Five species Cambridge-based Fauna & Flora International is working to protect
From black rhino to the world's rarest snake, how FFI is working to save under-threat animals.
Fauna & Flora International (FFI), based in the David Attenborough Building in Cambridge, is a leading international charity fighting to preserve biodiversity across the world.
A recent public lecture and panel discussion at the building, entitled ‘Setting a new post-2020 biodiversity agenda – the communications challenge’, heard from Sir David Attenborough about the conservation challenges we face. “The problems are enormous and they’re also varied – and there is no single solution,” said Sir David, who is vice-president of FFI. “Every country and every community will have their own problems and their own solutions.”
Here we focus on five of the species that FFI is working to protect.
The population of black rhinos in Africa was decimated by poaching for their horns and land clearing for agriculture and human settlement in the 1970s and 80s, reducing their numbers from 100,000 to fewer than 4,000. The eastern black rhino is the most endangered subspecies, with only around 700 individuals remaining.
FFI is supporting Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a crucial sanctuary in Kenya’s Laikipia County that holds the largest population of black rhinos in East Africa, and other rhino conservation schemes, to stabilise their numbers.
Meanwhile, the last northern white rhino, Sudan, had to be put down in March, leaving two females. The only hope for the sub-species involves using in-vitro fertilisation using semen from northern white rhinos that used to live in zoos to create embryos. These would be implanted in surrogate mothers from a closely related sub-species, the southern white rhino.
Found only in the tropical rainforest in eastern Democractic Republic of Congo (DRC), numbers of Grauer’s gorilla have dropped 77 per cent from an estimated 17,000 in 1995 to just 3,800 individuals today, according to a report in 2016 by FFI, the Wildlife Conservation Society and partners.
A substantial portion of its habitat lies in legally unprotected forest between national parks.
The demand for bushmeat from a growing human population that has few affordable protein alternatives, the destabilising impact of armed groups, and habitat loss due to man’s activities have driven the decline.
FFI is supporting community reserves and helping to train and equip rangers, who carry out patrols, monitor numbers and remove snares.
The world’s oddest antelope, with a distinctive large, bulbous nose, saiga used to roam the semi-desert grasslands of Central Asia in their millions – but now just thousands remain.
Hunting for their horns – used in Chinese medicine – and meat, plus habitat destruction, have badly hit their numbers and their prospects have been made much worse by a number of mass die-off events.
In the latest of these, in May 2015, 200,000 died in a space of a few days due to a disease outbreak.
FFI is working with the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK) and the Kazakhstan government to help conserve the critically endangered saiga – in particular the Ustyurt, which is most at risk from poachers.
The charity is monitoring the saiga’s distribution and setting up new teams of rangers and sniffer dogs to tackle the illegal trade in saiga horn, while raising awareness of the species’ importance within communities.
Saint Lucia racer
Fewer than 20 remain, making the Saint Lucia racer the world’s rarest snake.
Once abundant on Saint Lucia’s mainland, their numbers have been wiped out there by mongooses and other invasive alien animals that prey on the snakes. Now, they are confined to a tiny island called Maria Major, where FFI is working with Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and national agencies on an emergency project to protect them from predators and spread the word about their importance.
In the longer term, FFI plans to reintroduce captive-bred snakes to bolster the population to at least 500 individuals across at least three locations by 2024.
Tigers have already been wiped out across most of Indonesia. Only the Sumatran population remains – and there are fewer than 500 left in the wild, due to habitat loss caused by the expansion of oil palm, coffee and acacia plantations, human-wildlife conflict and the work of poachers, who hunt them for their skin, bones and canines.
FFI has trained more than 500 dedicated national park and community forest rangers who conduct anti-poaching forest patrols, removing snares and deterring would-be poachers with the support of local informants.
It also has rapid response teams that react when tigers come into conflict with a local community by wandering out of the forest and into farmland.
More by this authorPaul Brackley