Tyrant Birds and African Bats up to the Basking Shark and the Short-Beaked Dolphin Given Conservation Boost
Governments Also Call for Knowledge Gaps on Avian Flu and Wild Birds to be Bridged
Nairobi/Bonn, 25 November 2005 - A wide range of curious and charismatic animals have today been given a big conservation boost at the end of an international wildlife meeting being held in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
They include the Mediterranean population of the Short-beaked common dolphin; Henderson’s petrel; the Basra reed warbler; the Large-eared free-tailed bat or Giant mastiff bat; the Strange-tailed tyrant; the Basking Shark and the Saffron-cowled blackbird.
The decisions were taken at the close of the eight conference of the parties to the United Nations Environment Programme’s Convention on Migratory Species (UNEP/CMS).
Governments and delegates also backed a seven point plan to improve knowledge and understanding of avian flu as it relates to wild migratory birds.
Earlier in the week it was announced that the CMS in collaboration with others and with support from UNEP would be establishing an ‘early warning system’ for avian flu.
The system is aimed at giving, especially for developing countries, improved information including maps on the migration routes of wild waterbirds.
Today’s end of conference decision calls for close collaboration between scientists, conservationists, agriculturalists, veterinarians and public health experts to unravel key mysteries.
These include the length of time the virus can survive in wetland habitats up to the question of whether infected birds are even capable of migrating.
Ward Hagemeijer of Wetlands International and a member of the Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza, said: “Better biosecurity in the rearing, movement and trade in poultry and captive birds remains the key concern. Although recent cases seem to suggest that migratory wild birds are somehow involved in spreading the virus over large distances, so far there is no solid evidence that they are significant vectors”.
“However we do know that they are victims and that this disease can pose a threat to populations already under pressure. We need urgent research into what the role of wild birds might be now and in the future, in order to be able to contribute to and complement the important work that the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN and the World Organisation for Animal Health are doing,” he added.
John O’Sullivan of BirdLife International and another member of the Task Force, added: “A good understanding of the routes, patterns and timing of migration is vital not only for disease control but also for conservation. The role of wild birds in the present outbreak of highly pathogenic avian flu is far from clear, and may be minimal. A better global monitoring system is badly needed to help assess the risk of future outbreaks that could impact migratory birds, or be carried by them and to deal effectively with any cases that occur.”
Other important decision concluded this week include the budget for the CMS to finance its work over the coming years, new agreements or Memorandums of Understanding between countries on West Africa’s elephants and the Saiga antelope of Central Asia aimed at catalyzing cross border conservation cooperation.
By-catch, in which animals like dolphins become entangled in fish nets, has also been addressed with the CMS to build cooperative bridges between the convention and regional fisheries bodies in order to reduce the problem.
An initiative on the conservation of migratory birds of prey and owls found in Africa and Eurasia led by the Government of the United Kingdom was also given backing.
Studies presented to the conference indicate that 60 per cent of these birds, which include vultures, eagles and kites, are threatened with extinction as a result of issues such as shooting, and deliberate or accidental poisoning.
Today the UK announced it was giving 100,000 British Pounds towards a meeting where governments will meet to thrash out the next steps towards better conservation.
A delighted Robert Hepworth, Executive Secretary of the CMS, said: “Governments, scientists and our partner bodies, such as the World Conservation Union, have demonstrated their commitment to CMS this week. Hundreds of threatened species throughout the world all gain from the scientific and practical support we can now offer, especially in developing countries over the next three years. This was my first Conference as the Executive Secretary, I believe we are now properly on “the move to 2010.”
Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s Executive Director added: “If we are to meet the targets and timetable of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, which call for the rate of loss of biodiversity to be reduced by 2010, we must conserve wildlife both within and across borders. This week’s conference is proof positive that this is increasingly understood by the global community”.
Species under the convention are listed as Appendix I or Appendix II.
Those given the former are endangered species. Measures that should be undertaken by relevant governments include improving habitats and breeding sites and removing obstacles to their migration.
The latter listing calls on nations to establish regional agreements, such as memorandums of understanding, to conserve the species. (see notes to editors for full explanation).
Several species of birds have been given listings and additional protection at this week’s conference.
Henderson’s Petrel is a sea bird known to breed only on Henderson island in the UK Overseas Territory of Pitcairn. It has been given Appendix I status.
The bird is threatened by rats and possibly predation by crabs. Breeding success is low with less than 20 per cent of eggs yielding fledglings.
The listing is expected to lead to closer cooperation between France and UK. A similar-looking bird is also found on other islands in the region which are part of French Polynesia which may prove to be the same species. Joint measures may include rat eradication on the islands concerned.
The Madagascar Squacco Heron or Malagasy Pond-heron, which migrates between Madagascar and countries like the Deomcratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Uganda, has been given Appendix I listing.
Its population is down to between 2,000 and 6,000 birds. It is threatened by habitat degradation and exploitation of eggs and young at breeding grounds.
The Red Knot, a bird which migrates between places like Southampton Island, Canada, and Tierra del Fuego and Argentine Patagonia in Latin America, has been included on Appendix I.
Habitat destruction as a result of tourism and unplanned developments is a key threat. Drastic reductions in population have been recorded at core sites in Tierra del Fuego. It has disappeared from wintering areas in Patagonia.
The Basra Reed Warbler has also been added to Appendix I. The population is believed to be declining and is down to between 2,500 and 10,000 individuals.
The species breeds in places like the Mesopotamian marshlands of Iraq, an area that was heavily drained under the previous Iraqi regime. The warbler migrates to countries including south east Kenya, Sudan, south Somalia, east Tanzania and Mozambique.
At the Ngulia ringing station in Kenya, studies indicate that the birds numbers may have fallen by between 70 per cent and 80 per cent since the 1970s.
The Balearic Sheerwater, a seabird whose world breeding population is around 2,000 pairs, has been included in Appendix I. It breeds on Spanish islands like Mallorca, Ibiza and Formentera in caves and cavities in coastal cliffs.
The species migrates towards the Gulf of Biscay with some birds traveling to North African waters and as far as southern Scandinavia and South Africa.
Threats include predation by introduced cats, rats and small-spotted genets and, while at sea, pollution.
The Spotted Ground Thrush, whose population is estimated at just 1,000 to 2,500 individuals, has also been given Appendix I listing. Two migratory races are known to exist.
One that moves between places like the Arabuko-Sokoke forest in Kenya and Tanzania, possibly Mozambique.
Another in South Africa that migrates between places like Natal and Transkei and the Transvaal.
Habitat destruction of its forest homes is the main threat. The bird is a night migrant and may be affected by collisions with lighted buildings.
Birds which have been given Appendix II listing include the Rock Pratincole, a bird of possibly some 25,000 individuals that migrates across west and central Africa that is threatened by issues like sand mining on rivers; the African Skimmer, found in west and central Africa and east and southern Africa which is threatened by human and cattle disturbance; the Strange-tailed Tyrant, occurring in Paraguay and northern Argentina that is believed to have suffered catastrophic losses in Brazil.
Others are the Cock-tailed Tyrant, found across a wide range including north and east Bolivia, southern Brazil, eastern Paraguay and northern Argentina whose tall grassland habitat is threatened by agricultural development; the Chestnut Seedeater, another south American bird; the Gray and Chestnut Seedeater; the Marsh Seedeater and Saffron-cowled blackbird found in south eastern Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay. Its population is believed to have declined by over 30 per cent in the past decade.
Several mammals have been listed today including the Mediterranean population of the short-beaked common dolphin which has been placed on Appendix I and Appendix II.
Its migration patterns are not well understood but animals are thought to move across the Gibraltar Straits and possibly through the Turkish Straits system.
Precise numbers are also unknown but it is believed that number are declining as a result of impacts such as by-catch in fishing nets.
The Bukhara Deer, central Asia’s only true deer inhabiting the regions’s arid zones, has also been added to Appendix I and Appendix II. It migrates across the borders of countries including, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
The population was estimated to be as low as 350 animals in 1995. Targeted conservation by groups like the World Wide Fund for Nature have brought numbers up to 800 to 900.
Poaching on migrations is the key threat with others including habitat destruction and possibly pesticide contamination from cotton fields.
Gorillas have also been out on Appendix I. These include the eastern lowland, western lowland and mountain gorillas. The animals are threatened by issues such as habitat degradation and killing for bushmeat along with civil wars and unrest.
The Basking Shark, the world’s second largest shark which grows up to 10 metres in length, has also secured Appendix I and II listing. This giant filter feeder is found in areas such as the continental shelves of the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific oceans and the Mediterranean Sea.
The global population is unknown but it is thought that between 80,000 and 106,000 animals have been taken from the whole of the north east Atlantic in the past half century.
The animals are believed to highly migratory. A recent tagging study by the UK government found that the basking sharks moved around the north east Atlantic into waters off France, Ireland, England and Wales and northwards into Scottish waters.
Basking sharks in American waters are now know to migrate into Canadian and Caribbean waters.
Threats centre on by-catch and direct catches of the animals. Because they often congregate in bays and shallow waters, they are also at risk from collisions with vessels. Indeed collisions may be frequent as scarring is often seen on these sharks.
Global warming, affecting their food source of plankton, may be an emerging threat.
The African populations of three species of bat have also been listed under Appendix II.
The Natal Clinging bat or Schreiber’s bent-winged bat is found in countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa. The bats migrate seasonally and are threatened by habitat degradation as result of agricultural development, mining and tourism. Migration routes can be affected by war and bats are sometimes killed for food and other uses including the exploitation of acoustic membranes for making drums.
Also added to Appendix II is the Large-eared free-tailed bat or giant mastiff bat. It is widely distributed between eastern Africa from Ethiopia to South Africa. Colonies may number a few dozen, such as in houses in South Africa, up to several hundred. Two lava tube sites in Kenya-- at Mount Suswa in the Rift Valley and at Ithundu in the Chyulu Hills—have been recorded with more than a 1,000 bats.
Recent surveys there have found that the bats have all but disappeared with only 17 found at Ithundu.
There is no direct evidence of migration but suspicions that some may migrate between Kenya and Tanzania.
Threats include disturbance and changes to the microclimate of lava tube sites as a result of, for example, guano digging, tourism and the blocking of entrances.
The third bat listed under Appendix II is the Straw-coloured fruit bat. It is widespread across Africa including on the Gulf of Guinea islands and Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia off Tanzania.
A colony in Kampala was estimated in the 1960s to number about one million. But numbers have declined and the animals are treated as a nuisance leading to the removal of roosting trees and poisoning programmes. The same situation has occurred in Lome, Togo.
Notes to Editors
Documents relating to the Eighth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) can be found at www.cms.int
CMS is an intergovernmental treaty concluded under the aegis of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP.
Migratory species threatened with extinction are listed on Appendix I of the Convention. CMS Parties strive towards strictly protecting these animals, conserving or restoring the places where they live, mitigating obstacles to migration and controlling other factors that might endanger them. Besides establishing obligations for each State joining the Convention, CMS promotes concerted action among the Range States of many of these species.
Migratory species that need or would significantly benefit from international co-operation are listed in Appendix II of the Convention. For this reason, the Convention encourages the Range States to conclude global or regional Agreements.
In this respect, CMS acts as a framework Convention. The Agreements may range from legally binding treaties (called Agreements) to less formal instruments, such as Memoranda of Understanding, and can be adapted to the requirements of particular regions. The development of models tailored according to the conservation needs throughout the migratory range is a unique capacity to CMS.
More information on the Scientific Task Force on Avian flu and other resources can be found at
www.cms.int/taskforce/ai and www.wetlands.org and www.fao.org
For More Information Please Contact Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, Office of the Executive Director, on Tel: 254 20 623084, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 632755, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Elisabeth Waechter, UNEP Associate Media Officer, on Tel: 254 20 623088, Mobile: 254 720 173968, e-mail: email@example.com
Also during the conference Veronika Lenarz, CMS Information, on Mobile: 254 (0) 724259762 or E:mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
UNEP News Release 2005/60