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FLORA AND FAUNA
Birth of wolf cubs in Mexico raises hopes for endangered species
by Staff Writers
Mexico City (AFP) July 7, 2017


Birds' migration genes are altered by geography
Washington (UPI) Jul 6, 2017 - New research shows birds of the same species, but with different migration patterns, feature slightly different genomes.

Willow warblers born and bred in southern Sweden migrate to West Africa, while their peers from the north migrate to southeast Africa. The differences in migration patterns are reflected in the birds' genomes.

In comparing the genomes of the two bird populations, researchers found discrepancies between 200 genes in two distinct genomic regions.

"Of these 200 or so genes, there are several that can be considered to be important for migration-related physiological adaptations and others that, according to our present knowledge, have a poorly characterized or unknown function," Max Lundberg, a researcher at Sweden's Lund University, said in a news release.

Lundberg and his colleagues believe the unknown genes are likely also linked to migration and the two populations' divergent geographical experiences.

Previous studies have shown bird genes to contain an inborn instruction manual for migration -- the unique sequences dictate the direction and travel time. The latest study, however, is the first to reveal how the genomes of different populations are altered by migrational patterns.

"Our results represent an important addition to the understanding of migration-related genetics and will guide future studies in the subject," said Lund professor Staffan Bensch.

Philippine police arrest rare sea turtle poachers
Manila (AFP) July 7, 2017 - Philippine police said Friday they had seized 70 dead hawksbill marine turtles, a critically endangered species illegally trafficked for its prized shell, and arrested two suspects.

Hawksbills face an extremely high risk of extinction according to Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature as their shell is used for making jewellery and hair ornaments.

Two local men were arrested Thursday while transporting the dead hawksbills by boat off the coast of Dumaran town on Palawan island, police chief Arnel Bagona told AFP.

"We suspect that these two are dealing with Chinese poachers," Bagona said by telephone.

The marine turtles, who roam the tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, are typically found around coastal reefs, estuaries and lagoons.

Philippine conservation law prohibits their collection and trade.

Palawan, an archipelago of more than 1,700 islands in the South China Sea, is famous for its abundant marine life that are targeted by poachers.

Chief Inspector Bagona said poachers usually bought the hawksbills and other rare Palawan-based species from locals.

Hawksbills retailed for at least 3,500 pesos ($69) each in the black market, he added.

He said police asked prosecutors Friday to file charges against the suspects for taking endangered species, punishable by up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to five million pesos (about $99,000).

The suspects told police they planned to deliver the dead sea turtles to the island of Balabac, about 400 kilometres (249 miles) south of Dumaran, he said.

Bagona said the remote island is infamous as a trading place for wildlife poachers.

Mexican zoo officials are drooling over the birth of seven cubs of a species of endangered wolf.

They were born in April to a female named Pearl, who was nice and plump and ended up delighting vets with a surprisingly large litter.

"We were expecting four or five," Arturo Gayosso, director of the Zoologico los Coyotes in Mexico City, told AFP this week.

These are known as Mexican wolves (Canis lupus baileyi), a small, rare and genetically distinct subspecies of the gray wolf.

Their realm used to be the southwestern US and central and northern Mexico.

But the wolves' numbers started to dwindle at the start of the 20th century as populations of their native prey, such as deer and elk, declined and the canines turned to cattle for food and ranchers began to kill them off, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Since roughly the mid-1900s, Mexican wolves have been listed an endangered species in both countries.

The hope is that these seven babies -- five males and two females -- will be healthy enough to eventually be released into the wild to help create more wolves.

With coats that are a mix of yellow, gray and black, the cubs now weigh six to seven kilos (13 to 15.5 pounds) and have had contact with humans just once, when they were vaccinated.

Their father Yoltic was born in the same zoo. His name is a Nahautl Indian word that means "he who lives."

Next month wildlife experts from the United States and Mexico will meet to compare notes on populations of these wolves in each country and decide if the seven new cubs can be released.

Pearl was moved to Zoologico los Coyotes in December and hit it off right away with Yoltic, playing and running with him.

"That told us they would be good mates," said Gayosso.

The cubs were conceived in February, somewhere on the 800 square meter (8600 square foot) man-made prairie where the parents live.

Another factor encouraging a good coupling, Gayosso said, was unseasonably warm temperatures at the time.

"Maybe it was the weather," he said.

Japan e-commerce giant Rakuten bans ivory products
Tokyo (AFP) July 7, 2017 - Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten has banned the sales of ivory products on its site, the company said Friday in a move hailed by conservation activists as a boost to international efforts to stem smuggling.

Rakuten had been accused for years of providing the world's largest online marketplace for ivory, which could fuel smuggling through poor law enforcement.

A 1989 ban prohibits international ivory trading.

The bulk of legal ivory in Japan has to come from registered stockpiles or have been purchased before the ban came into force.

But some traders in the country have been suspected of dodging rules.

"In response to growing international concern about the sale of ivory and other protected products, Rakuten changed its guidelines to reclassify ivory and sea turtle products as prohibited items on the Rakuten Ichiba marketplace, effective July 1," the company said in a comment emailed to AFP.

"We expect it will take 1-2 months for all listings of these prohibited products to be removed."

Currently there are thousands of ivory items offered on the Rakuten site, many of which are carved name seals traditionally used to sign off on official documents.

Animal rights and conservation activists hailed Rakuten's decision.

It will prove "a major boost" to international efforts to end the problem, said Humane Society International.

"We urge other e-retailers such as Yahoo Japan to follow Rakuten's step and call on the Japanese government to shut down its domestic ivory market," Iris Ho, wildlife programme manager of the group, said in a statement.

A Yahoo Japan spokesman told AFP that it does not have plans to ban ivory products at the moment, saying all trade on its site is being done legally.

The sale of ivory is a multi-billion-dollar industry, with elephant tusks and other body parts coveted in Asia and the Middle East for ornaments and use in traditional medicine.

In 2015, the conservation group Environmental Investigation Agency said its undercover probe found traders in Japan were willing to dodge rules on ivory sales to move it across borders, including to major market China where elephant tusks are highly prized.

FLORA AND FAUNA
The big ecological roles of small natural features
Orono, ME (SPX) Jul 07, 2017
Ecologists and conservationists have long recognized that keystone species have major ecological importance disproportionate to their abundance or size. Think beavers, sea stars and prairie dogs - species that keep a ecosystem balanced. Similarly across landscapes, the keystone concept of disproportionate importance extends to other ecological elements, such as salt marshes in estuaries. ... read more

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