Dr. Gerardo Ceballos Ecology and conservation of the prairie dog grassland ecosystem of the Janos region, Chihuahua, northern Mexico The desert grasslands of the Janos region in northern Chihuahua are home of one of the largest surviving prairie dog colonies in the world. Black-tailed prairie dogs are highly social rodents that live in large groups, and play a vital role in maintaining the grasslands in which they thrive. Their burrowing activity loosens and churns the soil, increasing its ability to sustain plants, which in turn attract an amazing array of wildlife. Surprisingly, it is thanks to the prairie dog that the only truly free roaming bison herds in Mexico survive here, along with other rare species such as porcupine, kit fox, jaguaroundi, golden eagle, burrowing owl, and mountain plover. For centuries people have also benefited from the prairie dog’s services, grazing large herds of cattle. But despite their importance to ranching, the black-tailed prairie dog was until recently considered an agricultural pest. Poisoned because they were believed to compete with grazing cattle, today it is an endangered species. One casualty of prairie dog decline has been the black-footed ferret. Completely dependent on prairie-dogs for prey, it became extinct in the wild in 1987. Over recent decades, roads and the introduction of electricity have worsened the plight of the prairie and its wildlife by promoting large scale conversion of native vegetation to crops. The grassland ecosystem is under increasing threat from disturbance, habitat destruction, wide-scale use of pesticides and fertilizers, and the unsustainable use of water resources. Dr. Gerardo Ceballos, 47, is one of Mexico’s foremost ecologists and Head of the vertebrate ecology and conservation at the National University of Mexico. He is also Director of Ecociencia, an NGO devoted to the conservation of endangered species and ecosystems in Mexico. Since 1988, Gerardo has worked to increase awareness and scientific understanding of the prairie dog and its role in conservation of the prairie. He and his team successfully reintroduced the black- footed ferret - the most endangered mammal in North America – back to the Janos region in 2001 in attempt to restore ecological balance. He now aims to consolidate his work, establishing a stable population of ferret and prairie dog, and working with local people to show how cattle ranching and grassland conservation can – and must – go hand in hand. Gerardo is providing economic activities to local people that are compatible with conservation. Central to his work is the creation of an ambitious 500,000 hectare protected area to conserve the prairie dog ecosystem region in northern Chihuahua. Dr. Zhigang Jiang Ecosystem approach to conservation of the Przewalski’s Gazelle in pastoral areas around the Qinghai Lake, China Qinghai means ‘green sea’ in Chinese, and the lake of the same name on the Tibetan Plateau is the largest inland saltwater lake in China. Lying in the northeast of Qinghai Province, at 3,200 meters above sea level, the lake stretches like an ocean into the horizon, attracting large flocks of migratory birds. The sandy steppes and dry grasslands surrounding the lake are also an important grazing area for many species, including Tibetan wild ass, Tibetan gazelle, as well as one of China’s most critically endangered species, the Przewalski’s gazelle. First identified in the 1890, Przewalski’s gazelle populations have declined every year since they were discovered, and the species is now even rarer than the Giant Panda. Hunted in the 1900s for meat and hide, and more recently out-competed by the 3 million head of livestock grazing the plateau, today less than a few hundred gazelles survive. 500,000 people are dependent on herding in Qinghai Province, but over-grazing of the fragile altitude grasslands is leading to desertification, destruction of the plateau and a reduction in the availability of food for the gazelles. Once a large contiguous area, today the plateau landscape is criss-crossed by barbed wire fences, cutting off the last gazelles from each other. Since 1994, 48 year old Dr. Jiang Zhigang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has researched and monitored Przewalski's gazelle around the lake. Zhigang and his team are working directly with indigenous people on conservation and conflict resolution initiatives, demonstrating how they can coexist with wildlife. He has helped elevate Przewalski's gazelle as a flagship species for grassland conservation in China, and in 1997 successfully established the lake as a National Nature Reserve, free from illegal hunting. Zhigang is now working with the provincial and central governments to formulate a conservation strategy for the region. He is establishing sustainable grazing practices with local people and mapping key corridors between the four remaining populations of gazelle, to protect this, the most threatened hoofed mammal in the world. Manfred Epanda Aimé Sustainable hunting for great ape conservation at the periphery of the Dja Faunal Reserve: Cameroon, Africa Dja Faunal Reserve in Eastern Cameroon is one of the largest and best-protected rainforests in Africa, with 90% of its area left undisturbed. Almost completely surrounded by a natural boundary, a loop of the Dja river, the reserve is noted for its biodiversity and a wide variety of primates. The reserve became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, however despite active management since 1992, the wildlife of this important reserve remains in danger. Intensive logging activities and hunting pressure at the reserve periphery threaten the forest’s great apes. Some apes visit plantations at the village borders, damaging crops and leading to conflict with local communities. At the same time, as bushmeat becomes scarce, people push ever deeper into the reserve in search of protein. A team from the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp established Projet Grands Singes in 2000 in an attempt to address the issues facing the northern periphery of the reserve. Realising the urgent need to engage local people, the project has evolved from a great ape study into an integrated conservation and development project combining research and education. Now in its fifth year, and led by 29 year old local Cameroonian biologist, Manfred Epanda Aime, a key aim of the project is the development of a participative management plan to bring hunting under sustainable control. At the same time as involving local communities in wildlife conservation, small-scale development projects are helping them find alternatives sources of income to poaching. A great achievement has been seen in the signature of an agreement between local communities and the Conservation Service of the reserve to create and implement a management plan. Backed by national legalisation, a Community Wildlife Management Committee has been established to implement the plan through stakeholder agreement. Highly respected by local people, Manfred now acts as a vital link between local people and official ecoguards from the Ministry of forest and wildlife, communicating requests for support to help locals protect their forest against poachers. Manfred is now expanding anti-poaching activities and integrating three further communities living at the reserve periphery into the program. Central to the project is the support and enthusiasm of the local people is. It is hoped that success here will produce a model that can be replicated at other reserves in Central Africa to conserve great apes, which in turn will open the way to scientific tourism and even greater incentives for conservation. Nguyen Thi Phuong Dung Mobilising the public through participation – a national programme to stop the wildlife trade in Vietnam Illegal wildlife trade is one of the greatest threats facing biodiversity in Vietnam. As the country's economy grows, infrastructure developments are linking previously remote areas to outside markets, feeding an alarming trade in wildlife with neighbouring China, Laos and Cambodia for use in traditional medicine, foods, and as souvenirs and pets. At the same time, domestic demand within Vietnam is growing, particularly for bear bile. Incentives to hunt wildlife are often high for rural people, and Vietnam has now become not only as a supplier of wildlife, but also a conduit for wildlife smuggled from abroad. Though tens of thousands of animals are confiscated – more than 15,500 animals in 2001 alone - this is thought to represent only about 5% of the total trade. Vietnam became a member to CITES in 1994, and under domestic law, permits are required to import and export threatened wildlife. However, much of the trade goes unregulated as enforcement agencies lack the essential equipment, resources and manpower. Several extinctions have occurred, and some species found only in Vietnam are now critically endangered, including Tonkin snub-nosed monkey, Delacour’s langur monkey and Vietnamese pond turtle. Bears, reptiles and primates are undergoing the most severe declines. Despite the urgency of the situation, public awareness of the negative impacts of the illegal consumption and sale of wildlife is low, and is one of the main factors contributing to the scale of the problem. Education for Nature was established in 2000 as Vietnam’s first environmental education-focused NGO. Since 2005, the Wildlife Trade Department of ENV has been led by Nguyen Dung, 26. Through innovative use a new Wildlife Trade Hotline, national radio announcements and the media, Dung’s work has not only increased the public awareness of the problem, but has also increased the capacity of the authorities to deal with cases. The hotline now provides members of the general public with the opportunity to report illegal trade, information which is then passed on to enforcement agencies. In just one year, monitoring has shown fewer endangered species being sold in Hanoi’s main markets. Dung now intends to build on this success through expansion of the radio show and hotline to provincial radio stations and development of a pilot monitoring system in Hanoi to assess wildlife trade at markets and restaurants. Suprabha Seshan The Green Phoenix: plant conservation, habitat restoration and community education in the Western Ghats, India Only 10% of original forest still covers the Western Ghat Mountains of Southern India. One of the world’s most biodiverse tropical ecosystems, high levels of floral endemism make the forests unique. For generations, local people have cultivated these valuable plants for use in herbal cures and in cooking. Today, however, human pressure on the region is enormous, and in some areas up to 50% of the plant species are extracted for the burgeoning global medicinal market. Deforestation and the invasion of exotic species are also threatening India’s floral biodiversity. It is feared up to 20% of all native plant species could become extinct within a few decades. The Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary was founded in 1981 to protect these endangered plants. The project has successfully propagated 2,000 species of plant, an incredible one third of the region’s flora. As highly specialised plants, many are rare or endangered, and 40% are endemic. This is the largest collection of Western Ghat species in the world and includes mosses, ferns, orchids, grasses and trees. The Sanctuary has a trained team of local women - ‘eco-system gardeners’ dedicated to regenerating wild populations of flora. Locally the Sanctuary has acquired small parcels of land, nurturing devastated habitats back to natural forest. In the mountains, work focuses on restoring endangered shola grasslands: a montane ecosystem exclusive to the Western Ghats. Following habitat assessment and species surveys, restoration projects have been initiated in National Parks, temple sanctuarys, community lands, and degraded forest, involving hundreds of landowners. 39 year old Suprabha Seshan has lived in these forests for the past 13 years and is Director of Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary. Committed to raising awareness of India’s floral wealth, Suprabha founded the ‘School in the Forest’ initiative, helping establish the Sanctuary as an important learning centre where thousands of school children visit every year. With her dedicated team, Suprabha now aims to expand the Sanctuary as a centre of excellence for learning and education, and as a training resource centre for fledgling conservation staff. Through increased regional collaboration with research bodies, NGOs, and government, Suprabha is committed to increasing the reach of the Sanctuary as a centre for excellence in environmental education and habitat restoration. Sergey Bereznuk “Fighting for Minds”: Amur tiger conservation through law enforcement and outreach activities in Primorye, Russia Primorye in the Russian Far East is the only area in the world where both the Amur tiger – more commonly known as the Siberian tiger - and Amur leopard still exist in the wild. In spite of worldwide publicity, these big cats still face many threats - illegal poaching, human encroachment, deforestation, and a lack of natural prey species. An estimated 450 mature Amur tigers and 35 Amur leopards are left in the wild, and of the surviving tigers, only approximately 10% are found within protected areas. The numbers protected are not enough to sustain the population, and thus the future of the tiger is still at stake and depends on the attitude of the local people towards them. The Russian NGO, Phoenix Fund was established in 1998 to help conserve Russia’s rare and endangered wildlife. Led by Sergey Bereznuk, Phoenix works closely with the local communities, conservation agencies and experts to develop and maintain a network committed to the conservation of the Primorye’s habitats and wildlife. In the short-term, a war with poachers is being waged. But in the long-term it is re-education of the community that will ensure tiger survival. Through ‘Tiger Outreach’, local children are being taught about tigers and their conservation, supported by summer camps and Tiger Festival Days held annually at Vladivostok, Novopokrovka and Luchegorsk to celebrate the tiger. A Tiger Eco-Centre at Novoprokrovka has been established with the support of other conservation organisations, visited by over 2,600 pupils in the district. As well as continuing to engage local communities to participate in conservation, Sergey is strengthening anti-poaching and habitat protection, and working to formalise research to aid the development of best practice. The Phoenix Fund is part of a coalition of organisations that recently succeeded in persuading the Russian Government to re-evaluate the routing of a 4,000km Pacific Oil pipeline and terminal through Amur Bay in Southwest Primorye, in the range of the Amur leopard. An essential task is to continue to address governmental inertia and bureaucracy through lobbying for greater protection of tiger habitat. Dmitry Lisitsyn Vostochny wild salmon refuge: conservation of biodiversity, Sakhalin Island, Russia Sakhalin Island, a Russian territory to the north of Japan, is one of the last places in the world where pristine coniferous forests maintain river and basin conditions for wild salmon spawning. During the last century, industrialization has led to the systematic destruction of the island through concentrated clear-cutting, poaching and unlimited industrial fishing. 9% of Sakhalin Island is protected on paper, but in practice, whilst most of these areas have strict protection from use by local people, nearly all are commercially logged and fished. Despite this, the Pursh- Pursh and Vengeri Rivers which flow into the Sea of Okhotsk frame 65,000 hectares of ancient forest untouched by human activity. Known as Vostochny refuge, these rivers provide spawning grounds for five species of wild Pacific salmon, including pink, chum, cherry, coho and endangered Sakhalin taimen. The territory is extremely productive with annual runs of over 4 million fish providing food for brown bear and Steller’s sea eagles, as well as important wetland habitat for waterfowl. This last natural and untouched part of the island is critical for the salmon ecosystem, but commercial fishing and logging industries seek to establish permits to deforest and fish the refuge. Well-organized teams of poachers sponsored by a fishing mafia set up poaching stations at remote locations on the river banks each year. It is feared that exploitation of Sakahlin’s last untouched area will have a detrimental impact on both wildlife and local communities. Local environmentalist Dmitry Lisitsyn, 38, is leader of ‘Sakhalin Environment Watch’, a local NGO established in 1995 to protect Sakhalin’s natural environment. With strong local support, Dmitry and his team have led a 9 year program of protection at Vostochny refuge, patrolling against poachers and illegal loggers. Through the efforts of SEW and other local NGOS, Vostochny achieved protected area status in 1999, but in 2004 the commercial fishing company ‘Laguna’ succeeded in overturning this status by exploiting a legal loophole. Laguna is now applying for commercial fishing rights to the reserve, presenting a new threat to both wildlife and the islands’ inhabitants. Dmitry is working to create an effective system of wild salmon protection by redesignating Vostochny as a reserve with full stakeholder consultation. He aims to create an area where sustainable use by local people will be allowed, with strict prohibition of any commercial use of natural resources. Dr. Patricia Majluf Mapping traditional fishing areas as a tool for developing proposals for marine protected areas, Punta San Juan, Southern Peru The industrial anchovy fishery off the Pacific coast of Peru is the largest single species fishery in the world. With average annual landings of between 8 and 12 million metric tons, this fishery represents around 10% of all global marine captures. This wild catch goes to produce fishmeal and fish oil to feed farmed fish in Europe and China. Though the guano system of the region has been protected by the Peruvian Government since 1909 for the extraction of fertiliser, the economic importance of the fishery has meant its negative impact on the marine ecosystem has largely been ignored. The once magnificent populations of anchovy predators - pelicans, sea lions, fur seals, penguins and dolphins - have suffered steep declines, and in just fifty years, the guano bird population has plummeted from 28 to 1.8 million - a decline of more than 95%. Overfishing of Peru’s marine ecosystem is having a negative impact on both wildlife and people. As anchovies have declined, so too has the resilience of their marine predators to survive El Niño, a periodic natural event when unusually warm, nutrient-poor seas cause a drop in fish availability. Conservationists fear that as El Niño events become both stronger and more frequent as a result of climate change, Peru’s already decimated marine wildlife will decline further. Local artisanal fisheries now struggle to survive because the large carnivore fish on which their trade depends are scarce. The discharge of industrial effluents from fishmeal plants is polluting the main breeding and nursing grounds of many important commercial species of fish and shellfish. Conservation scientist, Dr. Patricia Majluf, 47, has since 1979 run the Punta San Juan Project to understand the changing ecology of this important marine area. She is undertaking long-term monitoring and examining the interactions between wildlife and local fisheries by recording changes in catch size. Since 1996, Patricia has worked to establish Peru’s first network of marine protected areas through incorporating Punta San Juan and the other 34 islands of the guano reserve system into a national protected area framework. Through building capacity, raising public awareness, and working closely with both Government agencies and local fishermen, Patricia is working to bring an end to the unsustainable fishing practices which threaten both livelihoods and the region’s unique wildlife. Pedro Vaz Pinto Conservation of the critically endangered Giant Sable Antelope, Malanje Province, Angola, Africa The giant sable antelope (Hippotragus niger variani) is one of Africa's most magnificent and least known animals, having remained hidden in its central Angolan refuge for centuries, protected and revered by local tribes. A subspecies of the common sable antelope, the giant sable is found only in Angola, and has been a national emblem since its discovery in 1909, proudly displayed on Angolan postage stamps and currency. However, the giant sable’s most striking characteristic - its long curving horns which can exceed 160 cm - soon made it a prime target for hunters. In 1975, just as moves were being made to secure a future for the antelope, the Angolan civil war erupted. The area became closed to conservationists and the giant sable was feared lost barely 70 years after it was discovered In 2003, an ambitious project aimed at proving the giant sable's survival and establishing the grounds for its conservation was launched by local conservation scientist, 38-year-old Pedro Vaz Pinto. Expeditions failed to sight anything, but cameras traps set in April last year produced the first photos of giant sable seen for more than twenty years. Whilst the overall numbers of surviving antelope remain unknown, the evidence suggests the last sables are restricted to the woodlands and sandy grasslands of the Luando Reserve, a 880,000 ha area in Malanje province and the 63,000 ha Cangandala National Park. Pedro is leading a research team from The Catholic University of Angola to secure a future for the last giant sables. By understanding the distribution of the antelopes and the level of threat posed by poaching, Pedro is consolidating approaches to conservation of the species. Central to the project is the crucial role played by local communities in successfully conserving the antelope over the centuries. A programme launched in October 2004 resulted in the successful involvement of several locals as "sable shepherds", working to monitor and protect the sable from poachers. Pedro now aims to expand the pilot, training more locals to patrol the reserves on bicycle, monitor camera traps and report illegal hunting. The Giant sable is not only a flagship species for protected area conservation but also for a country emerging from years of civil war. Alexander Arbachakov Conserving the cedar forests of the Shor People in Gornaya Shoriya, Kemerovskaya region, Russia The Kemerovskaya Region is part of Russia's largest coal basin and lies where the West Siberian Plain meets the mountains of Southern Siberia. Despite being one of Russia’s most populous regions, some areas such as Gornaya Shoriya still harbour valuable cedar forest wilderness. Sable, squirrel, weasel, Siberian deer and brown bear survive here in the taiga forests, a cold biome just south of the tundra where food is scarce and for six months of the year the temperature falls below freezing. It is also home to some 13,000 Shor, indigenous people who rely on their environment to survive where other animals hibernate and migrate the winter. The Shor rely on the forest for hunting, shelter, for gathering berries and other edible plants and herbs. The cedar is a sacred tree, rarely cut down, and only ever once the tree has been asked for forgiveness. But despite the importance of the forests to the Shor and to wildlife, only 100,000 ha of forest in Gornaya Shoriya remain and the State Environmental Agency has been largely ineffectual in giving these valuable relic forests the protection they require. Over the last 30 years, the forests of Kemerovskaya region has been reduced by more than 15%, with the greatest losses occurring at Gornaya Shoriya. With the forests and wildlife diminishing, many rare species of flora unique to the region are also being lost along with any independent future for the Shor. Alexander Arbachakov, 41, has worked for over 15 years to protect the forest home of his people. In 1999 he founded The Taiga Research and Protection Agency (AIST) with other members of the Shor to stop illegal logging at Gornaya Shoriya. AIST is mapping the most valuable territories, identifying threats and prioritising areas of value to both the Shor and wildlife. AIST has created a database of traditional knowledge to document how the Shor people use their environment without harming biodiversity. Alexander now hopes to use this knowledge to create a model for the sustainable use of cedars across the region. Through workshops to train both the Shor and other local people techniques for monitoring forest health, AIST is increasing collaboration between different ethinic groups and developing a basis for long-term conservation. Alexander is committed to raising awareness across Russia of not only the importance of forest protection, but also the value of the Shor People’s traditional culture.
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