New transboundary riverine protected area

In March, the ministers responsible for environment in Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia and Slovenia signed a declaration committing the five countries to establish a transboundary UNESCO Biosphere reserve along the Drava, Mura and Danube rivers. This paves the way to create the world’s first five-country protected area (PA) and, at 800,000ha, the largest riverine PA in Europe. The signing – attended by EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potoznik and held as part of Hungary’s EU presidency – was recognised by WWF with a ‘Wild Heart of Europe’ certificate, to help build recognition of this important new PA which is visited by 250,000 migratory waterfowl annually and is vital for the socioeconomic well-being of the culturally rich transboundary region.

Mixed news on mountain gorillas

In recent months there’s news of a significant increase in the largest mountain gorilla population in the three contiguous national parks in the Virunga mountains shared by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda. The survey counted 480 gorillas, an increase of 100 since the last count in 2003. This has been achieved despite widespread civil unrest, and much credit is due to the bravery of the forest rangers who risk their lives to protect the gorillas and the park. Tragically eight rangers and soldiers were killed in an attack on their vehicle in January in DRC. And in a move in the right direction to prevent oil exploitation damaging this unique and fragile area, permission for oil exploration was suspended subject to a strategic environmental assessment.

Marine protection in Mozambique

WWF and Mozambique have agreed ways to boost marine conservation and sustainable fisheries management along the country’s 3,000km coastline. WWF will provide guidelines for achieving certification for well-managed fisheries and methods to reduce bycatch. Fisheries are a key element in addressing poverty and securing foreign earnings. Linked to this agreement, WWF is working with fisheries to achieve certification of the wild-caught Mozambique shrimp, and with the government to establish the proposed 1,7 million ha Primeiras and Secundas Archipelago marine protected area – which will be the largest in Africa and is planned for later this year. This builds on extensive recent conservation success in Mozambique, highlighted by the creation of the Quirimbas National Park in 2002.

Conservation of rhino still a priority

WWF has been closely associated with rhino conservation since its founding. Our effort to increase the number of Indian rhinos continues with the translocation of two females to Manas National Park in Assam, India. These translocations aim to build strong new breeding populations. In Java, Indonesia, camera traps recently caught footage of critically endangered Javan rhinos. Two females, each with a calf, provide hope for the species, which likely numbers less than 50. In Africa, a renewed poaching wave driven by demand for horns in Asia threatens hard-won gains. Since we launched the African Rhino Programme in 1996, rhino numbers have almost doubled to 17,400 white, and 4,800 black. But in South Africa in 2010, 333 rhino were lost - almost one a day – plus a further 87 this year.

Suspected rhino gang held

An alleged poaching syndicate appeared in a South African court in early April on charges concerning the killing of rhino and trafficking of their horns. The 11 suspects include a safari tour operator, his wife, two veterinarians, an animal clinic employee, a pilot, a professional hunter and farm workers. Police investigators believe the group could be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of rhinos in recent years. “We anticipate a rigorous prosecution that will set the bar for future cases,” says WWF African Rhino Programme Coordinator Dr. Joseph Okori. Because of its severity, it is believed the case will be remanded to a higher court for trial in 2012.

Poaching escalation demands WWF action

Five men in Gabon have been arrested accused of possessing endangered species products, including a gorilla head and hands, 12 chimpanzee heads, and 12 leopard skins. “This is highly disturbing. It’s one of the largest seizures of great ape body parts in Central Africa in the last 10 years,” said David Greer, WWF African Great Apes Manager. WWF and TRAFFIC experts met in Nepal in January to discuss how best to tackle the huge increase in poaching which threatens several of WWF’s flagship species, such as rhino, great apes and Asian big cats especially the tiger. Building on mechanisms such as the Species Action Plans and the TRAFFIC network, WWF will launch an overarching initiative to tackle this menace.

Hope for the saola

Indochina’s elusive saola, a recently discovered and critically endangered relative of antelopes, has new hope for survival with the establishment of a dedicated nature reserve on the border of Vietnam and Laos. The saola was discovered only in 1992 by a joint WWF and Vietnam Department of Forestry survey. Threatened by illegal hunting for its horn, the saola population is believed to range from a few dozen to a few hundred. The establishment of three protected areas completes a WWF vision for a continuous protected area landscape, traversing the Annamite Mountains from Vietnam’s east coast into Laos, that will protect the important forests of the region, ensure the survival of the saola, and promote adaptability of the Annamites ecoregion to climate change.

WWF returns to Doñana

In January, an international mission including IUCN, UNESCO and the Ramsar Secretariat, supported by WWF, visted the Doñana National Park in southern Spain to review critical threats to the park’s ecological integrity. Doñana – the first protected area WWF helped establish in 1969 – is a crucial stopover wetland for millions of birds travelling huge distances annually on the east Atlantic flyway between northern Europe and southern Africa. Key threats include dredging of the Guadalquivir River, construction of an oil pipeline and ground water abstraction for farming, especially strawberries. The visit has already prompted release of a land use plan for strawberry farming, promised in 2007, and has demonstrated global concern for the embattled wetland.

Ramsar turns 40

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands – the world’s first global environmental treaty – celebrated its 40th anniversary in March in the Iranian city of Ramsar where it was founded. A personal note was read out from Dr Luc Hoffmann, a WWF founder, who was key to creation of the Convention. It has played a crucial role protecting wetlands worldwide: the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance contains over 1900 sites, covering nearly 188 million ha – and WWF has helped protect almost half this area. The Romanian Government is designating the 115,666 ha Iron Gates Natural Park as the sixth Ramsar wetland, along 134 km of the Danube River’s gorges. Romania will host the Ramsar COP11 in June 2012.

Partnerships multiply conservation value

The MAVA-funded Protected Areas for a Living Planet project is demonstrating that support for CBD implementation has leveraged spectacular conservation results in five ecoregions over the last 12 months. Russia’s regions committed to avoid unsustainable activities in 175 of 566 important marine and terrestrial areas identified as requiring protection in the national gap analysis published by WWF in 2009. The Carpathians raised some CHF 15 million in co-financing and 1.1 million ha of new PAs were gazetted in the Altai-Sayan and Caucasus. In 2011, the final year of the project, PA4LP is prioritising fundraising to deliver CBD goals, through donor engagement and by replicating the approach in other WWF Priority Places.

Norway values nature over oil

Following high level representations from WWF on the importance of avoiding oil and gas activity in highly sensitive and biodiversity rich ecosystems such as the Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja archipelagos, the Norwegian government announced its decision to prevent an environmental impact assessment – a precursor to oil/gas activities. The decision shows the government values nature before oil development and it is possible to leave valuable oil resources in the ground – especially where this helps protect the jobs of key sectors such as fishing and tourism. The Lofoten area holds unique coldwater reefs, pods of sperm whales and killer whales, some of the largest seabird colonies in Europe and the spawning grounds of the largest remaining cod stock in the world.