Weekly round-up: November 22

The world’s only known white giraffe has been fitted with a GPS tracking device in a bid to protect him from poachers. The giraffe’s striking colouring is caused by leucism, a rare genetic trait – a female and her calf with the same condition were killed by poachers in March. Conservationists hope that by monitoring the giraffe’s movement using hourly updates from the device, which is attached to one ossicone (horn), they will be better able to protect the rare individual.

Kenya’s rare white giraffe (NRT)

The joint effort between the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Northern Rangelands Trust and Save Giraffes Now took place on the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy in Kenya earlier this month.

Ahmed Noor, manager of the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy, said: “We are thankful for the tremendous help from KWS, Save Giraffes Now and the Northern Rangelands Trust in furthering community efforts to safeguard wildlife species. The giraffe’s grazing range has been blessed with good rains in the recent past and the abundant vegetation bodes well for the future of the white male.”
Source Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy

Fishermen have been caught killing or mutilating albatrosses and petrels in an attempt to stop them taking bait from pole-and-line and handlining fisheries. A study monitoring activity in the southwest Atlantic off the coasts of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina between 1999 and 2019 recorded 46 individuals of eight species with bill mutilations (29 alive, 17 dead) and recovered 16 birds of four species intentionally killed, including those showing head trauma and broken limbs. Many species of albatross and petrel are endangered or critically endangered.

Albatrosses caught in lines have had their beaks sheared off (Nicholas Daudt)

Bycatch in fisheries is a significant threat to seabirds – and other marine megafauna – but the aggressive handling and resulting mutilation or death of albatrosses and petrels caught in lines to reduce future bait predation is largely understood and poorly documented. 

The authors of the study, published in Biological Conservation, write: “Coordinated actions by international bodies and national authorities are urgently needed to address this threat, including increasing at-sea observation, enforcement actions and campaigns targeting better handling practices among fishermen.”
Publication Biological Conservation

Endangered blue whales are returning to waters around the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia half a century after being driven close to extinction by whaling. A survey in February recorded 58 sightings, while 41 individuals have been photo-identified in the area since 2011 – 31 sonobuoys deployed have all detected blue whale vocalisations.

Blue whales were once common in the seas around South Georgia, but commercial whaling in the 20th Century up until 1971 killed more than 42,000. 

A blue whale spotted in the waters near South Georgia (Russell Leaper)

Lead author Susannah Calderan, of the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), said: “The continued absence of blue whales at South Georgia has been seen as an iconic example of a population that was locally exploited beyond the point where it could recover. But over the past few years we’ve been working at South Georgia, we have become quite optimistic about the numbers of blue whales seen and heard around the island, which hadn’t been happening until very recently.

“We don’t quite know why it has taken the blue whales so long to come back. It may be that so many of them were killed at South Georgia that there was a loss of cultural memory in the population that the area was a foraging ground, and that it is only now being rediscovered.”
Publication Endangered Species Research

Protected areas are lacking for three species of cat in the Indian subcontinent according to a recent study, which also highlighted the extent to which closely-related species can vary in their ecological needs. Three species within the Prionailurus genus, the rusty-spotted cat, fishing cat and leopard cat were found to thrive in distinct habitats – deciduous forests, wetlands and tropical forests – of which less than 10 per cent is protected. The fishing cat is classed as vulnerable and the rusty-spotted cat near threatened, with populations of both decreasing.

The rusty-spotted cat is classed as near threatened (Davidvraju/WikimediaCommons)

Speaking to ScienceDaily, lead author André P. Silva said: “Some of these species, like the fishing cat, are extremely rare and probably need protection for long-term survival. The fact that only a very small proportion of the most suitable habitat for this species is protected is a warning sign that the protected-area network in the Indian subcontinent needs to be reviewed. Species like the rusty-spotted cat exist only in this region, so to ensure we don’t lose them it’s essential to create more protected areas.”
Publication Scientific Reports/Science Daily

The UK government has launched its Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution – with mixed reactions from environmental organisations. The plan, worth £12 billion, includes an ambitious ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 and investing in carbon capture and storage, while also pledging to create new national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty – as well as ten landscape recovery projects. The government has previously pledged to protect 30 per cent of UK land by 2030, adding and restoring wildlife rich habitat.

Responding on Twitter, Rewilding Britain wrote: “We welcome the PM’s 10 Point Plan for a #GreenRecovery & commitment to #rewilding 30,000 football pitches worth of countryside (21,000 hectares). We have more than enough landowners as part of our new Rewilding Network to deliver this – and more!”

Rewilding Britain director Professor Alastair Driver added: “The UK Government must ensure that these ten projects are not just worthy individual initiatives such as peat bog restoration and large-scale tree planting which were going to happen anyway, but that they are genuine new rewilding projects delivering multiple public benefits and major biodiversity recovery at scale.”

Lucy Pegg, public affairs officer for The Wildlife Trusts, welcomed the additional £40 million pledged to the government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund, but added: “The ban on new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 shows real global leadership and it is great to see the need for energy efficient homes, school and hospitals fully recognised. But it’s hard to reconcile this with the continued, reckless destruction of habitats that the Government’s £27bn road-building programme will cause, destroying the very habitats that should be helping to reverse wildlife declines and storing carbon. Wild places – peat bogs, saltmarshes and naturally regenerated land – store carbon; concreted-over landscapes don’t.”

Writing in The Guardian, Greenpeace UK’s head of politics Rebecca Newsom took aim at the funding, noting that of the £12bn announced, just £4bn was new government money. 

“Two-thirds of it is simply recycled from previous promises, or being assumed to be delivered by the private sector,” said Newsom. “To put this into context, France has already pledged £27bn for environmental stimulus measures and Germany has committed £36bn.”

Patrick Begg, outdoors and natural resources director at the National Trust, also highlighted the need for ongoing financial commitments.

“New resources to help the catastrophic decline in habitats and species are welcome, particularly if they are linked to spurring a green economic recovery following the pandemic,” said Begg. “A £40 million fund is a good start. And in future we will need further, deeper commitments to achieve the goals set out in the Government’s 25-year plan for the environment: environmental legislation and a planning system that is equal to the task, well-resourced and robust regulators and billions of pounds invested in the green economy over the next decade.”

The ten points are:

Point 1 Advancing Offshore Wind 

Point 2 Driving the Growth of Low Carbon Hydrogen 

Point 3 Delivering New and Advanced Nuclear Power 

Point 4 Accelerating the Shift to Zero Emission Vehicles 

Point 5 Green Public Transport, Cycling and Walking 

Point 6 Jet Zero and Green Ships 

Point 7 Greener Buildings 

Point 8 Investing in Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage 

Point 9 Protecting Our Natural Environment 

Point 10 Green Finance and Innovation
Source gov.uk

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