Monthly Archives: May 2012

Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens) relocated for UK Captive Breeding Programme

Pichu, a female red panda (Ailurus fulgens) at a conservation park in southern Scotland, is set to be part of captive breeding efforts following the introduction of a new possible mate. Ruben, a young male, has been relocated from Paignton Zoo in Devon, to accompany the previously alone Pichu at Galloway Wildlife Conservation Park.

Breeding programmes are an important part of conservation planning for species with low population numbers, such as the red panda of which less than 10,000 adults are believed to exist. This allows scientists to monitor population growth and breeding behaviour, as well as protecting vulnerable mothers and young. Captive breeding programmes have been successful in protecting a wide variety of species from extinction, the Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx) and Przewalski’s horse (Equus ferus przewalskii) have been reintroduced to the wild as a result. But they are not without their challenges. The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is famous for its apparent loss of interest in breeding once captured; whilst organisations such as the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) must manage inbreeding problems and sustain genetic diversity.

Red Panda, Ailurus fulgens – Brunswyk

Endemic to the Himalayas, red panda populations began to decline as a result of deforestation and harvesting for fur. Livestock trample the bamboo on which red pandas feed, and as human development spreads, panda populations become increasingly isolated. Overall, a decline of ~40% has been estimated for populations in China over the past 50 years. The IUCN has listed red pandas as vulnerable, and trading has been banned by CITES. Although protected in all of its range, conservation efforts vary: population estimates are unavailable for Burma and Bhutan where they have been known to be confused with civets, and poaching still occurs.

Red pandas have shown adaptability to living in captivity, where ~800 individuals are currently held. Breeding rates are high across many zoos, the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park (Darjeeling, India) has successfully released four captive bred pandas to the wild, whilst many more have been born in captivity.


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May 29, 2012 · 1:08 pm

Conserving the Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus): trading bans and native hunters

The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) stands as a flagship species for conservation action, with its climate-change related habitat loss well publicised, but the problems it faces are more complex than just melting ice. Concern has been rising amongst organisations such as the NRDC – the Natural Resources Defence Council, with over 1.3 million members – about trade of polar bear body parts, a currently legal activity, along with regulated hunting.

Polar bears are considered vulnerable species, with population decline estimated at >30% over the last half-century, and predicted decline by 2/3rds by 2050, primarily due to climate change. Their position as a mammalian carnivore may encourage human interest, but also means they exist in small numbers, reproduce at lower rates and rely on longer food chain, reducing species resilience.

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus), Unknown

Hunting of polar bears is a tradition of Arctic people, but increased rapidly as technology advanced. First firearms, and later snowmobiles and airplanes were used, increasing annual kills from an estimated 400-500 to 1300-1500 in the early 1900’s. As concern grew, regulations on hunting were formed, beginning with the Soviet Union (1956), and culminating in the International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears (1973). Signed by the five nations with the biggest polar bear populations (U.S, Canada, Russia, Norway and Greenland), the agreement allows killing by local people using traditional methods, but prevents trade for commercial purposes. Data is shared between these countries, which meet every 3-4 years and are responsible under the agreement to protect polar bear ecosystems using research-based conservation practices.

With species-specific hunting regulations and high public interest, the polar bear is in a much more favourable position than many other endangered animals. However, threats to polar bears are particularly high. Climate change directly reduces sea-ice, reducing feeding ability and causing drowning, and could lead to their underground dens collapsing. Toxic pollutants accumulate in polar bears from longer food-chains, illegal hunting occurs, and disease may increase as bacteria survive better in warmer conditions. It is these issues which cause groups such as the NRDC to be so concerned about trading, which could potentially increase hunting incentive by making them profitable and available to the public, adding to polar bear decline.

Hunting is still legal, however, in small, highly regulated conditions by local people. Such hunting has existed for centuries, a traditional part of many cultures which also provides income. This raises the question of whether local cultures should suffer for globally-caused climate change, and has become the topic of much debate. At the most recent CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) meeting, the United States supported the ban of commercial trade of all Polar bear parts, but the issue remains contentious. Opinion is still divided on the impact of regulated killing, whilst some deny even the decision to list the Polar bear as threatened. CITES will meet again in March 2013, meanwhile the issue highlights the problems caused when multiple threats affect a species, and the conflict between traditional culture and modern environmentalism.

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