Harmonizing the relationship between people, carnivores and the rainforest in Pando, Bolivia

In November 2012 the Rewilding Foundation went on mission to Bolivia to set up shop for a new project with new partners. With a team of members from Aveiro University (Dr. Nuno Negrões from Portugal), Conservation International Bolivia, Centro de Investigación y Preservación de la Amazonia (CIPA) and Universidad Amazonica the Pando (UAP), an area in the district of Pando – in northwestern Bolivia – was explored.

Paving the way for a new project!

The goal here is to effectuate a project aimed at safeguarding a rainforest ecological network, improving the relationship between people and mammalian carnivores like the Jaguar, and protection of tropical forests for biodiversity conservation and climate change counteraction.

The tropical rainforest in the Amazon is disappearing rapidly through deforestation and conversion to pasture for beef cattle and the cultivation of soy. In Pando, this process is lagging behind the alarming situation in for instance just across the border in Brasil, but is proceeding at an accelerating pace. This mainly due to the colonization and forestry policies of the Bolivian government, and largely poverty driven. Photo: E. van Maanen.

The mission was very successful and consisted of visiting two areas in western Pando, a research reserve of CIPA (Tahuamanu Biological Station) and Manuripi Reserve, near the border of Peru and along the Madre de Dios River. The tropical lowland rainforests of Pando are barely studied ecologically, with exception of the Rapid Inventories by the Chicago Field Museum.

Deforestation and exploitation of the rainforest

From the booming settlement of Cobija, the exploration of the rainforest is proceeding according to the ‘classic’ herringbone pattern. A long straight road was cut through the rainforest allowing settlement by poor farmers (legal settlers and squatters) from all over Bolivia and from Brazil. On the land plot scale a farmer and his family occupy a piece of rainforest and remove it by logging and burning, to subsequently cultivate it (mostly with maize) until the nutrient poor soil is exhausted. Then another piece of forest is exploited later in time, as is allowed according to the current forestry and agriculture legislation. However, ambitious landlords tackle the land on a much larger scale, transforming forest into large open grasslands subsequently stocked with large herds of cattle.

Trees are out, cattle comes in! Photo: E. van Maanen.

Tracts of preserved rainforest and former rubber extraction forests owned by landlords (called ‘Barracas’) are now largely used for the gathering of Brazil nuts, nowadays economically much more important than rubber exploitation. The giant Brazil nut trees need rainforest climate and certain animals (such as the Agouti) for their durable propagation. Many poor guest workers roam in the Barracas during the mast season early in the year to gather Brazil nuts. Loads of Brasil nuts are processed in Cobija for export.

During our initial exploration of Pando we consulted villagers in the Manuripi Reserve on the Peruvian border about their relationship with large predators like the jaguar, puma and ocelot. We were welcomed and openly received to discuss the issue. Photo: E. van Maanen.

Whilst collecting nuts the workers often shoot and catch a great many wild animals as bush meat, or perhaps partly sell alive on markets in the region or the international black market. Almost nothing is safe and much turns out to be edible, including for example the rare and majestic Harpy eagle. As a result of intense hunting many of the forest parts have become devoid of wildlife and virtually silent (this is called silent of empty forest syndrome), especially when compared to “pristine” tracts of rainforest, such as still exists in eastern Pando. Some species such as monkeys, tapir, peccari and large rodents as the agoutis and pacas play key roles in the rainforest, for instance as seed dispersers and pollinators.

The biological diversity of the forests in Bolivia is impressive. Just a minute sample is shown here and further below. The Madidi rainforest south of Pando, for example, has been nominated as an area with the highest biodiversity on earth. From left to right: Two-striped forest-pitviper (Bothriopsis bilineata), a species of Anolis lizard, a rare Ringed woodpecker (Celeus torquatus) and a kind of tarantula. Photo’s: E. van Maanen.

The Amazon rainforest has however been much influenced by Indian tribes in the past, as large parts were converted into forest gardens and a type of ‘park land’, centuries before the destructive Conquistadors appeared on the South American continent; the Pre-Columbian Era. In clear-cut areas in the region of Acre in Brazil for example, just north of Pando, this can be seen from the remains (geoglyphs) of impressive ancient settlements in the landscape. These transformed areas of forest actually gained biodiversity by a cyclic process of cultivation and abandonment. Hence the native people were apparently able to achieve and sustain a proper stewardship of the rainforest with biological enrichment as a result. This type of traditional land use may be useful as a model for the effectuation of ecologically sustainable use and management of the rainforest, as well as safeguarding a rainforest network in Bolivia for the conservation of biodiversity and for climate change counteraction.

Pando is rich in Primates, including (left) the regionally occuring Brown titi monkey (Callicebus brunneus blonging to the Cupreus clade; pers. comm. Marc van Roosmalen) and (right) the Saddle-back tamarin (Sanguinus fuscicollis weddelli). Photo’s: E. van Maanen.

Skull of a jaguar shot in the Manuripi Reserve as a preventive measure to “protect the children”. Photo: E. van Maanen.

Other animals with an important ecological role in the rainforest are predators such as the Jaguar, Puma, Ocelot, the Bush dog and the Harpy eagle. Unfortunately, conflicts between mammalian carnivores, in particular the jaguar and people are on the increase. The big cats incidentally prey on calves and other small farm animals, as people and livestock encroach more and more into their habitat, and because natural prey due to overhunting by settlers and guest workers has declined. Jaguars, when encountered by riflemen, are shot without pardon, or hunted down with dogs by cattle rangers. People fear the big cats, while the jaguar very rarely attacks humans, and then in most cases in defense when cornered. Even within the Manuripi Reserve jaguars are persecuted. This is evident from the first conversations we had with villagers and the remains of jaguars that we examined.

A jaguar has recently slain a calf. We discuss the loss with the owner over the bony remains, who at that time misses another calf. Unlike pumas, jaguars don’t cover their prey.  Photo’s: E. van Maanen.

De jaguar as keystone species

The jaguar is an impressive and very powerful predator. In Bolivia, this big cat occurs in both the ‘normal’ spotted form (“El Tigre”) and as the melanistic or dark brown phase (‘Panthera’). The generally larger and apparently impressive black jaguar is regularly seen by local people in Pando, according to the people we interviewed.

Left to right: Brown agouti (Dasyprocta variegata), Silky short-tailed bat (Carollia brevicauda), Plumbeous kite (Ictinia plumbea), Pendula lobster claw (Heliconia rostrata) and an Idomeneus giant owl (Caligo idomeneus). Photo’s: E. van Maanen.

Starting with a pilot project

A pilot project is first of all set up to investigate the level of conflict between predators and local people, and to subsequently alleviate the conflict through consultation of village people and by way of involving them in a survey of mammalian carnivores and other biodiversity in the region. Workshops will be carried out by international experts in this field, and will involve a training of trainers approach. The Manuripi Reserve lends itself for a variety of practical and logistical reasons as a suitable demonstration and study area for a human-carnivore conflict resolution initiative. We envisage a citizen science and rainforest school project using tools like cameratraps and involving adults and children alike in learning more about the important role of the rainforest for our planet. Education, outreach and adaptive management are central components of the project. The enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff of CIPA – UAP in Cobija will be instrumental in achieving these objectives.

Ultimately we like to solve the silent forest syndrome problem and instill ways to ecologically use and manage the rainforest, perhaps using the age-old stewardship of the original human inhabitants of the Amazon. Building on the succes and a good evaluation of the pilot project, a more encompassing project will then target the achievement of ecological sustainability, through the improvement of people livelihoods and a commitment from local people and authorities to safeguard the rainforest and its biodiversity.

A search for large carnivores and other species deep in the tropical rainforest of Pando with the nature and survival skilled members of CIPA. Photo: E. van Maanen.

The pilot will also serve as an investigation for the safeguarding of an ecological network, incorporating other remaining forest areas in Bolivia (in the district of Beni and the forest of Madidi), in Peru (Manu) and in Brazil (remaining forest in southwestern Acre).

A visit to the Natural History Museum of CIPA in Cobija. Nuno Negroes having a friendly chat with our possible future project partners. Photo: E. van Maanen.

Despite the strong driving factors for the destruction and degradation of the rainforest such as poverty, the meat industry and the current Bolivian forestry policy aimed at claiming land, the team had a strong feeling that Pando and her amicable and ethnically diverse people lends itself to a gradual but viable process for change to ecologically sustainable use of the rainforest. However, we are acutely aware that this can not be achieved without improving the lives and welfare of the local people, possibly in collaboration with other organizations, which may include companies.

Working in the rainforest is not without dangers. Here our Landcruiser was ditched for a few hours after heavy rainfall that made the muddy road very slippery. We could have ended up in the river. The locals helped us out. Photo: E. van Maanen.

Experiences with the wildlife

During our hikes of several days through the rainforest in western Pando we found the presence of many species. Impressive was the clear presence of the Jaguar, Puma, Margay, Tapir, Sloth, several monkey species and sizeable anacondas. We also saw many species of bird, herpetofauna and entomofauna. For example we recorded more than sixty species of butterfly. A nice comparison, on the excrement of a cow we found more species of butterfly than the number of species that still occur or persist in the Netherlands!

The many faces of Pando! Beside biodiversity Pando also has a great cultural variety.

This project is an initiative of Dr. Nuno Negrões of Aveiro University and Erwin van Maanen of EcoNatura and the Rewilding Foundation.

The jaguar (Panthera onca) is a key species in the Amazone rainforest. This powerful cat rarely attacks people, but is regarded with fear and loathing by many, and often hunted mercilessly. Photo: E. van Maanen.

Erwin van Maanen of the Rewilding Foundation under a gigantic Kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra).

Cascades Carnivore Project: searching for mountain foxes and wolverines in the wildest of the West

By Matthew Pomilia

When many people think of a red fox, they envision a cute, furry little creature that they occasionally glimpse traipsing across some suburban intersection. It’s true, red foxes occur nearly everywhere in North America, Europe, and Asia, in just about every habitat, including densely-populated urban areas.

Cross-morph Cascade (mountain) red fox

What many people don’t know about the red fox is that there are dozens of different sub-species (it is unclear exactly how many, but estimates top out at around 50) which range far and wide, from the deserts of southwest Asia to the mountains of North America. In fact, red foxes are the most widespread land carnivore in the world.

The three sub-species of mountain red fox which occur in the U.S. (in the Cascades, Sierra Nevadas, and central Rockies) are adapted to the cold, harsh conditions of these high elevation areas, and appear not to mix with their low elevation-dwelling cousins. In light of this fact and considering the potentially devastating effects of climate warming (these foxes like it cold), questions have arisen about the future of the mountain red foxes.

Wolverine taking the bait

Enter PhD student Jocelyn Akins and the Cascades Carnivore Project (CCP). Since 2008, Jocelyn and fellow CCP researchers have been scouring southern Washington’s Cascade Mountains in an effort to document Cascade red foxes living in the area. While rambling in the high country in pursuit of red foxes (I alone traversed more than 200 up-and-down miles during my month on the fox crew), CCP researchers take the opportunity to collect valuable data on other carnivores, as well. Most notable among these is the mythical wilderness wanderer, the wolverine. Less is known about the wolverine than just about any other North American mammal, and given its affinity for rugged mountain landscapes, the wolverine has become an important piece of CCP’s research puzzle.

Wolverine caught on camera trap

Creatively employing a combination of camera traps, hair snaggers, and trail surveys, Jocelyn and her score of dedicated volunteers have had dozens of Cascade red fox and several wolverine detections in the mountains of southern Washington and northern Oregon over the past few years. As recently as ten years ago, wolverines were not even thought to exist as far south as southern Washington, while virtually nothing was known about the Cascade red fox. So, although many burning questions still remain to be answered, the CCP is off to a running start. Looking ahead, CCP researchers and fellow conservationists wonder if a resident wolverine population will re-establish itself in its historical range in the Lower 48 States. In the case of the Cascade red fox, we might wonder whether they will persist at all.

Typical Cascade red fox habitat

With both the climate and the conservation landscape of the American West in continual flux, the fate of all montane species, and perhaps especially these montane carnivores, hangs tenuously in the balance. We can only hope that this storybook landscape, replete with snow-capped volcanoes, undulating forests, and under increasing human pressure, will be capable of providing the wilderness that these majestic creatures need in order to survive well into the future.

A view of Mt. Rainier from the Pacific Crest Trail

Rewilding Foundation on mission to Bolivia!

The Rewilding Foundation is going to Bolivia during 6-26 November to investigate the scope for a new project in partnership with Conservation International-Bolivia, Centro de Investigación y Preservación de la Amazonía (CIPA)-Universidad Amazónica de Pando (UAP) and Aveiro University (Portugal), represented by Nuno Negroes.

The mission of experts will go to the Amazon rainforest in a biodiverse region called Pando, in northwest Bolivia. The project is aimed at safeguarding rainforest tracts with rich wildlife, including large carnivores like the jaguar, into an ecological network system. It will also strive to reduce the current pressure by people on the rainforest (including bush meat hunting, industrial forestry and Brazilian nut collection) by devising alternative and ecologically sustainable use of forest resources, and concurently improve the livelihoods of local communities. It’s an ambitious project, but carried by a group of enthusiastic experts from Bolivia, the Netherlands and Canada.

We all look forward to your support and even a small donation will go a long way in making this seeding mission a succes and enable us to apply for bigger funding! We are targetting at least €1000 to make the current mission go a long way. Thank you!  → Get involved and please donate here

The  jaguar is one of the target species for conservation in the Amazonian rainforest. By Edo van Uchelen.

 

Small critters matter as well!

Where are the weasels?

The Dutch Small Mustelid Working Group (WKM) has intensified its investigations into the conservation status of small Mustelids (Least weasel, Stoat and Pole cat) in the Netherlands. In practice this is a very difficult to study species group.

There is suspicion that these animals are declining in the intensely used and managed Dutch countryside, a hunch shared with researchers in England, Denmark, Germany and Switserland, and increasingly substantiated. The decline factors are not well known, but may be several interactive factors including dessication, habitat fragmentation in combination with dense and intensified road networks, dissapperance of cyclic vole outbreaks and possibly the increased use of second generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs).

In 2012 the WKM started field trials to test new practical methods to detect and monitor small mustelids at several sites containing likely habitat, including extensively grazed grasslands and fields with features like natural grassland, hedgerows, brushwood thickets and woodpiles.

Left to right: The use of  Wippbrett traps (left), sniffer dogs and tracking tubes.

Methodology

The means used to detect weasels and stoats are tracking tubes, a cameratrap box developed by Jeroen Mos called a “Mostela”, and Wippbrett-traps for live capture. The first two methods are essentially non-invasive. Concurrently the WKM monitors mouse and vole numbers as well as the presence of other meso-carnivores, mainly Pine marten, Stone marten and Red fox. Habitat features are studied as well. Occasionally Conservation Dog Services are called in to sniff out stoats.

Weasels in particular live hidden from view in dense ground vegetation and in the dens of mice and moles. When they appear they often immediatly rapidly dissappear from view, giving but a undeterminable glimpse to the unsuspecting viewer.  Over the years sightings have decreased, according to knowleadgable field people.

Succes in the field

In September 2012 the WKM succesfully used tracking tubes and Mostelas to detect weasels in a nature restoration site of the Ark Foundation, in Limburg, a province in the south of Holland.

Jeroen Mos setting out the “Mostela” he devised. It consists of a box with an open PVC tube in which small mammals (mice and weasels in this case) investigating it can be recorded with a cameratrap .

Surfing on vole cycles

The study area contained a great number of mice and voles (2012 was a good vole year). The trial showed that when present, as could be expected from high levels of small rodents, weasels can indeed be detected using a combination of the described methods.

Recording of habitat features to learn about habitat choice of small Mustelids in the modern Dutch countryside with differential land-use management, photorecording from the air using a kite (by  Jasja Dekker).

The field trial in Limburg also delivered cameratrap recordings of pole cat, badgers, red squirrel and the siting of a stoat.

The results of tube tracking, showing weasel prints.

The tube tracking and camera trap recordings showed a close association of weasels with brushwood, as could be expected.

One of the study areas in Wolfhaag, southern Limburg, the Netherlands, in September 2012. Here a number of weasels where recorded beside a great number of small rodents. The area is extensively managed by the Ark Foundation, i.e. with low-intensity grazing using semi-wild oxen.

The small rodents caught with live traps included Harvest mouse,  Wood mouse, Yellow-necked mouse, Bank voles and field voles .

Small rodents are monitored to determine the food base and monitor population cycles of small Mustelids. Right: Yellow-necked mouse and (left) Harvest mouse.

The involvement of volunteers or citizen scientists during fieldwork is regarded as essential to increase the number of surveys of small Mustelids by others in other parts of the Netherlands.

Working with volunteers helps to strengthen the plight and support-base for the conservation of small Mustelids, a group of “forgotten” animals and low status in the conservation policy of the Netherlands.

De WKM promotes conservation ecological research on small Mustelids in the Netherlands and aims to study the factors that are causing the decline of these small inconspicuous and seemingly “forgotten” group of carnivorous mammals in the Netherlands, including the possible ecotoxicological impact of SGARs.

AboveFootage of weasels Mustela nivalis taken with the cameratrap box or “Mostela” devised by Jeroen Mos. The device can be effectively used for non-invasive detection of Least weasels, revealing their presence in dense ground vegetation, where conventional set-ups of cameratraps cannot be used.  The first part of the video (with sound) shows a healthy and fattened male weasel filmed during the Wolfhaag study. The second film shows a female weasel filmed in an abandoned arable field. Note the size difference between the sexes.


The forgotten wetlands of eastern Georgia

A unique system of wetlands on the eastern Black Sea shore in Georgia

Georgia in the Caucasus is situated on the nexus of Asia and Europe and harbors one of the World’s biodiversity hotspots (Meyers 2000; Cincotta et al. 2000).

Land of the Golden Fleece – Central Kolkheti Wetlands with a splendid view on Imnati bog and the Atchara-Imereti mountain range visible in the background in winter (photo: Izolda Matchutadze)

When Jason and the Argonauts hit the eastern Black Sea shore – now western Georgia – on their quest to find the Golden Fleece, they must have encountered a land with great promise. The subtropical central or sub-Mediterranean lowland region of Kolkheti along the east coast of the Black Sea is particularly well-endowed with different wetland types, and these in turn are part of an important network of wetlands around the Black Sea (Wilson & Moser 1994; Marushevsky 2003). These wetlands are fed by frequent and often heavy rains (on average 2200 mm annual rainfall) and by a multitude of rivers and underground streams (seepage) from the Atchara-Imereti and Greater Caucasus ranges. This constant water supply made it very difficult to drain wetlands in the region during the Soviet Era. Even today the drainage through many ditches and channels continues, although in many places stalled due to lack of maintenance.

Sea daffodil Pancratium maritimum
is a typical plant species of the threatened dune system

The system of wetlands in Kolkheti lowland from the southern border of the Republic of Abkhazia, extending to the Kakhaberi plain on the Georgian-Turkish border in the south, is comprised of river delta’s (including the major Rioni and Chorokhi rivers), lakes, (fish)ponds and extensive wet meadows, fen marshes, mires and unique percolation bogs (Ispani II and Imnati). Some of the Alder-forested marshes are reminiscent of wetlands in northwestern Europe, like the Weerribben-Wieden in the Netherlands.

The vegetation across the region is divers, including huge Sphagnum-dominated bogs to alder brooks with extensive canals and lakes, also fringed by broad reed lands. The wetlands also connect with other special ecosystems like the Euxine-Colchic broadleaf forests, coastal dunes and areas of steppe from the east, in places forming unique ecotones.

Hans Joosten of Greifswald University.

The ecohydrologically unique Ispani II mire is one of the best studied of the percolation bog systems in the region, with research initiated on the basis of sheer coincidence during a Wetlands International meeting in Moscow in 1998 by Erwin van Maanen of the Rewilding Foundation and a research team from the University of Greifswald (Germany) led by Prof. dr. Hans Joosten. This research, as well as a conservation programme and including the training of Georgian ecologists and involvement with the International Mire Conservation Group (IMCG), continues today (Haberl et al. 2006; Krebs et al. 2009).

The central part of the Kolkheti wetlands has been protected as national park under de Ramsar Convention since 1999. Their protection is greatly facilitated and promoted by the NGO Tchaobi, led by botanist Izolda Matchutadze and supported by the World Bank sponsored IZCM project.

The biodiversity of the region is poorly characterised and in need of a systematic and phenological survey. Birdlife is the best known and documented (Gavashelishvili et al. 2006).

Entomofauna of the Colchis region is poorly known. Here a female White-tailed skimmer Orthetrum albistylum

For example, the fish fauna is of great importance ecologically and economically. For instance, at least three of the five Black Sea sturgeon species and the endemic Black Sea Salmon (Salmo labrax) are believed to still spawn in the Tikori and Enguri Rivers, but continued poaching are bringing them to extinction. Surveys of sturgeon have unfortunately stopped with the passing away of Dr. Zurab Zarqua, a Georgian sturgeon specialist.

Three species of sturgeon from the Black Sea. Top-down: Beluga sturgeon (Huso huso), Bastard sturgeon (Acipenser nudiventris), and Diamond sturgeon (Acipenser guldenstaedti colchicus).

Of the wetland mammals, the otter is of conservation concern and the occurrence of another Mustelid – the European mink – is not unthinkable. The Golden jackal is the most common of the larger mammalian predators. The wetlands hold important populations of breeding birds including several species of herons, grebes, birds of prey, waterfowl, rails & crakes and passerines. Sadly, once common pelicans now only sporadically occur and only two breeding pairs of White-tailed eagle are known to exist today. The wetlands also present vital wintering and storm refuge sites for many birds. Moreover, huge numbers of migratory birds pass and rest in the region during the autumn and spring migration, including around a million raptors in the fall.

The Nabada marshes with their peat cut channels are very reminiscent of the Dutch Weerribben-Wieden (photo: Izolda Matchutadze).

Perhaps now only a small detail, the wetlands are also the original breeding grounds of the now very rare and endemic Common pheasant Phasianus colchicus, commonly introduced as a game species elsewhere around the world.

Illustration of the Ispani II percolation bog by Izolda Matchutadze

The sub-tropical Euxine-Colchic broadleaf forests extending in parts still from the Adjarian mountains (including Mtirala National Park) to the coast (the Botanic garden in Batumi still holds a fragment right on the sea shore) is also a poorly known forest system. These forests from broadleaved to sub-alpine zones are home to unique and endemic species, including the Caucasian salamander (Mertensiella caucasica).

The herpetofauna of western Georgia is not well known. Here a slow worm Anguis fragilis colchicus encountered in the foothills near Batumi in September 2012.

The mountain forests are strongholds for poorly known populations of mammals, including the brown bear, wolf, lynx, wild cat, pine marten, red deer, and other wild herbivores, and a diverse smaller mammal community.

Pine marten in a lush forest near Keda (photo: Jimsher Mamuchadze)

A system under great threat

However, these important and seemingly underexposed wetlands have been, and still are, greatly impacted by anthropogenic activities. As early as 1907 N.N. Shavrov of the Russian Geographers Society predicted the degradation of Kolkheti Wetlands and threats to important inhabitants like birds. As much as 60% of the original wetland area has since been claimed and cultivated for pastures, agriculture and horticulture, a process continuing today and particularly enhanced by rapid urbanisation along the coast.

The Churia fen marsh was damaged by an oil transfer station and supply railway line in 2005, despite its Ramsar status. The Georgian government was obliged to compensate the wetland loss, but no measures have yet been taken.

The increasing degradation of the remaining wetlands was and is currently forced by severe pollution, eutrophication, peat exploitation, over-exploitation of fauna (poaching), illegal logging, drainage, overgrazing, sand and gravel extractions, normalization of flowing waters, invasive species and feral animals. Major developments are in the pipeline, including the ambitious and controversial building of a new city (Lazika) in the Anaklia marshes, oil storage and transfer facilities, extension of a tourist boulevard into the Chorokhi Delta, and hydroelectric dams in the major rivers.

Boardwalk into the Ispani II mire. The plants in the foreground are an invasive species; Knotweed Polygonum thunbergii from Japan. This has spread since grazing with cattle on the fringe of the reserve was forbidden.

Without wise planning and management Kolkheti Lowlands will definitively turn into a hotchpotch of disturbed and disheveled sites. This will inevitably lead to great landscape and biological diversity losses, making the region unattractive for ecotourism. Nature is a great asset for Georgia, yet little appreciated. Of paramount importance to the economic viability of the region, the Kolkheti wetlands provide vital ecosystem services including carbon sequestration against climate change (and hence sea rise, including the Black Sea), coastal stabilisation, buffering against flooding on the low lying Colhic plain, and food and fibre provision (Goradze 2008).

Panels with information about the ecological values of mires and bogs at the visitor centre for Ispani II, located next to the tourist town of Kobuleti, educate possibly around 6000 visitors each year.

References

Abuladze, A. (1994) Birds of Prey in Georgia in the 20th Century. In: Meyburg, B.-U. and R.D. Chancellor, eds. Raptor conservation today. World Working Group of Birds of Prey. London: Pica Press.

Cincotta, R.P., J. Wisnewski and R. Engelman 2000. Human populations in biodiversity hotspots. Nature 404:990-992.

Gavashelishvili, L., Z. Javakhishvili & G. Darchiashvili 2006. Field guide to the birds of Kolkheti Wetlands. Buneba Print/ Georgian Centre for the Conservation of Wildlife, Tblisi, Georgia.

Goradze, I. 2008. The Black Sea coastal Wetlands Vision: Georgia. Black Sea Regional Initiative for the wise use of Coastal Wetlands. PSOVI, Batumi, Georgia.

Haberl, A., M. Kahrmann, M. Krebs, I. Matchutadze & H. Joosten 2006. The Imnati Mire in the Kolkheti Lowland in Georgia. Peatlands International 1:35-38.

Krebs, M. A. Kaffke, P. de Klerk, I. Machutadze & H. Joosten 2009. A future for Ispani 2 (Kolkheti, Georgia) and adjacent lands. International Mire Conservation Group Newsletter 2: 3-14.

Maanen, E. van, I. Goradze, A. Gavashelishvili & R. Goradze (2001) Trapping and hunting of migratory raptors in western Georgia. Bird Conservation International 11:77-92.

Marushevsky, G. 2003. Directory of Azov-Black Sea coastal wetlands. Wetlands International, Kyiv.

Myers, N, R.A. Mittermeier, C.G. Mittermeier, G.A.B da Fonseca and J. Kent 2000. Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature 403:853-858.

Tarkhnishvili, D.N. & I.A. Serbinov 1993. The ecology of the Caucasian salamander (Mertensiella caucasica) in a local population. Asiatic Herpetological research 5:147-165.

Wilson, A.M. and M.E. Moser 1994. Conservation of Black Sea wetlands. A review and preliminary action plan. IWRB Publication 33, Slimbridge.

 

Paul Meek on our international advisory board

We are glad to announce Paul Meek as member on our board of international advisors and our Australian connection!

Paul has spent most of the last 25 years working as an Ecologist and Researcher around Australia with short forays overseas studying shrews in Malaysia and Austria and Pallas’ Cat and small mammals in Hustai Biosphere reserve, Mongolia. He lived and worked on Christmas Island, Indian Ocean for two and a half years in what he describes as a life changing experience.

Predators have been Paul’s passion over the years and his most valuable work to date has been on foxes, cats and free-roaming dogs in Jervis Bay. His early work has led to the implementation of two long term fox baiting programs in Booderee NP and Beecroft Weapons Range where native wildlife have now returned in abundance. He spent eight years carrying out pre-logging surveys for threatened flora and fauna in northern NSW and commenced several research projects on species such as the Hastings River Mouse and the Sphagnum Frog. Paul is considered an expert in small to medium sized mammal trapping and survey design and has been involved in wildlife research and management throughout Australia and in parts of Asia.

Paul is an accredited trainer and assessor and is actively involved in teaching students and professionals the fundamental skills of wildlife management. His experience in training Aboriginal Australians, Malaysian, Chinese and Mongolian peoples how to trap and survey mammals is complimented by his wildlife research expertise. In 2009 Paul reviewed a state-wide Red Fox threat abatement plan in NSW Australia aimed at reducing impacts on threatened birds and mammals and stimulating natural recpovery of over 14 threatened species.

In 2011 Paul was awarded a prestigious Churchill Fellowship to study camera trapping in Europe and North America, and visited a project by the Rewilding Foundation as part of his investigative journey. Paul is currentlystudying predators and the use of camera traps for monitoring populations of small – medium sized mammals. Moreover, Paul is organiser of the international Cameratrapping in Wildlife Management and Research Colloquium, soon to be held in Sydney (13-14 September 2012).

We welcome Paul as associate and expert advisor of our foundation!

WILD 10: News and video of the 10th World Wilderness Congress

The World Wilderness Congress, now the world’s longest-running, public conservation project and environmental forum, has humble beginnings. Ian Player and his Zulu mentor Magqubu Ntombela were sitting on the banks of the Imfolozi River in 1974. As a team, they had guided many small trips into the African wilderness. For 8 years they lead groups of 8 people at a time for 5 days on trail. The wilderness experience changes the lives of many participants forever. On this particular day, however, Magqubu turned to Ian and proposed something that has distinctly influence the global wilderness conservation scene: “We are doing good work,” he said, “but we need to do more. We should call an INDABA-KULU, a great gathering, for all people to come together for wilderness.

In a short 3 years time the first World Wilderness Congress convened in South Africa. It was a pioneering event, introducing the concept of wilderness as an issue of international importance. Each Congress there-after has broken new ground and has had real positive conservation results globally. The Congress has now convened 9 times on 5 continents and is the world’s longest-running, public conservation project and environmental forum.

The WWC is not your typical “conference” – it integrates art, science, management, government, academia, native leaders, youth, corporate leaders and advocates into a multi-year conservation program, with unique results at each convening. It is the best-known and most effective global platform for debating and acting on wilderness issues. We provide a balanced approach, taking on highly charged issues in a constructive manner, and most importantly helping to facilitate solutions.
WWCs are also critical venues for education, training, networking, and information exchange across diverse groups. Our goal is to build this global wilderness community through online communications in-between the physical gathering at each WWC.

The WWC is an ongoing conservation project, focused on generating hope and inspiration through achieving practical and positive outcomes in policy, new wilderness areas, new funding mechanisms, trainings for communities and professionals, and more. Read the outcomes of the most recent WWC, WILD9, which convened from 6-13 November 2009 in Merida, Mexico with 1800 delegates from 50 nations.

The 10th World Wilderness Congress (WILD 10) will be in Salamanca, Spain, October 2013 (more info)

WILD10 Introductory Video from The WILD Foundation on Vimeo.

Search for the Common Genet (Genetta genetta) in Southern France

Spotted elegance

The Common Genet (Genetta genetta) is a gracious mammal. In Europe this mesocarnivore exists in certain areas in Spain, Portugal and in Southern France. The species prefers warmer habitat with thickets and rocky terrain and water bodies in the vicinity. In southwest Europe it is often found in dense Maquis or Garrigue vegetation in the valleys of streams, rivers, lakes and near reservoirs. Alpine areas appear to be avoided, although it does occur in the higher Pyrenees.

The sleek and spotted genet is about about the size of a slim domestic cat, but is actually a member of the Civets (Viverridae). It is a proto-cat, with semi-retractable claws and with other physical as well as behavioural similarities to felids. Like most cats it also lives a solitary life, with males occupying large territories with several females defended within. There is also differention in spatial exploitations between the sexes.

Temperate habitat of the Common Genet along the Liort stream in Departement Aveyron, Southern France.

In ancient times Genets were kept as pets, and still are occassionally today, being affectionate and easily house-trained animals. They were used to curtail mice and rats around the household. However they are not native to southwest Europe, but were introduced from a northwest African (Maghreb) population, perhaps during Roman times. In the last decades genets have been recorded in several areas in Southern France and are possibly expanding further east- and northward into Europe, perhaps facilitated by climate change (warming) but possibly hindered by landscape barriers like for example the river Rhône. The genet lives on small mammals (especially rodents like wood mice and squirrels), birds, herpetofauna and arthropods (including insects and crayfish), with an occasional supplement of fruits and berries (e.g. figs). It is active during the night and during the day it rests in tree hollows, rock hollows or occasionally in old abandoned buildings. More about the Genet.

Above: Bycatch in the Aveyron cameratrap session: a male Pine Marten Martes martes in de Liort stream Valley near Villefranche-de Rouergue in southern France)

A cryptic species

Erwin van Maanen and Fokko Bilijam (Rewilding Foundation and Projectgroup Marten Research IJsselvallei) went in search of the Common Genet and other mesocarnivores  in two areas in southern France, namely in Departement Aveyron in the Midi-Pyrénées, and further southeast in the warmer Departement La Gard, north of Avignon. In the areas where it occurs it often lives unnoticed by people, so that cameratraps where deployed to detect it in the most likely places.

First fleeting image of a Common Genet Genetta genetta in the Liort stream valley, Aveyron, France, 29 July 2012.

The first cameratrapping session of 1,5 week took place in the valleys of the river Aveyron (near the hamlet of Rignac) and the stream Le Liort (just south of Villefranche-de Rouergue). These study areas are located in glowing hilly landscape with reasonably conserved cultural elements and relatively little change in landuse since the Middle Ages. The landschap is a mosaic of small temperate (Sub-Atlantic) forests interspersed with meadows, arable land and old villages. More information in Dutch.

Habitat of the Common Genet Genetta genetta in dense riparian forest (left) and Garrigue-vegetation and on rocky terrain (right) along the river La Cèze, north of Avignon in southern France.

The second search (als 1,5 weeks) took place along the river La Cèze near the town of Goudargues, north of Avignon. The terrain here is also hilly, but more semi-arid and rougher terrain, consisting of eroded limestone valleys with thickets of thorny vegetation (including Maquis and even denser Garrigue). The landscape is also composed of  arable lands, vine yards en old villages.

First cameratrap recording of a genet(Genetta genetta) at a waterhole in thick Garrigue vegetation on bank of the rivier de La Cèze.

Approach

In total eight cameratraps were deployed (4 Scoutguards SG550 and 4 Bushnell’s) to capture mammals on digital film and photo. The cameratraps were placed along animal tracks and on sandy steep banks of the river in riparian forest, next to entrance ways made by the introduced and now common Coypu (Myocastor coypus) and beaver (Castor fiber). Canned sardines and fish oil were used as lure, placed in a “tea egg” hung from a branch.

Above: Full film capture of a Common Genet on the bank of the river La Cèze near Avignon in Southern France.

Results and discussion

In the Aveyron along the stream Liort the following mammals were recorded: 3 pine martens, 1 Stone or Beech marten (Martes foina), 1 badger (Meles meles), 1 genet, 1 wild boar en 1 roe deer. The first capture of a Genet was a glimpse of one animal in the Liort stream valley, just recognizable by its long striped tail.

The genet came into full view on the banks of the river La Cèze, with the capture of two individuals together with images of 2 red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), 3 badgers, a family of stone martens, 1 feral cat, 1 roe deer, several wild boars, coypu, wood mice and a red squirrel. Badgers were found to be common in all three  study areas, and seemed to summer feed often on grapes in the more arid study area near Avignon. No pine martens were recorded in this habitat.

Typical cumulative latrine of a Genet, showing a diverse summer diet of mice (dark lead coloured scats) and fruits (light coloured scats filled with seeds).

We also found the typical latrine of  a Genet near de river La Cèze, consisting of a cumulation of middle-finger sized scats deposited on noticable places like a stone wall or next to a tree stump  (see picture above), as described in the literature.

Bycatch along the river La Cèze, north of Avignon in southern France.: left to right a  family of stone marten (Martes foina), badger (Meles meles) and a juvenile red fox (Vulpes vulpes).

Indeed we encountered genets in dense riparian riparian forest and Garrigue shrub of Mediterranean France, as well as less dense temperate forest like in the Avignon, in the Midi-Pyrénées; a total of three individuals. According to knowledgeable local people, the Genet is not often encountered, being almost strictly nocturnal and living in dense vegetation. Nevertheless, other accounts and the recording of three Genets in two small study areas in Southern France in this short study indicate that the Common Genet is fairly common in Southern France, but with local occurrence according to habitat suitability. It is regarded as a naturalised subspecies (Genetta genetta rhodanica, Matschie 1902) and has been granted full protection.

Above: Recording of a badger (Meles meles) in the Liort stream valley near Villefranche-de Rouergue in southern France. The badger is a common mesocarnivore in France.

Remarkable is the recorded coexistence of the Genet with two morphological and ecological similar mesocarnivores, namely the pine marten and stone marten. In theory they compete for exactly the same food and dens, yet in reality they appear to co-exist well, although encounters with each other are on the err of caution (see cameratrap film from Internet below). This may be due to differences in exploitation of available food resources (read more thoughts on this issue). Productivity of the ecosystem is probably also a determining factor for co-existence of mesocarnivores with overlapping ecological niches.

Above: Interaction between a pine marten and Genet in Spain (source: El show de Ángel)

Thanks to:

Herman Rol of Camping Moulin de Liort and the foundation Les Amis du Moulin de Liort and Erwin of Camping Les Libellules.

By Erwin van Maanen (The Rewilding Foundation)