Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Scientists Discover Potential Antibiotic in Komodo Dragon Blood

Tujah, a komodo dragon whose blood contains a substance which is found to have germ-killing abilities.

A team of scientists from George Mason University have recently discovered an antibiotic in the blood of the komodo dragon. The discovery came when the scientists separated a substance in the dragon's blood that appeared to have powerful germ-killing capabilities. Influenced by the discovery, the scientists created a similar chemical in the lab and named it DRGN-1. The tests on mice with skin wounds infected with two types of bacteria indicated that DRGN-1 had three characteristics: it punched holes in the outer membrane of both gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria, dissolved biofilms that fasten bacteria together, and increased skin healing. The discoverers' study was published last week in the journal Biofilms and Microbiomes. Although their work was paid by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the researchers are now looking for drug-industry backing. The study's lead authors, Dr. Monique L. Van Hoek and Dr. Barney M. Bishop, are known to study monitor lizards, including komodo dragons, and crocodilians. Since komodo dragons are endangered, the researchers had to find one in captivity under care of staff members brave enough to obtain blood samples without anesthesia. Their search led them to St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park in Florida, where keepers distracted a 100-pound male dragon named Tujah while four tablespoons of blood was collected from his tail. According to Dr. Bishop, no reptiles were harmed during the process and no dragon farms would be created for collecting dragon blood. Dr. Van Hoek and her colleagues are analyzing more than forty other substances separated from Tujah's blood. In addition, komodo dragons in the wild might have more defenses against infection but the researchers are not likely to find out.    
Acinetobacter baumannii, a group of drug-resistant bacteria found in soil and water that is of tremendous threat to the human health.

This discovery is extremely crucial in medical science since more and more bacteria develop resistance to current drugs. In February, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed the most dangerous "superbugs", demanding new tools against them. These life-threatening bacteria are able to withstand current antibiotic drugs, making them a serious threat to human health. Dr. Bishop and Dr. Van Hoek have studied monitor lizards and crocodilians because they are able to survive severe wounds, including loss of limbs, in squalid environments without getting infected. The blood of the komodo dragon has recently been found to contain an antibiotic that can help people affected by Acinetobacter baumannii and other bacteria. As of now, komodo dragon blood is currently being tested for various substances that effectively fight the bacteria. This goes to show that while komodo dragons may be dangerous predators and have been linked to attacks on people, they may also help save lives of people under threat of drug-resistant bacteria. It is similar in the case of other venomous/poisonous animals whose venom/poison is scientifically proven to contain components that function as pain-killers against various life-threatening diseases, including cancer.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Coral Bleaching Hits the Great Barrier Reef For the Second Year in a Row

A diver surveying bleached coral of the Great Barrier Reef near Orpheus Island

Aerial surveys have recently showed that Australia's Great Barrier Reef has been hit by severe coral bleaching for the second consecutive year. Incidences of severe coral bleaching in the reef had occurred three times in the past twenty years in 1998, 2002, and 2016. This year, however, marked the first time it has happened two years in a row. Scientists indicate that the damage is caused by increasing water temperatures due to global warming. According to James Kerry, a senior research officer of Queensland's ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, it takes about ten years for a full recovery, so mass bleaching events twelve months apart offers zero possibility of recovery for reefs damaged in 2016. He further added that it was "shocking" to see the degree of damage in a different section of the reef. Last year's damage was the worst in the northern third of the reef, while this year's damage is most serious in the middle third. According to Kerry, those areas of damage somewhat overlap so "some of the reefs now, in the northern and central section, have had a double dose of severe bleaching for two years in a row."
Composite map showing survey of coral reefs in 2016 and 2017.

Aerial footage released by the ARC Center showed large swaths of the reef drained of color. Although corals can recover if the ocean temperature returns to normal, continued stress may cause them to die. Mia Hoogenboom of James Cook University conducted several underwater assessments for the survey, and said she recorded damage to mound-shaped corals that are known to be more resistant to bleaching. The Arc Center further added that Cyclone Debbie "struck a section of the reef that had largely escaped the worst of the bleaching." A research on last year's bleaching incident showed that more than 90 percent of a 1,430-mile stretch of the reef had experienced some form of damage. A recently published study in Nature indicated that local measurements can basically do little to the reefs from bleaching. Instead, securing the future for coral reefs "ultimately requires urgent and rapid action to reduce global warming."
Photograph of bleached coral taken during an aerial survey near Cairns.

The Great Barrier Reef has long been considered one of the most iconic biodiverse hotspots in the world by scientists and researchers. However, this magnificent "garden of Eden" is under severe threat from bleaching due to global warming. This is why it is extremely crucial to take major steps to reduce global warming. If global warming continues, vast majority of life in the reef and other parts of the world would completely disappear. Therefore, the goal to prevent further bleaching of corals not just in the Great Barrier Reef, but in other parts of the world as well, is to urgent action to reduce further impact of global warming.

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$3.1 Million Worth of Rhino Horns Seized in Malaysia

Hamzah Sundang (2nd right), customs director of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, posing with recently seized rhino horns during a news conference.  

Authorities in Malaysia have recently seized about $3.1 million worth of rhino horns that were being transported from Mozambique via Qatar, marking Asia's latest seizure of products from endangered species to feed the insatiable demand for traditional medicine. Malaysia is known to be a major transport point for the trade in endangered species to other countries of Asia, even though a customs official indicated that the country was thought to have been the final destination of all eighteen rhino horns. According to Hamzah Sundang, customs director at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, officials found more than 112 lb of horns, following a tip-off, sealed in wooden crates inside a cargo warehouse. He indicated during a news conference that the horns had been transported to Malaysia via Doha, Qatar, on a Qatar Airways flight, using fraudulent documents and claimed as "Obra de arte" (objects of art). He further added that the investigations are still going and no suspects have been arrested. The office of Qatar Airways did not right away respond to a request for comment.

Incidences of the global trade in rhino horns and elephant ivory have been making international headlines lately. Usually, such incidences comprise of seizures being made of these illicit products which continue to be of high demand in Asia. For example, in January this year, 1,860 lb. of ivory tusks were seized in Malaysia. Last month, nearly $5 million worth of rhino horns were confiscated in Thailand, marking the country's largest seizure in years. Despite strict laws in banning of trade in ivory and rhino horns, especially in China, the demand continues to grow and it is being driven by international criminal syndicates that operate in secrecy. It is highly essential to crack down hard on these shadowy organizations, which monopolize in other forms of vice such as trafficking of drugs, weapons, and humans. At the same time, Southeast Asia should also take major steps in combating poaching and trade of its native wildlife. Just recently, Cambodia declared its tiger population as "functionally extinct." This shows how the poachers and other perpetrators of the illegal wildlife trade virtually operate with impunity.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

50-Year-Old Tusker Killed in Kenya's Tsavo National Park

Satao II lying dead in Tsavo National Park; his tusks still intact

In 2014, a gigantic tusker name Satao fell victim to poachers in Africa's on-going poaching epidemic to meet the growing demand for ivory from Asia. This time, another majestic tusker named Satao II was ruthlessly killed by poachers in Kenya's Tsavo National Park. Satao II's death has now left just 25 of these iconic animals remaining in the world, according to Richard Moller of the Tsavo Trust. Out of these, fifteen are in Kenya. Unlike Satao, who used to hide from visitors, Satao II was described as "very approachable" and loved by visitors. Rangers found him during a routine aerial surveillance, and were able to reach him before the poachers could make off with his tusks. Two poachers believed to be responsible for killing Satao II were arrested. However, there are adverse reports about when he died. Although Satao II's death was only reported two days ago, a monthly report from the Tsavo Trust indicated that his carcass was found on January 4th. The incident was uncovered just two days after a Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officer was killed during an anti-poaching incident in Tsavo National Park. He was the second to die in less than a month at the hands of poachers.
Satao I was killed in 2014; his face was reportedly sawed off by poachers

The poaching of elephants continues to go unabated, despite China placing ban on its ivory trade. There is still a continuous demand for elephant ivory, along with rhino horns, to feed the appetite of the global criminal empire. What is more shocking is that poaching of these magnificent animals has reached to the extent that they are not even safe in captivity. This was recently the case in Paris when poachers broke into a zoo and killed a four-year-old white rhinoceros for its horn. It goes to show that poachers, in general, are extremely desperate individuals who will stop at nothing to get their hands on endangered species. Therefore, it is highly crucial to revamp security measurements not just in national parks and other protected areas but also in zoos and other similar facilities that house elephants, rhinos, and other endangered species for the purpose of conservation. The threat of poaching of elephants and rhinos is also directly linked to terrorism in which notable terrorist factions like the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), Janjaweed, and Al-Shabaab have been responsible for the slaughter of countless numbers of elephants to finance their crimes against humanity. It goes to show that as long as poaching goes unabated, both animal and human lives will continue to be lost.

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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Global Wild Tiger Population Rises By 22%

Bengal tiger in Ranthambore National Park

It is the first time in almost a hundred years that there has been an increase in the global tiger population. The number of wild tigers has risen to 3,890 in April this year from 3,200 in 2010, indicating an almost 22 percent increase. This significant increase has been credited to several factors, including increases in tiger populations of Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Russia, enhanced surveys and improved protection. Out of all the tiger range countries, India alone has recorded a rise of over 500 tigers during a period of six years and continues to be home to the highest number of tigers. According to Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, the rise of tiger populations offers a "great hope and shows that we can save species and their habitats when governments, local communities, and conservationists work together." Although the total number of tigers is 3,890, that figure could be more because Myanmar still has to announce its tiger numbers. In 2010, it had just 85 wild tigers. The "Global Wild Tiger Status" report has not included the country's figure in the global figure for this year. The updated minimum figure is accumulated from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) data and countries' latest national tiger surveys. Union environment and forests minister Prakash Javadekar indicated that Rs. 380 crores have been allocated to Project Tiger in the current fiscal year, which is an unsurpassed high and shows that the government of India is committed to tiger conservation.
Latest figures of the global tiger population
The recent global tiger population figures were released Monday on the eve of the Third Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation. The three-day conference was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and was the latest step in the Global Tiger Initiative that began with the 2010 Tiger Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was agreed six years ago to increase tiger numbers by 2022; a goal known as Tx2. During the conference, countries such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam reported on their progress towards the goal and committed to the next steps. More than 700 tiger experts, donors, managers, scientists, and other shareholders gathered at the conference to discuss tiger conservation-related issues which included landscape conservation and habitat management, tiger reintroduction, overseeing protocols, anti-poaching strategies, modern tools and technology for monitoring, resource mobilization, and networking. In addition, ministers and government officials also participated along with representatives of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, which have snow leopards.
Tiger in captivity

It is indeed an amazing news that the global tiger population has increased by 22 percent in six years. However, figures indicate that India shown the highest population of tigers than any other country in Asia. This is especially true for Cambodia, China, Laos, and Vietnam which have the lowest numbers of tigers in the world. The drastic decline in tiger populations of these three countries is attributed to a wide range of factors such as indiscriminate poaching and the illegal wildlife trade, which continue to take toll on populations of wild animals throughout Southeast Asia. It is highly recommended that captive breeding and reintroduction of tigers, most notably Indochinese and South China tigers, should be implemented in these countries followed by improvement in tackling of illegal activities such as poaching and the wildlife trade. The tiger is not only considered a flagship species in India and other Asian countries, but is also considered a keystone species that plays a significant role in maintaining balance in the ecosystem of its native range. Therefore, saving the tiger and making sure that its global population continues to expand across Asia would also result in saving and ensuring the survival of other animals that the tiger shares its habitat with.

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Friday, March 25, 2016

First Contact Made with Sumatran Rhinoceros on Borneo in Four Decades

Sumatran rhinoceros

Environmentalists have recently made physical contact with the critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros on the Indonesian island of Borneo for the first time in forty years. The animal was caught in a pit trap close to mining operations and plantations in East Kalimantan province, where the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) stated it was struggling to survive. The female rhino, believed to be six years old, is in a temporary enclosure and will be later transported to a safer habitat on the island. The contact came after environmentalists found out in 2013 that the rhino was not extinct in Borneo when camera traps captured images of the animals. The capture of this rhino was a combined effort between environment ministry officials, the Rhino Foundation of Indonesia, and the WWF.
Sumatran rhinoceros being lifted out of a pit trap in Borneo.

This is truly one of the biggest news for wildlife conservation. Not only that the Sumatran rhinoceros is found to not be extinct on the island of Borneo, but now it has come into physical contact for the first time in four decades. This magnificent species of rhinoceros is one of the smallest of five known species of rhinos in the world and the only Asian rhino with two horns. It is also the only living rhino with long hair and was once found throughout Borneo before its population became decimated by poaching and expansion of mining and plantation operations across the island. The WWF estimates that there are fewer than hundred of these rhinos remaining in the wild. There are only a few ample populations still existing, most of them on the island of Sumatra. This recent discovery of the Sumatran rhinoceros made via physical contact is an indication that the species must be strictly protected by any means necessary. This includes properly controlling mining and plantation operations, making sure that they do not infringe on to their habitat. Furthermore, the population of this rhinoceros, along with its relative the Javan rhinoceros, must be closely monitored as these are amongst the most critically endangered of Asian rhinos. Poaching is another threat that has driven and continues to drive these magnificent animals to the brink of extinction, and should be dealt with seriously. Indonesia is one of the few places in the world famous for its rich biodiversity. That is, new species are being discovered and even those species that were once believed to have become extinct are being rediscovered. The Sumatran rhinoceros is one of them. However, the country's biodiversity is being severely depleted due to extensive human activities and serious action must be taken to prevent any further degradation of its natural treasures.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Bison to Return to Europe's Forests as Part of Massive Rewilding Project

A female European bison wearing a radio collar

The European bison is the heaviest surviving wild land animal of Europe. Like its American relative, this gigantic beast suffered drastically in the hands of people over the course of history, due to excessive hunting and loss of habitat throughout its European homeland. By 1919, it was declared "Extinct in the Wild." Thankfully, captive breeding efforts has helped it make a comeback. The current population numbers 3000, making this bison rarer than the black rhinoceros. Now, initiatives of rewilding are bringing these animals back along with other large herbivores, such as semi-wild horses and cattle bred to resemble their extinct wild relatives. As part of the efforts to bringing these majestic animals back to their former haunts, four bison were released in the Netherlands' Maashorst Nature Reserve, with four due to be released in the Veluwe region next month. In addition, another herd of twenty bison is scheduled to be released in Romania in May.
Range of the European bison (Yellow- Holocene Range; Dark Green- Historical Range; Red- Relict 20th century populations 

The European bison has long been considered one of the most majestic creatures in Europe, whose range once extended eastwards to the Caucasus. In Europe, its range extended towards the Balkans and all the way to eastern France. However, as human populations expanded, the bison was pushed further towards the brink of extinction. Captive breeding and reintroduction efforts helped this animal return from extinction, most notably in the Bialowieza Forest in Poland. Then, during the 21st century, reintroductions across Europe were made in countries like France, Germany, Belarus, etc. where the bison had historically disappeared. Such efforts have been made and continue to be made by a Dutch trust called Rewilding Europe, whose main goal is to establish at least five wild herds of hundred bison by 2022 and an overall wild population of 1000 animals by 2032. The program has so far reintroduced more than thirty bison to Romania's Carpathian Mountains, where the animal is a symbol of national pride and economic renewal. In addition, the trust is also involved in projects in bringing back wild horses and cattle which had disappeared from Europe hundreds of years ago. These conservation initiatives would not only bring back the animals that had once disappeared from Europe, but also restore the continent's biodiversity from centuries past.

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