By Toby Galligan, Conservation Scientist
My name is Toby. I am new to the RSPB, new to the Vulture Project and yes, I am an Aussie. I joined the RSPB’s Conservation Science Department in November last year to work exclusively on the South Asian vulture crisis.
My key role is to work alongside our partners in India and Nepal to monitor conservation success in areas where they have worked hard to advocate vulture conservation and raise awareness of vulture-dangerous drugs, like diclofenac. These areas are dubbed Provisional Vulture Safe Zones and contain remnant populations of Critically Endangered Gyps vultures. Through a combination of data collected from cattle carcasses, veterinary pharmacies and the remnant populations, we aim to determine where and how conservation action is working and where and how we need to focus efforts in the future. If monitoring reveals a Provisional Vulture Safe Zone to be cleared of diclofenac, then it will have been converted to a true Vulture Safe Zone, where wild vultures can recover and captive vultures can be released. Exciting stuff!
I arrived in India this weekend (on Republic Day here and Australia Day back home) to begin an eight week tour of Provisional Vulture Safe Zones here and in Nepal. I will also visit some of the breeding centres in both countries. Follow this blog and find out more.
For more information on the SAVE consortium and its work, visit www.save-vultures.org/
Our world is a pretty dodgy place for a large number of species – pressures from climate change, development, pollution, invasive species…I could go on. Sometimes it all seems bad news, but the RSPB and BirdLife Partners are working tirelessly to bring positive changes for some of the worst cases – not quite modern day action heroes (we don't wear the tights and capes), but not afraid to run head-first into a challenge.
The International Species Recovery team was set up in summer 2011 to take the lead on species outside of the UK, working closely with our national colleagues, who have years of experience on recovery programmes, and our Partner Development Officers. Given the huge number of threatened birds (1253 last time I checked on the BirdLife Data Zone), how on earth did we decide which ones to concentrate on? With limited resources, we can't (unfortunately) do it all.
We brought together the best brains across the RSPB and BirdLife to look at a "short" list of 366 species, comprised of all Critically Endangered species globally (the 190 most threatened), all Endangered species in RSPB focal countries (where we already had programmes), all threatened species on the UK Overseas Territories, Data Deficient species that may be threatened (we just don't know), and globally threatened species that the RSPB was already working on. Phew!
After two days of deliberation, head-scratching and argument, looking at a variety of factors such as current threat, likelihood of extinction if we don't do anything, a country's political stability, funding and collaboration opportunities etc, we ended up with a list of 32 species and 4 groups. Individual species include the spoon-billed sandpiper, Uluguru bush-shrike and Liben lark, while the groups cover Gyps vultures, Henderson Island, Albatross and Gough/Tristan da Cunha. You'll hear more about all of these projects and progress here and in related blogs (and if you have any specific requests, let me know).
And it's not only birds. Many of our country programmes work on plants, mammals, reptiles etc, and over the next few years we will be taking on other taxa. I'm sure there will be more head-scratching to decide priorities there!
More soon, Ian
[Posted on behalf of Norbert Schaffer, Head of International Policy and Species Recovery - and apologies for the delay, corrupted file stopped play!]
What a contrast between the rain, heat, mud and sweat we experienced in the habitat of the dwarf olive ibis and the white-collared, air conditioned, almost antiseptic atmosphere in the office of Carlos Vila Nova, the Minister of Public Works and Natural Resources of São Tomé and Principé. But it is exactly here in this office, where the battle for the conservation of the nature of the islands will be fought and where the future of the ibis and a raft of other species will largely be decided. And we are hopeful about this future!
In the past, clearly mistakes were made and key ibis habitat destroyed, turned into oil palm plantations. The reason for this was not a lack of economic alternatives or disregard for the value of wildlife - destruction was caused simply by not knowing about the importance of specific areas for birds and other wildlife. This has to change and it will now change. We were promised by all relevant people, from Minister Vila Nova to the Dutch manager of the Belgian-French palm oil multinational Agripalma active in São Tomé, that should there be a conflict between wildlife and land use changes, wildlife will win. It is now the responsibility of organisations like ABS, our partner in São Tomé and Principé, to identify the most important places for wildlife on both islands. We promised to assist them in this – and we will keep our promise.
But before it is back to desks and e-mails, working through an impressive to-do-list from this trip, we will test the capability of laundry machines, washing away the mud – but certainly not the memories - of an absolutely fantastic country!