Tag Archives: endangered species

Want to help endangered birds? This music album could be the place to start

An international group of electronic musicians and composers is sampling the sounds of endangered birds as a way to save these lyrical creatures and raise awareness about the challenges these birds are facing.

The artists just published a new album in which they combine their own beats with the sounds of the birds, donating all the profits to conservation efforts.

The cover of the new album

“A Guide to Birdsong” was started in 2015 by Robin Perkins, a 33-year old composer, DJ, and producer from England. He wanted to take “the songs of endangered birds and challenging musicians to make a piece of music from them,” trying to “marry the worlds of activism of conservation, birdsong and electronic music,” he said.

Perkins worked with a group of artists from each of the endangered or threatened birds’ homelands to build their own songs around the birds’ songs. Electronic music allows artists to do that in a special way, he said.

The first album was focused on South America and raised more than $15,000 for two bird conservation charities.

“The beautiful thing about electronic music is that it opens up this whole toolbox of things that you couldn’t otherwise do, right?” Perkins said in a statement. “So you can take a sample of a bird song and do 5 million things to it. You can turn it into an instrument itself. You can reverse it, you can add effects, you can sample it.”

Following the initial success, Perkins just published a second album featuring birds from Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. He invited musicians from around the region, asking for the tracks to include a birdsong from a bird in the range of “near threatened” to “critically endangered.” The 10-track album includes sounds of a wide array of creatures, including the black catbird, bearded screech owl, and the thick-billed parrot. The tracks were done by diverse artists like Garifuna Collective from Belize, Di Laif from Guatemala, Tamara Montenegro from Nicaragua, and many more.

Montenegro chose Nicaragua’s national bird, the turquoise-browed motmot, also known as Guardabarranco. The bird is threatened by loss of habitat primarily due to deforestation. “As a child, I would see this bird freely flying around and meeting his partner in my backyard for sunsets,” she said in a statement, explaining her choice.

The profits collected from the new album will go towards three initiatives that are focused on birds and the conservation of them in Central America and the Caribbean. This includes educating young people about birds, building aviaries to help ones that are injured, promoting birding, and training local guides.

Lisa Sorensen, head of Birds Caribbean, one of the organizations set to benefit from the sales of the album, said in a statement: “We’re envisioning that funding from this project will help us advance on building the supply and the demand for sustainable bird and nature tourism.”

Manatee.

Efforts ramp up to heal Florida’s manatees amid algal blood

As Florida counties issue states of emergency in response to red tide, researchers are trying new options to save manatees from its deadly effects.

Manatee.

Image credits U.S. Geological Survey / Flickr.

Algal blooms known as ‘red tide’ have been wreaking havoc along Florida’s coast for the past few months. These blooms — usually the product of several types of phytoplankton and dinoflagellates — in this case Karenia brevis — are quite deadly for other sea life. They can cause massive damage to fish and are toxic (potentially deadly) to sea turtles, birds, and marine mammals such as manatees.

In a bid to save the latter, researchers at the Florida International University (FIU), in coalition with Mote Marine Laboratory, are racing against the clock to neutralize the algae’s toxic output with a new treatment.

Red manatees

Red tides accounted for 10% of all manatee deaths over the last decade, the team writes. The current bloom event could push that figure in excess of 30%, however.

Finding those numbers unacceptable, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s ECOHAB program offered a $428,000 grant to the FIU and Mote to improve veterinary care for rescued manatees affected by the Florida red tide.

Current treatments — which rely on anti-inflammatory compounds — just don’t cut it, the team explains. So the team aims to study cellular immune responses of the mammal to a wide range of antioxidant treatments. This new approach should help the manatees heal through the adverse effects of red tide. If it proves efficient with the manatees, the team explains, such treatment could be expanded to other species of marine wildlife “including dolphins, turtles, and birds”.

“The current approach is simply to give palliative care and wait for them to clear the toxin and get better,” explained Kathleen Rein, the FIU chemist that is leading the research team in tandem with colleague Cathy Walsh, a marine immunology expert at Mote’s labs.

The manatee, while hard-pressed, has had a couple of good years lately. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently advanced the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus), which includes the Florida manatee, from ‘endangered’ status to ‘threatened’. The action came about a month after Florida officials said that for the third straight year, spotters counted more than 6,000 manatees.

The latest red wave in Florida, however, could undo all the progress the manatees have made — the bloom has claimed over 103 individuals so far, almost 18% of all manatee deaths in the area.

“The need for better treatment is underscored by the current, long-lasting bloom of Florida red tide and its intense impacts on Florida manatees,” Walsh said.

With the current red tide bloom being the worst the state has endured since 2005, the situation is critical. Conservationists are also worried about a possible loosening of regulations regarding species conservation under the current administration.

Credit: Chris Van Wyk/ZSL/PA.

‘Punk-haired’ turtle that breathes through its butt is seriously endangered

An astonishing-looking turtle that sports a green mohawk and breathes through its anus has been added to the list of the world’s most vulnerable reptiles.

Credit: Chris Van Wyk/ZSL/PA.

Credit: Chris Van Wyk/ZSL/PA.

The Mary river turtle (Elusor macrurus) is a 40 cm long reptile only found on the Mary river in Queensland, Australia. It has a smooth, streamlined, dull and unpatterned shell and dark eyes. However, its most defining feature is the crazy-looking ‘hair’ that covers the reptile’s head and body — this is, in fact, algae.

But(t), that’s not the oddest thing about this turtle — that distinction goes to its respiratory system. The Mary river turtle is what scientists call a cloacal ventilator, meaning it breathes through its anus. Cloacal ventilation allows the species to live underwater for days a time, as long as the water is flowing and well oxygenated.

When it’s not happily swimming underwater, you’ll see this turtle basking in sunny locations.

They might look punkish, but don’t let the appearance fool you — they’re actually very docile creatures, which have traditionally been kept as pets (however, males can’t be kept together because they’re very aggressive to each other and remain separate in the wild). In fact, it was pet collectors who have raided the turtles’ nests in the 1960s and 1970s that have contributed the most the species’ downfall — they used to call them ‘penny turtles.’ Alas, these raids have removed an entire generation of turtles from the wild, leaving behind a reduced, aging population. By one account, their numbers are down 95% from the historic baseline.

Other threats to the Mary river turtle include egg predation from feral animals, increased runoff, siltation and pollution of its aquatic habitat, and the direct and indirect effects of grazing activities.

According to a new list compiled by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Mary river turtle is now ranked 30th among the most vulnerable reptile species. Each species is given a score based on the extinction risk and the evolutionary isolation (uniqueness). Topping the list is the Madagascar big-headed turtle (Erymnochelys madagascariensis).

“Reptiles often receive the short end of the stick in conservation terms, compared with the likes of birds and mammals,” said Rikki Gumbs, co-ordinator of ZSL’s Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) list for reptiles.

“The Edge reptiles list highlights just how unique, vulnerable and amazing these creatures really are.”

Indeed, the real punks here are us humans for letting these docile reptiles come so close to oblivion. But all is not lost just yet — conservation efforts might turn the odds in the endangered species’ favor.

“Just as with tigers, rhinos, and elephants, it is vital we do our utmost to save these unique and too often overlooked animals. Many Edge reptiles are the sole survivors of ancient lineages, whose branches of the tree of life stretch back to the age of the dinosaurs. If we lose these species there will be nothing like them left on Earth,” Gumbs added.

Update: Initial headline erroneously stated that the Mary river turtle is from New Zealand, when it is, in fact, from Australia.

Believe it or not, there are actually wild jaguars living in the United States. These handful of individuals will become isolated from the rest of the population south of the border if Trump's wall will get erected. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Trump’s border wall could threaten 111 endangered species

Believe it or not, there are actually wild jaguars living in the United States. These handful of individuals will become isolated from the rest of the population south of the border if Trump's wall will get erected. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Believe it or not, there are actually wild jaguars living in the United States. These handful of individuals will become isolated from the rest of the population south of the border if Trump’s wall will get erected. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Deep down, we all hoped President Trump’s ‘big, beautiful wall’ was just a ruse — an attempt to incite American sentiment and shift votes into his rather small hands. But by all accounts, the man seems to be serious about it. If left to his devices, it seems quite likely that a 1,300-mile-long concrete wall will be erected along the US-Mexico border. Even if it’s as big and grandiose as Trump boasts, research suggests it won’t stop the flow of illegal immigrants into the country (on the contrary) or drugs. But if there’s one thing this border wall will be good at is stopping animals from flowing in and out of Central America northwards, and vice-versa.

According to the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) “111 endangered species, 108 species of migratory bird, four wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries, and an unknown number of protected wetlands” could be threatened by Trump’s border wall which genetically isolates populations and blocks seasonal migration. These include ocelots, bears, Bighorn sheep or the last wild jaguars in the US. Even the US national bird, the Bald eagle, will be affected by this wall which is set to disrupt its habitat.

The border with Mexico is around 3,100 km (1,900 miles) long, and much of it is already fenced off. Trump’s plan is to erect a 1,300 miles long, 40-feet-high wall which contains 19 million tons of concrete and could cost in excess of $25 billion. Along with natural barriers, this ‘Great Wall of America’ should keep illegal immigrants and drugs flowing into the country, although we previously reported that over the years as the United States militarized its borders, more and more undocumented immigrants stayed into the country — simply because they got stuck there.  For every million-dollar increase in budget, the odds a migrant would return home to Mexico in any given year dropped by 89 percent.

The FWS’ report is “for informational purposes only and should not be used for official planning purposes”. Outside reports section 7 of the Endangered Species Act clearly stipulates any construction project  “permitted, funded, or licensed by any federal agency” has to be reviewed by the FWS but the Trump Administration has made no such request. 

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Most of these animals are negatively impacted by the wall because it isolates cross-border populations. If a solid, concrete wall is erected, it’s likely inbreeding will increase and genetic diversity will decrease, making species more vulnerable. The few jaguars that roam in Arizona and New Mexico will probably slowly but surely get wiped out from the United States as these become stranded, unable to mate with more numerous populations south of the border. Even the bald eagle or manatees, flying and marine species which at first glance shouldn’t be affected, will be threatened by the wall which encroaches on their critical habitat.

As The Ecologist reports, a 2011 study which assessed bioconservation at the US-Mexico border found barriers significantly impede animal migrations within this ecologically sensitive region. In other words, the fences already in place at the border put more than 50 species at risk. The authors of the study cautioned at the time that “New barriers along the border would increase the number of species at risk, especially in the three identified regions, which should be prioritized for mitigation of the impacts of current barriers.”

All of these reports likely fall on deaf ears, though. There seems to be little to any consideration given to official reports, figures, data, or experts for that matter. Trump’s ‘educated guesses’ as to how much this planned border wall would cost — he’s been quoted as saying around $5 billion when the real cost would be at least five times that, and far more if you account maintenance over the coming decades — is very telling of how much thought goes into the Presidential Administration’s executive orders.

Pangolins are often killed for their meat, which is considered a delicacy. Credit: Wikimedia Common

Bushmeat trade threatens 7% of all land animals with extinction. ‘Endangered species are NOT a delicacy’

Bush pigs, duikers, and monkeys for sale at a stall in Makokou market, Gabon.  Photo by Nathalie van Vliet

Bush pigs, duikers, and monkeys for sale at a stall in Makokou market, Gabon. Photo by Nathalie van Vliet

By now, many people have come to recognize that humans have drastically altered the environment — so much so that the planet’s climate is changing and thousands of species are faced with extinction. Habitat loss and pollution are the prime drivers of biodiversity loss but some might be surprised to learn the bushmeat trade has also a significant contribution. I say ‘surprising’ because, after all, food is more plentiful today than it ever was.

I say ‘surprising’ because, after all, food is more plentiful today than it ever was. There’s no shortage of produce, let alone meat. If your heart so desires you can eat chicken, beef or pork almost anywhere and cheap, too. Now, eating meat (every day) is anything but sustainable, but it sure beats shooting wildebeest for grub.

Some people, however, are no longer content with eating ‘regular’ meat. The last decade has seen a surge in bushmeat trade, new study finds, driven in part by the new wealthy elite coming out of developing Asian countries. Some of the delicacies on their menu include more than 300 species of animals currently faced by extinction at the hand of unregulated or illegal hunting.

These animals range from large ones like the grey ox, Bactrian camels, bearded and warty pigs, to small ones like the golden-capped fruit bat, black-bearded flying fox and Bulmer’s fruit bat

“This global bushmeat hunting crisis is a fundamentally distressing problem to address because it is intimately tied to human development challenges such as food insecurity, emergent disease risks and land-use changes. While many ethnic groups have hunted wildlife for subsistence over millennia, often with highly detrimental effects, the unsustainablility of this practice has accelerated in many areas due to growing human populations, an increasing tendency for wild meat to be traded commercially, and the widespread adoption of firearms and motorized transport that increase the efficiency and spatial extent of hunting,” the researchers wrote in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Mammal species threatened by hunting span a range of taxonomic and trophic groups, and perform a wide range of functional roles, ranging from seed dispersal to pest control to ecosystem engineering and regulation. Endangerment classification for each species noted on the image. Status categories are vulnerable (VU), endangered (EN) and critically endangered (CR). Credit: Royal Society Open Science.

Mammal species threatened by hunting span a range of taxonomic and trophic groups, and perform a wide range of functional roles, ranging from seed dispersal to pest control to ecosystem engineering and regulation. Endangerment classification for each species noted on the image. Status categories are vulnerable (VU), endangered (EN) and critically endangered (CR). Credit: Royal Society Open Science.

These species are hunted for meat, medicine, body parts, trophies or live pets. According to the report, 126 species (more than any other group) are threatened by hunting. These include the lowland gorilla, chimpanzee, bonobo and many species of lemurs and monkeys.

According to the report, “an estimated 89,000 metric tons of meat with a market value of about $200 million are harvested annually in the Brazilian Amazon, and exploitation rates in the Congo basin are estimated to be five times higher….” Many locals depend on hunting for their protein and livelihoods. This results in concentrated overhunting in areas where there are little alternatives (agriculture, jobs, etc.).

However, most of the meat that comes from killed endangered animals isn’t meant for subsistence. Instead, it winds up in markets and, later, in restaurants where they’re sold as a delicacy. Previously, a report found five tons of bushmeat are smuggled weekly in tourist luggage through the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.

Then, there’s the slaughter of many individuals for body parts that supposedly have a ‘therapeutic’ value.

Species richness maps for (a) all terrestrial mammals and (b) mammals threatened by hunting. Credit: Royal Society Open Science.

Species richness maps for (a) all terrestrial mammals and (b) mammals threatened by hunting. Credit: Royal Society Open Science.

Poaching of black and white rhinos in South Africa has jumped in the last couple of years following reports in Southeastern Asia that rhino horn had cured a VIP of terminal liver cancer. Needless to say, there’s no scientific evidence that suggests rhino horn powder or its derivatives have any therapeutic purpose in treating cancer, impotence or any other circulated claim.  The water buffalo is considered an alternative to rhino horn in the treatment of conditions ranging from fever to convulsions; the demand has stretched populations very thin, which nowadays only number a few thousand individuals at best. Tiger skins, bones, teeth and claws are also used in traditional medicine.

“Our goal is to raise awareness of this global crisis. Many of these animals are at the brink of extinction. The illegal smuggling in wildlife and wildlife products is run by dangerous international networks and ranks among trafficking in arms, human beings and drugs in terms of profits.”

The authors of the study present a couple of suggestions that might curb the illegal trade of bushmeat.

 

  • Laws could be changed to increase penalties for poaching and illegal trafficking and to expand protected habitats for endangered mammals.
  • Property rights could be provided to communities that benefit from the presence of wildlife.
  • Food alternatives can help shift consumption to more sustainable species, especially protein-rich plant foods.
  • Education could help consumers in all countries understand the threats to mammals that are hunted or trapped.
  • Assistance in family planning could help relieve pressure on wildlife in regions where women want to delay or avoid pregnancy.

That being said, many countries where bushmeat is either sourced or traded already have laws and penalties in place; the problem lies in how these are implemented. In Malaysia, for instance, those caught eating pangolin meat  are liable to an RM5,000 fine (~USD1,100). But even heavy fines such as this don’t stop locals and some tourists, especially from China, from dining out on the meat of endangered animals.

Pangolins are often killed for their meat, which is considered a delicacy. Credit: Wikimedia Common

Pangolins are often killed for their meat, which is considered a delicacy. Credit: Wikimedia Common

Speaking to the Daily Express, a spokesman from the Wildlife Watchers of Sabah said bush meat trade is continuing in the Nabawan district of Malaysia.

“Basically, in a nutshell, the Director was saying that they had managed to solve the illegal wildlife poaching and trade issues that have plagued Nabawan for years.”

“Thus with cautious anticipation of this very good news for wildlife conservation, we decided to visit the Nabawan Tamu to see for ourselves how factual was the Wildlife Department’s report.”

“Dreadfully to our horror it was brisk business as usual at Nabawan Tamu with a multitude of many different species of wildlife being sold, including barking deer, binturongs, civet cats and even porcupines,” he said.

While it’s true millions of people around the world depend on subsistence hunting for their livelihoods, the bulk of wildlife loss can be attributed to urban use. The authors of the study stress that bold leadership and coordinated effort is required to dampen the illegal bushmeat trade, which has already reached sickening levels.

“Our options for changing human demand for threatened wildlife must be encapsulated in internationally cohesive, pragmatic policies and action plans such as those proposed in the recent London Declaration (2014), which was signed by 46 countries. These call for a broad array of actions to stem illegal wildlife trade including eradicating markets for illegal wildlife products, ensuring effective legal frameworks and deterrents, strengthening law enforcement and promoting sustainable livelihoods and development. Furthermore, developed countries committed to providing significant funding for biodiversity in the tropics at the Rio 1992 Earth Summit, but have not fulfilled those promises. If such funding were to become available, developed countries could play a significant role in helping developing countries protect their wildlife from illegal hunting for meat and other body parts. All of these actions, along with several others are embedded in the five conservation actions that we describe above for reducing both wildlife mortality and demand for wild meat and products,” they conclude.

 

The Pacific walrus is at risk of extinction because its Arctic habitat is melting. It's still on the waiting list.

Endangered species need to wait 12 years on average for federal protection, six times more than mandated

The Pacific walrus is at risk of extinction because its Arctic habitat is melting. It's still on the waiting list.

The Pacific walrus is at risk of extinction because its Arctic habitat is melting. It’s still on the waiting list.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is the strongest and most important federal law protecting imperiled wildlife and plants. Since it was passed in 1973, the ESA has helped protect some of the nation’s greatest treasures from extinction, including beloved American icons such as the bald eagle, the Florida manatee, and the California condor. For a species to become listed, however, it needs to go through a cumbersome process that takes 12.1 years on average, despite an amendment passed by Congress in 1982 which rules that this listing process has a two-year timeline.

For some animals that’s too way too much, and indeed researchers have found that the delay has doomed a couple dozen species to extinction.

We need to haste biodiversity protection

The findings were made by researchers who analyzed the time it took for 1,338 species candidates to become listed under the ESA between 1993 and 2014. They found that on average it took six times more than the designated timeline for a species to finally enter under ESA’s protecting wing. For some species, this process took even longer — up to 38 years. Between 1973 and 1995, the researchers found 42 candidate species went extinct before they had the chance to pass the ESA listing process.

Moreover, the team found that an inter-species bias as vertebrates were processed much faster than invertebrates and flowering plants. For instance, the island night lizard was listed in 1.19 years, well under the approval timeline, but the prairie fringed orchid was listed in 14.7 years, as reported in Biological Conservation

The researchers say that if invertebrates and plants are delayed longer than vertebrates this could cause an imbalance in the ecosystem, as these groups comprise the base of the food webs.

For many species getting listed in the ESA is their only chance. Once under the protection of the law, an endangered species can benefit from having its habitat designated as protected, as well as resources allocated from a federal budget.

In light of this situation, a wildlife advocacy group called the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed a formal notice with intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The plaintiffs argue that the government has failed to act on petitions to protect more than 400 plants and animals under the Endangered Species Act. Among the species which the CBD mentions in its notice are the Florida sandhill crane, the white-tailed ptarmigan, and eastern diamondback rattlesnake.

“Delayed protection can be deadly for species already on the brink of extinction,” Noah Greenwald, co-author of the study and endangered species director at the CBD, said in a statement. “The longer we wait, the more difficult — and expensive — it becomes to save them. Simply put, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to be acting more quickly to decide which species will be protected so the recovery process can begin.”

“Attention should be placed on creating real recovery goals and delisting species when they are no longer considered endangered, rather than overwhelming the agency with paperwork,” said Ethan Lane, executive director for federal lands for the Public Lands Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Fish and Wildlife Service officials say, however, that the barrage of mega-petitions is paralyzing their efforts. It’s not easy for them either, but all of this pressure might lead to more streamlined processes and resources for the FWS so it can do its job properly.

“The many requests for species petitions has inundated the listing program’s domestic species listing capabilities,” the service wrote in its 2012 budget request.

“These megapetitions are putting us in a difficult spot, and they’re basically going to shut down our ability to list any candidates for the foreseeable future,” said Gary Frazer, the agency’s assistant director for endangered species. “If all our resources are used responding to petitions, we don’t have resources to put species on the endangered species list. It’s not a happy situation.”

Cecil the lion

Public outrage over Cecil’s killing convinces FWS to add lions to Endangered Species Act

Lions are listed under the Endangered Species Act, five months after a famous lion was lured away from a protected national park in Zimbabwe and killed by an American dentist. The decision announced by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is aimed to help with lion conversation as it will make it increasingly difficult for hunters to bring back trophies from Africa. While it doesn’t ban the import of trophies (which would’ve been ideal), the new ruling has been met with great enthusiasm by environmental groups around the world.

Cecil the lion

Cecil the lion. Credit: Wikipedia

For more than a decade visitors at Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park would be greeted by a lion like no other – a giant and majestic large cat called Cecil. Photogenic and very warm to people, Cecil stood out from the pack and in time became the star attraction of the park. “Cecil was the ultimate lion,” says Brent Stapelkamp, a field researcher with Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), who knew Cecil perhaps better than anyone else.”He was everything that a lion represents to us as humans,” Stapelkamp says. “He was large, powerful, but regal at the same time.” Cecil had part of an ongoing research project with Oxford since 1999.

Cecil was the victim of a dreadful organized attack when one day local hunting guides illegally lured the lion away from the park. Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer shot the lion with a bow and arrow, but didn’t manage to kill Cecil immediately. The lion died after the group tracked him for 40 hours. Following news of the circumstances surrounding the famous lion, a scandal of international proportions erupted. The Zimbabwe government banned Walter Palmer, the American dentist who ordered the trophy hunt, from hunting in the country ever again. Palmer did, however, have a hunting permit to hunt lions in the area (of course, not by luring animals away from a national park), so he doesn’t face any charges, in the U.S. or Zimbabwe.

The recent FWS listing of lions under the Endangered Species Act will avert something similar to what Palmer did from ever happening again — not without serious legal repercussions at least. The new rule enforces a new legal process that requires American hunters to prove the lion trophies they bring back home are “legally obtained” from countries that have “a scientifically sound management program that benefits the subspecies in the wild,” according to the wildlife service. The strict criteria are in place for any imports of live lions and lion parts, like heads, paws or skins.

This might not seem like a lot, but right now this is about the best thing the U.S. can do (apart from outlawing all imports of lion trophies, like France did), given it can not interfere with the laws of other countries. We should see some improvements though, considering half of all lion hunting in Africa is made by Americans, according to the Guardian.

Over the past decade 5,600 lions have been killed and imported by American hunters. The total population of lions in Africa is currently estimated at about 34,000 animals, down by at least 50 percent from three decades ago. Previously, the FWS announced lions might become extinct by 2050.

Over 200 Zoos and Aquariums make pact to save vulnerable animals

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which includes 229 organizations worldwide, has launched an ambitious plan to save some of the most vulnerable species from extinction. The project (SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction) will build on already existing efforts, deepening the conservation work done at the accredited zoos and aquariums.

The Asian Elephant is critically endangered. Image via Wiki Commons.

The Asian Elephant is critically endangered. Image via Wiki Commons.

To mark this decision, today, 15 May, all the zoos and aquariums in AZA will shut down their exhibits of endangered animals, closing them off or curtaining them, marking what will happen if no action is taken. At these exhibits, visitors will instead learn what they can do to help protect the species.

In 2012, AZA-accredited institutions provided $160 million in support of approximately 2,700 conservation projects in more than 115 countries. Additionally, scientists associated with zoos and aquariums are constantly working on valuable information, constantly publishing valuable papers and revealing new information. But sadly, if we consider the scale at which animals are vanishing, that’s not enough. This is where SAFE is supposed to step in.

“At its core, SAFE represents a new and unique opportunity to combat the extinction crisis and save vital species,” said Jim Maddy, President and CEO of AZA. “With thousands of scientists and conservationists–more than any other single conservation organization–750,000 animals in their care, and more access to the public to the tune of 180 million visitors annually, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are poised to make a tremendous difference.”

SAFE will start by focusing on 10 species, adding at least 10 every year. Here are the ones for 2015:

  • African Penguin. Commercial fisheries have forced these penguins to search for prey farther off shore, as well as making them eat less nutritious prey, since their preferred prey has become scarce. Global climate change is also affecting these penguins’ prey abundance. Oil spills are another threat for them.
  • Asian Elephants. They are poached for ivory, meat and leather. Furthermore, humans are now taking more and more of their habitats, which leads to conflicts between locals and elephants – in which the animals never win.
  • Black rhinoceros. Habitat changes and illegal poaching are the main threats for rhinoceros as well. The fact that war is raging on on much of their habitat.
  • Cheetah. The cheetah can run faster than any other land animal, but that doesn’t save it from becoming endangered. Just 12,400 cheetahs remain in the wild in twenty-five African countries.
  • Gorillas. Threats to gorillas include habitat destruction and poaching for the bushmeat trade. In 2004, a population of several hundred gorillas in the Odzala National Park, Republic of Congo was essentially wiped out by the Ebola virus.
  • Sea Turtles. Of the seven species of sea turtles, four are listed on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species as either “endangered” or “critically endangered”.

Green Sea Turtle. Image via Marooned Weekly.

  • Sharks and rays. It is estimated that 100 million sharks are killed by people every year, due to commercial and recreational fishing. Shark finning yields are estimated at 1.41 million tons for 2010.  Rays are also threatened by overfishing.
  • Vaquita. The vaquita is a rare species of porpoise. It is endemic to the northern part of the Gulf of California. The estimated number of individuals dropped below 100 in 2014, putting it in imminent danger of extinction.
  • Western pond turtle. The Western pond turtle is already extinct from Canada, and their numbers are drastically reducing in the US and Mexico.
  • Whooping Crane. The whooping crane was declared endangered in 1967. Although believed to be naturally rare, the crane has suffered major population deprivations due to habitat destruction and over-hunting. The population has gone from an estimated 10,000+ birds before the settling of Europeans on the continent to 1,300-1,400 birds by 1870 to 15 adults by 1938. The current population is approximately 382.

So how big is this initiative? Well, according to conservationists, it’s pretty big.

“For years, we’ve worked closely with AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, but SAFE is really a game changer for us,” said Dr. Stephen van der Spuy, Executive Director at SANCCOB, the non-profit leading the effort to protect African penguins and other sea birds in South Africa. “By strategically focusing the work of AZA members, by bringing new resources, and by engaging millions of zoo and aquarium visitors, we’re confident that SAFE can make a real impact.”

There needs to be an immediate impact if we want to preserve these iconic species and many more. We need to come up with valid, sustainable solutions to protect the animals – or better put, we need to stop wiping them out.

Good news for America’s mascot: the Bald Eagle is no longer endangered

Bald Eagles are bouncing back from the brink of extinction, research shows. The official US mascot is now thriving and populations are continuously growing, but challenges are not yet over for them. Even so, it’s a remarkable conservation achievement.

The bald eagle, a symbol of the United States of America, is off the endangered list thanks to federal protections. (Photo : Google Commons)

The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is a sea eagle found predominantly in North America (especially in the US). It is found near large bodies of open water with an abundant food supply and old-growth trees for nesting. Bald eagles are not actually bald, their name deriving from an older meaning of “white headed”.

The bird is both the national bird and national animal of the United States of America, appearing on its seal (Benjamin Franklin actually wanted to make the turkey the national bird, but his idea was rejected). In the late 20th century it was on the brink of extinction, but has since made a spectacular recovery, and is now no longer endangered. An estimated 100,000 bald eagles resided in the wild at the end of the 18th century, but only 487 nesting pairs resided in the continental U.S. by 1963. Now, it’s estimated that there are 69,000 birds throughout the country.

Bald eagles weren’t directly threatened, but they suffered indirectly due to the use of pesticides, DDT and lead contamination. DDT was especially harmful when it was used in large quantities to kill mosquitoes during an effort to eradicate malaria.

All in all, it was a successful efort – hopefully one which will be replicated with other endangered species.

“It’s hard to step away from the fact that they are our nation’s symbol and knowing that they’ve now come back from the brink. I think a lot of people have a lot of pride that we managed to do that,” Patti Barber, a game commission biologist in Pennsylvania, said in a statement.

The bald eagle is a sacred bird in some North American cultures, and its feathers, like those of the golden eagle, are central to many religious and spiritual customs among Native Americans.

We are killing species at 1000 times the natural rate

Extinction and emergence of species are natural phenomena – but the rate at which extinction is happening now is anything but natural. A new study has shown that humans are causing species to become extinct 1000 times faster than they naturally would.

Killing the world, one species at a time

The new estimate of the global rate of extinction comes from Stuart Pimm of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Back in 1995, he published a study concluding that human activities are driving animals to extinction 100 to 1000 times faster than the background rate in the past 10 to 20 million years. His study was initially met with skepticism, but now, further research has shown that if anything, he was underestimating the human impact.

The Red List assessment of endangered species was the base of this study.

“Twenty years ago we simply didn’t have the breadth of underlying data with 70,000 species assessments in hand,” says team member Thomas Brooks of the IUCN in Gland, Switzerland.

By studying animals’ DNA, they were also able to create family trees for many groups of animals, calculating the emergence rate of new species. It’s difficult to calculate the absolute rate of extinction, but scientists can use a workaround: in the past 20 million years, the rate of new species emerging has always been greater than the rate at which species become extinct. That’s always a good reference point – and that reference point shows that we are killing species 1000 times faster than it would happen naturally.

Destorying ecosystems

The big unknown now is when will these massive extinctions cause entire ecosystems to collapse. We still don’t fully understand the complex interactions that take place inside ecosystems, but it’s fairly clear that most ecosystems won’t be able to sustain this systematic destruction – even though it’s impossible to predict exactly when that will happen.

“People who say that are pulling numbers out of the air,” says Pimm.

Pimm’s team also compiled detailed biodiversity maps which help conservationists decide what to do. The good news is that you can also help with these maps! Through projects like iNaturalist, you too can take pictures of wild life using your Android or iPhone device; scientists will identify and catalogue them, further developing these biodiversity maps.

“Right now, someone is posting an observation about every 30 seconds,” says co-director Scott Loarie of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

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China destroys six tonnes of seized ivory as anti-poaching message

china-ivory

Photo: Vincent Yu/Associated Press

As China’s populace grew in affluence and trade restrictions with other countries became more permissive, the past couple of years have seen a dramatic surge in ivory making its way towards China – in consequence elephant poaching has grown to record heights, as expected. In a historical event, China for the first time destroyed part of its seized lot of ivory. Some six tonnes of ivory ornaments and tusks were obliterated in Dongguan, a city in the southern province of Guangdong, which is a major hub for the ivory trade.

[READ] China is killing Africa’s elephants

Environmental groups have herald the event has a strong anti-poaching message from behalf of the country which is home to the largest ivory market in the world, and have congratulated Chinese officials for this bold move. The highly publicized event was attended by state officials, foreign diplomats and wildlife campaigners, in hopes that nationwide awareness on the subject may be raised.

Some of the ivory crushed by the U.S. government in November 2013. USFWS / YouTube

Some of the ivory crushed by the U.S. government in November 2013.
USFWS / YouTube

China followed the United States’ example, which last November destroyed all the seized ivory in its possession – again some six tonnes. Figures are hard to come by, but the Wildlife Conservation Society said on Monday that the total amount of seized ivory still in the Chinese government’s possession amounts to some 45 tonnes.

“If China were to destroy the remainder of its ivory stocks and lead the world by committing not to buying ivory in the future,” said Cristián Samper, president and chief executive of the Wildlife Conservation Society “it would have a transformative, positive impact on the survival of African elephants.”

More than 30,000 elephants are killed for their tusks each year in the lucrative trade that sells at around $1000 per pound. The event in Dongguan should help hammer home the message a lot more clearly, wildlife activists now hope. There’s a lot more to it, and although the event is admirable in its intentions, the world is hopping there’s some actual measurable improvement following it.

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Rare long-nozed Pinocchio lizard discovered in Ecuador

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Alejandro Arteaga / Tropical Herping

A rare sight to behold, the elusive Pinocchio lizard was finally spotted after a team of researchers and photographers set on a long quest to find it. Their efforts were rewarded as this is only the third time a specimen of this long-nosed lizard was ever reported in nearly the 60 years since its discovery.

Called the Pinocchio anole (type of lizard), the animal was first discovered in 1953. It was only seen again once  more than 50 years afterwards in 2005, leading many to believe the species was extinct.  Alejandro Arteaga, a co-founder of the educational and ecotourism company Tropical Herping, and colleagues were writing a book called “The Amphibians and Reptiles of Mindo,” a rural region a two-hour drive north of Quito, Ecuador’s capital, and didn’t want to settle with the extinction claim. They wanted a complete illustration for their book, so the team set out to find the lizard.

Lucas Bustamante / Tropical Herping

Lucas Bustamante / Tropical Herping

Night time is always the best time to go lizard hunting, since that’s when most animals are asleep and their pale colouring makes them inconspicuous while they go about their nocturnal ways.  After many days of stalking, one of Arteaga’s colleagues spotted and captured a Pinocchio anole clinging to a branch over a stream in January. The team then kept it overnight before photographing it in the morning in its natural habitat for their book.

Though definitely not extinct, the Pinocchio anole is by all means endangered, fact attested by its scarce sightings. In fact,  these lizards have been found in only four locations, mostly along a single stretch of road – one of the smallest ranges of any lizard in the world, Arteaga said.

Clearly its name was given thanks to the lizard’s uncanny resemblance to a certain lying wooden puppet. You might be wondering what’s its purpose? From a practical point of view, none – it’s just used to court ladies. Females don’t have long noses, and clearly this is a sexually selected trait – the male with the longest nose is the most attractive to females and thus has the most chances to pass on its genes. The peacock is the most famous co-example of such behaviour fond in nature, only instead of a long nose the peacocks employ marvelously coloured plumage.

Almost extinct deer species makes astounding comeback due to action by government and conservationists

The reemergence of the critically endangered population of Huemul deer (Hippocamelus bisulcus) marks a fantastic achievement by local governments and conservationists worldwide. Brought back from the brink of extinction, when populations measured less than 1% of original numbers, the Huemul populations have not only stabilized – but have started increasing, according to a new study.

Huemul Deer, Native to Patagonia

The south Andean deer, as it is also called, can be found only in the mountains of Argentina and Chile. Gentle, docile, and tasty – this is a pretty nasty combination to have, and the Huemul was almost hunted to extinction, initially by colonists, and then by poachers. Coupled with the mass production of cattle in their ecosystem, this endemic animal’s populations plummeted so severely the species was nearly lost forever.

chile parkBut as the numbers plummeted, conservationists started voicing concerns for the future of this emblematic species. The governmenment didn’t just stand around, and even though it took them a while to catch on, they started acting. This severe decline prompted the Chilean government to act. They started setting out bases of operations in the Bernardo O’Higgins National Park Patagonian region, giving both park rangers a headquarter to coordinate operations, and scientists a much better place to monitor the species and develop strategies.

“Our results suggest that synergistic conservation actions, such as cattle removal and poaching control, brought about by increased infrastructure, can lead to the recovery of species such as the threatened Huemul,” co-author Cristóbal Briceño, a researcher with Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, said.

The results of their actions were immediate. Not only were the Huemuls able to return to their natural environments, which they had forsaken due to the numerous threats, but the entire environment started to improve its quality.

However, even though the initiatives are laudable and the results are great, the species is not out of the dark yet. Species that go through a bottleneck event (where only a small portion of the individuals survives) are much more vulnerable. Why? Well, because of their lack of genetic diversity; the more genetically diverse a species is, the more adaptable it is – and the contrary is also valid. But, hopefully, with sustained action, their numbers will continue to increase, and this kind of measures will also be adopted because the one thing we’re not missing is endangered species.

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CITATION: Cristóbal Briceño, Leslie A. Knapp, Alejandra Silva, José Paredes, Iván Avendaño, Aliro Vargas, Juan Sotomayor and Alejandro R. Vila. Detecting an increase in an Endangered huemul Hippocamelus bisulcus population following removal of cattle and cessation of poaching in coastal Patagonia, Chile. Oryx. Volume 47, Issue 02, April 2013, pp 273-279.

Scientists discover vividly colored lizards in the Peruvian Amazon

There is still unbelievably much we have yet to discover from the Amazon. Now, researchers have uncovered two new species of woodlizards from Peru.

The blue woodlizard

The blue woodlizard

Woodlizards are little known species of reptiles, with only 10 species being described so far, all of which are found in Central or South America (9 in Peru). These new found species were found in Cordillera Azul National Park, one of the largest in Peru, and described in ZooKeys.

Male and female (duller colored) of Bin Zayed's woodlizard (Enyalioides azulae).

Male and female (duller colored) of Bin Zayed’s woodlizard (Enyalioides azulae).

“These species were discovered in recent expeditions to poorly explored areas on both sides of the Andes in Ecuador and Peru, suggesting that more species might be awaiting discovery in other unexplored areas close to the Andes,” the researchers write.

Blue woodlizard.

Blue woodlizard.

The species were named Enyalioides azulae, or the blue woodlizard, and Enyalioides binzayedi, or Bin Zayed’s woodlizard after Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and UAE – who funded the expedition.

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Bin Zayed’s woodlizard.

“Thanks to these discoveries, Peru becomes the country holding the greatest diversity of woodlizards. Cordillera Azul National Park is a genuine treasure for Peru and it must be treated as a precious future source of biodiversity exploration and preservation!” said lead author Pablo Venegas from the Centro de ornitología y Biodiversidad (CORBIDI) in Lima, Perú.

There is, at the moment no indication of whether woodlizards are threatened, as no such study has been conducted. However, this is once again a clear indication about the wonderful biodiversity that thrives in the Amazon and which we are endangering more every day.

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Elephant dung density and range reduction across the Central African forests. . Increasingly darker shades of green correspond to higher densities, grey represents extremely low elephant density rang and and white is non-habitat. (c) PLoS One

Central African elephant population more than halved in a decade

An international team of researchers set out on the daunting task of surveying the Central African elephant population. Their results offer a new harsh cold shower as to the critical situation wildlife our planet is currently in. Their findings suggest the African elephant population in the area has plummeted by a staggering 62% and their range has dwindled by 30% since 2002. This means that in the past 25 years alone, African elephants are 80% as fewer.

As you can imagine, estimating the elephant population over such a vast area that stretches through Cameroon, Gabon, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Congo, and the Central African Republic was no easy task. Some 91,600 combined man-hours were required to survey the 13,000 kilometers of land, as the researchers carefully analyzed animal dung density to infer elephant numbers. Their data suggest that there only as many as 100,000 individuals are currently alive in Central Africa, down from 700,000 mere decades ago.

Elephant dung density and range reduction across the Central African forests. . Increasingly darker shades of green correspond to higher densities, grey represents extremely low elephant density rang and  and white is non-habitat. (c) PLoS One

Elephant dung density and range reduction across the Central African forests. . Increasingly darker shades of green correspond to higher densities, grey represents extremely low elephant density rang and and white is non-habitat. (c) PLoS One

Habitat loss and agricultural activities have had their part to play in this dramatic demise, however the major factor is heartbreaking – poaching. During the past few years, ivory – a luxury commodity that is harvested from elephant tusk – has soured in prices, driven especially by high demand in China. The local poor and under educated African populace is easily seduced by the prospect of making big money fast, which has lead to a frightening increase in poaching.

With this new data at hand, the researchers hope to sway regulating organizations to move African forest elephants  from “vulnerable” to “critically endangered” on International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List, in hope that this action might prompt more action from local and international authorities.

Findings were reported in a paper published in the journal PLoS One.

The giants with piercing yellow eyes and 5-foot wingspans have adapted so well to snow that they can dive face-first through up to a foot of it to catch the voles they hear creeping underneath.

Ornithologists remotely tracks endangered Yosemite Great Gray Owls with sound tech

The Great Gray Owls of Yosemite are a unique species, after they separated from their cousins some 30,000 years ago when an ice age forced them into isolation. Though similar to the Great Gray Owls, commonly encountered through out North America and the Asian taiga forests, the Yosemite branch is genetically distinct, but unfortunately also endangered with only 200 specimens left in the wild.

The giants with piercing yellow eyes and 5-foot wingspans have adapted so well to snow that they can dive face-first through up to a foot of it to catch the voles they hear creeping underneath.

The giants with piercing yellow eyes and 5-foot wingspans have adapted so well to snow that they can dive face-first through up to a foot of it to catch the voles they hear creeping underneath. (c) Joe Medley / U.S. Forest Service

With such a fragile population, every measure of precaution must be taken. Tracking and tagging, indispensable to conservation efforts, is extremely difficult in such situations since it traumatizes the birds, disrupting matting cycles and nesting in the process. So, this summer researchers decided to tackle the situation with a different, more innovative approach – they used remote audio recording, coupled with complex software, to track and recognize individual Great Gray Owls through out the national park.

“Even if it takes only 15 minutes to trap a bird, it’s traumatic for them in the long term,” said Joe Medley, a PhD candidate in ecology at UC Davis who perfected computer voice recognition software to track the largest of North America’s owls. “With a population this small, we want to err on the side of caution in terms of the methods we use to get data.”

Thus,  40 data-compression digital audio recorders with high gain were placed in key areas of Yosemite,  around the mid-elevation meadows typically favored by the owl known as Strix nebulosa Yosemitensis. By the end of the high tech owl spy experiment, Davis garnered some 50 terrabytes of recording – enough for seven years of continuous playing. Owl howls weren’t the only thing he ended up with though; all kinds of environmental sounds were picked up as well, from airplanes, to frogs, to shivering trees.

To solve this, Medley along with scientists at  Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology, developed a specialized software called Rave Pro. The program was able to recognize and filter the  Great Gray Owls’ low-pitched hoot from the massive data, and discern males and females from juveniles. The software was even able to identify nesting females calling for food to help determine reproduction success.

“It’s capable of searching a week’s worth of data in an hour. What I was left with was owls and a host of other things that fell in the same bandwidth,” Medley said.

The researchers involved in the study hope that the same technique might be applied to observing other endangered species that are particularly sensitive to human interaction.

“These (owls) exist nowhere else in the world, and where they do occur is a pretty amazing location,” said Joshua Hull, a researcher with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and adjunct professor at the University of California, Davis. “These are going in a different evolutionary direction than the others, and we don’t know where that is right now.”

 

Oil barons and hunters threaten polar bear protection

As the global oil supply is starting to grow thin, the Arctic area seems to be more and more interesting to oil barons, but of course, there’s the problem of those pesky protected animals – so what do we do? Get rid of that, of course. A group of plaintiffs including the state of Alaska (who has already said they believe polar bears are just slowing the natural resources exploitation), hunters, and of all things, the California Cattlemen’s Association challenged the protected status of polar bears, deeming it as “arbitrary and capricious”.

It’s like one of those old movies or Captain Planet cartoons – basically, the big shots want to get the polar bears out of the picture so they can move on with their affairs, despite the obvious, irreparable damage which will be done to the environment. Polar bears have been declared endangered because their icy habitats are continuously retreating (as a consequence of global warming), and not only are they affected directly, but their prey is also affected. Still, Murray Feldman, a lawyer representing Alaska, and other appellants told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that the decision to list polar bears as ‘threatened’ species was based on flaw models, and that polar bear populations will continue to remain stable even after the oil rigs are put in place.

How can I even get started with this? It’s common sense, polar ice has reached a historic minimum, and if the general trend continues, it will go lower and lower each year. Polar bears require … polar environment; without it, they will perish as a species. Also, oil rigs will create a number of associated environment hazards, all of which will contribute to the demise of the species (pollution, destruction of habitat, scaring off other animals, etc). Katherine Hazard, a lawyer for the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service explained that polar bears have been declared endangered following decade-long studies and reports.

“The agency needs to make a determination based on the best available science, which the agency did here.”

The interests are, of course, significant, so they aren’t challenging the status just on a whim. This is a serious situation, which could create an extremely dangerous precedent. If they will be allowed to go on with these shenanigans, if they will be allowed to continue with oil extraction plans, we will lose something much more important than resources: we will lose our humanity.

Most endangered gorilla species caught for the first time on film

The Cross River gorilla is a critically endangered gorilla species, native to the border region of Nigeria-Cameroon. Today, only about 250 to 300 individuals are alive, due to habitat loss and poaching, making it the rarest of all four gorilla species. It’s so rare and elusive, that no one has ever been able to record a Cross River gorilla, and were it not for a few photos, the outside world would’ve had no idea of their existence. Camera traps displaces around Cameroon’s Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary, however, have offered us a true gem – live footage of not one, but eight Cross River gorillas.

The video is truly extraordinary, and in just one minute of released footage, one can see 3% of the species walking casually through the reservation. One of the gorillas, at some point, can be seen rushing through in front of the camera, while beating his chest, offering an unique moment. On the other side of the scale, one of the pack’s gorillas is disturbingly missing an arm, most likely caused by a snare left by poachers.

“Spectacular footage such as this, which we’ve never had before for Cross River gorillas, is absolutely vital to inspire local people, the governments of Nigeria and Cameroon, and the global community to care about and to save this unique subspecies,” James Deutsch, executive director for WCS’s Africa Program, said in a prepared release. “Continued research of this kind will help fine-tune management plans to protect this rarest of apes.”


Scientists claim that the whole Cross River gorilla population is dispersed around a mountainous strip, 12,000 km long. It’s this extremely low density that makes them so hard to spot – maybe, ultimately, this is what allowed them to survive in the first place.

“Cross River gorillas occur in very low densities across their entire range, so the appearance of a possible snare injury is a reminder that continued law enforcement efforts are needed to prevent further injuries to gorillas in the sanctuary,” said Liz Macfie, gorilla coordinator for WCS’s Species Program.

A rare Amur leopard was photographed for the first time at the Hunchun Amur Tiger National Nature Reserve in northern China. (Hunchun Amur Tiger National Nature Reserve /Courtesy)

Rare and elusive Amur leopard captured on photo for first time in China

A rare Amur leopard was photographed for the first time at the Hunchun Amur Tiger National Nature Reserve in northern China. (Hunchun Amur Tiger National Nature Reserve /Courtesy)

A rare Amur leopard was photographed for the first time at the Hunchun Amur Tiger National Nature Reserve in northern China. (Hunchun Amur Tiger National Nature Reserve /Courtesy)

The Amur leopard is a beautiful leopard subspecies native to the region of the Russian far east, which since 1996 has been classified as critically endangered. Only a handful of specimens remain today, however a photo which surprised an Amur leopard in China suggests that the species’ numbers are steadily increasing, and conservation efforts are beginning to show signs of promise.

The photo was captured by one of the camera traps spread across the Amur Tiger National Nature Reserve in Jilin Province in northern China. Most of the wild Amur leopard population lives across the border in Russia, where last winter  camera traps snapped photos of 29 individual leopards. It’s now estimated that between 8 and 12 individual Amur leopards live in the Chinese province, as well.

via Global Post

The barren rock island of Ball's Pyramid where the sole surviving colony of tree lobsters were found.

Tree lobster thought extinct for past 80 years is alive and well

Tree lobster

During man’s exploits through out history, a great number of species were driven to extinction, either by excessive hunting, habitat destruction, disease or pest introductions and so on. There are currently around 11,000 animal species listed as endangered, and the list is getting ever thicker each day. During the past few decades, as awareness to the hazards of losing some of nature’s greatest treasures increased, some hard working activists and scientists were able to save certain species from being wiped out completely. Sometimes, albeit on extremely rare occasions, some species once deemed extinct for many years simply surfaced again. Such is the case with the tree lobster as well, which despite it being thought extinct for the past 80 years, somehow a group of scientists discovered a group of specimens which were alive and well.

The Dryococelus australis or tree lobster, as it is also called, since it a stick insect that bears a remarkable resemblance to the large marine crustacean, was thought to have been wiped out from its natural habitat of Lord Howe Island, situated in the South Pacific off Australia some 80 years ago. As man populated the island, they also brought along black rats, which killed the tree lobsters to the last individual. Sized around 12 cm in length, the tree lobster was considered the heaviest flightless stick insect in the world.

The barren rock island of Ball's Pyramid where the sole surviving colony of tree lobsters were found.

The barren rock island of Ball's Pyramid where the sole surviving colony of tree lobsters were found.

Thankfully, it has regained its title, after a small colony of the insects was found some 13 miles away from its original breeding ground, on a tiny island called Ball’s Pyramid. The island’s name is well deserved – 1,844ft high, taller than the Empire State Building, Ball’s Pyramid is nothing more than a rocky wasteland. At an altitude of 500ft above the Pacific Ocean, this solitary tree lobster colony was remarkably found around the single plant that had survived on the rock. Climbers who had previously reached the islands’ summit reported seeing fresh droppings on the rock, which spurred biologists’ interest – and the interest was well justified. Just 24 individual specimens were found subsequently, out of which four, two males and two females, were brought back by scientists to shore such that they might try to breed them.

One of the tree lobster pairs died soon after being brought to the lab, while the female in the remaining living pair almost died as well, and would have were it not for the valiant efforts of biologist Patrick Honan, who formulated a calcium nectar mix for the female to feed on. A tragedy was averted and its life was spared, and from it 700 other adult specimens were bred! Currently, 11,376 tree lobster babies are in incubation.

Lord Howe Island Stick Insect hatching from Zoos Victoria on Vimeo.

The biologists’ next problem they need to tackle is how to reintroduce the specimens back to Lord Howe Island. The black rat population would need to be eliminated, which is a very tough task considering their breeding habits, and the local human population will have to understand why the tree lobster needs to be reintroduced in the wild and support the action. Also, how on Earth the tree lobster migrated such a large distance to Ball’s Pyramid remains a yet inexplicable mystery.

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