Monday, 24 July 2017

Introduction to Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust was founded by author and naturalist Gerald Durrell 50 years ago with the mission to save species from extinction, and it has a proven track record of doing just that! Species that have been pulled back from the brink include the Mauritius kestrel, pink pigeon, echo parakeet and the Mallorcan midwife toad, and our dedicated conservationists are hard at work in threatened habitats around the world, continuing each day to protect and conserve many more amazing species.
Due to the increasing demands of humans on the environment, we have witnessed in recent decades, a massive rise in the rate of extinctions.The number of species under threat has reached alarming proportions, including 23% of mammals, 12% of birds and 32% of all amphibians. A wide variety of species are necessary for the building blocks on which our ecosystems are sustained and it is these ecosystems that provide us with previous resources, such as clean water, fuel, fibre and food. 
When species die out, we reducing the environment’s ability to provide us with vital resources. The challenges facing the world’s biodiversity are too large for any sole organisation to make a difference. However, jointly, small and large non-government organisations, like Durrell, can improve the state of the world’s health. Durrell’s niche is one in which endemic species in their natural context are allowed to survive alongside human communities.Endangered species conservation, encompassing research, policy, management, and all its many facets, requires integrative and interdisciplinary methods.Durrell has developed into an effective conservation organisation not just by being strong in natural sciences research and methods, but also by being robust in the social science knowledge and skills necessary to effectively participate in, and influence, the management of species and their specialised habitats.

With our international headquarters in Jersey, Durrell has built up a worldwide reputation for its pioneering conservation techniques developed under the leadership of the late Gerald Durrell.Our animal conservation programme currently works with 36 critically endangered species worldwide, with the aim of halting the breeding stock decline before they reach the desperate situation of a few remaining individuals. Our main programme areas are Madagascar, the Indian Ocean islands, Pacific Ocean islands, Caribbean islands and Indian lowlands.

Madagascar

At 587,045km Madagascar is the largest oceanic island and the fourth largest island on Earth. It is thought to have been isolated from mainland Africa for over 160 million years.The island’s location and isolation has led to the evolution of the diverse range of habitats from dense tropical rain forests in the east, to arid semi-deserts in the south-west. As a result Madagascar displays levels of species endemism (i.e. species that are not found anywhere else on Earth) higher than anywhere in the world, which has led the island to be identified as one of world’s top ‘megadiversity’ countries, and a foremost conservation priority area.

What is so important about Madagascar’s biodiversity is that this endemism extends to whole taxonomic families of species which are found nowhere else. The island’s best-known endemics are the Lemur families, which contain over 90 species found only in Madagascar, ranging from the largest, the Indri which weighs up to 8kg, to the world’s smallest primate, Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur, which weighs 30g. Current estimates indicate that there are between 10,000 to 20,000 plant species, 80% of which (or 3.2% of the global total) are endemic. There are also seven endemic plant families to the island, a degree of endemism not found anywhere else. Additionally, 90% of reptiles, 98% of amphibians, 40% birds and 90% of mammals are endemic to the island.
Other unique mammals include the top predator, the Fosa, a large cat-like animal most closely related to the mongoose which is equally at home in the top of a baobab tree as on the ground. Madagascar also contains the richest diversity of amphibian and reptile species in the world with 314 of the 340 known species of reptile being endemic, most notably the chameleons which may have originated on the island. However our knowledge of the species on Madagascar remains largely incomplete and species are constantly being described; for example 22 species or subspecies of primate alone have been described since 1999.
The human impact
Habitat destruction caused by human activities is the single greatest threat faced by Madagascan biodiversity. Much of the biodiversity found on the island is concentrated in forest ecosystems, which have been under significant pressure for many years primarily from slash-and-burn agriculture, mining and logging (either for charcoal or construction wood). It is estimated that in the year 2000, around 17% of the former closed canopy primary forest remained intact. The impact of invasive species on native biodiversity in Madagascar has received less attention than other threats. Plants such as the water hyacinth clog up many river systems, which are also damaged by the impacts of introduced fish species such as snakehead murrell, carp and Nile tilapia. Furthermore the conversion of wetlands to rice and siltation of waterways from deforestation along the banks, have dramatically reduced the quality of water systems.

Madagascar has a population of 20 million inhabitants, of which 70% live in rural areas. Although the country is on a path of rapid development, mostly occurring in urban areas, 50% of the population does not have access to an improved water source and about 40% are under-nourished. Until 2005, 61% of the population lived on less that $1 per day. The rural communities are heavily dependent on natural resources that are being rapidly depleted. Deforestation for agriculture has both removed sources of sustainable livelihoods and also much of the country’s unique biodiversity. The few remaining forests therefore provide essential ecosystem services such as protection for vital water catchments and renewable resources, but also the last remaining refuges for Madagascar’s native plants and animals. As the population grows and people lack the means or know-how to invest in environmental management and restoration, the natural resource base and agricultural land are becoming increasingly degraded so contributing to a poverty trap. Madagascar’s rural communities need assistance to diversify their means of supporting their livelihoods and support to adopt practices that sustain the natural environment.


Durrell in Madagascar
Durrell has been working in Madagascar since the early 1980s and it is now our largest programme area. Initially the organisation focussed on a number of key species, such as the ploughshare tortoise, Madagascar teal and Meller’s duck. More recently, in the last 15 years, we have developed a focus on working with local communities to sustainably use their natural resources and protect their biodiversity. Currently Durrell implements a number of projects in seven main field sites:
 1. Menabe Forest This region contains one of the largest remaining tracts of deciduous seasonally dry forest and is extremely rich in endemic animal and plant species. These forests, which once covered much of western Madagascar, have been reduced to about 3% of their original extent by clearing for timber or subsistence agriculture. As a result, this habitat and the species found in it are now one of the highest conservation priorities in Madagascar. There are at least four species endemic to the forest alone; a frog, the flat-tailed tortoise, the giant jumping rat and Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur. This forest is also home to at least 14 other species. Because of the dense forest, one of Durrell’s main challenges in the area is to monitor species compositions and relative abundance, and our team here develops new survey methods and tailors approaches to specific species. In this area we are also working with a Malagasy NGO to create a new protected area, running participatory monitoring programmes and advising on the establishment of new legislation.
 2. Baly Bay This palm savanna is the last remaining habitat of the ploughshare tortoise. There are believed to be less than 2,000 individuals left, largely because of illegal trade but also because of fire, cyclones and wood cutting which threaten the forests and the tortoise’s habitat. Durrell has successfully set up a captive breeding programme to save the tortoise (see below) and forged close partnerships with local and regional authorities as well as local communities to stamp out illegal trafficking of the tortoise. We also monitor, reintroduce and check the status of the tortoises and promote the use of traditional fire control techniques to protect forests and bamboo areas for the tortoise. Durrell has also been instrumental in establishing protected areas in Baly Bay.
3. Ampijoroa A Durrell-supported captive breeding and reintroduction project at the Ampijoroa Forestry Station in north-western Madagascar is underway. This is to prevent the extinction of the ploughshare tortoise, the flat-tailed tortoise and the side-necked turtle, all of which are critically endangered, and to create a new wild population from captive-bred juveniles.
 4. Lac Alaotra This area was designated as a Ramsar site in 2003 as a wetland of global importance; Durrell was instrumental in this work and we continue to assist in the development of a new protected area within the marshes and on the lake. The wetlands are very vulnerable to degradation and sedimentation, often as a result of rice farming, erosion and siltation. The introduction of aquatic plants and fish, as well as habitat degradation, over-hunting and fishing also threaten endemic species. At least three of these endemics are critically endangered, including the Alaotran gentle lemur, one of the world’s only wetland primates, whose reduced geographical range has led to a rapid decline in population. The Alaotran little grebe and the Madagascar pochard are also near extinction, and we are currently hoping to set up a captive breeding programme to save the pochard.
Durrell is also involved in encouraging and setting up local publicity campaigns, developing and promoting participatory monitoring techniques that can be run with, or by, the local inhabitants, both to evaluate the effectiveness of community management techniques and to reinforce local commitment to management by demonstrating the impacts.
 5. Novisvolo The v-shaped, 120km Novisvolo river in eastern Madagascar flows between two parallel mountain ranges. There is a significant threat to the conservation of the region from deforestation as a result of slash and burn cultivation in the forests, causing sedimentation and turbidity in the river. The presence of introduced fish and over-fishing is also threatening endemic fish. Durrell has set up a project to conserve the 19 endemic fish in the region, all of which are declining in numbers. Durrell has also conducted a land survey in the area to evaluate the degree of river bank damage and set up local outreach programmes to raise awareness of the decline in fish populations and encourage the development of community conservation initiatives.
 6. Manombo forest One of the last remaining lowland rainforests on the eastern coast of Madagascar, with extremely rich biodiversity and high levels of endemism. Manombo forest is home to eight species of primate; the black-and-white ruffed lemur, white-collared brown lemur, lesser bamboo lemur, Aye-Aye, sportive lemur, eastern woolly lemur, mouse lemur and greater dwarf lemur. Both black-and-white ruffed and white-collared brown lemur are critically endangered, with the white-collared brown lemur listed as one of the 25 most threatened species in the world. Manombo is the only protected area within its limited range. The black-and-white ruffed lemur, although widespread throughout eastern Madagascar, has a patchy distribution and populations are disappearing as their habitats become increasingly fragmented. Durrell’s Manombo programme includes research and monitoring of these two species. We have also facilitated the creation of five village associations for the conservation of biodiversity in Manombo and trained five local people to help monitor and study the lemurs and their habitats.
 7. Western Wetlands A series of wetlands on the western coast of Madagascar. Here we work to protect and monitor the critically endangered side-necked turtle which we breed in captivity at Ampijoroa (see above). We also monitor the status of a number of bird species.
Community conservation initiatives
Many of the threats to endangered species result from local use, and where they do not, such as the theft of ploughshare tortoises for the international market, good collaboration with local people is the key to a first line of defence for effective protection.Over the last eight years, Durrell has developed a specific approach to community conservation, with the principles of respecting local cultures and traditional social structures, celebrating local biodiversity, catalysing group decision making, seeking active participation in locally led initiatives (rather than the other way round) and utilising positive incentive structures for conservation or resource management achievements.
It is possible to adopt a rare animal, visit www.durrell.org for details. With thanks for article provided by Natalie Ranise for Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.
Wendy has donated the royalties of her book 'The Lightworkers Circle Guide - A Workbook for Spiritual Groups' to the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust for the protection of endangered species.  

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