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FLORA AND FAUNA
Africa's most biodiverse area endangered by UK oil firm: WWF
by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP) Oct 07, 2013


Nicaragua gears up to aid threatened tapirs
Masaya, Nicaragua (AFP) Oct 05, 2013 - Nicaragua is pulling out the stops to try to aid threatened tapirs, an endangered mammal sometimes mistaken for anteaters or tiny hippos.

Experts in Nicaragua say the tapir's long gestation period, poaching and loss of habitat caused by logging have led to dwindling numbers of the distinct-looking animal.

"The tapir is the most endangered animal right now in Nicaragua, and in the world, because its gestation period is so long -- they are pregnant for 400 days -- so they are dying out," Eduardo Sacasa, a veterinarian in charge of Nicaragua's National Zoo tapir project, told AFP.

At home in forests of Central and South America, and Southeast Asia, tapirs have a fleshy prehensile nose able to help them grab leaves and breathe while swimming.

Aside from their long pregnancies, they usually have just one offspring per birth. They can grow as large as 300 kilos (660 pounds), live up to 18 years and have hooves similar to horses or rhinos.

The animals are nicknamed "the gardener of the forest" since they play a huge role in dispersing seeds.

Looking on at a pair of zoo-bred tapirs that will soon be released and tracked, Sacasa said of two-year-olds Maya and Carburito: "We'll see how widely they range, how they adapt... if they can survive. Or not."

In a few months, the pair will be flown on an army helicopter to Kahka Creek, a 650-hectare (1,600-acre) nature reserve on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast.

It is a remote area where Sacasa said "many small farmers are willing to cooperate" with what the zoo is trying to do: "to save Nicaragua's tapirs." There are thought to be about 500 left in this country, down from 2,000 a few years back.

Hunted for food

The four different species of tapir around the world are all regarded as either endangered or threatened.

The Nicaraguan project also has been supported by American specialist Christopher Jordan from Michigan State University, the environment ministry and a local NGO.

In the nature reserve, there are 65 cameras that will help scientists keep an eye on how tapirs and other animals are faring, Sacasa explained.

Before it can release Maya and Carburito, the zoo is rushing to fence in the sprawling reserve. It is hoping to raise the $10,000 or so it needs with a social media campaign.

Tapirs are threatened in Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica, largely because they continue to be hunted for food by people, said Enrique Rimbaud, who leads the animal protection group Amarte.

He said the local regional government where the reserve is allows indigenous people to hunt up to four annually to eat, another factor endangering the animal's population.

Environmental campaigners WWF filed a complaint on Monday against a British oil company accused of intimidating the local population and endangering wildlife in the oldest nature reserve in Africa.

The wildlife charity claims that Soco International's oil exploration activities in and around Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo put "people, animals and habitats at risk" and violate international guidelines issued by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in a complaint to that organisation.

"The only way for Soco to come into compliance with the OECD guidelines is for the company to end all exploration in Virunga for good," said Lasse Gustavsson, executive director of conservation at WWF International.

"We urge the company to stop its activities immediately," he said.

Organisations can refer to OECD guidelines on ethical corporate behaviour as a way of piling pressure on companies or even governments.

Soco dismissed the claims as "baseless" on its website, adding it had not yet begun any operational activity and would not do so until impact studies had been completed.

Virunga is one of the world's oldest UN World Heritage sites and is the most environmentally diverse area on the African continent, home to thousands of rhinos and 200 endangered mountain gorillas.

Soco's own assessment of its exploration of the park warns of potential pollution and damage to the fragile animal habitats in Virunga.

The WWF alleges that Soco has used state security to intimidate opponents to its business and says the organisation failed to disclose the true impact of development during consultations with local villagers.

Soco's contract with the Congolese government effectively exempts it from further regulation, the WWF says, calling on the company to also consider the health and livelihoods of 50,000 local residents.

The UK is a founding member of the OECD and the organisation's guidelines have previously been used to put political pressure on the British government.

Anthony Field, a campaigner at WWF-UK, told AFP: "OECD guidelines are the most well-respected standards of good practice for businesses, and are internationally recognised by 45 countries including the UK."

OECD complaints could be "incredibly effective", Field said, giving the example of a 2009 case when mining firm Vedanta Resources was condemned by London for failing to respect the rights of an indigenous group when planning a bauxite mine in the Indian state of Orissa.

Soco said its first environmental impact studies were conducted in "close collaboration" with the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation, which manages the park.

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