World Bird News December 2009

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New warbler found in South-East Asia


A new species of warbler has been described from the karst limestone country of Vietnam and Laos by scientists from BirdLife International, Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Swedish Museum of Natural History, and Wildlife Conservation Society.
Named Limestone Leaf-warbler Phylloscopus calciatilis, the new species is very similar to Sulphur-breasted Warbler P. ricketti, in morphology, but it is smaller with a proportionately larger bill and rounder wing. Its song and calls are diagnostic. Based on mitochondrial and nuclear DNA, the new species is most closely related to P. ricketti and Yellow-vented Warbler P. cantator.
"Although this was a collective effort involving a number of institutions and individuals I would like to pay particular tribute to Per Alstrom, the lead author who undertook most of the hard work, research and analysis in putting this together", said Jonathan Eames, Programme Manager of BirdLife International in Indochina.
Initially, the bird was identified as a Sulphur-breasted Warbler, in itself an interesting finding, since it was apparently breeding more than 1,000 km south of its previously known breeding areas in China. Later it was realised that its songs differed markedly from the songs of the Sulphur-breasted warbler, and further studies were undertaken. The BirdLife and Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources authors provided proof that the species was a resident breeding species in the karst limestone region of central Vietnam. The type description of the species is published in the latest issue of the Ibis, the international journal of avian science published by the British Ornithologists Union.
"The karst limestone regions of Laos and Vietnam are noted for their levels of plant, invertebrate and mammal diversity. It is however, only relatively recently that its importance for bird diversity has begun to be appreciated", said Eames.
The ranges of four bird species are now known coincide with the karst. One of these, Sooty Babbler Stachyris herberti was rediscovered in the same region of Vietnam as the Limestone Leaf Warbler by BirdLife researchers in 1994 after an absence of 64 years.
There are large areas of forested karst within the known range of the species and it is known to occur in Hin Namno National Protected Area in Laos and Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam. Although the species is not believed to be under any immediate threat the conservation status of this taxon will be assessed in due course by the BirdLife Taxonomic Working Group; BirdLife will then evaluate its extinction risk category for the IUCN Red List (for which BirdLife is the official Red List Authority).
BirdLife staff Jonathan Eames and Le Trong Trai, have now been responsible, with co-workers for the discovery and description of four bird species new to science, all from Vietnam. The other three comprising Black-crowned Barwing Actinodura sodangorum, Chestnut-eared Laughingthrush Ianthocincla konkakinhensis and Golden-winged Laughingthrush Trochalopteron ngoclinhense. In addition with co-workers, they have described a further 13 new bird sub-species for science from Cambodia and Vietnam.

Second blow for Asian vultures


Research published by the BirdLife Partnership in the journal Biology Letters has discovered a second veterinary drug causing lethal effects in Asian vultures, adding further pressure to already beleaguered vulture populations.
For every 1,000 White-rumped Vultures Gyps bengalensis occurring in southern Asia in the 1980s only one remains today because of the lethal effects of diclofenac - a drug used to treat livestock - on vultures. Alarmingly, researchers looking into safe alternatives have now identified that a second, livestock treatment in Asia - ketoprofen - is also lethal to the birds. Vultures feeding on the carcasses of recently-treated livestock suffer acute kidney failure within days of exposure.
Following this discovery, the RSPB, the Bombay Natural History Society and Bird Conservation Nepal - (BirdLife in the UK, India and Nepal) - are calling for tighter controls on the use of this second drug in veterinary use in southern Asia. The organisations are keen to see the promotion of drugs that are safe, and currently the only similar livestock treatment known to have no harmful effects on the continent's vultures is meloxicam. Meloxicam is no longer under patent and is currently manufactured by at least 20 companies in South Asia.
Richard Cuthbert of the RSPB said, "From millions of individuals in the 1980s, vultures have simply disappeared from large swathes of India, Pakistan and Nepal and at least three species have been brought to the brink of extinction. The rate of decline of these magnificent birds is staggering. For White-rumped Vultures, for every two birds alive last year, one will now be dead, and this is all because of the birds' inability to cope with these drugs in livestock carcasses, the birds' principal food source."
He added, "Everyone interested in conservation, quite rightly knows about the plight of India's tigers, but in the race towards extinction the vultures will get there far sooner!"
Dr Vibhu Prakash, Director of the Vulture Programme of the Bombay Natural History Society in India, added, "Only meloxicam has been established as a safe alternative for vultures, while at the same time being an effective drug for treating cattle. We would like to see other safe alternatives, but it should be the responsibility of the Indian pharmaceutical industry to test these to determine their safety to vultures."
The research, published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, shows that ketoprofen is lethal to the birds in the dosages that would be administered to livestock to reduce pain and swelling of those animals suffering from rheumatism or arthritis. Worryingly, researchers have already recorded the drug in one in 200 carcasses in southern Asia, with 70% of those occurring in potentially lethal concentrations.
The authors add that ketoprofen could already be contributing to further declines of the remaining vulture populations caused by diclofenac, and this is a trend likely to increase if ketoprofen replaces diclofenac. In addition to ketoprofen and diclofenac, other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs sold by veterinary pharmacies for treating livestock include meloxicam, phenylbutazone, analgin, nimesulide, flunixin and ibuprofen. Just three of these have been tested to determine their effects on vultures. Diclofenac and ketoprofen cause lethal kidney failure and only meloxicam is known to be safe.
The RSPB and the UK Government's Darwin Initiative have been the main funders of research to find safe alternative drugs and to measure levels of diclofenac contamination in the environment, as well as in partnership with the Indian and Nepalese governments supporting construction and running costs of the vulture breeding centres.

Bulldozers advance in Paraguayan Chaco


BirdLife Partner Guyra Paraguay has warned that if current rates of deforestation continue, the Chaco, currently home to rich and abundant biodiversity, could soon be reduced to the same state as South America’s Atlantic Forest: isolated fragments providing a tenuous clawhold for the threatened remnants of its bird species.
Satellite images analysed by Guyra Paraguay shows that habitat losses in 2009 will be far higher than in 2008, when 228,000 ha were bulldozed to make way for agriculture, mainly cattle ranching. Much of the pressure is believed to be coming from Brazilian agribusinesses, pushed over the border by soaring land prices and stricter environmental law enforcement in their home country.
The Chaco ecosystem is shared between Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina, and is made up of ecologically diverse dry open forest, savanna and seasonally flooded habitats. A UNESCO Man and Biosphere reserve covers around half the 14 million ha of Paraguayan Chaco. According to UNESCO, this is "biophysically the most diverse of the Gran Chaco system. It combines a high biodiversity with well-conserved ecosystems and habitats of great importance that are indispensable for the establishment of biological corridors with the neighbouring countries."
But at its peak in May 2009, the daily rate of habitat loss reached 1,291 ha, the equivalent of more than 1500 football pitches. Demand for fuel for bulldozers dried up local supplies, leading to the creation of a black market, and further intensifying the climate of violent criminality which threatens local communities, national park officials and conservation NGOs.
"Ranchers are armed. It makes it impossible for wardens to act - there have been many examples of threats and intimidation", said Guyra Paraguay's CEO, Dr. Alberto Yanosky.
According to Survival International, land occupied by the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode, the only uncontacted indigenous tribe in South America outside the Amazon, has been bulldozed by employees of a company owned by Brazilian ranchers, who also prevented a representative of the Paraguayan government from entering the area. Amnesty International has reported that members of the indigenous Ava Guarani community who refused to vacate their ancestral land to make way for soy farmers have been sprayed with pesticide.
The Paraguayan Chaco includes some large protected areas, most of which have been designated Important Bird Areas by BirdLife International. But lack of funds means that these are not always well managed or protected. For example, until recently, the 780,000 ha Defensores del Chaco National Park was patrolled by just one guard, without a vehicle.
"The main threat to Important Bird Areas in the Chaco region is fragmentation", said José Luis Cartes from Guyra Paraguay. "We have connectivity between areas, but tendencies show a progressive isolation, with clear-cutting affecting even the boundary areas on the east side of Defensores del Chaco National Park. In 20 years these areas could become 'island' fragments, as occurs now in the Atlantic Forest."
Only one bird species currently regarded as threatened, the Endangered Crowned Eagle Harpyhaliaetus coronatus, is likely to be affected by the ongoing habitat loss, and by increased hunting pressure as a result of the greater human presence. However, according to Rob Clay, BirdLife's Americas Region Senior Conservation Manager, at least four Near Threatened birds are probably also being affected, and may soon warrant higher levels of threat: Chilean Flamingo Phoenicopterus chilensis and Dinelli's Doradito Pseudocolopteryx dinelliani by the drying up of lagoons and wetlands, and Blaze-winged Parakeet Pyrrhura devillei and Black-bodied Woodpecker Dryocopus schulzi by forest loss.
"Many of the Chaco bird species are fairly tolerant of habitat degradation", Rob Clay explained. "But some of the current Least Concern species, such as Chaco Owl Strix chacoensis, Spot-winged Falconet Spiziapteryx circumcincta, Black-legged Seriema Chunga burmeisteri, Cream-backed Woodpecker Campephilus leucopogon and Hudson's Black-tyrant Knipolegus hudsoni, will likely become threatened, or at least Near Threatened."
"But while the implications for birds are worrying, I suspect the implications for mammals such as Chacoan Peccary Catagonus wagneri, Giant Armadillo Priodontes maximus, Giant Anteater Myrmecophaga tridactyla, Jaguar Panthera onca, Maned Wolf Chrysocyon brachyurus, Brazilian Tapir Tapirus terrestris, and many others are far more significant", Alberto Yanosky added. "The Paraguayan Chaco is one of the few places left in the Americas, outside of the Amazon, where a relatively intact mammalian megafauna can still be found, and in notable abundance. But that won't be for much longer at current deforestation rates”, Rob Clay added.
Lack of resources means that the authorities are unable to respond quickly to reports of illegal land clearance. Penalties are also inadequate. "The maximum fine for infringement of the laws is $12,000", said Dr Yanosky. "It is no problem for the ranchers to pay this and carry on – it makes good business."
Guyra Paraguay is working with Paraguay's Environment Ministry (SEAM), and with former Environment Minister Dr Luis Casaccia, now Paraguay's Environmental Prosecutor, to try to halt the destruction of the Chaco, and to raise international awareness of the threats to this unique ecosystem.
Together with long-term partner the World Land Trust (WLT), Guyra is also raising funds to purchase and protect what is left of Paraguay's forests. Under a three-way agreement with Guyra Paraguay and SEAM, WLT is supporting management costs of three protected areas in the northern Chaco. Thanks to this support, seven park guards are now employed at Defensores del Chaco, and a vehicle with fuel has also been supplied.
Tropical deforestation has serious impacts on the world's climate. Globally, deforestation and forest degradation account for 15-20% of all human-induced carbon emissions, and a large proportion of this takes place in the tropics. This is therefore one of the major causes of global warming.

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2009 |  World Bird News December 2009

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