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Last Updated:  Sunday, 23 March, 2003, 00:38 GMT
UK help for rare species
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

Several rare mammals, birds and reptiles are to benefit from UK Government support for endangered species.

Saiga   Anna Lushchekina
The saiga antelope is in dire straits (Image: Anna Lushchekina)
They include the saiga antelope of central Asia, the black rhino, and the guanaco of Peru, a probable ancestor of the llama.

Flamingos in east Africa and turtles in the Caribbean are also on the list for help.

The funding is intended to help poor countries which are also rich in biodiversity.

The money is being provided in the latest round of the Darwin Initiative, which makes grants annually.

Just over half of this year's total of 4 million ($6.25m) will go to existing projects, and the rest to 34 entirely new ones.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says projects selected are those which will provide long-term benefits to the region after the UK's support ends, and which would not be undertaken without its funding.

Breeding falters

The saiga antelope is critically endangered and declining rapidly, with the collapse in the last 10 years of the rural economies of its main range states, Kazakhstan and the Russian republic of Kalmykia.

Saiga   Pavel Sorokin
Hunting has driven the saiga to change their mating behaviour
No-one has ever seen an effect like this before in any other species
Dr EJ Milner-Gulland

The result has been heavy poaching for meat and horns, and population collapse as adult males are slaughtered.

The plan is to establish a community-based conservation project offering work and improved food security to local people.

The Andean guanaco is believed to be the ancestor of the modern llama, which it resembles, yet it is virtually unknown to science.

There are now only about 3,500 left in Peru, and the grant will provide for research leading to a management plan.

Natural control

Lake Bogoria in Kenya's Rift Valley is home to several rare bird species, including the lesser flamingo, which suffered heavy and so far unexplained mortality during the 1990s. The Darwin Initiative funding aims to find out the cause.

Black rhino   BBC
New hope from the Initiative for the rhino
Another Kenyan project will monitor the critically-endangered black rhino population and its habitats.

Anegada, in the British Virgin Islands, is one of the largest unspoilt islands in the Caribbean, and faces extreme pressure from development.

The UK money will help to monitor turtle populations and develop an action plan for their protection.

Another project will support the management of an invasive superweed in China by introducing a specially developed rust fungus to control it and restore the natural balance of the ecosystem.

And a project in Fiji and the Solomon Islands aims to support sustainable coral farming, experimenting with ways of replanting corals on damaged reefs.

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