Endangered Species Day - a photo essay

To mark Endangered Species Day today, we look at some of the key species that Bristol Zoological Society is working to protect, both in the wild and through participation in conservation breeding programmes.

Endangered Species Day is an opportunity for people of all ages to learn about the importance of protecting endangered species and everyday actions they can take to help protect them.

Many animal species are now totally reliant on zoos to survive, such as the Socorro dove which is extinct in the wild and now only around 200 are thought to exist in captivity.

Others, such as the Lord Howe Island stick insect, are on the very brink of extinction in the wild. This is why the success of conservation breeding programmes is so important. Bristol Zoological Society is a leader in zoo-based wildlife conservation and has been instrumental in working to protect many species under threat in the wild.

Here we look at a few such species:

Lemurs, Northern Madagascar 

Bristol Zoological Society is working on the conservation of threatened lemurs and sacred ibis in northwestern Madagascar, as well as the protection and restoration of their habitats.   

The blue-eyed black lemur from the Sahamalaza Peninsula of northwest Madagascar is considered the most charming of the lemur species, the males being jet-black and the females golden-orange, with both sexes having striking turquoise eyes.

We're home to a pair of blue-eyed black lemurs. The species is Critically Endangered in the wild due to hunting and habitat loss. It was listed as one of the world’s 25 most endangered primates between 2008 and 2014, and numbers left in the wild are unknown.

Bristol Zoological Society is working to safeguard this species in a number of ways. Our current project is determining the most effective way to replant forest in the lemurs’ habitat to increase forest cover in the national park. In addition, we are working alongside like minded organisations, to improve the livelihoods of rural poor Malagasy communities. We also contribute to maintaining a population of the species in human care.

These actions have helped to secure the future of blue-eyed black lemurs in Madagascar, and, while still heavily conservation-dependent, the species was removed from the list of the world’s most endangered primates in 2014.

Lemur leaf frog, Costa Rica 

The lemur leaf frog is a small, charismatic frog species, native to Central America.

The bright yellow-green frogs are Critically Endangered and their numbers in the wild have fallen by 80 per cent over the past 15 years due to a fungal disease, known as chytrid fungus, which has attacked amphibians across the world.

Lemur leaf frogs are now known to occur naturally only in a single site in Costa Rica, on the edge of the Veragua Rainforest Reserve in Limón province. This suggests that these tiny frogs have either undergone a significant range contraction or occur more sparsely than previously recorded. However, they have been introduced to new sites in the region, where they appear to be thriving.

The chytrid fungus is widespread in Costa Rica and represents perhaps the greatest threat to amphibian persistence. Bristol Zoological Society is working with a number of organisations on this project, to determine the population size of these distinctive frogs and to discover more precisely where they are living. We are also working on pond restoration and creation efforts to increase breeding habitat for the animals in their natural range.

The study has won praise from naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, who said: “I wholeheartedly support the campaign to save the lemur leaf frog. It is, after all, one of the world’s most unusual and rarest amphibians – and it is in real trouble.”

We are home to a breeding group of lemur leaf frogs, held in a sterile, climate-controlled ‘Amphipod’. We also manages the European conservation breeding programme for the species. 

Kordofan giraffe, Cameroon

As one of the world’s most beautiful and majestic animals, giraffe are instantly recognisable and loved the world over. 

But this striking creature is quietly slipping towards extinction. Kordofan giraffe are one of nine giraffe subspecies and, despite being one of the most populous giraffe in zoos, the situation facing them in the wild is challenging. As such, the conservation of Kordofan giraffe is becoming a race against time.

It is estimated that as few as 2,000 individual Kordofan giraffe may be left in Africa, out of a total giraffe population of about 80,000. Poaching, bushmeat trade and habitat loss are the main threats to their future in the wild.

Bristol Zoological Society leads a vital conservation project for the species, which focuses on protecting one of the few remaining populations of Kordofan giraffe left in the wild, in Bénoué National Park, in the North Region of Cameroon.

A team of conservationists from Bristol Zoological Society have been working to determine how many giraffe remain in the Bénoué National Park. Drone technology has enabled eco-guards at the national park to search larger areas in order to establish giraffe population numbers and locations. More recently, motion-activated camera traps have also been set up to monitor wildlife in the area. Wild Place Project, the sister site of Bristol Zoo Gardens, in South Gloucestershire, is home to three reticulated giraffe.

Western lowland gorillas, Central Africa

Bristol Zoological Society recently launched a new flagship conservation project in Equatorial Guinea to protect one of Africa’s most threatened great ape species, western lowland gorillas. 

The collaborative approach between the Society’s conservation team and the University of the West of England is seeing the creation of a research base in Monte Alén National Park, where conservationists from the zoo will focus their efforts on protecting western lowland gorillas.

The exact number of western lowland gorillas in the wild is not known because they inhabit some of the densest and most remote rainforests in Africa. In 2005, it was estimated that around 2,000 individuals lived in the Monte Alén National Park, but current numbers are unknown.

The species is threatened with habitat loss from deforestation and the threat of bushmeat hunting. As a result, researchers estimate that gorilla numbers overall have declined by more than 60 per cent over the last 20 to 25 years.

Their dwindling numbers are reflected across five other African countries where western lowland gorillas are found: Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo and Gabon. Recent estimates are that as few as 360,000 remain across these countries.

Here, we are home to a troop of seven western lowland gorillas. The Zoo is part of a European breeding programme for the species, to ensure there is a strong population in human care.

White-clawed crayfish, United Kingdom

The white-clawed crayfish is the UK’s only native freshwater crayfish and is a keystone species of our aquatic habitats. It is globally Endangered throughout its range, both within mainland Europe and the UK. 

Since the 1970s there has been more than a 70 per cent decline in numbers of this species in south west England due to habitat fragmentation, pollution and, most importantly, the introduction of the non-native invasive signal crayfish. This invasive species not only predates our native species but carries crayfish plague, a disease which is lethal to white-clawed crayfish.

For more than 10 years, our dedicated team have been breeding white-clawed crayfish in a hatchery at Bristol Zoo Gardens. It was the first white-clawed crayfish hatchery in the UK; however we are now working with partners to establish other hatcheries throughout the south west. Once hatched, our native species conservation team is responsible for reintroducing them into safe ark sites across the south west.

Desertas wolf spiders, Madeira, Portugal

The Desertas wolf spider is a Critically Endangered species, only found in one valley on one of the Desertas Islands, near Madeira. Despite having an impressive 40mm body size and being the largest known wolf spider, very little is known about this species. 

Our successful breeding programme for these spiders has seen the creation of nine new captive populations set up at other institutions from spiders reared at Bristol Zoo. 

In the wild, the absence of any native terrestrial mammals means this spider is a top predator in its habitat. Although its major prey consists of other invertebrates, such as beetles, woodlice and millipedes, adults have also been seen predating on juvenile lizards.

The small valley where the spider lives is covered by a fast growing grass, Phalaris spp. The colonisation of this grass in the Vale da Castanheira was hidden for some years due to the presence of rabbits that grazed and controlled the spread of the plant.

With the eradication of rabbits from the valley in 1996, Phalaris lost its main predator and now proliferates. This grass appears to not only displace many other native plants, but also many of the native animals. It covers the surface of the soil and rocks, making the microhabitats below the rocks harder to access for the spiders.

Bristol Zoo, and our expert invertebrate team, were the pioneers for the world's first captive breeding programme for this species in 2017, which since has seen the hatching of more than 750 spiderlings. Now a European breeding programme for the species is being coordinated by Bristol Zoological Society, combined with a conservation action plan to help save the species in the wild. We also work closely with the Madeiran government who are leading on the habitat restoration aspects of this conservation programme.

African penguins, South Africa

The wild population of Endangered African penguins has been monitored by Bristol Zoological Society and partner organisations for 14 years in South Africa. 

Between 2001 and 2013 alone, the global population of African penguins fell by 70 per cent, leaving approximately 18,000 – 22,000 breeding pairs in the wild. The main causes of this decline are overfishing off the coast of South Africa and Namibia, and climate change.

Bristol Zoological Society’s African penguin conservation project consists of three main areas. The first is to work with a local rehabilitation centre, SANCCOB (Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds), to rescue, rear and release abandoned penguin chicks once they reach a healthy weight at fledging age.

The second element is to participate in a long-term monitoring programme of wild African penguins at a key breeding colony on Robben Island. As part of this, we are trying to understand how immature African penguins choose breeding sites – something that is currently very poorly understood.

Finally, the project aims to analyse the movement and ecology of penguins at all life stages, to better understand how they choose and use breeding colonies. A dedicated team track penguin to understand how they are affected by threats such as overfishing and climate change, allowing Bristol Zoological Society to provide crucial data to the South African government. These data can be used to determine the best size and location for future Marine Protected Areas.

Sanje mangabeys, Tanzania

There are seven recognised species of Cercocebus mangabeys. All are at high risk of extinction and all are relatively understudied, owing to the fact that they are usually found deep in the forest, in regions that are difficult to access and not often visited by tourists or researchers. 

Bristol Zoological Society is monitoring the population of the Sanje mangabey monkey and working to understand the threats to their survival in the Udzungwa Mountains in Tanzania.

Mangabeys are highly terrestrial, spending large amounts of time on the forest floor rather than up in the trees like the majority of primates. The species is listed as Endangered due to declining population size, habitat loss and forest fragmentation. In the last 15 years it is estimated that the population has undergone a 31 per cent decline, leaving a total population of only 3,000 monkeys remaining in the world.

Bristol Zoological Society is working with local and international stakeholders to ensure the protection of the Sanje mangabey and its remaining habitat. 

Bleeding heart doves, the Philippines

The beautiful yet elusive Negros bleeding-heart dove is among the rarest bird species in the world and is native to the Western Visayan islands of Negros and Panay in the Philippines. 

The Philippines are considered to be one of the world’s ‘hottest’ biodiversity hotspots because of the amazing diversity of wildlife there. Yet 50 per cent of the country’s forests have already been cut down, mainly to grow crops.

So-called for their bright, blood-red chest patch, these birds need high-quality, low elevation tropical forests to survive. Now it is feared there are less than 300 pairs of Negros bleeding-heart doves left in the wild. As such, this species has been categorised as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Bristol Zoological Society has been working in the Philippines since 2000 and, last year, was able to catch a rare glimpse of the bird and record it on film for the first time in more than a decade.

By conserving this species and its habitat, a number of other rare and threatened species are also benefiting, including Visayan warty pigs. 

Socorro doves, conservation breeding programme

Socorro doves are extinct in the Wild. Bristol Zoological Society keeps five individuals, two at Bristol Zoo Gardens and three at Wild Place. There are only around 200 Socorro doves existing in captivity in the world.

The last known sighting of a Socorro dove in the wild was in 1972. Now there are just 29 birds in eight UK zoos. Coordinated conservation breeding of the birds by zoos such as Bristol Zoo and Wild Place has prevented the total extinction of the species.

Socorro doves were native to the island of Socorro, 600 miles off the western coast of Mexico. They died out after falling prey to a rising number of feral cats in the area. In addition, overgrazing by sheep destroyed much of their forest floor habitat and the birds were hunted by humans for food.

We have launched the BZS Appeal following the temporary closure of both its sites in Bristol in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

To find out more, or to make a donation, visit https://bristolzoo.org.uk/bzsappeal

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