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Fund launch for SMALL MAMMALS!!!

Malagasy Giant Jumping Rat (copyright Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust)

We are thrilled to announce a new fund that is available specifically for small mammals – namely rodents, hedgehogs, shrews, moles and solenodons!  The Fonseca Species Conservation Fund is now accepting proposals for amphibians, freshwater fish, primates, small mammals, and tortoises and freshwater turtles of the African continent and the Indian Ocean.

Malagasy Giant Jumping Rat

Re:wild and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) has announced the launch of the Fonseca Species Conservation Fund for early career conservationists from GEF-recipient countries working to conserve amphibians, freshwater fish, primates, small mammals, and tortoises and freshwater turtles in GEF-recipient countries.

The first request for proposals is now live for species of the African continent and the Indian Ocean. Submission deadline: 19 July 2024. Requests for proposals will open for the Asia-Pacific later in 2024, and the Americas in early 2025.

About the fund 

The Fonseca Species Conservation Fund (FSCF) was established in 2024 by the GEF and Re:wild to honor the passion of the late Gustavo Fonseca, long-standing GEF Director of Programs, for species conservation and building capacity of the next generation of conservationists.

The FSCF is a component of the Fonseca Leadership Program providing grants to field projects that promote species conservation and that are led by early career conservationists from GEF-recipient countries. The Fund permits grants of up to $25,000 for conservation efforts in GEF-recipient countries that are directed at species groups in urgent need of intervention and conservation action.

The FSCF draws on the expertise of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Specialist Group and taxon-specific conservation groups to ensure all funding goes to priority projects, mobilises the expertise of existing review boards, and is part of a wider network of support – both funding and technical – for grantees.

The small mammal Africa priorities will be species-focused projects that feature small mammals high up on ZSL’s EDGE list:

Table of EDGE Africa small mammals

We are also interested in proposals for work that cover multiple species in our small mammal Key Regions:

• Tanzania
• Albertine Rift
• Cameroonian Highlands
• Ethiopia

For full details of the fund, including how to apply, go to the website.

General questions about the fund should be directed to the focal point on the Request for Proposals. However, for small mammal specific questions please email us on IUCN.SSC.SMSG@gmail.com.

Left: Ethiopian Water Mouse. Right: African savannah landscape in Tsavo East National Park, Kenya.

Image credits: Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (Malagasy Giant Jumping Rat), Field Museum of Natural History (Ethiopian Water Rat), Umarella Voyage Safaris (Tsavo East National Park).

 

Almiquí Project update

Norvis collecting samples in the field

Our local partners are continuing their valuable work in the mountains of the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park, Cuba, to learn more about the fascinating globally endangered and evolutionarily distinct Cuban Solenodon, known locally as the ‘almiquí’. 

The partnership with the IUCN Small Mammal Specialist Group and local biologist Norvis Hernández and her team is kindly funded by Zoo New England, who have adopted the Cuban Solenodon Conservation Project as one of their Conservation Partnerships, providing expertise and support for our fieldwork activities.

Studying the almiquí is a challenge! They are found up in the difficult to access pristine forests in the mountains above 740m.

The team has been undertaking field surveys across the species’ range in the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park. This includes searching for indirect field signs – den sites, scats, and distinctive areas where they have foraged – and also some camera trapping.

As you can see, it often rains up in the mountains!

January trip

Earlier this year, Dr Ros Kennerley visited the project to see how they are getting along. The weather was brilliant during the short field visit to a new area of the national park, however the high amounts of rainfall in the preceding months meant that the river was too deep to cross at some points. The team found some promising good quality forest, that they will explore in greater detail during a field trip in May.

Check out the photos below to see more of the field site and team.

Green Status internship

We are thrilled to have a small mammal theme for a new placement through Durrell. Salomé has joined us, having previously completed the DESMAN course in Jersey. Salomé is currently based in Colombia. For her internship she is getting to grips with the Green Status of Species and will be developing several small mammal assessments. Having recently updated the Red List accounts for European species, we will be working on a number of these where Green Status assessments would be beneficial.

“I’ll be doing a three-month internship with Durrell, where I’ll be supporting the Specialist Group in conducting Green Status assessments for small European mammals. This incredible opportunity came about through networking efforts following my completion of the Durrell DEMSAN course last April, during which I gained insights into the purpose and significance of Green Status assessments.

SalomeJoining this team is immensely exciting for me as it presents a chance to delve into the process of conducting assessments firsthand. It’s the perfect opportunity to apply the new framework I’ve learned about, which aims to quantify measures of species recovery and conservation success. As an early career conservation biologist, I’m particularly drawn to the Green Status’s focus on understanding how past conservation efforts have impacted species recovery and how current and future actions can contribute to their conservation with a comprehensive and ecologically functional approach. This opportunity will also give me the chance to interact with species specialists and learn about their conservation work on new species for me, which is really exciting!

This aligns perfectly with my overarching goal of comprehending the influence of conservation practices on species recovery. I’m eager to contribute to this innovative approach that transcends survival and extinction avoidance, so I am very excited with the prospect of participating in the development of assessments within this framework.”

The development of the IUCN Green Status of Species Global Standard was led by the IUCN Species Conservation Task Force, in partnership with the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, IUCN Species Survival Commission, Re:wild, Wildlife Conservation Society, University of Oxford, Stony Brook University, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Zoological Society of London.

Crazies for Grazies: SMSG welcomes our first small mammal PhD student

Jamaican Hutia. Photo credit: Ricardo Miller

The Jamaican Hutia (Geocapromys brownii) goes by a few local names, such as the Coney or Grazie. The species is endemic to Jamaica and was moved from Vulnerable to Endangered on the IUCN Red List. It is a rabbit-sized nocturnal rodent with dark brown through to reddish brown fur and is the only remaining extant non-flying mammal on the island.

As it the case for many species, there are likely to be multiple threats, some of which are poorly understood. It is thought that ongoing human-induced habitat loss and degradation across the island, as well as hunting, continue to be major threats to this species. Predation by introduced dogs, cats, and mongoose may also pose a risk.

PhD student 

Jennifer Panitz started on the London DTP , selecting the project this year.

PhD stduent Jennifer Panitz

Jennifer Panitz

“I am a PhD student at the ZSL Institute of Zoology, University College London, and the Natural History Museum London. My project revolves around the Jamaican Coney (Geocapromys brownii) and the sustainability of human-coney co-existence in Jamaica. Previously I completed an MSc in biodiversity, evolution, and conservation at Middlesex University with a project focusing on microplastics in aquatic snails. I also have a PGCert in Applied Meteorology from the University of Reading. Prior to that I worked as an epidemiologist in the COVID-19 response at Public Health England. I have conducted various research projects in Germany, the United States, and Canada.

I am a proponent of interdisciplinary and collaborative methods and am excited to draw on ecological, anthropological, and genomic approaches for my PhD research. I hope to generate data that will help inform Jamaican Coney conservation and preserve small mammal diversity.” 

 

The project

Along with the other institutions, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust is a CASE partner on the PhD project.

The PhD research will use multiple approaches to answer key questions about the ecology and conservation needs for the species, including:

(1) targeted studies of coney ecology, including how hutias utilise both forest and agricultural land in human-occupied landscapes

(2) ancient DNA work to understand the changing genetic status of coney populations through time, to assess the impact of local human pressures such as hunting over the past century

(3) community-based research to understand people’s knowledge and attitudes about local coney  populations, such as the cultural and financial significance of natural resources, in particular, of coney hunting. These will be used to investigate issues around alleviating human-wildlife conflict associated with coneys as crop pests, and with scope to develop a wider-scale interview survey to help understand the species’ distribution and status across different parts of Jamaica through the use of Local Ecological Knowledge.

One of the likely field sites will be in the Blue and John Crow Mountain National Park in Eastern Jamaica.

 

We would like to say a huge thank you to our SMSG core funders for 2024- Re:wild and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

Searching for mammals in the mountains of New Guinea

The New Guinea region is known for being one of the most species-rich places in the world. Located north of Australia and south-east of Asia, New Guinea’s topographical complexity and geographic isolation has given rise to a huge diversity of life, much of it endemic.

The island is home to at least 40 small mammal species found nowhere else on earth. However, small mammals in this region are not extensively monitored and we know little about their ranges, population statuses and threats.

The expeditions

Daniel Solomon Okena, who has recently joined the SMSG, is a Papua New Guinean researcher affiliated with the University of South Bohemia (Czech Republic). Daniel’s PhD project aims to improve knowledge of the island’s mammal life by surveying non-volant mammal communities along an elevational gradient in Huon Peninsula, north-eastern Papua New Guinea.

Daniel has already sampled a range of sites up to an incredible 3,700 m in elevation. Working in a range of habitats including dense lowland forest, montane cloud forest and alpine grasslands, Daniel and his team use survey methods such as Elliott and pitfall trapping, as well as interviews with local hunters. Sometimes, hunters are willing to share skulls and other objects with the team which help to build an understanding of where certain species are found.

Although conducting research in these remote mountain sites comes with the obvious challenges of accessing steep and dangerous bush tracks, Daniel is undeterred. He says:

“Just being out there in the field camp is so amazing. You get to enjoy nature. But when you start to see mammals up close from traps and hunters, the adrenaline reaches another level.”

The findings

So far, the study has documented a range of rodents, marsupials and a monotreme (possibly the first Eastern Long-beaked Echidna Zaglossus bartoni ever recorded via pitfall trapping). Daniel’s rodent results include a number of endemic species such as Shaw Mayer’s Shrew Mouse Pseudohydromys ellermani (Least Concern), the Greater Small-toothed Rat Macruromys major (Least Concern) and Southern Groove-toothed Moss Mouse Microhydromys argenteus (Data Deficient). Gathering new records of Data Deficient rodents such as the latter will be particularly useful when updating their Red List assessments, giving us a better idea of the distributional spread and potential conservation statuses of little-studied taxa.

The next stage of the PhD focuses on increased pitfall trapping to detect species that other methods might fail to find. In addition, Daniel continues to work on identifying any specimens collected. This includes specimens that might look quite similar but are completely different taxa – a common issue when it comes to certain rodent groups! Daniel will make use of genetic sequencing to tackle this. We look forward to hearing more about what these analyses reveal.

Daniel Solomon Okena’s PhD is supported by the Biology Center of the Czech Academy of Science (in collaboration with the New Guinea Binatang Center), the University of South Bohemia and Charles University (in collaboration with the Institute of Vertebrate Biology of the Czech Academy Science).

Author: Abi Gazzard (SMSG Programme Officer)

International Hedgehog Conference

Erinaceus europaeus

On the 13th-14th January 2024, over 200 wildlife rehabilitators, researchers and conservation practitioners gathered at Hartpury University (UK) for the International Conference for Hedgehog Rehabilitators. The meeting presented the perfect opportunity for strengthening collaboration between hedgehog scientists and carers around the world! 

A variety of topics were covered during the two-day conference. Attendees had the chance to hear from UK NGOs about hedgehog conservation plans, from vets presenting talks on medical treatment and intervention, and from researchers discussing projects on pesticides, diet and wildlife rescue. Co-organisers Dr Lucy Bearman-Brown and Dr Sophie Lund Rasmussen hosted workshops on the development of an international hedgehog records database as well as research priorities.  

Whilst most of the attendees’ work focuses on the West European Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), there was also talk of other Erinaceids including the Northern White-breasted Hedgehog (Erinaceus roumanicus), which is found in contact zones with E. europaeus. Dr Barbora Bolfíková has been studying the genetics of hedgehogs in these overlapping areas of distribution. The SMSG’s Programme Officer, Dr Abi Gazzard, spoke about two additional species, the Long-eared (Hemiechinus auritus) and North African Hedgehog (Atelerix algirus), in the presentation “Assessing the Statuses of Hedgehogs in Europe”, giving an overview Red Listing and where the obvious data gaps occur. We also heard about a hedgehog from southern India: SMSG member Dr Brawin Kumar introduced us to his Madras Hedgehog (Paraechinus nudiventris) project. Brawin’s work has done an excellent job of raising the profile of this little-known species. Through school sessions, traditional puppet shows, comic books, and questionnaire surveys, Brawin has engaged with local communities across the Tamil Nadu region. 

Rounding off the conference, the attendees heard about hedgehogs from a different angle – as pests. In Uist, Scotland, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is developing a project to conserve ground-nesting birds threatened by introduced West European Hedgehogs, though their plans consider the challenges faced by hedgehogs in their native range.  

It was brilliant to attend a conference with such an open-minded audience from a wide range of disciplines, though one common goal is clear – ensuring the preservation of these prickly, popular small mammals. 

Many thanks to the event’s organisers, supporters, speakers and attendees, and to Hartpury University for hosting us.

Below: Abi Gazzard and Brawin Kumar at the conference, and Brawin presenting on the Madras Hedgehog.

Author: Abi Gazzard (SMSG Programme Officer)

New study: why are some species rediscovered while others remain lost?

One third of remaining lost mammal species are restricted to small areas, such as islands, where they are particularly vulnerable to extinction. The Bramble Cay Melomys (Melomys rubicola) was once considered to be a lost species, but has now been declared extinct. Source: State of Queensland/Wikimedia.

Lost species are those that have been lost to science for at least a decade. Many small mammals haven’t been surveyed since their initial discovery over 100 years ago, remaining unrecorded today. Some potentially go extinct before we have a chance to find them, whilst others are thankfully ‘rediscovered’ through targeted campaigns and fieldwork. Such rediscovered species tend to have restricted ranges and remain highly threatened. Thus, rediscoveries have important conservation implications.

But why is it that some species are rediscovered and others aren’t?

New research, led by Thomas Evans (Freie Universität Berlin) with co-authors including the SMSG’s Co-Chairs, Thomas Lacher Jr and Rosalind Kennerley, has attempted to understand why certain tetrapod species are rediscovered but others not.

Creating a database of lost and rediscovered tetrapods, the researchers examined patterns in distribution and factors influencing rediscovery, such as body mass, habitat requirements and influence of human activities.

What does this mean for small mammals?

Nearly half (49%) of lost mammal species are rodents, and the research suggests that there are more lost and fewer rediscovered rodents than would be expected by chance.

Lost rodents, like other small taxa, might be perceived to be uncharismatic and are thus neglected in terms of conservation effort. They may also be hard to find – some are nocturnal or occupy habitats that are difficult for researchers to access. Whatever the reason, we need to find ways to improve efforts of searching for these neglected lost species, before it’s too late.

Read more in The Conversation article here, and find the full paper linked below:

Lindken, T. et al. (2024) What factors influence the rediscovery of lost tetrapod species? Global Change Biology 30, 1, https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.17107.

Author: Abi Gazzard (SMSG Programme Officer)

SMSG member joins renowned Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust training programme

The 12-week Durrell Endangered Species Management Graduate Certificate (DESMAN) course is Durrell’s flagship training programme. Open to early-career conservationists, or graduate- or postgraduate-level conservationists working towards employment in the sector, DESMAN equips participants with a broad range of practical skills, knowledge and connections.

Earlier this year, the SMSG supported one of our members – Rifa Nanziba – with her application to the DESMAN course. Rifa had not-long completed her MSc degree in Environment Management during which she focused on human-squirrel conflict in rural areas of Naogaon, Bangladesh. We were thrilled when Rifa’s DESMAN application was successful and, even further, when she was granted a full scholarship to the course. From September-December, she stayed at the Durrell Conservation Academy in Jersey (Channel Islands) for her studies. Here’s what Rifa has to say about it: 

“Attending the DESMAN course at the Durrell Conservation Academy, validated by the University of Kent, was a life-changing experience for me. It opened new doors and felt like a dream come true. I am grateful for the support and recommendations from IUCN SSC SMSG Co-chair Dr Ros Kennerley, Programme Officer Dr Abi Gazzard, and my mentor, Muntasir Akash. 

I found myself drawn to the teachings of DESMAN, a course crafted to set up conservationists with a diverse array of skills, enabling them to achieve peak efficacy in managing and participating in conservation projects. Under the tutelage of the renowned scientist Carl Jones, I was initiated into the intricacies of Species and Population Management. The course imparted valuable knowledge in statistics, IUCN Red List assessments, GIS, project planning and management, research methods, and survey techniques such as camera trapping, radio telemetry, and the use of drones. Additionally, we explored topics such as human-wildlife conflict, community conservation and livelihoods, budgeting, and grant proposal writing. I had an amazing chance to meet Lee Durrell and hear about her and Gerald Durrell’s incredible conservation work and projects around the world, along with how the famous Jersey Zoo and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust were established.

What set DESMAN apart was the emphasis on practical work, complementing the theoretical lectures. As part of this, I was privileged to shadow mammal keepers for four days in Jersey Zoo, honing my mammal husbandry skills, helping me to realise that I might want to be a wildlife rehabilitator too as in my country there are not many rehabilitation centres. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to connect with a vast network of wildlife enthusiasts through Durrell, who remain eager to support me in my future endeavours. Besides all the study and technical experience, I had a blast in Jersey as the local volunteers were kind enough to take us to many beautiful and historical places on the island. As well as that, I gained a group of fellow DESMAN participants as my friends who, after staying with each other for a whole 3 months, are without any doubt also part of my knowledge, experience and networking.

After completing the DESMAN course, I feel confident in my ability to work in wildlife conservation, specifically with small mammals in Bangladesh. I am excited to apply my new knowledge and skills in this field.” 

Rifa’s final assessment was a hypothetical project proposal. She chose to write a proposal to questionnaire-survey the Santal community of Naogaon on the drivers and impacts of small mammal hunting and consumption – very little is currently known about the use of small mammals in this region. We look forward to seeing what Rifa gets up to next! 

If you are a small mammal researcher interested in furthering your skills through Durrell’s DESMAN course, or may know of suitable participants, please get in touch. Places are limited. You can find more information about the syllabus here and scholarships here. 

By Rifa Nanziba and Abi Gazzard

Red List publication: Russian Desmans are now Critically Endangered

Russian Desman (Photo credit Klaus_Rudloff)

Russian Desmans (Desmana moschata) are semi-aquatic creatures related to moles, with an unusual appearance of rounded bodies, paddle-like feet, flattened tails and long snouts to help them dive and probe for prey underwater. They are the only species that still exist within their genus, and are restricted nowadays to few waterways in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Sadly, numbers of these small mole-mermaids are plummeting: Russian Desmans have been “up-listed” from Endangered to Critically Endangered in the latest IUCN Red List Update (Monday 11th December).  

Based on surveys undertaken in Russia, the decline of this species is estimated to have reached 83% over the previous decade, and it likely facing a similar scenario across the remainder of its fragmented range in Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Scientists have suggested that there are probably less than 4,000 individuals remaining in Russia, and potentially only a few hundred in Ukraine.  

Russian Desman (Photo credit Klaus Rudloff)

Russian Desman (Photo credit Klaus Rudloff)

Russian Desmans have rather strict habitat requirements. They prefer waterbodies 2-6 m in depth with rich water-marsh vegetation, bushes and primary forests along the banks, and with high macroinvertebrate abundance.

It is no surprise, then, that infrastructure-, climate- or pollution-induced changes to waterbodies can have devastating impacts on habitat quality for this species. Perhaps more lethally, the widespread use of stationary fishing nets poses a major threat to desmans. The nets, which are prohibited in many regions, are often left in the water for days or even months, drowning any desmans that accidentally get caught. Introduced predators, e.g., American Mink (Neogale vison), and possible competitors, e.g., Muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus), may also be a problem.

What’s next? 

In Kazakhstan, the SMSG is supporting a new conservation project with the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK) and researchers at North Kazakhstan University. Initially, the project will explore methods of monitoring desmans, including interview surveys with local water users and environmental DNA screening. Read more about this in our recent article here.

Russian Desmans are often referred to as bioindicators of ecosystem health. Their decline is therefore concerning for freshwater habitats and species on a much broader scale, and it is critical that every effort is made to conserve and, ultimately, downlist Russian Desmans on the Red List.

Russian Desman (Photo credit Klaus_Rudloff)

Russian Desman (Photo credit Klaus_Rudloff)

Iberian Desman Workshop

Iberian Desman workshop participants 2023

The Iberian Desman

Desmans are semi-aquatic small mammals that are members of the Talpidae mole family. The Iberian Desman (Galemys pyrenaicus) is endemic to the Iberian Peninsula, where it is restricted to Andorra, France, northern and central Spain, and northern Portugal. It is one of only two species that still exist, the other being the Russian Desman (Desmana moschata), that is found in areas of Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

The species is extremely well adapted to a semiaquatic lifestyle, where it mainly lives in fast-flowing mountain streams. The species favours watercourses where the margins offer some shelter, and it requires clean and well oxygenated water, mostly due to the requirements of its main prey, aquatic macroinvertebrates. It is therefore a good indicator species for healthy river systems.

Galemys pyrenaicus

Galemys pyrenaicus, photo credit: L. Quaglietta

In recent decades, the Iberian Desman has experienced significant declines across most of its range, resulting in its current IUCN Red List status of Endangered. Unfortunately, the species is affected by a number of threats. The construction of weirs, dams and other infrastructure has isolated populations to the point of high levels of inbreeding and low levels of genetic diversity. The introduction of an invasive predator to many of Europe’s waterways, the American Mink (Neogale vison), has also proven deadly. Further pressure is added by climate change and human activities such as fishing.

The Workshop

Iberian Desman workshop 2023 sign

Iberian Desman workshop 2023 sign

In late November 2023, the IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation organised a workshop in Andorra La Vella, Andorra, titled “Towards a transboundary conservation strategy for the Iberian desman (Galemys pyrenaicus)“. This meeting brought together species experts from the four range countries. The workshop was made possible thanks to the generous support and hosting of the event by the Ministry of the Environment, Agriculture and Agriculture of the Government of AndorraFacilitation of the sessions was undertaken by the IUCN SSC Conservation Planning Specialist Group.

On the final day, participants visited a local hydroelectric plant and dam on the outskirts of Andorra La Vella to find out about the ongoing desman survey work that is taking place and about various mitigations activities to reduce the impact of the infrastructure on the desman population.

 

Iberian Desman workshop participants 2023

Iberian Desman workshop participants 2023


Iberian Desman workshop presentation 2023

Iberian Desman workshop presentation 2023

 

Iberian Desman workshop 2023 field trip

Iberian Desman workshop 2023 field trip


Iberian Desman workshop 2023 activity

Iberian Desman workshop 2023 activity

What’s next?

The workshop was the first stage needed to do the groundwork, such as identifying relevant stakeholders for the planning process, in anticipation of a longer action planning exercise which will hopefully take place in 2024.