In the part one of this blog series we celebrated the creation of our first EDGE list, the rediscovery of species, and women leading in conservation. In this next instalment we continue updating our EDGE lists and help advocate for the environment, local communities, and species alike.
In 2015, Micaela Camino joined the EDGE Fellowship and brought with her a strong-willed determination to help save the Gran Chaco, the largest sub-tropical dry forest in the world. The Gran Chaco extends over Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil, but two-thirds, 130 million acres, are in Argentina.
The Gran Chaco is home to unique vegetation and wildlife, including 3,400 plant and 500 bird species plus hundreds of mammal, reptile, and amphibian species. Nine million people also live in the Gran Chaco, including several Indigenous communities. However, in the last 20 years, 25% of the forest has been lost and Mica could not stand by and let this continue to happen.
With her long history of grassroots conservation in Argentina, Mica helped to create a movement called “Somos Monte” (roughly translating to “we are the forest” in English). The movement organises demonstrations and awareness raising activities with the participation of local people and institutions. She also helped to create a network including several sectors (lawyers, NGOs, local land and enterprise owners, academics, etc) to provide support to the people in the Chaco, to help them know their rights and avoid unlawful eviction.
Mica has promoted a change in the biodiversity conservation scenario in the region and is inspiring everyone she meets to stand up for what they believe in. She continues to advocate with her incredible team at the Quimilero project, as they seek long-term conservation of Chaco biodiversity.
When you are working on a species that isn’t traditionally considered majestic or charismatic it is not that easy to get a spotlight on them, but that didn’t stop EDGE fellow Sandeep Das who was part of the 2017 EDGE Fellowship.
Sandeep’s effort to bring awareness and increase the profile of the purple frog (Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis) has been extremely successful, not only familiarising the general public with the species through door-to-door campaigns, school visits, sessions with forest guards and the successful ‘Mahabali frog’ campaign, but also creating mass awareness among government stakeholders too.
The ‘Mahabali frog’ campaign was created to popularise the species by comparing it with the mythological King Mahabali who, like the purple frog, comes above ground only once a year. The results of the campaign were astonishing as more people started to identify with the species, and slowly the frog started to garner attention. Sandeep gave more than 100 talks to diverse audiences including students, protected area managers and indigenous people living in purple frog habitats.
Sandeep has also been vital in the submission of a proposal for the purple frog to be declared as the State Frog for Kerala. This proposal has been given valuable media coverage in leading newspapers in Kerala, and at the next wildlife advisory board meeting we are optimistic that the species will be declared as the state frog. This achievement will hopefully bring national recognition to one of the world’s most enigmatic amphibians strengthening support for conservation efforts to bring this species back from the brink.
In 2018, EDGE premiered updated EDGE lists for amphibians, birds and mammals, alongside the creation of the first EDGE list for the world’s reptiles; signalling the first time EDGE lists had been produced for all terrestrial vertebrate groups.
The EDGE reptile list highlighted the plight of the world’s freshwater reptiles, particularly turtles and crocodilians, along with numerous poorly known, unique and threatened reptiles.
At the top of the list was the Madagascar big-headed turtle (Erymnochelys madagascariensis). This prehistoric looking creature is highly distinctive with golden plates of armour protecting its oversized head, which can’t be retracted into its shell. This ancient turtle diverged from all other living organisms more than 80 million years ago, long before the extinction of the dinosaurs!
Other iconic EDGE species featured on the list:
- Williams’ dwarf gecko (Lygodactylus williamsi) – characterised by a distinct sexual dichromatism where males have a bright and vibrant turquoise-blue body while females are greenish-bronze
- Round Island keel-scaled boa (Casarea dussumieri) – that can change colour over a 24-hour period, and is also the only vertebrate with a joint in its upper jaw, used to capture and eat its prey
- ‘punk-haired’ Mary River turtle (Elusor macrurus) – a cloaca-breathing turtle species, meaning it breathes underwater using specialised glands in their reproductive organs.
The creation of the EDGE reptile list has led to the EDGE Fellowship program to date supporting conservation projects on 13 of the most unique and threatened EDGE reptiles in the world!
In 2019 EDGE Fellow Jose Manuel de la Cruz-Mora set out to collect baseline ecological data for the Cuban funnel-eared bat (Natalus primus). The species was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 1992, but the global population size remained unknown until Jose and his team came up with a bright idea.
They used vivid nail polish to mark individuals of the species and were able to conduct the first ever scientific population estimate. They estimated that there were fewer than 750 Cuban funnel-eared bats in the cave where they were rediscovered, locally known as Cueva la Barca. Funnel-eared bats congregate in large, conspicuous colonies, so this is likely to be the sole locality on the entire island of Cuba.
Having a small population and being limited to a single cave does put this bat species under enormous pressure from a variety of threats, including habitat destruction, natural disasters like hurricanes and climate change-induced rise in cave temperatures.
From their research Jose and his team are in discussions with the IUCN to upgrade the extinction category of the species from “Vulnerable” to “Critically Endangered”. This change would be a significant step in highlighting the plight of the incredible Cuban funnel-eared bat. To support this request, they have also established a long-term monitoring program to gain more information on the bat’s ecology and behaviour using non-invasive technologies such as infrared video cameras and audio recorders.
Jose continues his conservation efforts in Cuba’s bat ecology and conservation as a full-time researcher at the Museum of Natural History of Pinar del Rio Province. He has participated in various research projects at national and international levels and contributed to several conferences in Cuba and worldwide. He is a champion for the species and continues to challenge the misconceptions people have about bats.
In 2019 Ashish Bashyal became an EDGE Fellow, with the aim of collecting scientific information on population, habitat, and breeding ecology of the Critically Endangered gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) in Nepal.
This unmistakable crocodile is on the brink of extinction and only occurs in rivers in two national parks: Chitwan National Park and Bardiya National Park. In Chitwan gharials have been recorded recently, however in Bardiya there was no recent evidence of nesting. According to historical records the last documented sighting was in 1982 when 25 eggs were collected from the Babai River and taken back to captivity.
On the 19th of June 2019, EDGE Fellow Ashish Bashyal and his team discovered two breeding groups in two localities in the Babai River within Bardiya National Park. They documented three gharial nests, and counted approximately 100 hatchlings, three adult females and one adult male!
The finding marked a huge step towards increasing this incredible species numbers in the wild. With fewer than 100 adult gharials remaining in Nepal and severely fragmented populations in India, gharials are among the world’s most endangered reptiles.
From this significant discovery, conservationists have been able to prioritise limited resources and it is hoped that the necessary steps can now be taken to conserve gharials in Nepal.
Stay tuned for the last part of this blog series, celebrating five more success stories and continue to take more footsteps forward in conservation with us.
If you want to get involved and support the vital work done by the EDGE program and our incredible Fellows, please click here.