Tributes have been paid to the founder of Wildlife Vets International (WVI), Dr John Lewis, who has died following a short illness.
A graduate of the University of Cambridge, Dr Lewis worked as a pathologist and clinician before joining the International Zoo Veterinary Group (IZVG) in 1985, where he later became a partner.
Renowned for his love of big cats, Dr Lewis founded WVI to support vets and conservationists using veterinary science to protect endangered species. Besides providing WVI with advice and guidance, he also participated in numerous conservation projects, specialising in Amur tigers and leopards in the Russian Far East.
Olivia Walter, executive director of WVI, said: “We are devastated to lose John, a mentor and an inspiration for so many zoo and wildlife vets and biologists for the last 35 years. Through his passion for the conservation of big cats, he truly became a world leader in his field. His skill and dedication with fieldwork, including his expertise in field anaesthesia, were second to none. He inspired many and his passing is an unimaginable loss to wildlife veterinary medicine.”
Besides his work with tigers, Dr Lewis was also considered an expert in primates, elephants, marine mammals and zoo and wild animal anaesthesia. He was a veterinary adviser to the Amur Leopard and Tiger EEPs (EAZA Ex-Situ Programme) and a member of the IUCN SSC (Species Survival Commission) Cat specialist group.
Dr Sue Thornton, a senior partner at IZVG, said: “The messages of support from vets, biologists and zookeepers we have received are consistent in their praise for John’s willingness to pass on his knowledge and expertise to all who worked with him or attended conferences or workshops with him. Within IZVG he was always willing to discuss a case with a colleague and was equally willing to admit when he did not know the answer. His anecdotes and admissions of failure were often delivered with great humility and humour.
“We and the animals he has cared for have all benefited from John’s knowledge and veterinary skills. His passing is a huge loss to the whole zoo and wildlife conservation industry. He has, however, left a legacy in the charity Wildlife Vets International, as well as his more recent project to develop a website (Wildtigerhealthcentre.org) to support rangers and conservation vets and biologists in the care of wild tigers.”
To leave a message of condolence, contact Olivia Walter at email@example.com or visit tolbc.com/DrJohnLewis
Vaccinating Amur tigers against canine distemper virus (CDV) could significantly reduce the species' risk of extinction, according to new research.
The study by Cornell University, University of Glasgow and the Wildlife and Conservation Society found that vaccinating just two tigers within a small population each year could reduce the Amur tiger's risk of extinction by CDV by almost 75 per cent.
Previously, it had been assumed that the primary cause of CDV infection in wild tigers was a result of the animals coming into contact with dogs. However, new research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals that other local wildlife are the primary source of infection.
Sarah Cleaveland, a professor of comparative epidemiology at the University of Glasgow, said: “This work shows that CDV in the Amur tiger is a solvable problem - a rare piece of good news for the tiger conservation community.”
In the study, researchers used samples from domestic dogs, tigers and other wild carnivores - sourced from their natural habitat of the Russian Taiga Forest - to compare viral genetic sequence data. They also used antibodies to assess patterns of exposure in each population.
Their findings reveal that canine distemper is more abundant small-bodied species such as martens, badgers and raccoon dogs. As study co-author Dr Nadezhda Sulikhan explains, other wildlife are, therefore 'the most important contributors to the CDV reservoir.'
Owing to the lack of CDV oral vaccinations, researchers say the only possible way to control CDV in wild carnivore populations is through using an injectable vaccine on the tigers themselves. Using serum from tigers vaccinated in captivity, the team were able to show that currently-available CDV vaccines could neutralise the strain of CDV they had detected in Russia.
The scientists developed a computer model to demonstrate that vaccinating as few as two tigers a year could significantly reduce the tigers' risk of extinction. This would cost just $30,000 US dollars annually, or less if vaccines are administered when tigers are captured for routine radio-collaring studies.
Dr Martin Gilbert, from the Cornell Wildlife Health Center, said: “Understanding how tigers are catching distemper is absolutely crucial to helping us design effective measures to minimize the conservation impact of the virus.
“Vaccinating tigers is hard to do, but our research shows that immunizing just two tigers within a small population each year can reduce the risk that CDV will cause extinction by almost seventy-five per cent. At least in the Russian Far East, vaccinating local domestic dogs would not be an effective strategy to protect tigers.”
Researchers call for better protection for Australian waterways
Researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Australia are urging the Australian government to list the platypus as a threatened species, after research found that the animals habitat has shrunk by 22 per cent since 1990.
The platypus is currently listed as 'near-threatened' on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. However it is not listed as threatened under Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.
A team of researchers from the Centre for Ecosystem Science (CES) at UNSW found that the area of Eastern Australia where platypuses are found has shrunk by up to 22 per cent – about 77,000 sq miles – over the past 30 years.
“We recorded the most severe declines in platypus observations in NSW – particularly in the Murray-Darling Basin, where natural river systems and water flows have been the most heavily modified,” said lead author Dr Tahneal Hawke.
The team cited disruption of habitat, extreme droughts and introduced predators as some of the major threats affecting the species. It added that listing the platypus as 'threatened' would prioritise monitoring and protection of the animal and it's habitat.
The UNSW researchers have submitted their recommendations to the Commonwealth and NSW Government’s scientific committees, in collaboration with the Australian Conservation Foundation, WWF Australia and Humane Society International Australia.
Lead author Professor Richard Kingsford said: “We have a national and international responsibility to look after this unique animal and the signs are not good. Platypus are declining and we need to do something about threats to the species before it is too late.”
New licences come into force on 1 January 2021
Defra has published three new general licences for the control of wild birds, following the completion of the department's review and user survey into general licencing.
The new general licences – GL40,GL41 and GL42 – will come into force on January 1 2021. Replacing licences GL34, GL35 and GL36. Publication of the new licences will help user groups to become familiar with them before this date.
The use of these licences will help prevent serious damage to crops and livestock, as well as aiding wildlife conservation and protecting public health and safety.
The following changes have been made following Defra's review:
- All licences include clearer definitions of the birds that can be controlled for certain purposes. For example, jackdaws and rooks will no longer be able to be controlled for conservation purposes.
- It is now a licence condition that users must comply with the requirements of GL33 to ensure the welfare of trapped birds, in line with agreed standards.
- Improvements to the usability and readability of the licences.
As before, the new general licences be available for use on and around protected sites, provided that the user adheres to any conditions that apply to that site and has the permission of Natural England if necessary.
Environment secretary George Eustice said: “We have undertaken an extensive process to review the scientific evidence as well as over 4,000 responses to our general licence user survey, to help ensure we have a long-term licensing system which balances the needs of users and our wildlife.
“We have taken on feedback to help ensure these new licences are fit for purpose, and will continue to work with stakeholders to ensure our licensing process is robust for wildlife and workable for users going forward.”
For further details, please visit the UK government website.
Animal dubbed the Popa langur is threatened by habitat loss and hunting.
Fauna & Flora International has announced the discovery of a new primate species in Myanmar following the analysis of a 100-year-old specimen.
The new species, dubbed the Popa langur, is described in the journal Zoological Research and follows years of study by the German Primate Centre (DPZ), Leibniz Institute for Primate Research in Göttingen, and conservation NGO Fauna & Flora International (FFI).
Found only in central Myanmar, Langurs are named after the sacred Mount Popa - an extinct volcano featuring an important wildlife sanctuary. The species is said to differ from known species in its fur colouration, tail length and skull measurements.
A DNA analysis, using a 100-year-old tissue sample from the London Natural History Museum, revealed that Langurs separated from known species around one million years ago. There are now said to be just 200 to 250 of the animals residing in four isolated populations in Myanmar.
Researchers say that across their range, Langurs are threatened by habitat loss and hunting, and can therefore be considered as critically endangered. Christian Roos, a scientist in the primate genetics laboratory at DPZ said:
“The DNA analysis of a museum specimen collected for the London Natural History Museum more than 100 years ago has finally led to the description of this new species, confirmed also by samples collected from the field by FFI’s research team.”
Ngwe Lwin, an FFI primatologist in Myanmar, added: “Additional field surveys and protection measures are urgently required and will be conducted by FFI and others to save the langurs from extinction.”
Image (C) Aung Ko Lin/FFI.
Researchers uncover evidence of diversity within single species
A new study conducted by an international team of scientists has revealed evidence of a potential new species of manta ray and suggested improvements which could bolster protection efforts for threatened ray species around the world.
The study – published in Molecular Ecology – was co-led by Bangor University, the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, the Roslin Institute, and the Manta Trust. It provides a framework to protect manta and devil ray species threatened by targeted and bycatch fishing.
The research team collected a large, diverse bank of genetic data on ray species, gathering tissue samples from 116 individuals for DNA analysis. By comparing species scientists could then establish an evolutionary family tree. Further analysis from this family tree highlighted the possibility of a new species in the Gulf of Mexico.
Finding subtle differences in genetic make-up between populations of the same species in different geographical areas has important implications for conservation efforts.
The findings suggest that assigning protection based solely on species classification may not be as effective in protecting individuals.
The research team propose that conservation management should now be carried out within species, to account for differences between populations in different parts of the world.
Dr Emily Humble from the Roslin Institute and Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies said: “Conservation management relies on classifying diversity into discrete categories such as species or population units. For visually similar and elusive animals such as manta and devil rays, this can be challenging.
“Our study illustrates the potential for genomic techniques to capture diversity both within and between species and aid in conservation. The priority now is a formal description of the putative new species in the Atlantic.”
Charity fears spike in cruelty to wildlife during second lockdown
The RSPCA has expressed concerns over a rise in incidents of cruelty to wildlife as England enters a second lockdown. These fears come as a result of new data, showing that the charity has received more than 2200 reports of wildlife cruelty in 2020 so far, spiking in May.
RSPCA national wildlife co-ordinator Geoff Edmond said: “Our data shows that reports of cruelty to wildlife surged during the first lockdown. We fear a similar peak could happen all over again during this second lockdown, as some people again look for savage ways to pass the time.
“Our inspectors see first-hand the suffering inflicted by criminals on animals through wildlife crime such as badger baiting, dog fighting, hare coursing and trapping birds.”
According to Mr Edmond, police forces reported an increase in anti-social behaviour during the first lockdown. The RSPCA is concerned that the stress and frustration that lockdown brings may lead some people to seek ‘entertainment’ through these horrible acts of cruelty towards animals.
The RSPCA has already responded to thousands of incidents of cruelty to wildlife this year. Just last month, the charity was called out to help a badger in Nantwich, Cheshire that had severe wounds, most likely from an illegal badger-baiting attack. In September, RSPCA veterinary staff successfully operated on a swan which had been shot in the neck with an arrow.
Mr Edmond concluded: “There is no place for cruelty to animals in today’s society and we urge anyone who spots anything suspicious when out on their daily exercise or sees anything online to report it to the RSPCA’s cruelty line or their local police force.”
Government announces action to curb rapid spread among mink farms
The Danish government has announced plans to cull all mink in the country – as many as 17 million - after a new mutated form of the COVID-19 virus was found on mink farms.
More than 50 million mink are bred each year for their fur. Denmark is one of the world's biggest producers of mink fur, with its main export markets in China and Hong Kong.
The country began culling mink earlier this year when COVID-19 was found on mink farms in Northern Jutland. The virus has since spread to 207 farms as of 4 November 2020.
According to Danish authorities, at least five cases of this new virus strain have now been found and 12 people have become infected.
A report from the Danish health authority Statens Serum Institut (SSI) found that these new COVID-19 variants show reduced sensitivity to antibodies and that this could potentially reduce the effectiveness of a future vaccine.
Speaking at a press conference, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen described the situation as “very, very serious,” stating that police and military personnel will now be brought in to help cull all of the country's mink as quickly as possible.
The government admitted that this cull will effectively halt the Danish mink industry for a number of years, but a general ban will not be imposed on future mink farming in Denmark.
Defra publishes key outcomes to improve bee health
Defra and the Welsh government have announced the launch of the Healthy Bees Plan 2030, which aims to sustain and improve the health of honey bees in England and Wales.
Bees are a vital part of in UK food and crop production, but bee populations in the UK are struggling as a result of pests, diseases and environmental threats including the invasive Asian hornet.
The Healthy Bees Plan 2030 sets out four key outcomes to help protect bee health and beekeeping in England and Wales over the next decade. According to Defra's statement, these outcomes include:
1. effective biosecurity and good standards of husbandry, to minimise pest and disease risks and improve the sustainability of honey bee populations
2. enhanced skills and improved production capability of beekeepers and bee farmers
3. strong scientific evidence supporting the actions taken to support bee health
4. increased opportunities for knowledge sharing and collaboration in relation to honey bee health and the needs of pollinators.
Commenting on the launch of the plan, pollinators minister Rebecca Pow, said: “During the coronavirus pandemic we have seen an increased connection with the natural world, and the new Healthy Bees Plan provides a blueprint to look after the health of some of our most important insects – the bees – our unsung heroes.
“Bee health stakeholders have had a key role in developing our plan, and we look forward to working together to help ensure our bees can survive and thrive for future generations.”
Steps will now be taken to implement the Healthy Bees Plan 2030 in collaboration with beekeepers, bee farmers, organisations and government.
Defra works with wildlife charities to provide advice on helping hedgehogs
The UK environment secretary has lent her support to campaigns which aim to protect hedgehogs and their habitats by encouraging the public to turn their gardens into a ‘hedgehog haven’.
Speaking on Friday 23 October, environment secretary Elizabeth Truss shared simple ways that people can help hedgehogs at home and reminisced on her fond childhood memories of spotting a hedgehog in the garden.
She went on to add: “I want to ensure children for generations to come can enjoy this special sight, but this can only happen if everyone does their bit to look out for these important creatures.
“That’s why we have developed these simple tips to help adults and children alike learn more about our precious wildlife and how we can all support it.”
Defra has collaborated with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species to produce a list of five steps people can take to create a hedgehog haven in their gardens.
These five tips to help hedgehogs are:
- Provide shelter using log piles and hedgehog houses
- Let areas of the garden grow wild to imitate a hedgehog’s natural habitat
- Do not use pesticides on plants
- Leave out water, meaty dog or cat food and cat biscuits
- Install a gap in fences or walls – known as a ‘hedgehog highway’ – to allow hedgehogs to easily move between gardens.
The creation of these tips precedes a new government campaign which will provide one million native British trees to schools and local communities. They also support Defra’s 25-year environment plan to protect and enhance the country’s natural environment, which will be published later this year.
Majority of deaths occur from predation or vehicle strikes.
Rural hedgehog populations are more at risk immediately before and after the winter hibernation period than during hibernation itself, new research suggests.
The study, published in the journal Animals, tracked 33 hedgehogs from two contrasting rural populations in England - one near a base at Hartpury University, Gloucester, and the other at Nottingham Trent University, Nottinghamshire.
To their surprise, researchers found that none of the hedgehogs died during the hibernation period. Instead, all deaths occurred prior to or after the hibernation period, mainly from attacks by predators or vehicle strikes.
The study was conducted by Lucy Bearman-Brown from Hartpury University in collaboration with researchers at the universities of Reading, Keele, and Nottingham Trent. It was funded by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, which together run the Hedgehog Street project.
Nida Al-Fulaij, Grants Manager for PTES, said, “Lucy’s research is really important. We can now focus our efforts on investigating what farm management practices, particularly of hedgerows and scrubby areas, can help give our rural hedgehogs the best chances of surviving hibernation.
“Ensuring hedgehogs and other wildlife have access to plenty of secure foraging and nesting areas is going to be critical.”
Hedgehogs populations are falling across Europe, with researchers estimating that there could be fewer than one million of them left in the UK. Despite its potential importance, however, little research has been conducted on the hibernation behaviour of hedgehogs in the last 40 years.
In the study, Lucy found that hedgehogs consistently nested close to some habitats, including hedgerows and woodlands, but avoided others, such as pasture fields.
“Our data suggests that hibernation was not a period of significant mortality for individuals that had reached a sufficient weight in autumn, but that habitat composition did affect where nests were built,” she explained.
“Therefore, land management practices – both historic and current – that provide hedgehogs with access to vegetated areas is likely to positively influence hibernation success and the survival chances of hedgehogs.”
Image (C) Hugh Warwick, Hedgehog Street.
A leading hedgehog charity has urged people planning garden bonfires this Guy Fawkes season to take steps to protect hedgehogs and other wildlife.
The British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) fears that with many public firework displays cancelled, more people may have bonfires at home to celebrate the event instead.
Fay Vass, chief executive of the BHPS, said: “With people missing their annual trip to large events marking bonfire night, we fear they may decide to build a bonfire at home instead. Many small bonfires in back gardens, which are a stronghold for hedgehogs, is even more concerning than the usual huge fires held in the middle of a field.”
In a bid to protect hedgehogs and other garden critters, the BHPS is urging people not to build bonfires until the day they are due to be lit. It stresses that not only will this help to save wildlife, but it will also protect the bonfire from getting soaked by rain overnight.
The BHPS also asks that people check their bonfires before lighting, even if they have only been left unattended for a short time. Hedgehogs tend to hide in the centre and base of the bonfire, which people can check by gently lifting the section with a pole or broom - not a spade or a fork which can injure hedgehogs.
Fay added: “If a hedgehog is found, take as much of the nest as you can with it and place in a high-sided cardboard box with plenty of newspaper/old towelling. Ensure there are air holes in the lid and that the lid is secured firmly to the box, as hedgehogs are great climbers.
“Wear gardening gloves or use an old towel to handle them so as not to get human smells on them and to keep them calm as hedgehogs are easily stressed; it also protects your hands from their spikes! Put the box in a safe quiet place such as a shed or garage well away from the festivities and offer the hedgehog some meaty cat or dog food and water.”
She added: “In case you have missed anything light the fire from one side only. Once the embers are totally dampened down, release the hedgehog under a hedge, bush or behind a stack of logs near where it was found, with its original nesting materials.”
Keepers left stunned after pregnancy went undetected
A Bornean orangutan at Chester Zoo has given birth to a baby just months after returning multiple negative pregnancy tests.
Keepers say that the new arrival is ‘bright and alert’, is suckling well and has been developing as expected over the past few months. Mother Leia is incredibly protective of the infant and has kept it mostly hidden from staff since its birth in June.
Bornean orangutans are listed as critically endangered in the wild by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with only around 55,000 remaining on the Indonesian island.
The new arrival at Chester Zoo was born as part of an international breeding programme which is working to conserve the species.
Chris Yarwood, a primate keeper at the zoo, said: “The pregnancy tests we had carried out on Leia in the months prior to the birth had actually returned negative results. It was therefore a wonderful surprise to arrive one morning to see her protectively cradling a beautiful new arrival.
“Leia enjoys spending lots of time alone with her baby and has so far been quite shy about showing it off. She always keeps it really close to her and so we’ve not yet been able to clearly determine what the gender of the infant is. This is Leia’s second baby – she’s a great mum and is doing a fab job once again.”
Mr Yarwood explained that Chester Zoo cares for both Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, and that babies from both sub-species have been born in recent years.
“It just goes to show that, despite all of the uncertainty in the world right now, life is carrying on as normal for the orangutans, which is really uplifting to see.”
Images (c) Chester Zoo.
Representatives call for immediate action from government
The vital conservation work of zoos and aquariums across the world is being put at risk by the huge income losses and reduced visitor numbers that many institutions are facing as a result of COVID-19.
The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (Biaza) has praised the introduction of the Zoo Animals Fund - which is designed to provide a safety net for zoos during the pandemic - but states that the rescue package has proven to be largely inaccessible.
According to the BBC, out of nearly 300 zoos and aquariums in England, just one successfully made a claim from the recovery fund.
Biaza has also warned that without vital funding, many international breeding programmes - which are essential in preventing the extinction of rare species - may have to be cancelled.
The Guam kingfisher is just one of at least 77 species of plants and animals classified at extinct in the wild by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It disappeared from the island of Guam in the 1980s after an invasive species of snake devastated the island’s ecosystem.
There are now only around 100 Guam kingfishers left in the world, all of which live in breeding programmes at US zoos. While there are plans to reintroduce the species, funding issues have placed many of these programmes under strain.
COVID-19 restrictions have resulted in financial difficulties for many zoos across the globe. While the majority have been able to reopen, limited visitor capacities have made it difficult for institutions to generate enough income to cover their huge overheads. Some smaller zoos have already had to close.
According to the BBC, The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) had monthly running costs of £2.3 million at the peak of lockdown, and it predicts it will lose around £20 million this financial year.
Biaza is calling on the government to take urgent action to help zoos and aquariums through this challenging time. For more information please visit the Biaza website.
There were 85 confirmed cases of bird prey persecution in the UK in 2019, including shooting, trapping and poisoning, according to the latest RSPB Birdcrime report.
Figures show that between 2012 and 2019, half of confirmed bird crime incidents took place in protected landscapes. The RSPB is now calling for governments to take 'urgent action' to end the killing of raptors and to ensure that grouse shooting operates 'legally and sustainably'.
Mark Thomas, RSPB head of investigations UK, said: “At a time when the world – and the UK in particular – is seeing catastrophic declines in wildlife populations, the destruction of rare wildlife looks like the opposite of progress. Healthy bird of prey populations are key indicators of the health of our environment. Yet there could be more than 12 times as many hen harriers breeding in England if illegal killing stopped.”
He continued: “The shooting community has had decades to get its house in order, but it is abundantly clear that they cannot control the criminals within their ranks. Current legislation has failed to protect our birds of prey, and the time has come for urgent, meaningful change.”
Among the confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution include red kites, golden eagles, buzzard and hen harriers. The highest concentration of these crimes occurred in the upland areas of the North of England and Scotland, particularly where land is managed for driven grouse shooting.
Mr Thomas said: “The illegal killing of birds of prey is just one of the symptoms of a wholly unsustainable driven grouse shooting industry. The burning of internationally important peatlands is another hugely important issue.
“This destructive grouse moor management practice not only releases carbon into the atmosphere, it degrades the peat, impoverishes wildlife and increases the flow of water across the bog surface, in some cases causing devastating flooding in local communities downstream. In a climate and ecological emergency, this is simply not acceptable. Today, at the start of the annual burning season, the RSPB is renewing its call for moorland burning on peatland soils to be banned by Government.”
Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is illegal to intentionally kill or injure a bird of prey. Doing so could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months imprisonment.
In the past decade, despite the combined efforts of authorities, conservationists and volunteers, there have been more than 1,000 confirmed incidents of bird of prey persecution in the UK.
A strange-looking fish that can grow up to four metres in length has washed up on a beach in Scotland.
Experts from the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS) were called out to the Moray Firth on Wednesday (23 September), where an ocean sunfish had washed up on Rosemarkie beach.
While sunfish are occasionally seen off the coast of the Hebrides, they are are a rare sight on Scotland's east coast.
“They are not uncommon visitors to the UK in the summer months, but most sightings have been off the Atlantic coast, so an animal apparently feeding well this far up the North Sea coast is quite unusual,” said Dr Andrew Brownlow, head of SMASS - part of Scotland's Rural College.
“Over the years SMASS has recorded a gradual increase of warm water species in more northern latitudes, probably driven by changes in prey distribution and a plausible indicator of a changing ocean climate.”
The distinctive sunfish is one of the heaviest bony fish in the world, growing to 3.3 metres in length and weighing up to a tonne. Listed as Vulnerable on the ICUN Red List, the species normally lives in water that is warmer than 10°C.
Dr Brownlow said there wasn’t an obvious reason for this particular stranding.
“There doesn’t appear to be obvious trauma, for example from bycatch in fishing gear, boat strike or even bottlenose dolphin attacks, so it may be it simply followed prey too close to the shore and was left by the falling tide,” he said.
The sunfish is being sent to the National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh where an investigation will seek to establish what it had been eating, check for any ingested marine debris and collect samples for genetics and stable isotope analysis.