A story referring to CSN and WCS by Jennifer S. Holland from the from National Wildlife magazine and the National Wildlife Federation
We’ve just returned from two remarkable weeks in (Republic of) Congo. There we visited WCS teams in Libonga, Bomassa, and Mondika. At the latter site, we were privileged enough to see habituated gorillas as they went about their daily routine. This extraordinary opportunity reflects years of effort on the part of trackers and research assistants, who have devoted themselves to gaining the trust of two local (and now habituated) gorilla troupes. There are only three such sites in the whole of the western gorilla habitat within Central Africa. All this has taken place on the backdrop of ever-advancing logging and mining infringement.
We were shepherded to the to the remote campsite by nimble and patient guides who tempered their pace to accommodate ours, pointing out scat from leopards, duiker and elephants along the way. Thanks to the tireless and knowledgeable Mondika team, we were then escorted through the florid forest to the gorillas’ home turf. As they adeptly cut their way through dauntingly dense bush, our chaperones expertly guided us to the best viewpoints while whispering individual information about each gorilla we encountered.
Initially, we met a cheeky youngster, bouncing rebelliously away from his mother’s protection. He exhibited the uncanny gorilla knack of looking simultaneously indifferent and inquisitive as he considered us. Later, we were astounded by a silverback’s voluptuous buttocks precariously saddling a slender branch 15 metres off the ground. Much to our delight (and relief) he swiftly and effortlessly descended from his improbable perch to join the group below. To see these magnificent creatures ‘at home’, relaxed in their natural environment, curiously observing us, was an incomparable and unforgettable gift.
We were told that a silverback in a habituated group appears to live longer than an unhabituated individual - perhaps because of satellite human activity that discourages other gorillas from challenging him. Furthermore, these animals may, on some level, comprehend this advantage. So a spirit of cooperation is in the air—gorillas cede some privacy in exchange for some protection.There is a valuable lesson here: sharing the environment, respecting all those that constitute and contribute to it, patiently working together - this mutual respect can promote balance and harmony in any circumstance.
As we bid farewell to the old year and welcome a new one, let us all strive for better appreciation of our neighbours and understanding of our environments- local and global. May we appreciate all the amazing creatures in our midst and aim to protect the planet that we share.
We often report on exciting and successful wildlife stories from afar, and this is certainly fun. However, in reality, much of our work is not in the least bit glamorous and fun. More often than not we are gathering information from behind our desks, endlessly staring at computer screens, and trying to connect with potential donors. Subsequently we travel through a multitude of airports with their endless security and immigration checks and on airplanes whose reliability decreases logarithmically with the distance from the starting point. Once on site, it is surprising how many conditions must necessarily align for us to actually get the work done. Many aspects are beyond our control, weather and the behaviour of the wildlife for one, but others like the relationships with administrations and project partners initially appear sound and solid but then spiral out of control. When things just do not want to align, you first and foremost want to have a great team with you at the field site. Good humour, coffee with fatty and sugary foods and the odd stiff drink during cold dark nights go a long way. Here a rare story on a failure in Kazakhstan earlier this year from the BBC: read more
Team waiting for days in a ranger station for kulan to be successfully captured - good food and and general good cheer go a long way in situations like this.
Collaring of khulan (Equus hemionus, https://lnkd.in/dzA4Yjv) to assess potential impacts of mining related infrastructure development and other anthropogenic developments in the southern Gobi of Mongolia (https://lnkd.in/dNYGYed). From 16-24 September 2018, a total of 30 khulan, 18 mares and 12 stallions, were successfully anaesthetised and collared. All animals were fitted with GPS-Iridium. Here a video showing the reversal of anaesthesia and release of a male khulan with a collar
Contrasting evolutionary history, anthropogenic declines and genetic contact in the northern and southern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)
The 2017 Conservation Impact Report from the Wildlife Conservation Society is available for download here
The pygmy hog (Porcula salvania) is a critically endangered wild suid historically widespread in the Himalyan foothills but now found only in Assam. It is the sole member of the genus porcula, the rarest of all swine species, and an important indicator of habitat health in the tall grass wetlands that it inhabits. In 1995 the Pygmy Hog Conservation Program (PHCP) was established through collaboration between Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, IUCN’s Pigs, Peccaries and Hippo Specialist Group, the Forest Department, Government of Assam, and the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.
Through the efforts of PHCP, pygmy hogs have been successfully bred in captivity, and over 100 individuals have been released into suitable habitat in parks and sanctuaries within Assam. Camera traps have been used to track outcomes of these releases, but the dense tall grasses amongst which the pygmy hog lives makes follow-up monitoring challenging.
Recently, Drs. Chris Walzer (Wildlife Conservation Society) PK Walzer (CSN) and Endre Sòs (Budapest Zoo) travelled to Assam and partnered with PHCP colleagues Drs. Goutam Narayan and Parag Deka to perform surgical implantation of novel radio-telemetry transmitters in four pygmy hogs. The goal of these procedures is to enhance opportunity and efficacy of tracking these small and elusive animals after their release. These initial individuals will be tracked following their release in December 2017, and, based on the outcomes, more transmitters may be placed in future release candidates.
A few days ago we received a text message from Parag to let us know that two individuals have been successfully released into Orang NP. Tracking is going well and as expected. This effort represents a rewarding cross-pollination of ideas and experience and will hopefully enhance post-release assessment for this important conservation program.
PK & Chris December 2017
Bringing back large herbivores to the steppes - For the first time in more than a century, kulan [or Asiatic wild ass] are now roaming the central steppes of Kazakhstan
Kulan leaping from crate at the release site in Altyn Data Photo: FZS-Daniel Rosengren
Just back from my first trip to Kazakhstan. On 24th October 2017, the first group of nine kulan (Asiatic wild ass) was released into an acclimatization enclosure on the edge of the Altyn Dala protected area in central Kazakhstan. The animals had been transported 1200 km by helicopter from Altyn Emel National Park in the southeast of the country. They will be released in early spring. This is the first step in a multi-year project that aims to restore the full range of large herbivores to this unique area of steppe habitat. I was able to support this project with my veterinary medical expertise in the capture and transport of wild equids. A real novelty and quite the thrill was flying 2400 km across Kazakhstan in 200-300 metres altitude in a 50 year old Russian-built Mi26 helicopter Read more here
Mi-26 helicopter loading kulan in Altyn Emel NP Photo: FZS-Daniel Rosengren
A kulan in anaesthesia being prepared for transport and collaring Photo: FZS-Daniel Rosengren
Over 200 Takhis are roaming in the Gobi B SPA! For the first time since the beginning of reintroduction 1992, more than 200 Takhis are roaming the steppe of the Gobi B SPA. In this time the population has developped successfully and has started to explore new areas. But it also had to survive two hard winters in which Dzud took the life of many animals. Read the entire story of the reintroduction project in the 25 year anniversary publication
New paper out: Seasonal Variations in Heart Rate Variability as an Indicator of Stress in Free-Ranging Pregnant Przewalski's Horses (E. ferus przewalskii)
Friederike Pohlin, Kristin Brabender, Gerhard Fluch, Gabrielle Stalder, Thierry Petit and Chris Walzer
Background: Ecosystems with seasonal fluctuations in climate and food availability present physiological challenges to resident mammals and may cause “stress.” The two predominant physiological responses to stressors are (1) the activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and (2) the modulation of the autonomic nervous system. To date, the primary indicator for “stress” in wildlife- and zoo animal research are glucocorticoid levels. By measuring the autonomic regulation of cardiac activity, particularly the vagal tone, heart rate variability (HRV) is presently emerging as a suitable indicator of “stress” in farm- and domestic animal research.
Objective: The aim of this study was to use HRV, a novel method in wildlife research, to assess seasonal patterns of “stress” in a group of free-ranging Przewalski's horses (Equus ferus przewalskii).
Methods: Six pregnant Przewalski's horses from one harem within the Hortobágy National Park in Hungary were subjected to the study. We used a dedicated telemetry system consisting of a subcutaneously implanted transmitter and a receiver and storage unit in a collar to record HRV, heart rate (HR), subcutaneous body temperature, and activity throughout a one-year study period—climate data was also collected. We defined “stress” as a decrease in parasympathetic nervous system tone and calculated RMSSD (root mean square of successive differences) as a measure of HRV. Linear mixed effects models with random intercept per individual were used for statistical analysis.
Results: HRV and HR varied considerably throughout the year. Similar to temperate ruminants and hibernating mammals, Przewalski's horses experienced lower HR and HRV during winter, when resources are limited indicating decreased metabolic rates coupled with “stress.” In spring, we observed a drop of HRV along with a peak in HR indicating an increase of allostatic load that is most likely associated with increased energy demands during pregnancy and/or seasonal routines such as the adjustment of the gastrointestinal system to better quality diet.
Conclusion: Measuring telemetric HRV is a proven method to study undisturbed reactions of wild animals to their changing environment over the long term. Przewalski's horses experience a loss of complexity in cardiovascular dynamics over the winter and particularly during spring, indicating seasonal “stress.”