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Bronx Zoo tiger tests positive for COVID-19

Bronx Zoo tiger tests positive for COVID-19

Big cats tested after developing a dry cough

A four-year-old female Malayan tiger from Bronx Zoo - a member of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) - has tested positive for COVID-19 coronavirus.

The tiger, named Nadia, is thought to be the first known case of human-to-animal transmission in the United States.

Nadia is one of seven cats believed to have become infected by a zookeeper, who was asymptomatically infected with the virus. She, her sister Azul, two Amur tigers, and three African lions had developed a dry cough and all are expected to recover.

The positive COVID-19 test for the tiger was confirmed by USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Iowa.

A spokesperson for the Zoo said: "We tested the cat out of an abundance of caution and will ensure any knowledge we gain about COVID-19 will contribute to the world’s continuing understanding of this novel coronavirus.

“Though they have experienced some decrease in appetite, the cats at the Bronx Zoo are otherwise doing well under veterinary care and are bright, alert, and interactive with their keepers".

The Zoo said it is not known how the disease will develop in big cats since different species can react differently to novel infections. It said that it will continue to monitor the cats closely and anticipates full recoveries.

"Appropriate preventive measures are now in place for all staff who are caring for them, and the other cats in our four WCS zoos, to prevent further exposure of any other of our zoo cats," the spokesperson added.

The source of COVID-19 is believed to be a “wet market” in Wuhan, China, which sold both dead and wild animals. The World Health Organization has stressed there is no evidence to suggest that companion animals can get the disease or spread it to other people.

Volunteers sought to record mammal sightings in their gardens

Volunteers sought to record mammal sightings in their gardens

Wildlife charity urges public to aid in conservation while staying at home

The People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) is calling for volunteers to assist in conservation efforts during lockdown by recording wildlife sightings in their gardens.

As part of PTES’ annual Living with Mammals survey, which began on 30 March, people are being asked to spend a little time each week recording sightings of mammals – or the signs they leave behind, such as tracks or droppings – in their gardens, or from their windows or balconies.

This information will be used to help conservationists to understand how wildlife populations are changing and will inform future conservation projects.
People in Scotland and northern England are particularly encouraged to participate, as fewer people live in these regions than in the south, so there are fewer records of mammal numbers available.

“For a species like hedgehogs, that are still widespread but whose numbers have been going down, it’s as important to get as good an idea of how they’re doing in Scotland, say, as elsewhere, where we have more records.” Explains David Wembridge, mammal surveys coordinator at PTES.

“And for species whose strongholds are in the north, these might be the majority of records we receive. Three-quarters of red squirrels, for example, and almost all pine martens, in Britain are found in Scotland. So, we’re keen to hear from anyone living there or in the north of England.”

“Surveys like Living with Mammals, which run annually, are the only way to tell if our conservation work is working, and where it’s needed. To date over 3,000 gardens across Britain have been surveyed by volunteers, which is fantastic, but we still need more records to help us understand, and encourage, the wild mammals on our doorstep.”

To take part in the 2020 survey please visit the PTES website. PTES is also encouraging the public to share their wildlife photos using #LivingWithMammals. 

Pangolins found to carry coronavirus-related strains

Pangolins found to carry coronavirus-related strains

Discovery made in Malayan pangolins seized in southern China

Scientists have found viruses closely related to the COVID-19 coronavirus in pangolins.

Researchers identified two groups of coronaviruses that exhibit 'strong similarity' to the virus in Malayan pangolins. The pangolins were seized during anti-smuggling operations in southern China.

Scientists say the discovery suggests that pangolins should be considered possible hosts for the emergence of the virus and should, therefore, be removed from “wet” markets to prevent zoonotic transmission. Their finding is published in the journal Nature.

Lead author Dr Tommy Lam, from the University of Hong Kong, told BBC News: "Although their role as the intermediate host of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak remains to be confirmed, sale of these wild animals in wet markets should be strictly prohibited to avoid future zoonotic [animal to human] transmission.”

It is widely believed that the strain of coronavirus currently sweeping the world originated at a “wet” market in Wuhan, China. Wet markets sell live and dead fish, meat and wild animals, including bats and pangolins.

Scientists presume that bats are the likely reservoir hosts for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. However, the identity of the intermediate host that passed the virus from a bat to a human is not yet known.

Dr Lam says that that finding the virus in the smuggled Malayan pangolins raised the question about where they contracted the virus. 'Was it from bats along the trafficking route to China or in their native habitats in Southeast Asia', he said.

According to the World Wildlife Foundation, pangolins are the most trafficked mammal in Asia and, increasingly, Africa. They are in high demand in countries like China and Vietnam where their meat is considered a delicacy and their scales are used in traditional medicine.

All eight species of pangolin are protected under national and international law. However, there is a growing international illegal trade in the mammal. Based on reported seizures between 2011 and 2013, an estimated 116,990 to 233,980 were killed, which experts say represents as little at 10 per cent of the actual number of pangolins being illegally traded.

Conservationists told the BBC that it would be 'devastating' should the latest discovery lead to the further mistreatment of pangolins.

Elisa Panjang of Cardiff University, a pangolin conservation officer at the Danau Girang Field Centre in Malaysia, said: "This is the time for the international community to pressure their governments to end illegal wildlife trade.”

In response to the recent outbreak, China has banned the consumption of meat from wildlife, and similar measures are being considered in Vietnam.

ZSL London Zoo launches fundraising appeal

ZSL London Zoo launches fundraising appeal

Zookeepers and vets living on-site to provide essential care

ZSL London Zoo has launched a fundraising appeal to support the care of its 18,000 animals while it is closed to visitors.

Since the closure of the zoo on Saturday (21 March), a team of veterinary surgeons, zookeepers and support staff have been living on-site to clean enclosures, prepare food for the animals and provide care, all while observing social distancing.

The Zoo has also offered up its car park to NHS key workers and is sending packages of perishable food from its Terrace Restaurant to nearby hospitals.

ZSL London Zoo’s chief operating officer Kathryn England said: “Last week, along with the rest of the country, we watched as this unprecedented situation unfolded around us and began making detailed plans in anticipation of having to do the previously unthinkable - close ZSL London Zoo to the public.

“A core team of zookeepers, vets, security and grounds staff have stayed on-site and are making each day as normal as possible for our much-loved residents, many of which are endangered species and part of important global breeding programmes.”  

This is the first time that ZSL London Zoo – an iconic British Landmark – has been closed since World War II. Since its opening to scientists in 1828, and to the public in 1847, it has had six reigning monarchs as its Royal Patron.

To learn more about the appeal and to help the Zoo get through this unprecedented time, visit zsl.org/support-our-zoos 

Image (C) ZSL London Zoo.


British butterfly populations on the rise

British butterfly populations on the rise

Warmer, wetter summers conducive to the successful development of caterpillars

Following years of decline, butterfly populations in the United Kingdom appear to be on the rise, according to new research.

Figures from the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) show that last summer was the best since 1997, with more than half of butterfly species showing higher population levels.

Conservationists say that butterflies most likely benefited from an unusually warm and wet summer, which is conducive to the successful development of caterpillars.

Red admiral populations shot up by a staggering 195 per cent, while painted ladies rose by an enormous 1,993 per cent.

“The results from the 2019 season are really encouraging and provide evidence that the overall rate of decline of butterflies is slowing and for some species being reversed,” explained Professor Tom Brereton, associate director of monitoring and research at Butterfly Conservation.

“Reasons for this include positive conservation through agri-environment schemes, increased woodland cover, climate warming, increases in grazing levels by wild animals and a slowing in the rate of agricultural intensification.”

The species that benefited most from the conditions were the marbled white (up 66 per cent), the dark green fritillary (up 51 per cent), and the meadow brown (up 38 per cent). The rare Lulworth skipper, which is restricted to the Dorset coast, saw a whopping increase of 138 per cent.

But it isn't all good news. Figures also show that the common blue dropped in annual abundance by 54 per cent, the adonis blue by 40 per cent, the green-veined white by 43 per cent and the large white by 40 per cent, with all four species having below-average years.

Conservationists stress that this ongoing decline raises fears for the long-term future of butterflies, whose populations have fallen by 91 per cent in recent years.

“The UKBMS provides an excellent evidence base to help us understand how butterflies are faring,” commented Anna Robinson, monitoring ecologist at the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

“This evidence is important to help inform environmental policy to take better account of biodiversity. We are really grateful for the input of the thousands of volunteers who have contributed from 1976 until today, and without whom the scheme would not be possible.”

The UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme is led by Butterfly Conservation, the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and Joint Nature Conservation Committee. 

ZSL Whipsnade launches educational outreach programme

ZSL Whipsnade launches educational outreach programme

Hands-on sessions on conservation to inspire students

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo has launched a new outreach programme for local primary schools, with the aim of encouraging students to learn about and protect wildlife both locally and globally.

The interactive workshops will explore a wide range of topics – such as habitats, endangered animals, climate change and plastic pollution – with separate sessions for both Keystage 1 (KS1) and Keystage 2 (KS2) students.

Cat Hickey, education engagement manager at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo said: “At ZSL Whipsnade Zoo we know that people are more likely to act for causes they feel a connection to and are passionate about; and we want to inspire as many young people as possible to work for wildlife.

“Our sessions are aligned with the national curriculum, and with a focus on real conservation action that students can take home, we bring important environmental topics to life – using real-world examples from ZSL’s global conservation projects, from tackling illegal wildlife trade to boosting rare dormice numbers in the UK.”

Each session is hosted by a member of the zoo’s Learning team, who will provide insight into the role that zoos play in conservation. The team hopes that these sessions will spark students’ interest in STEM subjects and help them understand the close link between wildlife health and human health.

Workshops will run Monday to Friday, from the 1 September to 31 May.

Image (c) ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.

Insects and crustaceans 'more alike than we thought'

Insects and crustaceans 'more alike than we thought'

Study could aid in the understanding of brain evolution

Shrimps, lobsters and crabs have more in common with their insect cousins than previously thought, according to new research.

Scientists at the University of Arizona found that both insects and crustaceans possess mushroom-shaped brain structures, known in insects to be required for learning, memory and negotiating complex environments.

The study, published in the journal eLife, contradicts a widely-held scientific belief that these brain structures - known as “mushroom bodies” - are absent from crustacean brains. 

"The mushroom body is an incredibly ancient, fundamental brain structure," said Nicholas Strausfeld, professor of neuroscience at the University of Arizona. “When you look across the arthropods as a group, it's everywhere."

Crustaceans and insects descend from a common ancestor that lived about half a billion years ago.

Scientists believe the misunderstanding that crustaceans do not have mushroom bodies is because of a more evolutionary “modern” group of crustaceans. They say that many lobsters and crabs in this group have brain centres that do not look anything like the insect mushroom body.

While the mushroom bodies appear more diverse than those of insects, brain analysis of crustaceans revealed that their defining neuroanatomical and molecular elements are all there.

Researchers hope the study will aid in the understanding of how brains may have evolved and what environmental conditions shaped that process. 

Badger culls to be phased out in favour of vaccination of bTB

Badger culls to be phased out in favour of vaccination of bTB

Defra outlines next strategic phase

The government has announced that it intends to phase out badger culling in favour of vaccination, in order to tackle bovine tuberculosis (bTB). This move forms part of the next stage of its strategy to eradicate bTB by 2038.

In a statement, Defra announced that new ‘ground-breaking’ research by the Animal Plant and Health Agency (APHA) will allow the government to accelerate plans to deploy an effective cattle vaccine within the next five years.

This new commitment is part of the government’s response to an independent review of its 25 year bTB strategy, led by Professor Sir Charles Godfrey.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “The badger cull has led to a significant reduction in the disease as demonstrated by recent academic research and past studies. But no one wants to continue the cull of this protected species indefinitely so, once the weight of disease in wildlife has been addressed, we will accelerate other elements of our strategy including improved diagnostics and cattle vaccination to sustain the downward trajectory of the disease.”

According to the statement, the government intends to start using badger vaccination in areas where the four-year cull cycle has ended, alongside ongoing surveillance of the disease in badgers in that area. However, the government will retain the ability to introduce new cull zones where local epidemiological evidence points to an ongoing role of badgers in maintaining the disease.

UK Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss said: “Whilst there is no single way to combat this damaging and complex disease, cattle vaccination will be a new tool for our multi-pronged approach to tackle it and importantly prevent it, providing vital support to our farming communities.”

Commenting on the government’s announcement, BVA junior vice president James Russell said: “BVA has long supported a holistic approach to bTB control that utilises all the available tools in the toolbox. We are pleased to see that the development, validation and field trials of a viable cattle vaccine and a corresponding DIVA test are a top priority.

“We welcome the move to increase the use of badger vaccination in a coordinated and targeted manner. There are unanswered questions on the effectiveness, humaneness and practicality of badger vaccination in the contexts proposed in this paper. Therefore, we welcome the inclusion of a pilot which must be designed to provide a rigorous evidence base for informing future policy decisions. We would continue to support targeted and managed badger culling as an option where appropriate, based on the epidemiological evidence.”

The full government response is available to read here.

Welsh government launches new scheme to help local wildlife

Welsh government launches new scheme to help local wildlife

Encourages local communities to create spaces for nature

The Welsh government has launched a major new scheme in partnership with the Keep Wales Tidy charity, which aims to tackle the decline in nature within the country.

The ‘Local Places for Nature’ scheme will provide more than 800 pre-paid ‘Starter packages’ to communities and organisations across Wales. These packages include resources to aid in the creation of areas which support local wildlife, including items such as:

  • native and nectar-rich plants and seeds
  • bug and bee hotels
  • peat-free compost
  • fruit trees
  • gardening tools.

The scheme also has 66 ‘Development packages’ available to help ambitious community based organisations develop larger-scale projects such as a sustainable urban drainage scheme, a community food garden or a wildlife garden.

According to the Keep Wales Tidy website, one in six species are currently under threat of extinction in Wales. This new initiative aims to “create, restore and enhance hundreds of habitats across the country” and forms part of a wider £5m government fund committed to restoring nature in local communities.

Groups of all sorts are encouraged to apply to receive a pack, whether a community council, volunteer group, a place of worship or a resident’s association – though permission from the landowner is required.

Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs said: “The latest evidence shows biodiversity in Wales is declining. Since 1970 there is less wildlife and in fewer places. If we are going to tackle the nature crisis we need our ecosystems to be as resilient as possible.  We all need to act and we need to act now.

“I know the enthusiasm exists right across Wales to help nature’s recovery. There is so much great work already going on but people often tell me they don’t know where to start or where to get advice and support.

“I’m delighted, therefore, to launch ‘Local Places for Nature’, part of our wider commitment to making it easy for everyone to protect, restore and enhance the wildlife on our doorsteps and all around us.”

Applications close on Friday 6 March at noon. For further information please visit the Keep Wales Tidy website.

International coalition urges countries to #EndWildlifeCrime

International coalition urges countries to #EndWildlifeCrime

Calls for new protocols to tackle illegal trade

Multiple conservation groups, government representatives and academics have come together to put out a global call to action to end wildlife crime, as part of UN World Wildlife Day 2020.

The groups form the International Coalition to End Wildlife Crime, which was established in 2018 in order to develop plans and strategies to disrupt the crimes that impact endangered species, such as poaching, logging and illegal trade.

Representatives from the coalition attended a special event – held on Tuesday 3 March in the House of Lords and sponsored by Born Free and the ADM Capital Foundation – to discuss measures to help combat crimes which threaten animal welfare.

“Today, prominent members of the wildlife protection community are launching a proposal to end wildlife crime before it’s too late,” said Lord Randall of Uxbridge. “We urgently need transformative action to stop one million species from going extinct and all the disastrous ecological consequences that would ensue.”

The coalition is calling for an international agreement to end the illegal wildlife trade, in the form of a new protocol under the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (UNCTOC) specifically covering wildlife crime.

“While we have made some significant gains over the past decade in tackling wildlife crime, these gains are fragile and serious environment-related crimes are slipping through the net. Recent evidence of the scale of the impacts on ecosystems, economies and public health, reflect the need for a comprehensive legally binding regime to tackle wildlife crime, embedded within the framework of international criminal law,” said John Scanlon AO, former secretary general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

According to the coalition’s statement, governments have largely relied on CITES for their legal framework on the wildlife trade. As an international agreement, CITES obliges countries to put in place mechanisms to limit and monitor international trade in listed species. However, it does not oblige countries to criminalise illegal wildlife trade.

The coalition feels that a new agreement under UNCTOC would provide better protection for endangered species, as it has adopted protocols including clear definitions for multiple serious transnational organised crimes.

Will Travers OBE, executive president of the Born Free Foundation, said: “On UN World Wildlife Day, #EndWildlifeCrime urges the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to bring wildlife crime within the legal framework of the UNCTOC, thereby reflecting the clear resolve of the global community to treat such crimes as serious crimes.”

Major new protections adopted for migratory species

Major new protections adopted for migratory species

Jaguars and elephants included in global wildlife agreement

Representatives from more than 130 nations agreed upon new conservation action for migratory species at a UN wildlife conference that concluded on Saturday 22 February.

The Thirteenth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS COP13) – held in Gandhinagar, India – was the largest in the convention’s history. Its goal is to bring together nations through which migratory animal pass and implement new coordinated measures to help reverse species decline.

CMS COP13 marks the first in a series of international meetings on environmental action in 2020, which will conclude in the UN Biodiversity Conference at the end of the year. During this conference, the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework will be agreed upon, outlining a new global biodiversity strategy for the next decade.

Commenting on the conference, CMS executive secretary Amy Fraenkel said: “With COP13, the important role of CMS in protecting nature around the world has been strongly embraced. CMS is uniquely positioned to address the conservation of migratory species and their habitats, and to contribute to reversing the trends of species and biodiversity loss worldwide.”

Ten new species were added to the CMS Appendices at COP13, including the Asian elephant, jaguar, Antipodean albatross, oceanic white-tip shark and the great Indian bustard.

Inclusion of these species in the agreement will provide increased incentives and funding opportunities for countries to preserve crucial habitats and mitigate threats.

A number of new policy measures to address threats to migratory species were adopted at CMS COP13, including:

  • reducing the impact of infrastructure such as roads and railways on migratory species
  • strengthening initiatives to combat the illegal trade and killing of wildlife
  • implementing further bycatch mitigation measures for marine animals in national fishing operations
  • integrating biodiversity and migratory species considerations into national energy and climate policy.

According to the report, CMS COP13 also adopted the Gandhinagar Declaration, which calls for migratory species and the concept of ‘ecological connectivity’ to be included and prioritised in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

Himalayan wolf discovered to be unique wolf adapted to high altitude life

Himalayan wolf discovered to be unique wolf adapted to high altitude life

Findings to inform long-term conservation plans

New research has revealed that the Himalayan wolf – previously thought to be a just another subspecies of grey wolf – is actually a genetically unique type of wolf, characteristically adapted to the harsh life in the high altitudes of Asia.

As a top carnivore in the Asian high altitudes, Himalayan wolves are considered critical to keeping their ecosystems healthy and balanced. But because very little is known about them, research has been minimal and no conservation action has been put in place.

Lead researcher, Dr Geraldine Werhahn from the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology, says: “When we started out in 2014 it was surprising how little was known about these wolves inhabiting a relatively large region of our planet. At the time the scarce data available was indicating a genetic difference, but we had no explanation for why these wolves are different from a grey wolf.

“Now we know that these wolves are different, from genetics to ecology, and we have an indication of what the reason may be: the evolutionary fitness challenge posed by the low oxygen levels in the extreme high altitudes.

"When we started this research we thought this wolf is found only in the Himalayas, but now we know that they are found in the entire high altitude regions of Asia comprising the habitats of the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau.”

The study revealed a great deal about about Himalayan wolves' ecology, behaviour and diet. Researchers found through observing the wolves’ den sites that, in Nepal, Himalayan wolf pack sizes are smaller than usual grey wolf packs. The team also observed exclusive denning behaviour of Himalayan wolves and their pups.

Displacement of prey species in their habitat has left the wolves with little choice but to kill livestock, causing people to kill the wolves in retaliation as livestock is a major livelihood for many local communities.

This was identified as the main conservation threat to Himalayan wolves, along with selling their body parts in the burgeoning illegal wildlife trade.

The findings of this study will help to inform a number of conservation actions for the Himalayan wolf, including protecting wild prey populations and developing sustainable livestock herding practices in order to mitigate depredation conflict.

Findings can also be used as a data basis to formerly recognise the Himalayan wolf, giving it a Latin name which will then facilitate the process of assigning it an IUCN conservation status.

Image (c) Geraldine Werhahn.

Study reveals insights into bird diversity on islands

Study reveals insights into bird diversity on islands

Size and distance key to determining a variety of species

A new study has revealed fresh insights into the factors that determine how many bird species can be found on any given island.

The research, published in the journal Nature, reveals how the area (size) and isolation (distance) of islands are key to determining the diversity of species they contain.

It was led by the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin in collaboration with the University of Oxford.

In the study, researchers collected molecular data from bird species across 41 oceanic archipelagos; they aimed to see if the 1967 book, The Theory of Island Biogeography, was correct in predicting the number of species expected on any given island as a function of the area of the island and its isolation from the mainland.

Until now, no study has shown how, on a global scale, island area and isolation determine the rates at which species colonise new islands, evolve new species, or go extinct.

“This huge collaborative effort – led by Dr Luis Valente of Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin – has allowed us to create this remarkable global dataset of island birds worldwide,” explained Dr Sonya Clegg, associate professor of evolutionary ecology at the University of Oxford.

“This data shows that indeed, colonisation decreases with isolation, and extinction decreases with area, confirming the key components of the Theory of Island Biogeography. Importantly, we were able to extend the model framework to include speciation, showing that speciation increases with both area and isolation, and furthermore, describe the precise shape of these key global biodiversity relationships for birds.”

Researchers also found that the majority of island bird species represent unique evolutionary branches, with no close relatives on the islands on which they live.

“Islands are frequently associated with spectacular radiations – think of Darwin’s finches of Galápagos, where a single coloniser went on to diversify into 15 different species – but this is not the evolutionary scenario for most of the world’s island bird diversity,” said Dr Valente of Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin.

Dr Clegg added: “It will be exciting to see how this major advance for testing island biology theory on a global scale can be applied to other taxa. How will the precise shape of relationships change when looking at ants, or mammals or reptiles? These types of comparisons will answer long-standing questions about biogeographical patterns, and no doubt stimulate new avenues for research.”

Image (C) University of Oxford.

Improvements needed to protect pollinators, study finds

Improvements needed to protect pollinators, study finds

Habitat quality and diversity found to be insufficient

More needs to be done to improve the quality of agri-environmental habitats which support pollinating insects, according to a study led by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).

Some 84 per cent of EU food crops rely on pollination from insects, but their numbers have been in decline in recent years due to loss of flower-rich habitats often linked to intensive farming.

Researchers from SRUC partnered with 22 pollinator experts from 18 different countries across Europe, to assess the effectiveness of a variety of Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs) in supporting pollinators.

EFAs are areas of farmland set aside for practices which benefit the climate and environment. They were introduced as part of the 2014 EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which defined a set of habitat and landscape features that were necessary for farmers to incorporate in order to receive basic farm payments.

Despite substantial investments in EFAs, researchers found that they are failing to provide all of the resources that insect pollinators require.

The group identified ‘substantial opportunities’ to improve these areas by implementing pollinator-friendly management practices. These changes would help to increase the volume and range of resources for pollinators in a habitat.

According to SRUC, the findings of this study – funded under the Cost Action Super-B project – will be used to inform the CAP post-2020.

Dr Lorna Cole, lead researcher and agricultural ecologist at SRUC, said: “With the CAP post-2020 fast approaching, our study highlights that to effectively conserve pollinators, we need to improve habitat quality. With different habitats offering different resources we also need to focus on increasing habitat diversity to ensure that our countryside provides the range of resources that pollinators require.”

Study reveals London's hedgehog hotspots

Study reveals London's hedgehog hotspots

Native hedgehogs thriving in some areas but less so in others

Hampstead Heath is currently home to one of the largest hedgehog populations in London, according to new research.

The study led by scientists from ZSL’s London HogWatch programme involved placing hundreds of camera traps in green spaces across the city. The cameras recorded any wildlife spotted over two weeks throughout 2019.

Researchers found hotspots of hedgehogs populations in the north and west of London, compared to the south-east of the capital. So far, the largest population found is in Hampstead Heath, North Greater London.

In the west of the city, 62 sightings were recorded, with hedgehogs spotted on 13 of the 30 cameras set up in the WWT Wetland centre alone. The cameras also spotted fragmented distributions of hedgehogs on Putney Lower Common and across Barnes.

In the south of London, however, the picture is very different. Out of the 65 camera locations, which included Dulwich Park, Peckham Rye and Common, only one hedgehog was spotted. The discovery has left researchers baffled as to why they weren’t being recorded.

Records of foxes sighted in south London show these areas generally support wildlife - and foxes and hedgehogs often live side by side. One theory for the lack of sightings is that, because hedgehogs are occasionally seen in this area, they could be living in private gardens, parks and school grounds.

PTES’ intern Rachel Cates, explains: “Interestingly, the habitat in the green spaces we investigated in the Southwark area is very similar to the areas where hedgehogs appear to be doing well. We don’t know why hedgehogs would be doing so well in some areas, but less so in others, when the habitats look similar.

"One explanation could be that these areas are isolated from larger green spaces, meaning there are no safe passages to enable hedgehogs to access these sites from outside.”

PTES’ grants manager Nida Al-Fulaij, added: “It’s not surprising that the distribution of hedgehogs across London is patchy; London’s infrastructure is continuously growing and many of its green spaces are becoming harder for hedgehogs and other wildlife to access. The population in Regent’s Park is well-known and well-studied, but little is known about how hedgehogs are doing in other parts of the city. 

“The next step is to understand why hedgehogs are doing well in some areas, but less so in others, which is why Rachel and Chris’ work is so important. By helping us understand where hedgehogs are living and in what habitats, gives us the best chance of successfully helping them.”

New breakthrough in tackling deadly diseases affecting koalas

New breakthrough in tackling deadly diseases affecting koalas

Discovery could inform future breeding programmes

Ongoing research into the affect of serious diseases on koala populations has revealed why koalas from different parts of Australia have higher incidences of disease than others.

Dr Rachael Tarlinton and Professor Richard Emes from the University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science have been working with researchers from the Universities of Queensland and Adelaide, assessing how a koala retrovirus called KoRV (which integrates into the koala genome) affects different koala populations across the country.

Diseases linked to KoRV, including leukemia and lymphoma, have contributed to the decline of koala populations in Queensland, whereas koalas in South Australia have a much lower incidence of disease. A study from this team last year found that the southern koalas do in fact have the KoRV virus but many are missing one or more KoRV genes.

The team has now been able to put numbers to the disease differences between koala populations across Australia, as well as the genetic reasons behind this.

Dr Tarlinton said: “This information is important for koala managers to be able to make good decisions about which animals are suitable for breeding and translocation programmes if they don’t know the actual impact of the health and genetic problems in different areas. Given the current bushfire crisis this is even more important that it was when we began this work several years ago.

“It’s about making sensible decisions. There will be a massive temptation to move animals between different areas right now to restock burnt forest but this may not be the best thing for the species as a whole if we introduce disease problems to areas where they weren’t before. The good news story for the southern populations is that they do indeed have a lower incidence of retroviral induced disease.”

The full study is available to read in Scientific Reports.