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FLORA AND FAUNA
Nearly 21,000 species at risk of extinction: conservationists
by Staff Writers
Geneva (AFP) July 02, 2013


Obama in $10 million effort to cut wildlife trafficking
Dar Es Salaam (AFP) July 01, 2013 - US President Barack Obama on Monday signed an executive order launching a 10-million-dollar bid to cut wildlife trafficking in Africa, which threatens to decimate rhinoceros and elephant populations.

US officials said that Obama, who is in Tanzania, would set up a task force to develop a strategy against the illicit wildlife trade that is estimated to be worth between seven and 10 billion dollars a year.

Grant Harris, senior director for Africa on the National Security Council, told reporters that illicit wildlife trade was "decimating the population of some of Africa's iconic animals."

He said that rhinoceros horn was worth around $30,000 per pound on the black market -- making it literally worth more than its weight in gold.

The US investment will see $3 million in assistance to South Africa, $3 million in financing for Kenya and $4 million to projects throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

The plan is intended to strengthen policies combating trafficking throughout the region and enhance law enforcement capacity, and work out ways to prosecute those caught in the trade.

Obama flew into Tanzania earlier on Monday on the final leg of a three-nation Africa tour.

Poaching has risen sharply in Africa in recent years/ Besides targeting rhinos, whole herds of elephants have been massacred for their ivory.

The illegal ivory trade is mostly fuelled by demand in Asia and the Middle East, where elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns are used in traditional medicine and to make ornaments.

Scientists reveal new way to track illegal ivory
Washington (AFP) July 01, 2013 - Wildlife crime investigators hope to crack down on illegal elephant killing with a new tool for analyzing ivory that uses nuclear test residue to determine the age of a tusk, said a study out Monday.

Tens of thousands of elephants are hunted for their ivory each year. As few as 470,000 African elephants remain, making them a vulnerable species while the Asian elephant is endangered and may number about 30,000, experts say.

Despite international agreements that ban most raw ivory trade from Asian elephants after 1975 and African elephants after 1989, the slaughter continues in large part because police lack the means to tell the age of the ivory.

"We've developed a tool that allows us to determine the age of a tusk or piece of ivory, and this tells us whether it was acquired legally," said Kevin Uno, lead author of the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Our dating method is affordable for government and law enforcement agencies and can help tackle the poaching and illegal trade crises," said Uno, a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University.

The test costs about $500 and uses a technique of analyzing the amount of carbon-14 in the animal tissues.

Carbon-14 was formed in the atmosphere by above-ground nuclear tests in the 1950s and 1960s, conducted by the United States in Nevada and the Soviet Union in Siberia.

Levels peaked in the 1960s and have been declining ever since. The test devised by scientists should be effective for about another 15 years, by which point the atmospheric levels of carbon-14 will return to pre-nuclear-test norms.

Researchers tested their technique on 29 animal and plant tissues -- including elephant tusks, hippo tusks, canine teeth and monkey hair as well as grass from Kenya -- each collected on known dates from 1905 to 2008.

They found that various tissues that formed at the same time had the same levels if carbon-14.

The four oldest samples were from animals that died from 1905 to 1953, and they had the least carbon-14 because they died before atmospheric nuclear weapons tests.

"With an accurate age of the ivory, we can verify if the trade is legal or not," said Uno.

A freshwater shrimp, an island-dwelling lizard and a pupfish from Arizona have been declared extinct, while nearly 21,000 species are at risk of dying out, an updated "Red List" released on Tuesday showed.

"The overall picture is alarming," said Jane Smart of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which is behind the Red List of Threatened Species that to date has assessed 70,294 of the world's 1.82 million known species of plants and animals.

Smart, who heads IUCN's biodiversity conservation union, insisted urgent and more efficient action was needed "if we are serious about stopping the extinction crisis that continues to threaten all life on Earth."

According to the update, 20,934 species are currently listed as "threatened with extinction", compared with 20,219 last October.

IUCN's Red List Manager Craig Hilton-Taylor pointed out to AFP that the rise of more than 700 species in this category was explained by increased pressure on a number of them. It was also due to species moving down from the more serious "endangered" category, as well as new species being added to the assessment list.

Tuesday's updates focused especially on the decline among conifers, a category of cone-bearing trees and shrubs that includes the world's oldest and largest organisms, such as the Bristlecone Pine that can live to be almost 5,000 years old and the Coast Redwood which can reach a height of 110 metres (360 feet).

The report, which provided the first global reassessment of conifers since 1998, showed that a full 34 percent of the world's cedars, cypresses, firs and other such plants are threatened with extinction -- compared with 30 percent 15 years ago.

A full 33 species of conifers had declined during this period, with the number now in the "endangered" category, teetering on the edge of extinction, jumping to 27 from 20 in 1998, according to Hilton-Taylor.

"We are sending a warning," he told AFP, stressing the huge importance of conifers both in economic terms as sources for paper and timber industries, and in environmental terms for their role of sequestering carbon.

"The more we have deforestation in the northern hemisphere, the greater the impact will be in terms of climate change," he said.

Tuesday's report also provided the Red List's first-ever global assessment of freshwater shrimps, lamenting that a full 28 percent of the carideans vital to freshwater ecosystems are threatened with extinction.

One such species, the Macrobrachium leptodactylus, was declared extinct after it fell "victim of habitat degradation and urban development," it said.

The Cape Verde Giant Skink, a lizard that had lived on a single island and two small islets and which was last seen in 1912, was also declared extinct, as was the Santa Cruz Pupfish, once found in the Santa Cruz River basin in Arizona, which disappeared due to water depletion.

Hilton-Taylor told AFP it varies greatly how quickly a species can be declared extinct, pointing out that the Cape Verde Giant Skink was believed to have been driven into extinction 100 years ago by the introduction of rats and cats, but that its rocky habitat had made it difficult to determine for sure that it was gone.

The Santa Cruz Pupfish, meanwhile, had not been seen in the wild since the 1960s, he said, voicing hope though that "it may still be in some hobbiest collection somewhere."

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