Conservation News

The punk turtle: the reptile with a green mohican became a sensation, but still faces an uncertain future

Australia’s Mary River turtle went viral after it was named on an endangered species list – and Cate Blanchett even voiced a puppet of it. But was that enough to save it?

It was “the punk turtle” – an eccentric and yet strangely human-looking reptile with a vivid green mohican, fleshy “fingers” under its chin and the ability to breathe through its genitals. The Mary River turtle went viral in April when pictures of the hitherto little-known creature were shared around the world after it was placed 30th on the Zoological Society of London’s Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered list for reptiles. The rating, which guides conservation prioritiesfor at-risk species, was compiled by Rikki Gumbs. He says that turtle fascination “went absolutely crazy” after its publication, as he fielded calls from journalists around the world. Reptiles are often overlooked but the connection many felt for the animal does not surprise Gumbs. “It’s the least these amazing reptiles deserve,” he says. “Once people can see how incredible and unique they are, it’s not surprising they are drawn to them.”

The turtle became endangered because it was widely collected for the pet trade in the 1960s and 70s. Such collecting is outlawed now but the turtle faces a new threat. It is only found on a relatively small part of the Mary River, in Queensland, Australia, and is imperilled by the loss and degradation of its habitat. Non-native plants prevent it laying eggs in sandy river banks; non-native foxes and dogs predate it.

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Reforesting the world: the Australian farmer with 240m trees to his name

Tony Rinaudo’s regeneration technique, developed in west Africa 30 years ago, has helped bring back forest over 6m hectares

Through the cacophony of the UN’s global climate talks, an Australian farmer is quietly spreading his plan to reforest the world.

Over more than 30 years in west Africa, Tony Rinaudo has regenerated more than 6m hectares – an area nearly as large as Tasmania. His farmer-managed natural regeneration technique is responsible for 240m trees regrowing across that parched continent.

Nature would heal itself, you just needed to stop hammering it

Related: Australia turns back on allies as it refuses to cut emissions above Paris pledge

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Related: Trump's disbelief won't stop dangerous climate change

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Country diary: the cloven ash – a two-headed enigma

Corve Dale, Shropshire: This veteran ash tree hums with life and is a fixed point in a changing world

The twin-trunked ash tree stands just out of the hedge on its medieval bank. It catches the last rays of the sun tipping over Wenlock Edge, the western rise of Corve Dale. The tree is a veteran, heading towards what the poet John Clare would call an “old, huge, ash-dotterel”. It may have been a boundary marker, to do with smallholdings, quarries, lime kilns, charcoal burning, parish edges – a fixed point in a world turning in and out of its own past.

This is ash woodland country but there are many places connected with this kind of industry and settlement that are marked in some, as yet mysterious, way by big old ash – Æsc in Old English – open grown, cleared around so their individual character can be seen from a distance. This tree’s point is divided, cloven: two huge trunks, like legs sticking out of the ground, rise to then drop cascades of rattley, stiff, black-budded branches; a split ash, perhaps stepped through to cure hernias, rickets, impotence; perhaps a shrew ash in which a shrew (at one time feared for cursing cattle) was walled up in a hole and the tree venerated; a two-headed tree, north and south, both facing west.

Related: Country diary: a shadow of ash dieback over Derbyshire's dales

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Use of fish discard exemptions by EU trawlers soars before ban

WWF says exemptions undermine landing obligation taking full effect next month

The use of exemptions to EU restrictions on fish discards by EU trawlers has risen by 300% in the last year, according to research released three weeks before a ban is due to take full effect.

The dispensation allowing fishing fleets to discard up to 7% of their catches will continue after January 1 2019, undermining the “landing obligation” on boats to retain and bring to port all seafood catches, according to a report by WWF Europe.

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‘A legitimate zoo?’ How an obscure German group cornered global trade in endangered parrots

Exclusive: A secretive organisation based in a German village has amassed one of the world’s largest collections of rare parrots. How did Martin Guth, a former nightclub manager, persuade governments to authorise the export of so many endangered species?

• Australia gave endangered birds to secretive German ‘zoo’, ignoring warnings

It’s an unlikely spot for a zoo – down an unmade, dusty road, amid a wood to the east of the German capital Berlin.

But here in the village of Tasdorf, hundreds of the world’s most endangered and rare parrot species are said to be housed at the headquarters of the Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots (ACTP).

Related: Australia gave endangered birds to secretive German ‘zoo’, ignoring warnings

Australia allowed the export of rare species despite concerns that the birds could be sold to wealthy collectors

The German federal conservation agency is aware of private social media messages that show Australian birds apparently imported by ACTP have been offered for sale for hundreds of thousands of dollars

Guth served a five-year prison term for kidnapping and extortion, and a second 20-month term for extortion in 2009

German authorities have vouched for ACTP, but say they have no knowledge of Guth’s criminal background

ACTP is licensed to operate as a zoo but has no facilities freely open to the public

At least one individual who works with ACTP has a conviction for involvement with illegal bird trading

Governments and regulatory bodies have ignored numerous concerns about ACTP raised by scientists, conservationists, breeders and politicians.

All birds are legal, also with documentation, everything clean!

Related: UN issues stamps featuring newly listed endangered species – in pictures

It seemed to be a private collection. That bothered me

Related: The week in wildlife – in pictures

Related: Eight bird species are first confirmed avian extinctions this decade

If ACTP is a legitimate conservation organisation with credentialed, qualified leaders, why the secrecy?

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