Irrawaddy dolphin numbers increase for the first time in 20 years

Irrawaddy dolphin numbers increase for the first time in 20 years

Following decades of seemingly irreversible decline, the Irrawaddy River dolphin population in the Mekong region is rebounding. According to a recent census released by WWF and the Government of Cambodia, the number of these critically endangered dolphins has risen from 80 to 92 in the past two years—the first increase since scientists began keeping records more than twenty years ago.

This historic population increase can be attributed to several factors, including more effective patrolling by river guards and an increase in the confiscation of illegal gillnets, which can trap and drown dolphins. Over the past two years, guards have confiscated more than 200 miles of illegal gillnets—almost double the length of the dolphins’ remaining home range—from core dolphin habitat.

“Thanks to the combined efforts of the government, WWF, the tourism industry, and local communities, we finally have reason to believe that these iconic dolphins can be protected against extinction,” said Seng Teak, Country Director of WWF Cambodia. “The tour boat operators are the secret ingredient of this success story—they work closely with law enforcement to report poaching and help confiscate illegal gillnets.”

The first official census in 1997 estimated that there were 200 Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong, a figure that fell steadily due to bycatch and habitat loss. By 2015, only 80 dolphins remained.

Now, growing numbers are an encouraging sign for the long-term survival of the species. More dolphins are surviving into adulthood, and there’s been a significant drop in overall deaths. Nine calves were born this year, raising the number of dolphins born in the past three years to 32.

 

The census also has positive implications for the Greater Mekong region, where countless communities and species rely on healthy river systems and the natural resources they provide.

 “River dolphins are indicators of the health of the Mekong River, and their recovery is a hopeful sign for the river and the millions of people who depend on it,” added Teak. “We celebrate this good news, but we need to re-double our efforts to protect the dolphins—for their future, for the river, and for the communities that live alongside it.”

 Learn more about free-flowing rivers and how they’re essential for the continued survival of species like the Irrawaddy dolphin.



Published April 23, 2018 at 05:00AM

Want to help save the world's forests? Look for the FSC label when you shop

Want to help save the world's forests? Look for the FSC label when you shop

It’s one of the easiest things you can do to help save the world’s forests. Look for the label that says FSC® when you buy paper towels, tissues, furniture or any other products that come from forests.

What does FSC mean?

FSC stands for the Forest Stewardship Council®, a certification system co-founded by WWF 26 years ago. What it really means is that the product you buy comes from a forest that is responsibly managed. Trees in these forests are grown and harvested according to a robust set of guidelines that, ultimately, benefit the environment and economy.

Some of these guidelines include limiting the number of trees cut down, restricting highly hazardous pesticides and protecting the rights of indigenous people, as well as wildlife habitats.

Why it matters

Forests are essential to our survival. They filter the air we breathe and water we drink. And do so much more. Nearly half the world’s wildlife call forests home. Three 300 million people live in forests and more than a billion depend on them for their livelihoods.

Today, trees are being lost at a rate of 27 football fields per minute. Every action we take to protect the world’s forests makes a difference.

This Earth Day, help the world's forests: Look for the label and buy FSC.



Published April 22, 2018 at 05:00AM

Free-flowing rivers bring life to Alaska’s Bristol Bay

Free-flowing rivers bring life to Alaska’s Bristol Bay

For salmon, Bristol Bay is like a warm reception hall. Every summer, after years of navigating the wild waters of the Pacific Ocean, tens of millions of salmon arrive, seeking entry to the freshwater rivers that flow into the Bay. The fish surge upstream, instinctively navigating the clear waters of the intricate network of streams and lakes where water flows freely for miles and miles. In this pursuit to spawn, salmon also form a cornerstone to  a natural cycle that supports whales, birds, brown bears—and people.

Of the five salmon species fished in Bristol Bay, the sockeye fishery alone is worth $1.5 billion each year. In fact, nearly 20,000 jobs throughout the United States annually depend on the health of this run. Beyond the economic benefits, some 4,000 Bristol Bay locals, including many native Yup’ik and Dena’ina, depend on these fish, along with other subsistence foods  for 80% of their protein.

These fish form an integral part of the food chain for wildlife, from the offshore ecosystem of Bristol Bay all the way up to the headwaters. While belugas and orcas hunt offshore, brown bears and eagles in the tundra and hills above fish for their next meal. Even in a lake hidden hundreds of miles away in the bay’s headwaters, one of the planet’s only population of freshwater seals feast on the salmon.

These fish are the red blood cells that bring life to this region, the rivers the arteries that carry them. When those arteries become poisoned, then the system starts to break down. Now a proposal for a large, open-pit copper and gold mine risks ruining the natural resources that people and wildlife have relied on for centuries.

The Pebble Mine would extend one-mile-wide and a quarter-mile deep, destroying over 3,000 acres of wetlands and more than 21 miles of salmon streams. The infrastructure required to construct this mammoth mine would also disrupt this intact, free-flowing network of rivers that brings the entire watershed to life. For example, the current project calls for a road more than 80-miles long crossing more than 200 streams with a port facility at the end of it and a two-mile long dock into a shore of Bristol Bay that’s known habitat for an endangered population of Beluga whales.

In addition to the calamitous infrastructure, the tons of acid mine waste generated from this temporary extractive enterprise would pose a direct risk to the health of the bay and its headwaters, as well as the globally important fishery that swims in them. Disruptions to the hydrology and ecosystem health would harm the local economy and people with global ripple effects.

The US government is attempting to fast track the permitting process for Pebble Mine, a development that the US Environmental Protection Agency warns would cause irreparable, damaging impacts on both people and nature. In fact, the EPA found in a scientific study that, even without a mine disaster, construction of the Pebble deposit would destroy 94 miles of salmon streams and 5,350 acres of wetlands, lakes and ponds.

To protect the health of the ecosystems, wildlife and communities dependent on these connected waterways, WWF is educating the US government about the importance of the bay to Alaska and the rest of the U.S. We are also partnering with in-region organizations to amplify the voices of local communities and Native voices as well as promoting  support for a sustainable economy that lasts well into the future.

People from around the world are vocalizing their opposition to the project, citing the unparalleled ecological value of this region.

Take Action to keep Bristol Bay, and the free-flowing rivers that feed into it, healthy and functioning for future generations



Published April 19, 2018 at 05:00AM

Want to help the world's forests? Look for the FSC label when you shop

Want to help the world's forests? Look for the FSC label when you shop

It’s one of the easiest things you can do to help save the world’s forests. Look for the label that says FSC when you buy paper towels, tissues, furniture or any other products that come from forests.

What does FSC mean?

FSC stands for the Forest Stewardship Council, a certification system co-founded by WWF 26 years ago. What it really means is that the product you buy comes from a forest that is responsibly managed. Trees in these forests are grown and harvested according to a robust set of guidelines that, ultimately, benefit the environment and economy.

Some of these guidelines include limiting the number of trees cut down, restricting highly hazardous pesticides and protecting the rights of indigenous people as well as wildlife habitats.

Why it matters

Forests are essential to our survival. They filter the air we breathe and water we drink. And do so much more. Nearly half the world’s wildlife call forests home and 300 million people live in forests and more than a billion depend on them for their livelihoods.

Today, trees are being lost at a rate of 27 football fields per minute. Every action we take to protect the world’s forests makes a difference.

This Earth Day, help the world's forests: Look for the label and buy FSC



Published April 22, 2018 at 05:00AM

A win on Capitol Hill

A win on Capitol Hill

As WWF’s lead advocate on Capitol Hill, I spend much of my time with Members of Congress and their staff advocating for the organization’s top conservation priorities. Over the past year, friends and acquaintances often ask how that work is going, and whether there’s any hope for those priorities given the way that our government is working – or not working – here in Washington, DC.

They are often surprised to hear my answer.

There is no denying that deepening partisan divisions have stalled legislative action on issues WWF cares about, such as climate change, and continue to fuel attacks on America’s bedrock environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act.

But even in the face of these ongoing challenges, we are making progress – and scoring significant wins – when it comes to convincing Congress to protect wildlife and wild places around the globe. In fact, even in today’s hyperpolarized environment, international conservation is an issue that regularly sees strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. 

The latest evidence can be found in the 2018 omnibus spending bill that finally passed Congress last month. For two years in a row, the Trump Administration has proposed deep cuts to U.S. foreign assistance programs, including those that fund important global conservation efforts. But after months of negotiations – and months of congressional advocacy by WWF staff, partners, and supporters– Congress rejected those cuts and protected funding for these programs.

The vote was also a vote of confidence in the role the U.S. is playing to protect our planet’s natural resources and a recognition that these programs aren’t just about international conservation – they are also important to international security, stability and economic prosperity. Thanks to the collective efforts of WWF and our partners, policymakers are recognizing these connections more and more.

Wildlife trafficking has been clearly linked to transnational organized crime and financing for violent groups that pose security threats in Africa and elsewhere. The global illegal trade in timber and fish respectively cost U.S. foresters and fishers roughly a billion dollars annually in lost revenue due to unfair competition and depressed prices. And scarcities of food and freshwater caused by environmental degradation are increasingly contributing to poverty, migration and conflict.     

WWF is fortunate to work with congressional champions on both sides of the aisle who are supporting efforts to address these challenges through U.S. government action. In addition to backing continued funding for international conservation programs, Members of Congress such as Republican Congressman Ed Royce and Democratic Senator Chris Coons have led the charge to pass new laws, including the END Wildlife Trafficking Act.

WWF’s advocacy efforts have been greatly enhanced by our members, supporters and Panda Ambassadors, who reach out to their Members of Congress throughout the year to reinforce our asks. As part of WWF’s annual congressional Lobby Day on March 13th, over 80 of these committed citizen advocates even traveled to DC, joining WWF on Capitol Hill to deliver a clear and compelling message: continue funding international conservation.

If the spending bill recently signed into law is any indication, at least on this critical WWF priority, Congress is getting the message.

Take action and tell Congress: Don't cut conservation funding



Published April 17, 2018 at 05:00AM

The world’s rarest big cat grows in number

The world’s rarest big cat grows in number

Inside Russia’s Land of the Leopard National Park, more than 400 cameras are positioned to capture images of wildlife, specifically the critically endangered Amur Leopard. These cameras are the main source of monitoring data for the Amur leopard and their latest reveal is one to celebrate.

Recent images documented 84 adult cats and 19 cubs inside the park. This is a significant increase since a 2000 census recorded just 30 cats, and a 2015 survey numbered only 70.

The Land of the Leopard National Park is the core area for the rare wild cat. Formally established in 2012, the park is home to the majority of the Amur Leopard’s known territory and provides the cat sufficient prey and protection from poachers. It is also home to a population of Amur tigers and other wildlife.

Camera trap monitoring is the main research method used to study Amur leopards in the wild, and individuals are identified by their unique spot patterns. With around 400 cameras monitoring wildlife in the park, it is the largest camera trap network in Russia. Scientists processed the collected data over several months before announcing the new population numbers. WWF, along with partners WCS and the Far Eastern Leopard Centre, helped the park with camera trap monitoring and data processing.

"Our forecasts were optimistic, and since the establishment of the Land of the Leopard National Park in 2012, the number of the rarest large cat has increased significantly,” said Sergey Donskoy, the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of Russia.

Experts believe more leopards may inhabit the territory outside the national park and are now working to collect more data from places like China where camera traps are already in place.

Considering the Amur leopard is one of the most endangered large mammals in the world, this increase is such welcome news and reflects the importance of regular species monitoring to assess their health in the ecosystem,” said Nilanga Jayasinghe, Senior Program Officer, Asian Species



Published April 13, 2018 at 05:00AM

Red pandas, climate change, and the fight to save forests

Red pandas, climate change, and the fight to save forests

Every year the northeastern state of Sikkim hosts the Red Panda Festival. The winter event features parades, live music and draws tourists and locals alike. It’s a joyful celebration named for Sikkim’s iconic state animal.

While residents of Sikkim honor the endangered red panda, they also understand the species is under a growing threat. Climate change is impacting species across the globe and red pandas—with less than 10,000 left in the wild—are not immune.

Average temperatures in Sikkim are rising. Within its forests, the red panda occupies habitat within a very narrow temperature range. As temperatures rise, the red panda will need to move to higher elevations to adapt to the changing climate.

This is a troubling scenario, as nearly 70% of suitable red panda habitat in Sikkim is located outside of designated protected areas. How much habitat will be available to accommodate potential range shifts is unknown. Human activities are taking a toll on local forests. And unless these forests are secured, red pandas may have an uncertain future in a changing climate. 

WWF is helping communities in Sikkim protect forests and ensure that, even with rising temperatures, the red panda has a secure place to call home. Specifically, WWF and its Wildlife Adaptation Innovation Fund are working to decrease human impacts on Sikkim’s forests through use of improved cookstoves, sustainable harvesting of forest products, and reducing the risk of forest fires.

In communities bordering red panda habitat, most households rely on firewood from the forest as their primary source of cooking fuel. To combat the loss of trees, project staff have now trained 23 families in the manufacture and installation of new cookstoves that require less fuel. Residents have noticed a change: the new cookstoves reduce fuelwood use by up to 35% per household, cut cooking times in half, and significantly lower indoor air pollution.  

Sikkim’s forests are also home to medicinal plants harvested by communities and often overexploited and traded illegally. WWF helped develop a nine-point action plan in collaboration with the village of Sindrabong to regulate use of forest resources and harvest plants more sustainably.

The changing climate in Sikkim also means changing rainfall patterns, which can lead to an increased risk of forest fires. To prepare for this, project staff conducted a study of current fire risk and mitigation efforts. As a result, they developed new recommendations for improved fire prevention and management.

WWF is working with high-level officials from the state government’s Department of Forests, Environment and Wildlife Management to share project findings, results and recommendations. As a result, important policy decisions will further strengthen forest management and ensure a healthy and secure habitat for the red panda.



Published April 10, 2018 at 05:00AM

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