As we wave goodbye to 2022 and look ahead to what the new conservation year has in store, we want to draw your attention to some of the species that may feature prominently in the coming months. Some of these will be familiar to our regular readers, others less so. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of ten threatened species and some of the conservation measures that Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and partners will be taking to protect them during 2023.

Keeping tabs on pangolins

Africa’s pangolins are increasingly threatened by illegal wildlife trade. As part of our efforts to protect them, we are not only gathering data on trade and consumption, but also carrying out biomonitoring activities in order to learn more about them. In collaboration with Project Mecistops and ZSL, we are conducting a pilot project that aims to tag and track individual white-bellied and black-bellied pangolins, focusing initially on Guinea. The tags have already been tested in the field. Once fitted, they should provide us with valuable insight into pangolin movements, habitat use and range, about which we currently know very little.

White-bellied pangolins, commonly known as tree pangolins, are listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Credit: Jabruson/NaturePL

Protective ring for Caribbean diamond

We’ve enthused about the jewel-like and critically endangered Union Island gecko, but this tiny lizard shares its old-growth forest habitat with another precious gem. The Caribbean diamond is a spectacular species of tarantula. Like the gecko, it is found nowhere else on the planet. At present, it doesn’t face the same level of threat from the illegal pet trade – apparently, collectors tend to breed them in captivity – but the spider’s survival certainly hinges on protection of its native forest on Union Island. We hope that this awesome arachnid will be one of the beneficiaries of FFI’s ongoing efforts to protect and patrol this vital wildlife haven in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The rare Caribbean diamond tarantula on Union Island, the most species-rich of the Grenadine islands. Credit: Olivier Reynaud/FFI

Okapi quest

Is there a more intriguing animal than the okapi? This shy, elusive cousin of the more familiar giraffe is confined to dense forest in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. FFI has a strong historical connection with the species; one of our founder members, Sir Harry Johnston, brought the okapi to the attention of science way back in 1901. Well over a century later, we are hatching plans to track down, monitor and safeguard the so-called zebra giraffe in its Central African stronghold with the aid of camera traps set in Kanyama, Bitula and Omate community forests, where traces of okapi have already been detected. Stand by for some sensational snapshots.

Okapis are threatened by habitat loss from deforestation and illegal mining, as well as hunting. Credit: Ji/Adobe Stock

Tonkin heads review

The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is found only in northern Vietnam. In 2021, bad weather and Covid-19 combined to derail a planned survey of the Tung Vai forest, which harbours one of the only two known viable populations of this critically endangered primate. Around 20 individuals are thought to survive in this 3,000-hectare haven. This year FFI and our in-country partners plan to conduct an intensive search for Tonkin snub-nosed monkey in Tung Vai using a combination of drone technology, thermal cameras and boots on the ground. The result will help to inform future conservation interventions at this crucial site.

Tonkin snub-nosed monkey. Credit: Le Khac Quyet/FFI

The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is among the world’s 25 most endangered primates. Credit: Le Khac Quyet/FFI

Marmot measures

Menzbier’s marmot is endemic to the Western Tien-Shan mountains in Central Asia. The most recent survey conducted by FFI and partners revealed that the Kyrgyzstan population of Menzbier’s marmot has increased to over 16,000 (a 30% rise in two years) as a result of improved protection measures in the Besh-Aral State Nature Reserve. The presence of bears, wolves, lynx, golden eagles, bearded vultures and saker falcons suggests that these predators may also be benefiting from the greater abundance of a key prey species. Next steps include a conservation action plan, which will catalyse a coordinated regional rescue mission for this endearing but globally threatened animal.

A Menzbier’s marmot in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Credit: FFI

World’s rarest snake

With a global population that may be as low as 20, the Saint Lucia racer is probably the world’s rarest snake. Confined to a tiny, predator-free offshore islet, it is staring down the barrel of extinction. An invasion of rats or a catastrophic storm would spell disaster for this critically endangered reptile. With this in mind, FFI and partners are in the process of establishing a snake sanctuary on mainland Saint Lucia, which will be populated via an ambitious captive-breeding programme, and where the racer will be protected from such existential threats.

Saint Lucia racer. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

FFI hopes to increase the population of Saint Lucia racers to at least 500 individuals. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Lemon shark feeling the squeeze

The waters around Cabo Verde are a crucial refuge for sharks and rays and support breeding sites for several key species, including the lemon shark. Relatively big-brained and weighing up to 250 kilos, this sociable shark is an apex predator and important ecosystem engineer. With FFI support, several in-country partners including Associação Projeto Biodiversidade are gathering shark-related data required to help shape local conservation initiatives and inform protected area planning. This work includes efforts to identify nurseries across the archipelago, including a potential site for the lemon shark on Sal island, where monitoring measures such as tagging and DNA sampling are now being rolled out.

Data is collected from a juvenile lemon shark during training for new shark monitoring projects in Sal, Cabo Verde. Credit: Annkathrin Sharp/FFI

Saving Myanmar’s tigers

Much has been written about FFI’s long-term efforts to safeguard Sumatran tigers, but our work with the Indochinese tiger is less well publicised. This endangered subspecies is also in urgent need of protection. The largely intact lowland forest landscape of Tanintharyi region in southern Myanmar harbours this troubled country’s largest remaining tiger population. Community-centred conservation initiatives are helping to protect tigers, tiger prey and their forest habitat at a crucial breeding site in the region. 

A rare glimpse of an Indochinese tiger with a cub, captured during a survey in Myanmar. Credit: FFI

World’s largest frog

The aptly named goliath frog is the largest of its kind, weighing in at a hefty three kilos or more. This massive amphibian has a shrinking range and a dwindling population, due to severe hunting pressure and habitat destruction. With support from the Conservation Leadership Programme (a partnership between FFI, BirdLife International and WCS), an award-winning team from Cameroon is aiming to reverse the downward trajectory of this endangered frog through a combination of community engagement, field surveys, citizen science and livelihood diversification.

Team leader Cedrick Fogwan Nguedia holding a goliath frog. These frogs are found along fast-flowing rivers in southwest Cameroon. Credit: Jeanne D’Arc Petnga

Paradise protected

The red bird of paradise is confined to a handful of islands off West Papua, including Waigeo, the focus of FFI’s forest protection efforts in Raja Ampat. The spellbinding treetop courtship displays of multiple males are the stuff of legend, but this spectacular species is threatened by the slow but inexorable degradation of its habitat, combined with illegal capture and trade. FFI is mapping the distribution of the red bird of paradise on Waigeo and working with communities to reduce the threats posed by illegal activities.

Birds of paradise are famous for their dazzling plumage and exaggerated mating rituals. Credit: Bjorn Olesen

Watch this space for further news as 2023 unfolds and, if you are able, please support this vital work.