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GEO Year Book 2004/5  
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Giant panda threatened by deforestation and poaching.
Source: Fritz Polking/Still Pictures

The year 2004 was marked by favourable trends in sub-regional cooperation (Box 1) and the discovery of previously unknown populations of endangered animal and bird species.

A study carried out by United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and UNESCO found that the majority of moist humid cloud forests are found in Asia and the Pacific, rather than in Latin America as had been previously believed (Bubb and others 2004). Around 60 per cent of the world's cloud forest is found in the region, with Papua New Guinea and Indonesia having high percentages.

As lowland forests are converted to agriculture, the significance of the less accessible cloud forests increases, because they provide forest goods and services, as well as refuges for once widespread forest species. Yet Asia 's cloud forests are threatened by timber extraction, road building, collection of fuelwood and charcoal production. The report underlines the vital need for improved monitoring and conservation measures in Asia, including regeneration of damaged and degraded cloud forests, if these precious habitats are to survive the 21st century (UNEP 2004c).

Biodiversity remained under pressure (Box 2), but there were some encouraging discoveries and re-discoveries (Box 3). In June 2004, a survey carried out by the Chinese forest ministry and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF 2004) showed that there are nearly 1 600 pandas in the wild - over 40 per cent more than were previously thought to exist. WWF experts believe that the difference is mainly due to better counting rather than an improved environment. The survey pinpointed a number of threats to the long-term survival of this endangered species, including continued deforestation and poaching (WWF 2004).


Box 1: Regional Centre on Pacific Waste opens in South Pacific

Studies indicate that waste is fast becoming a key problem in Small Island Developing States (SIDS). The wastes threaten not only public health but also livelihoods.

The character of solid waste has changed over the last two decades, from organic wastes associated with agriculture to less biodegradable wastes produced by industry. It is estimated that since the early 1990s the levels of plastic wastes in SIDS has increased five-fold (UNEP 2004b and 2005).

To combat these problems in the South Pacific, a Regional Centre on Pacific Waste began work in July 2004, at the headquarters of the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) in Samoa. Its task is to implement the Basel Convention (on the control and disposal of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes) and the Waigani Convention (to ban the importation into member island countries of hazardous and radioactive wastesand to control the transboundary movement and management of hazardous wastes within the region). The Centre will initiate training, technology transfer and awareness raising for implementation of the Basel and Waigani Conventions in Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Fiji, Republic of Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Tuvalu (SPREP 2004).


Box 2: Critically endangered saiga antelope

Saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica).
Source: Anna Lushchekina

The saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica) faces imminent extinction. This herding antelope roams the dry steppes and semi-arid deserts of Central Asia and the Russian Federation. It featured prominently in the launch of the 2002 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, where it was listed under the highest category of threat (CMS 2004).

Saiga numbers have plunged by 95 per cent, from about one million in 1990 to less than 50 000 today. The main cause of this catastrophic decline is poaching for the animal's horn and meat. Poaching is fuelled by widespread poverty arising from major changes in the rural economies of the saiga's main range states - Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and the Russian Federation Republic of Kalmykia (IUCN 2004).

Conservation of the saiga antelope was an issue at the 13th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). All the range states were urged to immediately sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and implement an Action Plan on the Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use of the Saiga Antelope. The range states are planning to sign the revised memorandum and Action Plan in early 2005. Only urgent action will protect the saiga from extinction in the wild. The meeting also recommended that the CITES secretariat assist with regular assessment of the implementation of the MoU and the Action Plan (CITES 2004).

Source: CMS 2004


Box 3: New bird species and sightings

The world's largest population of the critically endangered Gurney's Pitta (Pitta gurneyi) has been found in forests adjacent to the proposed Lenya National Park in Southern Myanmar. This bird is sometimes called the 'Jewel-thrush' and is one of the most beautiful and rare birds on Earth. As recently as 2003, the known world population was less than 20 birds. Around 150 new sightings were recorded, suggesting that this new population may number several hundred pairs, offering renewed hope for the species (BirdLife 2004a).

Another welcome discovery was the sighting of at least 28 slender-billed vultures (Gyps tenuirostris) in northeast Cambodia - at least four times as many as the previous largest single count in Indochina. White-rumped vultures (G. bengalensis) were also seen in the same area. Both species are critically endangered. Altogether more than 120 vultures were seen at this site, the largest single gathering recorded in Indochina during the past 15 years.

Populations of both species, together with the Indian vulture, G. indicus, have declined dramatically over the past decade. Research has revealed that these declines are caused by veterinary use of the drug diclofenac. Vultures feeding on carcasses of cattle treated with diclofenac are poisoned and die within a short time (Birdlife 2004b).

In May, a new species of rail, which has been named the Calayan rail (Gallirallus calayanensis) was discovered by a team of specialists on the island of Calayan, one of the Babuyan Islands in the northernmost part of the Philippines archipelago. The new species appears to be almost flightless, like its closest relative, the Okinawa rail (G. okinawae) from Okinawa Island, 1 000 km to the north. On the basis of its small known population and range size, the Calayan rail appears to qualify as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (BirdLife 2004c).


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