The oil palm industry is blamed for the demise of iconic species such as the orang-utan Pongo pygmaeus in Borneo but production of, and demand for, this commodity continue to expand. Therefore, a better understanding of how the orang-utan is adapting to human-transformed environments is crucial for conserving the species. Results from a combination of repeated ground transects, aerial presence/absence surveys, and interviews of workers in mature plantations of the lower Kinabatangan River floodplain (eastern Sabah) provide an overall picture of the current status of orang-utans in an established agro-industrial oil palm landscape. Our results show that orang-utans disperse into mature plantations, use oil palm trees for nesting, and feed on mature fruits. Most oil palm workers report orang-utans of all age-sex classes within the estates but fail to report any negative effect of the animals on productivity of mature palms 5 years. Our surveys also show that orang-utan presence in the mature oil palm landscape is correlated with proximity to natural forest patches. These results suggest that forest patches, even when small, fragmented and degraded, are required to sustain the species in human-transformed landscapes. Homogenous oil palm plantations are incompatible with viable populations of orang-utans. The cessation of further forest conversion to agriculture and the enforcement of better management practices are needed to reduce the threat of oil palm development to orang-utan survival.
Biodiversity offsetting involves the balancing of biodiversity loss in one place (and at one time) by an equivalent biodiversity gain elsewhere (an outcome referred to as No Net Loss). The conservation science literature has chiefly addressed the extent to which biodiversity offsets can serve as a conservation tool, focusing on the technical challenges of its implementation. However, offsetting has more profound implications than this technical approach suggests. In this paper we introduce the concept of policy frames, and use it to identify four ways in which non-human nature and its conservation are reframed by offsetting. Firstly, offsetting reframes nature in terms of isolated biodiversity units that can be simply defined, measured and exchanged across time and space to achieve equivalence between ecological losses and gains. Secondly, it reframes biodiversity as lacking locational specificity, ignoring broader dimensions of place and deepening a nature-culture and nature-society divide. Thirdly, it reframes conservation as an exchange of credits implying that the value of non-human nature can be set by price. Fourthly, it ties conservation to land development and economic growth, foreshadowing and bypassing an oppositional position. We conclude that by presenting offsetting as a technical issue, the problem of biodiversity loss due to development is depoliticized. As a result the possibility of opposing and challenging environmental destruction is foreclosed, and a dystopian future of continued biodiversity loss is presented as the only alternative.
Diurnal raptors have declined significantly in western Africa since the 1960s. To evaluate the impact of traditional medicine and bushmeat trade on raptors, we examined carcasses offered at markets at 67 sites (1-80 stands per site) in 12 countries in western Africa during 1990-2013. Black kite Milvus migrans and hooded vulture Necrosyrtes monachus together accounted for 41% of 2,646 carcasses comprising 52 species. Twenty-seven percent of carcasses were of species categorized as Near Threatened, Vulnerable or Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Common species were traded more frequently than rarer species, as were species with frequent scavenging behaviour (vs non-scavenging), generalist or savannah habitat use (vs forest), and an Afrotropical (vs Palearctic) breeding range. Large Afrotropical vultures were recorded in the highest absolute and relative numbers in Nigeria, whereas in Central Africa, palm-nut vultures Gypohierax angolensis were the most abundant vulture species. Estimates based on data extrapolation indicated that within West Africa 73% of carcasses were traded in Nigeria, 21% in Benin and 5% elsewhere. Offtake per annum in West Africa was estimated to be 975-1,462 hooded vultures, 356-534 palm-nut vultures, 188-282 Ruppell's griffons Gyps rueppellii, 154-231 African white-backed vultures Gyps africanus, 143-214 lappet-faced vultures Torgos tracheliotos, and 40-60 crowned eagles Stephanoaetus coronatus. This represents a sizeable proportion of regional populations, suggesting that trade is likely to be contributing significantly to declines. Stronger commitment is needed, especially by governments in Nigeria and Benin, to halt the trade in threatened raptors and prevent their extirpation.
Vultures in Africa are being poisoned deliberately by poachers to prevent the birds alerting authorities to the poachers' illegal activities, or for harvesting and sale of body parts for use in witchcraft. Hundreds of vultures can be killed at a single poisoned elephant Loxodonta africana carcass, and although field staff trained in poison response activities can limit the damage, mortalities remain numerous. We used the population viability analysis programme VORTEX to simulate seven 100-year-long scenarios investigating various rates of poisoning mortalities and the remedial effects of poison response activities on a population of Critically Endangered white-backed vultures Gyps africanus breeding in Kruger National Park, South Africa. In six scenarios the population declined (lambda < 1); in three scenarios the population remained extant over the 100-year simulations but declined by 60-90% from a starting size of 2,400 individuals. In two scenarios one poisoned elephant carcass left untreated and causing the greatest number of vulture deaths was modelled as a catastrophic event with a 50% probability of annual occurrence, which resulted in a 100% probability of population extinction, with a mean time to extinction of 55-62 years. Effective poison response activities were modelled as a 70% reduction of mortality at each poisoned elephant carcass and resulted in population persistence after 100 years but with a c. 90% reduction in size (final n = 205). We highlight that although poison response activities will not prevent poisoning from occurring, they form an essential part of wider conservation actions designed to prevent local extinctions of vultures or other vulnerable species.
The Critically Endangered ploughshare tortoise Astrochelys yniphora, endemic to Madagascar, is one of the rarest tortoises. Despite its protection under Malagasy national law and featuring in Appendix I of CITES, heightened interest from reptile collectors over recent decades has expedited the scale of poaching to critical levels. Illegal traders are now turning to online retail platforms and social media to sell this species. We present data from a 5-month study conducted by TRAFFIC in 2015 of online trade in ploughshare tortoises in Indonesia during 2010-2015. We identified 88 advertisements selling 126 ploughshare tortoises from 49 sellers. Fifty-six percent of the advertisements were located on forums or online retail sites and 43% on social media. Since 2012 advertisements on social media increased steadily, to > 90% in 2015. Seventy-five percent of the advertisements were from sellers based in Indonesia, 74% of which were from Jakarta. Prices were USD 509-47,000. The internet provides Indonesian traders with a means to sell protected wildlife comparatively safely and easily. The abundance of illegally sourced ploughshare tortoises openly on offer in online trade in Indonesia highlights a disregard for the law among Indonesian importers and their exporting counterparts. A re-evaluation by CITES of Indonesia's existing legislation is necessary. Devoid of a sound legal framework and sufficient enforcement to uphold these laws, there is no deterrent for traders of ploughshare tortoises and other non-native, CITES-listed species.
The IUCN Red List is widely used to guide conservation policy and practice. However, in most cases the evaluation of a species using IUCN Red List criteria takes into account only the global status of the species. Although subpopulations may be assessed using the IUCN categories and criteria, this rarely occurs, either because it is difficult to identify subpopulations or because of the effort involved. Using the jaguar Panthera onca as a model we illustrate that wide-ranging species that are assigned a particular category of threat based on the IUCN Red List criteria may display considerable heterogeneity within individual taxa in terms of the level of risk they face. Using the information available on the conservation status of the species, we evaluated the jaguar's current geographical range and its subpopulations. We identified the most threatened subpopulations, using the extent of occurrence, area of occupancy, population size and the level of threat to each subpopulation. The main outcome of this analysis was that although a large subpopulation persists in Amazonia, virtually all others are threatened because of their small size, isolation, deficient protection and the high human population density. Based on this approach, future conservation efforts can be prioritized for the most threatened subpopulations. Based on our findings we recommend that for future Red List assessments assessors consider the value of undertaking assessments at the subpopulation level. For the jaguar, sub-global assessments should be included on the Red List as a matter of urgency.
The mitigation hierarchy is a decision-making framework designed to address impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services through first seeking to avoid impacts wherever possible, then minimizing or restoring impacts, and finally by offsetting any unavoidable impacts. Avoiding impacts is seen by many as the most certain and effective way of managing harm to biodiversity, and its position as the first stage of the mitigation hierarchy indicates that it should be prioritized ahead of other stages. However, despite an abundance of legislative and voluntary requirements, there is often a failure to avoid impacts. We discuss reasons for this failure and outline some possible solutions. We highlight the key roles that can be played by conservation organizations in cultivating political will, holding decision makers accountable to the law, improving the processes of impact assessment and avoidance, building capacity, and providing technical knowledge. A renewed focus on impact avoidance as the foundation of the mitigation hierarchy could help to limit the impacts on biodiversity of large-scale developments in energy, infrastructure, agriculture and other sectors.
Conservation strategies to protect biodiversity and support household livelihoods face numerous challenges. Across the tropics, efforts focus on balancing trade-offs in local communities near the borders of protected areas. Devolving rights and control over certain resources to communities is increasingly considered necessary, but decades of attempts have yielded limited success and few lessons on how such interventions could be successful in improving livelihoods. We investigated a key feature of household wellbeing, the experience of food insecurity, in villages across Tanzania's northern wildlife tourist circuit. Using a sample of 2,499 primarily livestock-keeping households we compared food insecurity in villages participating in the country's principal community-based conservation strategy with nearby control areas. We tested whether community-based projects could offset the central costs experienced by households near strictly protected areas (i.e. frequent human-wildlife conflict and restricted access to resources). We found substantial heterogeneity in outcomes associated with the presence of community-based conservation projects across multiple project sites. Although households in project villages experienced more frequent conflict with wildlife and received few provisioned benefits, there is evidence that these households may have been buffered to some degree against negative effects of wildlife conflict. We interpret our results in light of qualitative institutional factors that may explain various project outcomes. Tanzania, like many areas of conservation importance, contains threatened biodiversity alongside areas of extreme poverty. Our analyses highlight the need to examine more precisely the complex and locally specific mechanisms by which interventions do or do not benefit wildlife and local communities.
We assessed losses of livestock to lions Panthera leo and leopards Panthera pardus in the Adiyo and Gimbo districts in Kafa Biosphere Reserve, Ethiopia. We quantified the economic impact, conducted household and group interviews, and explored potential solutions with local people. During 2009-2013 there were 350 and 62 attacks by lions and leopards, respectively. Households that suffered attacks on their livestock lost a mean of USD 287 and USD 310 in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Although lion attacks are more frequent than leopard attacks, our qualitative data indicate that tolerance for the former is higher because lions are more respected in the local culture. We describe how depredation is culturally mitigated and how retaliatory killing is avoided. Given people's tolerance towards them, carnivores may persist in their highland refugium, opening an arena for conservation that is not strictly linked to protected areas or to classical economics.
Management and monitoring of community-based protected areas in Madagascar remain challenging because of a lack of financial, human and technical resources, and capacity. At Lake Alaotra, conversion of marshland for rice cultivation and a lack of effective habitat protection have pushed the locally endemic Alaotra gentle lemur Hapalemur alaotrensis to the brink of extinction. The highest density of the species is found in the locally managed Park Bandro, a high-priority conservation zone within the Lake Alaotra New Protected Area. We evaluated local awareness and perceptions of Park Bandro, and discussed preferred management options with local communities. Two questionnaire surveys were carried out, one with 180 participants at six sites around the lake and marsh, and another with 50 participants in the village adjacent to Park Bandro. The majority of participants knew of the existence of Park Bandro but most did not know its purpose or size. Values and perceptions of local communities were influenced by occupation and distance to the Park, with fishers being most aware of the Park. We found that local people had a high level of environmental awareness and were willing to discuss zonation and alternative resource management strategies as long as these activities could provide a tangible livelihood benefit. Lack of awareness among local resource users regarding the purpose and status of protected areas such as Park Bandro is a challenge that needs to be addressed, and one that is relevant for environmental education and management of protected areas throughout Madagascar.