Saturday, July 30, 2011

Rare Gibbons Found

A male northern white-cheeked gibbon (left) and a mother carrying her baby hang out in a treetop in Vietnam's Pu Mat National Park in a recent picture.

The animals are part of a newfound population of more than 400 of the gibbons, which are deemed critically endangered in Vietnam and Laos by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The gibbons, which have declined due to widespread hunting and logging of their habitat, are likely extinct in China.

Conservation International had been searching for the rare primates since 2008, finding only a few scattered groups—until now. New auditory sampling surveys—during which researchers record the calls of gibbon "families"—have revealed that Pu Mat is home to 130 gibbon groups, for an overall population of roughly 455 individuals.

The discovery of such a large gibbon population may mean the species has a better chance of long-term survival, the scientists say.

On the Prowl - Snow Leopard Population Thriving!

A snow leopard recently photographed prowling the mountains of Afghanistan has plenty of company, as revealed by the first camera-trap pictures of the big cats in the war-torn country.

The pictures, taken by a team led by the Wildlife Conservation Society, show that a surprisingly robust population of possibly a hundred animals is prowling the remote Wakhan Corridor (see map).

Previous estimates have suggested that perhaps only 4,500 to 7,500 snow leopards—considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature—live throughout the mountain ranges of Central Asia.

"Afghanistan has been devastated by 30 years of conflict, so you might not expect there to be a lot of large wildlife left. But there does appear to be a fairly large population of snow leopards, and that's wonderful," said Peter Zahler, who launched the Wildlife Conservation Society's Afghanistan program in 2006.

"Wakhan Corridor is a very isolated area of high-elevation mountains, so it has probably been less affected by conflict than other parts of Afghanistan." (Related: "Afghanistan Bright Spot: Wildlife Surviving in War Zones.")

Longest Polar Bear Swim Recorded—426 Miles Straight

Anne Casselman

for National Geographic News

Published July 20, 2011

A female polar bear swam for a record-breaking nine days straight, traversing 426 miles (687 kilometers) of water—equivalent to the distance between Washington, D.C., and Boston, a new study says.

The predator made her epic journey in the Beaufort Sea (see map), where sea ice is shrinking due to global warming, forcing mother bears to swim greater and greater distances to reach land—to the peril of their cubs.

The cub of the record-setting bear, for instance, died at some point between starting the swim and when the researchers next observed the mother on land. She also lost 22 percent of her body weight.

"We're pretty sure that these animals didn't have to do these long swims before, because 687-kilometer stretches of open water didn't occur very often in the evolutionary history of the polar bear," said study co-author Steven Amstrup, chief scientist for the conservation group Polar Bears International. Amstrup is also the former project leader of polar bear research for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which led the new study.

Another female bear in the study swam for more than 12 days, but appears to have found places to rest during her journey.

(Related "Polar Bears Turning to Goose Eggs to Survive Warming?")

Long Swims Deadly for Polar Bear Cubs

Biologists collared 68 female polar bears between 2004 and 2009 to study their movements. Thanks to what study co-author and WWF polar bear biologist Geoff York calls an "accident of technology and design," the researchers noticed data gaps in the bears' whereabouts. The researchers were later able to link the gaps to periods when the bears were at sea. (See polar bear pictures.)

The scientists examined GPS data for more than 50 female polar bears' long-distance swimming events, defined as swims longer than 30 miles (50 kilometers). This data was then correlated to rates of cub survival.

"Bears that engaged in long-distance swimming were more likely to experience cub loss," said study co-author George Durner, a USGS research zoologist in Anchorage, Alaska.

Five of the 11 mothers that had cubs before they began their lengthy swims lost their young by the time the researchers observed them again on land, according to the research, presented July 19 at the International Bear Association Conference in Ottawa, Canada. The study is not yet published in a journal.

Sea Ice Loss to Continue

Until 1995, summer sea ice usually remained over along the continental shelf of the Beaufort Sea, a critical habitat for polar bears due to its rich seal population. Now the sea ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas is retreating from the coast by hundreds of kilometers, Durner said.

In 2010, Arctic sea ice extent was the third lowest on record, part of a long-term trend of ice loss that will continue for decades to come, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.

"So the sort of conditions that contribute to long-distance swimming are likely going to persist in the future, and if cub mortality is directly related to this, then it would have a negative impact on the population," Durner said.

It's unknown whether the cubs are drowning at sea or whether the metabolically costly act of swimming long distances in nearly freezing water kills them after they reach land.

Poached Baby Gorillas Rescued!

LOVE when this happens!!

Six endangered mountain gorillas were returned home to the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday after being rescued from poachers who smuggled them into neighboring Rwanda.
The gorillas, who range in age from 5 to 8 years old, were victims of what's become a widespread issue in Africa: animal trafficking. According to Rwandan and Congolese authorities, poachers are thought to have killed the gorillas' parents in order to steal their babies and smuggle them across the border.
Rwandan officials told Reuters that it's likely the poachers were planning to either sell the gorillas on the illegal wildlife market or slaughter them for their bushmeat, which is considered a delicacy in some areas of the continent. But because of a renewed collaboration between the Rwandan and Congolese governments, these gorillas were among the very few poached animals that are lucky enough to be rescued.

"Because the countries are working together, we managed to reduce that [poaching]," Rica Rugambwa, Rwanda's director general of tourism and parks, told Reuters. "We are able to minimize that but it is still a challenge."
It's estimated that only 680 mountain gorillas live in the forests of Central Africa. The species has been listed as critically endangered, and many are protected within the confines of a Ugandan national park. Others live in the Virunga Volcano Region, which stands on the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and Congo - a dangerous area that has been overcome by civil war in recent years.
The six rescued orphans stayed in Rwanda briefly before being airlifted back to Congo, with help from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, the conservation groups that sponsored the trip. The gorillas are now being cared for at a rescue center until they are eventually able to be released into the wild.