The EWCL Snow Leopard team of class 5 worked with partners in Mongolia to develop a summer eco-camp in 2014 to raise awareness and an ecological understanding of snow leopards within one of the species’ range countries. Snow leopards (Panthera uncia) are a charismatic but poorly understood species of Asia’s high mountains, with some 6,000 individuals remaining in the wild. Their primary threats include poaching, retaliatory killings, and climate change. The eco-camp in Mongolia, which met in two one-week sessions, focused on educating, engaging, and raising awareness among middle and high school aged students on issues related to snow leopard ecology and conservation. The Snow Leopard team created a 64-paged environmental education curriculum around which the camp was centered and reached a total of 40 students and four instructors during the summer of 2014. The team secured funding to provide camping supplies and program necessities for each of the students at both camp sessions. Also, through the help of in-kind donations, the team created promotional materials including logos, posters, and brochures for possible “Climbing for Snow Leopards” events that would involve partnering with climbing gyms to raise money and awareness about snow leopard conservation. These items are available to any group or individual interested in starting a snow leopard fundraising campaign.
India is one of the world’s hot spots for turtle diversity, representing around 30 species of freshwater turtles and land tortoises. These include the Northern River Terrapin (Batagur baska) and the Red-crowned Roof Turtle (Batagur kachuga) – two of the world’s 25 most imperiled freshwater turtles and tortoises – and the Indian narrow-headed soft shell turtle (Chitra indica) – one of the world’s 40 most endangered freshwater turtle.
One of the top three threats to India’s turtles is inadvertent capture and drowning in fishing nets deployed by local fishermen. Fishermen use a variety of nets to capture fish. One of the most common is nylon gill nets, which are highly effective at capturing fish and aquatic turtles. Once entangled, the turtles often drown within several hours.
Working with the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) India program, the EWCL Indian Turtles Team worked to address this threat by developing modifications to hoop nets. The modified nets would allow villagers to catch the fish they need to sustain themselves, while excluding turtles or allowing captured turtles to escape. We adopted four modifications that have been tested in North America but not in Asia. The first involves excluding turtles from entering hoop nets by adding vertical bars at the net entrance. In general, fish can swim through the vertical slits but turtles cannot. This technique, however, may still allow some turtles to enter, especially smaller ones. For those animals, we designed a second modification to allows turtles to escape through a “chimney” at the top of the nets. The chimneys are made of netting material woven into an opening at the top of the nets. Turtles enter the opening and escape through the chimney. Our third modification involves cutting a rectangle in the top of the nets and then closing the opening with loose rubber or string. The idea is that turtles inside the nets would push through the loose weave and escape. The fourth modification involves building an air chamber inside the nets so that entrapped turtles could breathe this air, prolonging their survival until the nets are checked.
After designing the turtle exclusion and escapement devices for the hoop nets, we used money we had raised through grant funding to purchase the nets, which we sent to India. We then worked closely with TSA India’s local staff to modify the nets according to our designs, deploy the nets, and monitor their success.
In June of 2014, TSA India began testing these modifications in two sites in India, each involving different water conditions and turtle species: the Sarju, Ghaghra, and Yamuna rivers. We expected that some modifications would work better than others, depending on the physical and biological factors unique to each site. We plan to continue identifying the most successful modifications, replicate them, and incentivize fishermen to use them in lieu of the gill nets they currently use.
Following the deployment of the nets, the EWCL Turtle Team is waiting on more results from TSA India. In December, the staff will conduct further testing on the Yamuna River as water conditions only allowed them to test there for a week in June. In the future, the India staff may also test the nets at additional sites. Our team has begun to write up the results of this cutting edge technology for publication in a conservation journal.
The EWCL Giant Armadillo Team (GA-Team) working in collaboration with the Giant Armadillo Project of Brazil, utilized the media hype surrounding the 2014 World Cup armadillo mascot and created media and educational materials to increase awareness about the giant armadillo.
Due to the current conservation status, low population density, as well as the nocturnal and burrowing behavior of the giant armadillo, one of the greatest challenges to the species is a lack of recognition both locally and internationally. Realizing conservation efforts and policy changes for the benefit of the species would only come about when enough stakeholders considered it worth protecting for future generations, the Giant Armadillo Team focused on two themes to counter the lack of information:
- Creation of media outreach materials
- Creation of education materials
Zoos were selected as the primary audience and driving force due to their captive audience, conservation investment, education expertise and popular armadillo ambassadors.
African Painted Dog
The Painted Dog Protection Initiative is a movement to advance conservation of the endangered African Painted Dog species. It was started by a group of conservationists from the Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders program, working with key experts and partners from the Painted Dog Research Trust, Painted Dog Conservation, and the Wildlife Conservation Network.
The painted dog, also known as the African wild dog, is predominately found in East Africa. Growing to as much as 30 inches at the shoulder and weighing only 55 to 70 pounds, the painted dog closely resembles that of a domestic dog; however, it differs in that it has only four toes on each foot instead of five, has large, rounded ears, and displays a unique patchy brown, black, white, red, and yellow coat pattern. Painted dog packs share an advanced and close-knit social structure and hierarchy that is unique in the animal kingdom, even displaying some of the altruistic behaviors known more commonly to primates and social insects. Unfortunately, the painted dog is endangered due to a number of threats including habitat loss and fragmentation, diseases spread from domestic dog populations, direct poaching, incidental death due to snare entanglement, and vehicular collisions.
The painted dog population in Zimbabwe makes up one of its last remaining strongholds. Two of the regions in Zimbabwe with the greatest potential to support a growing painted dog population are the Hwange National Park and Victoria Falls area. Despite an abundance of ecological resources, painted dogs in these vicinities have faced tremendous difficulty with continued threats from human-induced fatality resulting from snare wire entrapment and vehicle collisions.
The Painted Dog Protection Initiative (PDPI) has sought to reduce incidental mortality of dogs by collaborating with partners on the re-design and manufacturing of effective anti-snare, reflective collars, and to increase awareness of the species by expanding educational efforts in the United States. To achieve these goals, PDPI partnered with the in situ conservation groups Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) and Painted Dog Research Trust (PDRT) in Zimbabwe and the Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN) in the United States, and collaborated with the Houston Zoo and Dogs for Conservation, among others. Working with these partners, PDPI has aimed to increase international awareness and conservation support for the species by creating an educational/fundraising campaign for painted dogs through support of zoo-related events, through the establishment of a painted dog conservation website and social media presence, and by utilizing the proceeds of the zoo events and online outreach/marketing to fund the research, re-design, and implementation of enhanced anti-snare and reflective collars.