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Nature and Environment | 17.11.2018

The high cost of India's appetite for coal

Human activity threatens thousands of species with extinction: Red List

Hope for mountain gorillas

Let's start with the good news. According to the latest Red List update, the number of mountain gorillas has significantly increased. The IUCN has said the number of animals has risen from about 680 a decade ago to more than 1,000 now. Intensive conservation action such as removal of snares has contributed to the rebound of the mountain gorilla, which inhabits the Congo region's jungles.

Human activity threatens thousands of species with extinction: Red List

Whales get a reprieve

Fin whales are now considered vulnerable rather than the more worrisome label of endangered. Their number has roughly doubled since the 1970s, to around 100,000 individuals, according to the IUCN. The situation of gray whales has also been upgraded — from critically endangered to endangered. Bans on commercial whaling have made a real impact on conservation.

Human activity threatens thousands of species with extinction: Red List

Dampened euphoria

Yet the IUCN also issued warnings about the consequences of overfishing. For example, 13 percent of grouper species worldwide and 9 percent of the approximately 450 fish species in Lake Malawi in eastern Africa are threatened with extinction. "Depleting fish stocks are a serious concern for food security, particularly for coastal communities in developing countries," the IUCN said.

Human activity threatens thousands of species with extinction: Red List

Flying fox being over-culled

In a previous Red List update, the Mauritian flying fox — an important pollinator — moved from vulnerable to endangered. The bat population fell by a whopping 50 percent from 2015 to 2016 due largely to government-implemented culling sparked by alleged damage to fruit crops. The megabat species also faces threats from deforestation, illegal hunting and an increase in cyclone activity.

Human activity threatens thousands of species with extinction: Red List

Invasive species threaten Australian wildlife

Invasive species are threatening a number of unique Australian reptiles. This grassland earless dragon has shifted from vulnerable to endangered. It often falls prey to feral cats, as well as changes to the intensity and frequency of bushfires. Like most native Australian wildlife, the reptile is adapted to environmental conditions that existed before European settlement.

Human activity threatens thousands of species with extinction: Red List

A precious species

Taking its name from "The Lord of the Rings" character Smeagol — aka Gollum — the precious stream toad is also on the list of species threatened with extinction. It is listed as vulnerable, largely as a result of expanding tourist resorts and complexes in its Genting Highlands habitat in Malaysia.

Human activity threatens thousands of species with extinction: Red List

Junk food parrots

The population of keas, New Zealand's Bird of the Year 2017, is declining rapidly, mostly due to tourists who keep feeding the curious parrots junk food. As a result, the birds get used to trying novel food and end up eating poison bait meant to control pests such as rats, stoats, or possums, which destroy up to 60 percent of the birds' nests each year. You can see the connection, can't you?

Human activity threatens thousands of species with extinction: Red List

No sand eel, no kittiwake

Black-legged kittiwakes rely on certain key prey, like sand eels. But a lack of eels to eat means breeding colonies in the North Atlantic and Pacific are struggling to feed their chicks. Globally, the species is thought to have declined by around 40 percent since the 1970s. The main cause is overfishing and alterations in the ocean due to climate change.

Human activity threatens thousands of species with extinction: Red List

Fewer snowy owls than assumed

The snowy owl is vulnerable, with recent population estimates much lower than previously thought. Climate change has hit the iconic Arctic bird hard, as it has increased snowmelt and reduced the availability of rodent prey. A quarter of bird species reassessed in the Red List, including the snowy owl, have become more endangered.

Human activity threatens thousands of species with extinction: Red List

Reebok namesake in danger

Five species of African antelopes — of which four were previously assessed as least concern — have been declining drastically as a result of poaching, habitat degradation and competition with domestic livestock. One of these is the gray rhebok, for which the Reebok sports brand is named.

Human activity threatens thousands of species with extinction: Red List

World's largest antelope in trouble

The world's largest antelope, the giant eland — previously assessed as least concern — is also vulnerable. Its estimated global population is between 12,000 and 14,000 at most, with fewer than 10,000 mature animals. This species is declining due to poaching for bushmeat, human encroachment into protected areas and expansion of agriculture and livestock grazing.

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Nature and Environment | 19.11.2018

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Nature and Environment | 17.11.2018

Germany's wildlife hotspot: Berlin

Climate change hits the Bavarian Alps

Germany's roof

A golden cross sits on top of Germany's highest mountain, the Zugspitze, located in the Ammergauer Alps. This part of the Alps, and the mountain itself, are a big draw for visitors eager to ski, hike, climb or just cruise to the top in a cable car to have some food or a beer. But the mountains are feeling the impact of a warming world — at an alarming rate.

Climate change hits the Bavarian Alps

Rapid warming

It's September and unusually warm. So warm that some people wear shorts and T-shirts as they stop off to eat and explore the glacier plateau before heading for the summit. Thirty years ago, it would have been much colder here. Since 1985, there's been a warming of around 1 degree Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit). In the Alps, temperatures are rising twice as fast as the global average.

Climate change hits the Bavarian Alps

Melting glaciers

Increased temperatures mean receding glaciers. Michael Krautblatter, pictured at the Schneefernerhaus environmental research station with the remnants of one of the Zugspitze's glaciers behind him, says "it's just a matter of time before they disappear." The professor of landslide research at Munich's Technical University (TUM) has been studying the mountain's ice for 10 years.

Climate change hits the Bavarian Alps

The science bit

Krautblatter and his team use specialized equipment to measure the Zugspitze's ice and permafrost — a layer of permanently frozen sediment, rock or soil. They place electrodes inside the rocks to measure electrical conductivity. If it's no longer frozen, conductivity is good. The work sometimes involves the researchers scaling the mountain face. The permafrost is disappearing too, they say.

Climate change hits the Bavarian Alps

Losing stability

That's bad news, largely because permafrost helps to stabilize the mountain rock. Over the past year, around a thousand rockfalls have been reported, says Krautblatter. Some popular hiking routes have already been closed and a dozen or so Alpine huts are subsiding. It could also be a problem for cable cars, because they are anchored in the rocks on the mountainside.

Climate change hits the Bavarian Alps

A family tradition

Scientists aren't the only ones who've witnessed the changes. Toni Zwinger is 33-years-old and works at the inn run by his family near the summit. He grew up on the mountain and as a child the glaciers were his playground. He says the glacier is much smaller, the winters are warmer and he hears the rocks shifting outside in the evening when the tourists have gone and the mountain is quiet.

Climate change hits the Bavarian Alps

Münchner Haus

The Münchner Haus opened in 1897 and the Zwinger family has been running it since 1925 — back when it could only be reached by climbers. It's a traditional Alpine hut in which people can stay overnight. Those people can now easily ascend the mountain by train and cable car. That's increased the number of visitors to the peak exponentially.

Climate change hits the Bavarian Alps

Uncertain future

Even if, as set out in the Paris Agreement, the world manages to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, that would represent warming of around 4 degrees in the Alps. That means less snow, more rain, changing vegetation and no glaciers. It could also mean that visitors will no longer be able to enjoy a beer or hot chocolate at the century-old Münchner Haus.

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