lenses are delivering brilliant digital bird imagery to online communities.

We are in a day-and-age during which more bird species are threatened with extinction than ever before. The Wild Birds! Revolution aims to publish the “Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week” to 1 million people every week by the end of the year. That is a revolution that will change the world! Join thousands of other weekend naturalists, photographers, birders, experts, hikers, nature-lovers, guides, scientists, conservationists and artists that share the thousands of wild bird photographs submitted to the Wild Bird Trust website and Facebook page. Thousands of wild bird enthusiasts are going out every day to photograph our planet’s beautiful birdlife. Pick up your camera, fill your bird feeder, open your heart, and join the Wild Birds! Revolution!!

Edited by Christie Craig, Campaign Manager

Top 25 Wild Bird Brood Parasites

Originally posted 2018-04-13 15:19:38.

The world’s rarest big cat grows in number

Camera trap monitoring is the main research method used to study Amur leopards in the wild, and individuals are identified by their unique spot patterns. With around 400 cameras monitoring wildlife in the park, it is the largest camera trap network in Russia. Scientists processed the collected data over several months before announcing the new population numbers. WWF, along with partners WCS and the Far Eastern Leopard Centre, helped the park with camera trap monitoring and data processing.

“Our forecasts were optimistic, and since the establishment of the Land of the Leopard National Park in 2012, the number of the rarest large cat has increased significantly,” said Sergey Donskoy, the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of Russia.

Experts believe more leopards may inhabit the territory outside the national park and are now working to collect more data from places like China where camera traps are already in place.

Considering the Amur leopard is one of the most endangered large mammals in the world, this increase is such welcome news and reflects the importance of regular species monitoring to assess their health in the ecosystem,” said Nilanga Jayasinghe, Senior Program Officer, Asian Species

Originally posted 2018-04-13 12:00:00.

“If a tiger kills our cattle, we don’t feel angry”

The Chenchu tribe think of the tiger as their brother. They understand their forest and its wildlife better than anybody else and have shaped, nurtured and protected this environment for millennia. Yet their lives are being destroyed by government efforts to conserve this animal. Survival International researcher Fiore Longo spent time with them in Amrabad and Nagarjunasagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserves, in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh States, India.

“Our ancestors taught us only one thing: Love and respect the forest and it will take care of you. Here we don’t need money to eat and to live. This forest is our breath and our life.”

The Chenchu can recognize five different types of bees that produce five different types of honey. “We leave the larvae so it will recycle again; by looking at the way a bee flies we can know where the honey is”.

Outsiders think that tigers and humans are a threat to one another, but the Chenchu, who live with the animals day to day, have a different perspective; “We love them as we love our children. If a tiger or a leopard kills our cattle, we don’t feel disappointed or angry, instead we feel as if our brothers have visited our homes and they have eaten what they wanted”.

Evidence proves indigenous peoples manage their environment and its wildlife better than anyone else. Yet like other tribes in India’s tiger reserves, such as the Baiga and Mising, the Chenchu are being threatened with illegal eviction from their ancestral homelands: “We will shed every single drop of our blood to protect our rights and our forest. This forest is our home. The flora and fauna of this forest are part of our family. Without us the forest won’t survive, and without the forest we won’t survive.”

Under Indian law, to conduct a relocation of indigenous peoples from their forests, evidence must be provided to demonstrate that the community is irreversibly harming the flora and fauna, and that coexistence with wild animals is impossible. Then, if the community gives its consent, they should be offered one of the two options of the resettlement package that the authorities are obliged by law to provide: either receive cash (Rs 10 lakh per family, around 14,500 US dollars), or move to a resettlement village. This is not what is happening in reality.

This woman is from Pecheru village, which was evicted in the ’80s. Of the 750 families that used to live in the village, the Chenchu told us that only 160 families survived after the eviction took place. Many starved to death. “The thought of that frightens us  – we don’t want to see it. We won’t get the safety we have here anywhere else. Most of us would die of depression, unable to cope with a new life, and the rest of us would die slow, horrible deaths.”

“Among ourselves we have pure love and strong relationships. But outside it is not the same. Everything is related to money. If you don’t have money there is no food and no water. No money means no house and no clothes. It’s a shameless world out there, where nothing is pure. From the air we breathe to the relationships we establish, everything is impure there. We won’t get the safety we have here in the forest anywhere else.”

The Chenchu have released a letter demanding to be allowed to stay in their home: “Since our ancestors’ time, we have been born in this forest and we have died and will die in this very forest. This forest is our breath and our life. This forest is our right and no one can take this right from us and break our bond. If anyone tries to do this, we shall fight against it till our last breath. We will shed every single drop of our blood to protect our rights and our forest.”

Do you want to help the Chenchu? Fill in the form below and Survival International will be in touch

Originally posted 2018-07-27 22:29:43.

Top 25 Birds with a Sugar Rush

Here we present the Top 25: Birds with a Sugar Rush, a spectacular collection of the many different birds that feed on nectar. Plants produce nectar as an incentive for birds and insects to pollinate them. Some plants are particularly well suited for bird pollinators, their flowers are often red or orange and have tubular flowers. Birds that specialise in feeding on nectar have long, narrow bills, well suited to reaching into these flowers. These birds and these plants have evolved together to form a mutually beneficial relationship, where the plant gets pollinated and the bird gets a sugary treat. But it is not just the specialist nectarivores that enjoy nectar, many birds are partial to nectar and will either feed on flowers they can reach into, or puncture tubular flowers to release the nectar. This collection features both the nectar specialists and nectar opportunists.

Thank you to everyone who submitted photographs this week, if you would like to take part in next week’s Top 25, look out for the announcement of the next theme on our Facebook page.

Plants like this Wild Dagga have co-evolved with nectar specialists like this White-bellied Sunbird. the long tubular flowers only allow birds like sunbirds to reach the nectar  (Brian Culver)A Little Wattlebird mid call in Don Reserve, Tasmania. These birds rely on nectar, mainly from Eucalyptus and Banksia flowers (Radhakrishnan Sadasivam)A Streaked Spiderhunter forages for nectar in Fraser Hill, Malaysia (Arun Samak)The Olive-backed Sunbird is native to south-east Asia and north-eastern Australia. This one was photographed in Singapore (Bharath Srinivasan)A male Calliope Hummingbird drinks from a Red Salvia flower (Jola Charlton)As this female Purple Sunbird drinks nectar from this flower, pollen brushes onto her bill, this pollen will then brush off onto the next flower she feeds on, in this way she plays a vital role in pollinating these plants (Paneendra BA)like the little wattlebird, This White-cheeked Honeyeater feeds mainly on nectar from Eucalyptus and Banksia species (Jamie Dolphin)Oriental White-eyes are generalist feeders, they eat a variety of vegetable matter, fruits and in this case, nectar (Panthera Tigris)Parrots like this Northern Rosella eat mainly seeds but will also feed opportunistically on nectar (Janis Otto)The Little Spiderhunter belongs to the Sunbird family. like other sunbirds they specialise in eating nectar, but they also supplement their diet with insects and spiders (Radhakrishnan Sadasivam)Crimson Sunbirds are typically found in wooded areas, including mangrove forests (Jasvir Faridkot)The eye-catching iridescent colouring on this Van Hasselt’s Sunbird is created by structures in the feathers, which refract light. this is why at different angles the colour may look slightly different (Saravanan Krishnamurthy)A Blue-faced Honeyeater enjoys a nectar meal in Humpty Doo, Australia. The Honeyeaters are native to Australasia. while they may resemble nectarivores in other parts of the world, like sunbirds and flowerpeckers, they are in fact not related to them (Janis Otto)These Pale-billed Flowerpeckers dwell in the canopy of forests, here they forage on insects, fruits and nectar (Ganesh Rao)A female Rufous Hummingbird demonstrates her amazing hovering ability as she feeds on this Blanket Flower (Tim Nicol)A Brahminy Starling feeds on nectar from the flowers of an Indian Coral Tree. These starlings do not specialise on nectar but they will take it opportunistically (Indranil Bhattacharjee)This photograph of a Rufous Sibia beautifully illustrates pollination in action (Nandita Halder)The Allen’s Hummingbird is one of the smaller species of the hummingbird family. at food sources they tend to be dominated and pushed out by larger species. but They have adapted to this by feeding at lower levels and earlier in the morning than many of the larger species (Barbara Wallace)A Beautiful Sunbird perched alongside Lake Baringo in Kenya (Wasif Yaqeen)This Gilbert’s Honeyeater is only found in south-western Australia (Jamie Dolphin)Great Barbets mainly eat fruit but they will also drink nectar from time to time (Nandita Halder)A Green-tailed Sunbird photographed in the village of Chaffi, India (Shantharam Holla)A female Anna’s Hummingbird hovers with precision while she takes a drink of nectar (Barbara Wallace)This amazing bird is a Sword-billed Hummingbird, the only bird in the world whose beak is longer than its body (Melissa Penta)This White-necked Jacobin belongs to the Hummingbird family, they occur in central and south America. This male was photographed in Costa Rica by Joel Delmas

Our mission is to build a global community around the freedom and beauty of birds in the wild as ambassadors for the natural ecosystems that they depend upon. They are the music, decoration, and character of every terrestrial habitat on the planet and have been around since the dinosaurs. They are the witnesses and ambassadors of the awesome power of nature. The wide availability of good, cheap optics has opened their world to us for the last few decades. Amazing, affordable DSLR cameras with long lenses are delivering brilliant digital bird imagery to online communities.

We are in a day-and-age during which more bird species are threatened with extinction than ever before. The Wild Birds! Revolution aims to publish the “Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week” to 1 million people every week by the end of the year. That is a revolution that will change the world! Join thousands of other weekend naturalists, photographers, birders, experts, hikers, nature-lovers, guides, scientists, conservationists and artists that share the thousands of wild bird photographs submitted to the Wild Bird Trust website and Facebook page. Thousands of wild bird enthusiasts are going out every day to photograph our planet’s beautiful birdlife. Pick up your camera, fill your bird feeder, open your heart, and join the Wild Birds! Revolution!!

Edited by Christie Craig, Campaign Manager

Top 25: Wild Birds with Spectacular Catches

Originally posted 2018-07-27 20:25:12.

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