WWF Network News
First ever tagging of Amazon dolphins to boost conservation efforts
For the first time ever, WWF and research partners are now tracking river dolphins in the Amazon using satellite technology after scientists successfully tagged dolphins in Brazil, Colombia and Bolivia, attaching small transmitters that will provide new insights into the animals' movements and behaviour and the growing threats they face.
As of today, 11 dolphins, including both Amazonian and Bolivian river dolphins – two of the four species of freshwater dolphin found in the world's largest river system – have safely been tagged and researchers are already studying the incoming data.
Despite their iconic status, little is known about the populations, habits or key habitats of river dolphins in the Amazon. While there are estimated to be tens of thousands of river dolphins, the species are currently listed as Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The tags will enable WWF and its partners to study where the dolphins go, where they feed, and how far they migrate.
"Satellite tracking will help us better understand the lives of this iconic Amazonian species more than ever before, helping to transform our approach to protecting them and the entire ecosystem," said Marcelo Oliveira, WWF Conservation Specialist, who led the expedition in Brazil. "Tagging these dolphins is the start of a new era for our work because we will finally be able to map where they go when they disappear from sight."
The tracking data will also guide efforts to tackle some of the major threats facing river dolphins, including hundreds of planned dams that would fragment many of the Amazon's remaining free flowing rivers, worsening mercury contamination from small-scale gold mining, and illegal fishing.
"We who live in the Amazon know that our environment is facing growing and unprecedented threats and that our future is linked to the future of dolphins," said Fernando Trujillo from Fundación Omacha, a Colombian research partner.
"This tagging project is critical because it will generate information that will enable governments across the region to target resources to protect dolphins and their habitats, which so many other species and communities also depend on," added Trujillo.
The capture and tagging of the dolphins followed a rigid protocol that prioritises the welfare of the animals. Having been caught in nets by teams of specialists, the dolphins were taken to shore for tagging in an operation lasting 15 minutes on average, before being released back into the water. None of the dolphins were injured during the operation and none displayed any ill effects after release.
Along with installing the transmitters, the scientists also took samples from the animals, which they will analyse for mercury levels and general health.
WWF and its partners will assess this historic tagging operation over the coming months and will look to scale it up and tag more dolphins if the technology continues to prove successful. The initiative is the latest step in WWF's long-term efforts to conserve river dolphins across the Amazon.
In addition to scientific research, WWF will continue to work with communities, advocate with authorities and promote the creation of new protected areas.
Eleventh hour support for vaquitas at CITES meeting but urgent action still needed on tackling illegal wildlife trade globally
Geneva, 2 December 2017 - The 69th meeting of the Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has come to a close in Geneva having tackled the largest agenda with the largest number of participants ever.
In the final hour of the week-long session, Mexico, China and the United States made a surprise agreement to convene a high-level diplomatic mission to help stop the extinction of the vaquita, the world's smallest porpoise, commonly referred to as the 'Panda of the Sea'.
The government of Mexico raised the issue noting the severity of the crisis facing vaquitas, and was supported by the United States and China. The high-level mission will support the much needed actions to address the significant challenges faced in ending the illegal totoaba fishing and trafficking.
Leigh Henry, Director of Wildlife Policy at WWF-US, said:
"It's been said before that it's the eleventh hour to save the vaquita: there are fewer than thirty individuals remaining and illegal fishing of totoaba is driving this elusive porpoise to extinction.
"Coming at the close of the meeting, Mexico's willing support for a high-level mission to assist their efforts to combat the illegal totoaba trade grants the world's most endangered marine mammal a lifeline. Drowning in nets set for totoaba is the only known threat to vaquita in their habitat."
WWF works with Mexico, as well as the US and China, to implement urgent measures to save the vaquita, and to secure a gillnet-free Upper Gulf of California that supports both their survival and the livelihoods of local communities.
The CITES meeting also discussed other pressing wildlife trade issues impacting some of the planet's most endangered species.
The Committee sent a strong message to Lao PDR on a number of issues including tiger farms, Siamese rosewood, legislation and enforcement, and widespread illegal wildlife markets.
Rob Parry-Jones, WWF's lead on wildlife crime said:
"Lao's inadequate enforcement is facilitating widespread illegal trade in threatened species, including tiger, elephant and rhino. We appreciate the cooperative spirit that they showed in the meeting but this must be followed by action as a matter of urgency."
Laos has to submit a detailed and time-bound plan of action by the end of the year, and a progress report by end of June 2018. Failure to submit the implementation plan or to demonstrate adequate progress could result in sanctions against the country.
Regarding pangolins, the Secretariat interpreted the provisions of the Convention to allow commercial trade in pangolin stocks acquired before the trade ban came into force in January 2017, but this view was rejected by majority vote.
Colman O Criodain, WWF's wildlife policy manager said:
"We were surprised by the Secretariat's interpretation. Had it stood it could have facilitated widespread unsustainable and illegal trade."
The Committee also struggled to agree on robust recommendations on the issue of Madagascar's ebonies, rosewoods and palisanders. Madagascar was seeking leave to sell its stockpiles of these valuable timbers, despite the fact that none of these stocks have been audited to date and that there is large-scale illegal trade. Fortunately this request was rejected.
Michel Masozera, WWF's deputy leader for wildlife for Africa said:
"The widespread illegal logging of precious timbers from the World Heritage Site, the Rainforests of the Atsinanana, undermines livelihood and development options for Madagascar and damages the habitat of unique species such as lemurs. The international community must act to bring this scandal to an end."
The impact of wildlife crime can be devastating for nature and communities as the illegal ivory trade has shown. The Committee specifically debated the situation regarding countries implicated in illegal ivory trade.
WWF-Hong Kong's Cheryl Lo said:
"We were disappointed that Japan and Singapore were not asked to prepare national ivory action plans, as many other countries have been required to do, given that both are implicated in illegal trade. We were pleased that many other countries including China, Viet Nam, Kenya, Tanzania and Qatar were retained in the scrutiny process. WWF urges all countries that have domestic markets that contribute to poaching and illegal trade to close those markets as a matter of urgency."
On other matters, Japan failed to persuade the Committee that its hunting of Sei whales in international waters – the meat of which is sold in Japanese markets - is primarily for scientific purposes end eligible for exemption from normal CITES rules. This parallels the very long debate that has gone unresolved in at the International Whaling Commission and in the International Court of Justice over Japan's controversial "scientific" whaling.
The Secretariat will seek to visit Japan and a final decision will be taken at the next meeting of the Standing Committee in October 2018.
Aimee Leslie, WWF's cetacean expert said:
"This is the last chance for Japan. "We call on Japan to end this take forthwith, as we share the prevailing view that it is in breach of CITES rules."
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WWF statement on Stiegler's Gorge
WWF is today asking potential investors, banks and construction companies not to invest in or lend to controversial hydropower dam Stiegler's Gorge, until a full Strategic Environmental Assessment has been carried out. Proposed to be built at the heart of Selous Game Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tanzania, WWF wants the true impacts of the dam to first be assessed and the World Heritage Committee to give its approval. The proposed dam would endanger the livelihoods of 200,000 local people and the reserve's rare wildlife, such as elephants and black rhinos, would be placed under even greater threat.
WWF wants to ensure that investors, banks and construction companies are aware of these risks, as well as the opportunities around alternative renewable energy sources in Tanzania that don't carry the negative consequences for the nature and the people who depend on this World Heritage site.
Anthony Field, WWF-International campaign manager, said:
"UNESCO has a clear position that dam projects that harm World Heritage sites should not be built. So far no assessment has been carried out for Stiegler's Gorge hydropower project. Companies who become involved in the project run the risk of significant reputational damage. We are asking investors, banks and those in the construction industry that work on dams to add Stiegler's Gorge to their risk register."
WWF commissioned research on the impacts of the dam that highlighted the large risks to the ecology, economy and livelihoods. In the Selous Game Reserve, it will create one of the largest reservoirs in East Africa, flooding 1,200km2 including critical habitat for black rhinos. It will impact on current tourism in Selous as well as future potential tourism that the World Bank and German Government are investing in. Its impacts will stretch far downstream.
The project is against Tanzanian law as no Strategic Environmental Assessment has been carried out in advance of the planning for the project and tender being issued.
The risk has been recognised by UNESCO World Heritage Committee and its statutory advisor the IUCN who have highlighted "the high likelihood of serious and irreversible damage to the Outstanding Universal Value of the property resulting from the Stiegler's Gorge Hydropower project" and have urged the Tanzania state party to abandon the project. In addition UNESCO World Heritage Committee has a position against dams with large reservoirs that harm World Heritage properties.
The natural characteristics of the site on which this project is proposed will make it near impossible to satisfy best practice environmental due diligence standards on Hydroelectric from the International Finance Corporation, particularly in relation to mitigating impacts on indigenous persons, water, protected areas and endangered species. This leaves investors possibly exposed to grievance procedures brought by civil society through, for instance, the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises.
In April 2016 WWF launched a campaign, Together, Saving Our Shared Heritage, which aims to safeguard natural World Heritage sites. Over 1.5 million people have taken advocacy actions to political and business leaders including the leaders of Belize, Bulgaria, Spain, Mexico and Tanzania: https://makeyourmark.panda.org/