Estimating the number of species on Earth is a notoriously difficult task. A 2011 paper published in PLOS Biology gave a figure of 8.7 million (give or take 1.3 million)! However many there are, all species have a role to play in the diverse ecosystems that make up our planet. All species matter, not just the elephants, tigers, rhinos, whales and other well-known species that receive the greatest media attention and a disproportionate amount of conservation effort (of varying degrees of success).
Biodiversity: Life – a status report. Richard Monastersky
Synchronicity Earth supports conservation for species that do not get the attention – those animals, plants (and fungi) that people and groups are striving to protect globally with very few resources and little public interest. Our support is generally directed towards smaller, local organisations that are working to conserve some of the world’s overlooked species. Our partners are all doing unique and important work which otherwise might never get done:
Save Vietnam’s Wildlife
Save Vietnam’s Wildlife (SVW) has recently completed a research project funded in part by SE, the purpose of which was to establish the presence of the Critically Endangered Chinese pangolin in Vietnam. Through extensive interviews with hunters and local people, it was successful in its mission, and managed to confirm the presence of the Chinese pangolin in the country, as well as identifying two national parks that are likely the best places to find them.
Following on from this, it has just started a collaborative research project with the University of Washington to use trained dogs to track pangolin scat of both Chinese and Sunda pangolins. It has already had success on this front, and the research will allow DNA analysis and the creation of a genetic map of pangolins in key areas, as well as providing information on habitat preferences and population structure.
The research project we are helping to fund with the Zoological Society of London on the threats facing the Critically Endangered Yangtze Finless Porpoise is moving forward quickly.
Researchers have carried out about 250 community interviews across the habitat of the porpoise, gathering data on fishing areas, species caught, porpoise sightings, and prevalence of illegal fishing methods (such as electric fishing). The results of this study will be pivotal in shedding light on the environment and threats facing this species, such as how fishing habits and fish stocks have changed over time, and the effectiveness of illegal fishing method regulations.
IUCN Red List assessment successes
Project Seahorse has completed, with funding help from SE, full Red List assessments of all known seahorse and pipefish species, a vital step in planning the conservation of the most endangered species going forward. They are currently in the process of using this research to develop a Conservation Action Plan for the group, as well as to publish a summary paper of results to publicise the urgent conservation need for seahorses and pipefish.
Another Conservation Action Plan under development is for the Japanese Eel, a Critically Endangered species threatened by overexploitation for consumption. Our partner, the IUCN Anguillid Eel Specialist Group recently took part in a stakeholder meeting for the Japanese Eel in Japan, which served to collate important data (for updating of the species’ Red List assessment), as well as involve the general public to help conservation managers to understand the cultural complexities of conserving the species in Japan. Following on from this, a Conservation Action Plan is currently under development to define priorities for management and conservation actions going forward.
Synchronicity Earth played a key role in starting the White-bellied Heron Working Group in 2014 – the purpose of which is to act as a coordinating body to ensure an active and strategic approach to the conservation of the Critically Endangered White-bellied Heron (WBH). WBH is the most endangered species of heron on the planet, with its population in the wild believed to be between just 50 and 249 individuals. Part of the role of WBH Working Group is encouraging communication and knowledge sharing between people working on WBH across its range, and with international experts on bird conservation.
The past few months have seen some exciting developments for the group, with partners travelling across the globe to take part in training and information sharing. Following the decision to build a captive breeding centre in Bhutan specifically for WBH, two members of the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN), Bhutan, are currently undergoing training with Prague Zoo and Zlin Zoo in the Czech Republic to learn essential skills in captive breeding. Mr Barun Chettri, the architect responsible for the design and construction of the centre, has visited multiple aviaries in the region, and learnt from global experts about different aspects of enclosure design. Meanwhile, Mr Sonam Tshering is focusing on the care of closely related species in captivity, from hatchlings to adults, to ensure he has the skills necessary for the captive breeding process.
Mr Barun Chettri, the architect responsible for the design and construction of the centre, has visited multiple aviaries in the region, and learnt from global experts about different aspects of enclosure design. Meanwhile, Mr Sonam Tshering is focusing on the care of closely related species in captivity, from hatchlings to adults, to ensure he has the skills necessary for the captive breeding process.
Sonam Tshering (RSPN): Training on caring for species in captivity
On the other side of the world, a conference has just been held by the WBH working group for amateur and professional birders in Northeast India. The aim of this meeting was to gather data from people in the field on sightings of WBH, in order to develop a better understanding of their distribution in the region, and to identify potential un-surveyed sites with suitable habitat where they could be found. This is a vital first step in developing a comprehensive plan for WBH protection and research in India, and will feed into a whole host of future work.
Finally, Indra Acharja from RSPN Bhutan was recently awarded a scholarship to join the Master of Forest Science programme at Yale University starting in Autumn this year. This is a fantastic achievement for Indra, who has worked tirelessly on the research and conservation of WBH in Bhutan. This is a crucial step for him and for the species, as it will provide him training in research methods, analysis, and proposal writing. Synchronicity Earth is happy to be able to part fund Indra in this endeavour, along with the International Crane Foundation.