Once abundant throughout its range, the medicinal leech became endangered largely because it was so widely used by doctors for blood-letting in the 19th century. France alone imported more than a thousand million over the century. Since then demands for research purposes have greatly increased following the discovery that this leech contains a potentially very valuable anticoagulant of human blood. Protection for the species is urgently needed, says the author. One school class could unknowingly wipe out the whole of a small remnant population.
After searching many remote regions in the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, the author discovered that the island's last two endemic mammals, formerly believed to be rare, are in fact common in some areas. But human pressures on the hutia Plagiodonria aedium and the solenodon S. paradoxus are such that, unless the Governments of Haiti and the Dominican Republic take effective steps both could soon become extinct.
Land nationalisation, starting in 1963, brought settlers and cultivation into mountain areas of Peru where hitherto spectacled bears had been disturbed only by occasional hunting. This greatly reduced the numbers of bears, and also habituated those that survived to eating the farm crops and farm animals that replaced their natural foods, thus incurring the wrath of the farmers who replied with guns. Moreover, bears are becoming isolated from each other, in some cases confined to high ridges surrounded by cultivated land. The author, who spent two years studying the spectacled bear in Peru, believes that as a result, fewer bears will be able to breed and that genetic variation will be reduced.
The black rhino will be exterminated soon in northern Tanzania if poaching is not stopped, says the author, after surveying eight national parks and game reserves, either from the air or on the ground, or both. Tanzania is making great efforts to stop the poaching, but essential equipment is desperately short, and much more outside help is needed.
Barbary macaques have been on Gibraltar continuously for 240 years, maybe longer. Today they are a major tourist attraction – 1000 people may visit them in a day. But they have caused much trouble in the past, raiding gardens, damaging houses, biting people. Since 1913, with few breaks, they have been fed regularly on the top of the Rock by the British Army. Numbers have fluctuated – in 1900 there were 130, in 1943 only four, which on Mr Churchill's instructions were increased by imports to 24. Today they are kept at between 30 and 40, and controlled by exports to zoos and culling, which the author, who is studying their adaptation to living with man, considers unacceptably wasteful.
The authors found a small number of yellow-tailed woolly monkeys in a part of Peru 200 kilometres from where in 1974 the species was ‘rediscovered’ (having been believed extinct). As the area is also the home of a number of endemic Peruvian birds, they suggest it may have been a refugium in the late Pleistocene and should be both protected and explored for other possible undescribed species.
The brown bears in and around Italy's Abruzzo National Park live quite comfortably with the fairly dense human population surrounding the park. The people like the bears, even though they eat sheep, and are not afraid of them. But these same people also favour economic development, notably tourism, and tourists have now increased to the point where the disturbance they create is a serious threat to the bears. In particular tourist pressure in high summer has driven the bears to scatter into areas where they have little protection.
In the eight years of Idi Amin's rule, law enforcement in the national parks and reserves completely collapsed, and poaching and human encroachment increased. Last year, Robert Malpas, working for the New York Zoological Society and World Wildlife Fund/IUCN, and with some help from ffPS, spent nine months on a survey of Uganda's national parks and reserves to determine just how bad the situation really was. He found the elephant situation so desperate in both the Rwenzori and Kabalega Falls National Parks, except in one area, that there is no certainty of their survival in either even if the poaching can be controlled.
The author, who is a scientist at the Zoological Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, describes the serious plight of China's endemic alligator. This last summer he was joined by an American research scientist, Dr Myrna E. Watanabe, in a further study of the alligator, and we hope to carry their report in a later issue.
Since the last report on the work of the Mountain Gorilla Project (Oryx, August 1980), all the three main programmes in Rwanda – conservation education, park protection and park development – have made substantial progress.
The southern pudu Pudu pudu, a small forest deer, now occurs only in the temperate Valdivian rainforests of Chile and Argentina. Ninety per cent of its historic habitat, the lowland forest, has been occupied and cleared by man, bringing the pudu increasingly into contact with both man and his domestic livestock. This, coupled with increased predation, livestock diseases and competition from introduced exotic deer, has made the pudu extremely rare and locally extinct in many areas, especially in Argentina. In the IUCN Red Data Book it is classed as vulnerable.
So far as is known pygmy chimpanzees, or bonobos, occupy only a comparatively small area in the central basin of Zaire. A large multinational company has acquired logging rights in what is believed to be the core of their range, and the authors, who have been studying the animals, believe that this could mean the end of this major population. A reserve is urgently needed, and they suggest a particular area of undisturbed primary forest where the local people would act as guardians and also continue their traditional uses.
After a somewhat perilous landing on Gough Island, south of Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic, the author was able to confirm the remarkable comeback of the fur seals there, once heavily exploited but now numbering over a hundred thousand.
In the summer of 1980 four members of the University of London Natural History Society went to Lake Alyki in Macedonia to study a population of tortoises Testudo hermanni. Such studies are urgently needed because very little is known about the ecology of Mediterranean tortoises, which are declining seriously, due mainly to habitat loss and collecting for the pet trade. The expedition chose Alyki after an expedition by the same society in 1979 had reported an exceptionally rich wildlife there including a large tortoise population. A new holiday village nearby did not appear to threaten the main wildlife areas, and a commercial salt works only operated at the north end of the lake from which access to the heath was not easy. However, unknown to the four members, the 1980 expedition had walked into an explosive situation. The following account is quoted from their report.
After a canoe journey down the Omo River in southern Ethiopia, the author concludes that the river canyon is ‘a viable ecosystem with a rich natural assemblage of large mammals’. But it is only the canyon's inaccessibility that protects the animals, and he wonders how long it will do so.
At this year's International Whaling Commission meeting, where ‘horse trading’ between whalers and conservationists was again a conspicuous feature, sperm whales got a respite, but at the expense of the North Atlantic fin whales. For the British ngo-s, banded together in Wildlife Link (which includes ffPS), the main disappointment was the failure of all three major proposals to halt whaling altogether. They now look to a future where hunting has been given up for lack of whales to hunt, and whale-watching takes over. A remarkable feature of the meetings was the leadership of the Seychelles Government, which last year succeded in getting the Indian Ocean Sanctuary for whales.
Because they must migrate up to the headwaters of rivers to spawn, salmon were badly affected when man developed the rivers for navigation and industry, then polluted them and, for hydroelectric schemes, sometimes blocked them. The final disaster was the Greenland fishery that started in the early 1960s. This has now been controlled, but the Atlantic salmon is unlikely to recover its former numbers. Moreover, some of the unique stocks that each river system originally had have been exterminated and others adulterated, so that the Atlantic salmon's original genetic diversity has been irretrievably destroyed. The author, who works on fishes at the British Museum, Natural History, is Chairman of IUCN's SSC Fish Group.