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In this week’s news wrap scientists have created embryos to ‘bring back’ a near-extinct African rhino subspecies; Kenya relocates endangered black rhinos to a more secure habitat; The Namibian Minister of Environment and Tourism has responded to the killing of the male desert-adapted lion, Gretsky (XPL 99); an investigation has been conducted  on South Africa’s wildlife cryptotrade; the Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains in Mpumalanga, South Africa, have been officially added to the World Heritage Site List; and Zambia’s wildlife paradise and legendary safari mecca of Luangwa Valley may in future partially function as one giant tap for some of Zambia’s growing water needs.

Scientists create embryos to ‘bring back’ near-extinct African rhino (full story: AG News Desk)
Two northern white rhinos
Najin and Fatu, the only remaining female northern white rhinos at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Nairobi, Kenya © Ol Pejeta Conservancy/Facebook

Months after the death of Sudan, the world’s last male northern white rhino, scientists said on Wednesday they have grown embryos containing DNA of his kind, hoping to save the subspecies from extinction.

With only two northern white rhino (NWR) known to be alive today – both infertile females – the team hopes their breakthrough technique will lead to the re-establishment of a viable NWR breeding population.

“Our goal is to have in three years the first NWR calf born,” Thomas Hildebrandt, head of reproduction management at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, told journalists of the work.

“Taking into account 16 months (of) pregnancy, we have a little more than a year to have a successful implantation.”

The team’s work, using a recently-patented, 2m egg extraction device, resulted in the first-ever test tube-produced rhino embryos. Now frozen, these “have a very high chance to establish a pregnancy once implanted into a surrogate mother,” said Hildebrandt.

The hybrid embryos were created with frozen sperm from dead NWR males and the eggs of southern white rhino (SWR) females, of which there are thousands left on Earth. The eggs were harvested from rhinos in European zoos. The team now hopes to use the technique to collect eggs from the last two northern white rhinos – Najin and Fatu, the daughter and granddaughter of Sudan. They live in a Kenyan national park.

By fertilising these with northern white rhino sperm and implanting the resulting embryos in surrogate southern white rhino females, the team intends to create a new, fledgling NWR population. (Continue to full story here)

Kenya relocates endangered black rhinos to more secure habitat (full story: AG News Desk)
Black rhino being tranquilised
Kenya Wildlife Service personnel check a tranquillised female black rhino before transporting it as part of a rhino translocation exercise © REUTERS/Baz Ratner

The Kenya Wildlife Service has started moving 14 black rhinos to a sanctuary in the southeast of the country to offer a more secure location for the endangered species. Eight rhinos from a national park in the capital Nairobi and six from a wildlife reserve in the Rift Valley will be moved to a rhino sanctuary in the southeast near the coast, Tourism Minister Najib Balala said on Tuesday as the move started.

Poaching has risen in recent years across sub-Saharan Africa where well-armed criminal gangs have killed elephants for tusks and rhinos for horns. Often the animal parts are shipped to Asia for use in ornaments and medicines.

“We are working on improving our surveillance using technology because also humans can be a factor in poaching and also in negligence,” Balala said.

“So we are not concentrating on increasing the numbers, we are concentrating on using technology to manage wildlife, both inside and outside the national parks.” (Continue to full story here)

Death of desert-adapted lion: Namibian minister explains policy and requests understanding (full story: AG News Desk)
Desert adapted lion, Namibia
Gretzky, XPL 99 © Inki Mandt

The Namibian Minister of Environment and Tourism has responded to the killing of the male desert-adapted lion, Gretsky (XPL 99). The iconic Huab river lion was shot and killed by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) at De Rust farm in Ugabriver in June. According to sources, on the evening of 11th June, he entered a kraal on the farm and killed about 29 livestock.

The response from Pohamba Shifeta, Minister of Environment and Tourism Namibia:

Dear all as promised, here is our response to the Lion concerns in Namibia.

The Ministry of Environment and Tourism has learnt with concern about the inaccurate and false reports and the assumptions made on social media over a lion that was destroyed at De Rust farm in the Kunene Region of Namibia on the16 June 2018.

The lion was shot in response to repeated incursions and following days of attempts to alleviate the situation using non-lethal methods. The lion is part of the pride that has raided stock at De Rest farm, killing 27 goats and sheep as well as two donkeys inside the kraal. For many international followers this might be nothing but for households in Namibia this is a substantial loss.

The concerns are mostly from international community individuals or groups advocating for wildlife rights and lobbying against sustainable use of our wildlife. We have noted that despite numerous attempts and efforts to clarify our conservation methods, these groups are keen on spreading unfounded rumours aimed at tarnishing the image of our country with reference to our wildlife management and utilisation thereof.

Namibia, has subscribed to conservation methods that are tailor-made to address our situations and benefit our people as per the constitutional provision. These methods have been tried and tested with tangible result visible in terms of wildlife population growth and recoveries. (Continue here to read the rest of the response)

Investigating South Africa’s wildlife cryptotrade (full story: AG News Desk)
sungazer lizard, Africa's cryptotrafficking
The Oxpecker investigative team focused on the impact increased access to the Internet has on pangolins, leopards, rhinos and sungazers, a family of lizards endemic to sub-Saharan Africa. Image source: Oxpeckers/MG Kuijpers/Adobe Stock

A casual search of some of South Africa’s biggest online marketplaces shows just how easily endangered wildlife species are reduced to their parts – and how simple it is to sell them online while retaining anonymity. It will take far more than just a quick search to track down all the cryptotraffickers.

South African wildlife is already facing enormous pressures: habitat destruction, human-wildlife conflict, climate change and global trade. Increased access to the Internet for wildlife trafficking is yet another concern to add to the list.

Over a period of approximately four weeks, from mid-April to mid-May 2018, we conducted a small-scale investigation of three social media networks – Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – and half a dozen online marketplaces – eBay, Gumtree, OLX, Public Ads, Free Classifieds and Bidorbuy.

We focused on the impact that increased access to the Internet has on pangolins, leopards, rhinos and sungazer lizards, a family of lizards endemic to sub-Saharan Africa. Monitoring advertisements using keywords like “scales”, “skin”, “rhino horn” and “dragons”, we found 14 advertisements for animal parts – most for pangolin scales and rhino horns. (Continue to full story here)

Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains declared World Heritage Site (full story: AG News Desk)
Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains
© Tony Ferrar

The Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains in Mpumalanga, South Africa, have been officially added to the World Heritage Site List. The decision was taken by the 42nd United Nations Educational‚ Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee‚ meeting in Bahrain.

Situated in northeastern South Africa, the site is one of the world’s oldest geological structures, with volcanic and sedimentary rock dating back 3.6 to 3.25 billion years – around the time when the first continents were starting to form on the primitive Earth.

Also referred to as the ‘Genesis of Life’, its geology includes the best preserved ancient rocks on Earth. The mountains are also believed to contain the oldest signs of life‚ with a micro fossil of bacteria discovered there that is estimated to be 3.1 billion years old. (Continue to full story here)

Will Zambia’s Luangwa River be dammed? Have your say (full story: AG News Desk)
Guests watching buffalos and hippos in Luangwa Valley, Zambia
Luangwa Valley saw the birth of walking safaris © Shenton Safaris

Zambia’s wildlife paradise and legendary safari mecca of Luangwa Valley may in future partially function as one giant tap for some of Zambia’s growing water needs. Gone will be the seasonal, natural water cycles that sustain and nurture this incredibly fecund river valley. You see, a sizeable chunk of Luangwa Valley may be dammed in the near future, at Ndevu Gorge (see map below). Ironically, South Luangwa was in late 2017 declared as the world’s first sustainable National Park by United Nations World Tourism Organisation.

In a study on the Potential Impacts of the Proposed Ndevu Gorge Dam conducted by California State University Monterey Bay (2017), it is estimated that the resulting 1,510 km² Lake Ndevu, with its 80-metre-high dam wall, would inundate 29.5% of the length of the Luangwa River within South Luangwa National Park, at least six safari camps, and as much as 80% of adjacent hunting areas. It would also inundate portions of at least six chiefdoms adjacent to the river.

In addition, it would reduce the area of valuable wildlife corridor between South Luangwa National Park and Lower Zambezi National Park to the south, by 50% of its length and 24% of its width. For this study ZCP and WWF provided guidance and datasets, then the CSUMB conducted the study. The petition to declare the Luangwa River as a Water Resource Protection Area is available on their website (Continue to full story here)

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News Desk

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