Tag Archives: extinct

The Somali sengi, a tiny cousin of the elephant, makes a reappearance after 50 years

The Somali sengi (Galegeeska revoilii), a tiny member of the elephant shrew family, has been considered extinct for the last 50 years. However, new sightings in Somalia and Djibouti show that the species isn’t lost after all.

Image via Wikimedia.

NPR reports that the shrew has made a comeback in both countries after more than half a century of absence — the last official record of one being spotted comes from 1968. Even more impressive is that the species isn’t native to the country of Djibouti.

Small but kicking

“It’s a teeny, tiny relative of an aardvark and an elephant that’s the size of a mouse,” Steven Heritage, a researcher from Duke University who has been looking for the creature, told NPR.

“We know now that it is for sure a rock-dwelling Sengi. We know that it has foot-drumming behavior as one of its communication behaviors. So we have some basic knowledge now.”

Being considered extinct for such a long time means that researchers don’t really know a lot about the species. With its reappearance, however, that lack of understanding might be addressed — as well as the questions regarding how this species stayed hidden for so long.

While the spotting is definitely good news for the species — it can’t be extinct yet if it’s right there — we have no idea of the health of the species. Without reliable population figures, we simply can’t know if the shrew is, in fact, on the verge of disappearing completely. Being spotted outside of its native range is definitely encouraging, but not enough on its own to point to a recovery.

What we do know is that the shrew is good at keeping a low profile. So in the future, researchers will need to be extra crafty in order to gain accurate data on the shrews’ health, habits, and dietary preferences. From there, they can piece together a snapshot of their entire species’s health, and decide whether conservation efforts are needed to keep it from going extinct.

‘Lost’ deer species rediscovered after 30 years

Camera-trap photo of silver-backed chevrotain (Tragulus versicolor).
Image credits: SIE/GWC/Leibniz-IZW/NCNP / Andrew Tilker

The Vietnam mouse-deer (which also goes by the name of silver-backed chevrotain, or more technically, Tragulus versicolor) was first described in 1910, based on specimens near the city of Nha Trang, Vietnam. This bordering area between Vietnam and Laos hosts one of the richest biodiversities in the world. However, as of 1990, it was believed that the mouse-deer was no longer a part of that biodiversity.

High levels of hunting (particularly with snares) and habitat loss led the numbers of these deer to decline, with no official sightings being reported throughout the 1990s. Researchers feared that the species had gone extinct, which seemed to be more and more likely as years passed on.

But An Nguyen from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research wasn’t so sure. Along with Andrew Tilker and other colleagues, Nguyen set up a plan to find out whether the chevrotain is still around or it actually went extinct. They spoke to locals around the Greater Annamites Ecoregion of Vietnam and Laos who claimed to have seen the species. Their stories seemed consistent, but there was a problem: the silver-backed chevrotain looks a lot like other mouse-deer which inhabited the area.

So the research team set up 30 motion-activated cameras in the Nha Trang area to see whether they could find evidence of this critter.

“We had no idea what to expect, so I was surprised and overjoyed when we checked the camera traps and saw photographs of a chevrotain with silver flanks. For so long this species has seemingly only existed as part of our imagination.”

After six months of camera observations, the researchers confirmed over 200 detections (although it’s not clear how many individuals were observed). The locals were right in their claims that the species never went extinct, leaving researchers overjoyed.

” In an age of mass extinctions, confirming the survival of lost species provides rare second chances for biodiversity conservation,” researchers write. “The silver-backed chevrotain Tragulus versicolor, a diminutive species of ungulate known only from Vietnam, has been lost to science for almost three decades. Here, we provide evidence that the silver-backed chevrotain still exists and the first photographs of the species in the wild, and urge immediate conservation actions to ensure its survival.”

While it’s always exciting to rediscover a species once thought to be lost, the fate of the silver-backed chevrotain is not yet certain. At best, the species still hosts a small but healthy population. At worst, only a few individuals survive in the area, and the species is still on the brink of extinction.

Researchers have developed a mitigation plan dealing with the two main threats to the species: habitat alteration and poaching. Poaching is probably the more pressing issue of the to, so reducing snares is the first and very critical step in ensuring that we don’t lose the species again.

The study has been published in Nature.

“Extinct” elms discovered doing just fine in the Queen’s gardens, Edinburgh

Two elms of a species presumed to be extinct in Great Britain have been discovered in the Queen’s Edinburgh gardens in Scotland.

Image credits Lubomir Mihalik / Pixabay.

In the 1970s, Britain was being ravaged by the Dutch elm disease — an epidemic which claimed between 25 to 75 million trees. Yes, tree epidemics are a thing, and they’re really bad news for us and the species that rely on those trees for food and board. Ulmus Wentworthii Pendula, or the Wentworth elm, was tragically wiped out of the island nation by the affliction.

Or, so we thought. Two Wentworth elms were (unknowingly) found (several thousand times) hiding in plain sight in Edinburgh, adorning the Queen’s gardens. While it took a botanical survey of the grounds surrounding the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the royal residence in Scotland, to identify their species, the trees are by no means inconspicuous. Standing some 30 meters (100 feet) tall, the elms are one of the most photographed trees in the gardens — it’s just that no one ever noticed they’re “extinct” before.

“Such a discovery when the trees in question are just shy of 100 feet [30 metres] and in plain sight does sound rather odd,” said Max Coleman from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE).

He thinks they went unnoticed for so long because Wentworth elms were never very common to begin with.

“If you pull your tree book off the shelf to try and look them up, you won’t find Wentworth elm listed in the books,” he explained for the BBC.

Wentworth elms have a distinctive “weeping” habit and glossy, almost waxy, sparsely-haired upper leaf surface.
Image credits Max Coleman / Wikimedia.

Most likely, the elms were taken from the city’s botanical gardens sometime in the last century. The RBGE records show that the trees arrived there in 1902 from Germany, but after that, they only mention one tree in the gardens which fell to the disease in 1996.

“It is very tempting to speculate that the Wentworth elms at the Palace are the two missing trees from RBGE. There is anecdotal evidence that the young trees could have come in to RBGE then been grown-on before planting-out in their final positions,” said Coleman.

“Certainly, there was a close relationship between the Palace and the Garden in the early 20th century and the head gardener at Holyrood, William Smith, had trained here. And, although we have no record here of elms going out, we know that a large number of ivy plants went from here to Holyrood to plant round the abbey ruins.”

For now, though, the origins of these two surviving Wentworth elms remains mysterious. It’s a very fortunate find, however, and experts are now considering how best to restore the species starting from these two individuals. Part of that job is to figure out what helped them survive the disease that wiped out the rest of their species.

“It is very likely the only reason these rare elms have survived is because Edinburgh City Council has been surveying and removing diseased elms since the 1980s,” Coleman added. “Without that work many more of the thousands of elms in Edinburgh would have been lost. The success of this program may be partly demonstrated in the way two rare trees have been preserved.”

Now, the elms will have to start working hard at making baby elms. Hopefully, they’ll live up to the task with as much gusto as Diego the tortoise.

Mammoth_skull

One of the best preserved mammoth skulls was found on an island near California, but its story is mysterious

Mammoth_skull

Credit: National Park Service

A biologist from the National Park Service discovered a rare and unusual mammoth skull buried in a 13,000-year-old rock layer on the Santa Rosa Island, the second largest landmass in the Channel Islands, California. The fossil of the extinct megafauna is leaving many paleontologists scratching their heads. Despite the fact that it’s possibly the best preserved mammoth skull ever found, the individual it belonged to can’t seem to be confined to a species yet — it’s too big for a pygmy mammoth and too small to have come from a Columbian mammoth. Some say it’s a new species while others believe the truth lies somewhere in between.

“I have seen a lot of mammoth skulls and this is one of the best preserved I have ever seen,” said paleontologist Justin Wilkins, a member of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) team that investigated the find.

“[the fossil] is extremely rare and of high scientific importance. It appears to have been on the Channel Islands at the nearly same time as humans,” Wilkins added.

The first mammoths showed up in North America around two million years ago but it was only during the last two ice ages that the Columbian species, which could grow to be up to 14 feet tall, made its way to the Channel Islands 100 miles west of Los Angeles. Once the ice receded, many populations became trapped on the island and evolved into pygmy mammoths, an endemic species to the Channel Islands which grew only to six feet tall.

mammoth fossil

Credit: Brent Sumner

The newly found mammoth skull found in pristine shape doesn’t seem to fit any of the two species, Columbian or pygmy, judging from its size. To make things even more confusing, one of its two tusks is nearly five feet long and coiled in a manner that resembles those of fully grown mammoths but the left tusk is shorter and sloped, more like a juvenile.

This has prompted some scientists to say the Santa Rose skull may belong to a transitional species. Whatever’s the case, a subsequent examination of the mammoth’s teeth should put the matter to rest. The analysis will also tell us how old the mammoth was when it died, so we can tell for sure whether it was an adult or juvenile.

More interesting than the mammoth’s lineage, however, might be its story. The giant mammal lived 13,000 years ago or roughly the same timeline of the “Arlington Man,” a 13,000-year-old human skeleton also found on Santa Rosa. Some 3,000 years later humans were already spread throughout the continent and the Channel Islands’ mammoth went extinct. The present finding might help unravel a link between the two.

The remains also seem to confirm a long-held hypothesis that there were two mammoth migrations to the Channel Islands.

“The discovery of this mammoth skull increases the probability that there were at least two migrations of Columbian mammoths to the island: during the most recent ice age 10 to 30,000 years ago, as well as the previous glacial period that occurred about 150,000 years ago,” said USGS geologist Dan Muhs.

 

 

Bramble Cay melomys. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Great Barrier Reef rodent becomes first extinct mammal at the hand of climate change

Bramble Cay melomys. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Bramble Cay melomys. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Great Barrier Reef’s only endemic mammal, the Bramble Cay melomys, is now officially extinct, scientists say. The rat-like rodent occupied a very confined habitat spanning an area no larger than a football field called Bramble Cay, a minuscule atoll in the northeast Torres Strait, Australia. Although pressured by human hunting and competition with other species, what ultimately killed off the species were surging sea waters and rising tides triggered by man-made climate change — the first mammalian species wiped out of the evolutionary history books in this manner.

The small coral cay where the rodent used to live was just 340m long and 150m wide, sitting only three meters above the sea level, off the north coast of Queensland, Australia. When Europeans first settled Queensland around 1845, records show they proceeded hunting the ‘rats’ with bow and arrow. By 1978, only a couple hundred specimens were recorded during field surveys, which were quite accurate given the minute area. Around this time the rodent was listed as endangered.

The last melomys were sighted in 2009, and despite extensive surveys in the area, no specimen was found even to this day. There might still be some odd rodents lurking in some crevices, but that seems unlikely given that their habitat is often flooded nowadays, which left them without food, shelter or any kind of livelihood. Natalie Waller and Luke Leung from the University of Queensland now claim with high confidence that the melomys are extinct, in a recent review.

“For low-lying islands like Bramble Cay, the destructive effects of extreme water levels resulting from severe meteorological events are compounded by the impacts from anthropogenic climate change-driven sea-level rise,” the authors said in their report.

“Significantly, this probably represents the first recorded mammalian extinction due to anthropogenic climate change,” they added.

Unfortunately, this might just be one of the first in many yet to come. A 2013 report notes 17 percent — one in six — of threatened and endangered species are at risk from rising sea levels in the United States alone. As for Australia’s coral reef, things are pretty bleak. Half of the Northern Great Barrier Reef is now dead at the hand of global warming which triggered massive coral bleaching.

Fanged deer spotted for the first time in 60 years

Take a look at this magnificent fanged deer – this is not some Hollywood production or imaginary creature, this is a genuine Kashmir Muskdeer (Moschus cupreus), previously thought to be extinct, and now observed for the first time in 60 years in the forests of Afghanistan.

This photo shows a Siberian musk deer — one of seven similar species found in Asia. JULIE LARSEN MAHER © WCS

There are actually several species of fanged deer, the most known one being water deer (Hydropotes inermis); their prominent tusks have led to it being colloquially named the vampire deer in English-speaking areas to which it has been imported. Despite its lack of antlers and certain other anatomical anomalies—including a pair of prominent tusks (downward-pointing canine teeth), it is classified as a cervid. All fanged deer have quite unique characteristics, which is why they have their own genus.

The males alone have fangs, which are used as a display strategy in breeding season. For deer, they are small and a bit stocky, measuring just over 2 feet (60 cm) at the shoulders.

The Kashmir musk deer is an endangered species, mostly due to habitat loss and poaching. The deer has a very high price on the black market, often being poached specifically for its scent glands. The glands produce a produce a potent chemical that can value them more than $20,000 per pound.

Many believed that the species was extinct. After all, despite some anecdotes, there was no official sighting for over 60 years. But now, scientists report not one, but five sightings, which gives them reasons to be optimistic. A solitary male was spotted three times, and a female with a juvenile were also reported.

“Musk Deer are one of Afghanistan’s living treasures” lead author of the study, Peter Zahler says. “This rare species, along with better known wildlife such as snow leopards, are the natural heritage of this struggling nation.”

“We hope that conditions will stabilize soon to allow WCS and local partners to better evaluate conservation needs of this species.”

Even though it’s not clear what the situation is, scientists are optimistic regarding a potential resurgence of the rare species. Unfortunately, none of the creatures stayed still long enough to take a picture.

The results were published in the Journal Oryx.

Suni at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

Only Six Northern White Rhinos left in the World

Suni, a 37-year-old northern white rhino and only the second male of his kind left in the world, died recently of natural causes in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy reserve in Kenya. After his death merely six other specimens are now alive that still carry the legacy of this subspecies.

Suni at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

Suni at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

Conservation efforts were heavily direct towards Suni, but now that the rhino is dead, all hope for the species lies with only one male and, of course, frozen sperm samples. All of the northern white rhino left in the world can only be find in captivity; the last wild specimen died long ago. Suni was the first northern white rhino ever to be born in captivity, the conservancy said in a statement. He was one of four northern whites transferred from the Dvur Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic to Ol Pejeta in 2009 as part of the “Last Chance to Survive” project.

Suni after arriving at Ol Pejeta in 2009.

Suni after arriving at Ol Pejeta in 2009.

The northern white rhino is one of two subspecies of the white rhino. The other subspecies, the southern white rhino, is estimated to number at about 20,000, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

A few years ago, ZME Science was saddened to announce the western black rhino became extinct. The northern white rhino seems to follow the same path at the hand of a common enemy – poachers. In fact, all African rhinos are under major threat from poachers, with some studies citing that wild rhinos could become extinct by 2020. It’s not the meat or the skin the poachers are after – their trophy is the rhino’s horn. Actually, this is what personally makes me the angriest. As it wasn’t enough poachers are killing threatened species without any breach of conscious, they’re doing it to supply a black market based on a whole load of mombo-jambo. All of the horns get shipped to south-east Asia where they’re grounded into a powder that’s thought to cure diseases such as cancer. The horn, made of a substance similar to human hair known as keratin, is more valuable by weight than gold ($65,000/kg). Of course, there isn’t a published study that remotely links rhino powder with anti-cancer activity.

Sudan and Najin, two of the remaining northern white rhinos, at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

Sudan and Najin, two of the remaining northern white rhinos, at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

Three northern white rhinos, Najin, Fatu and Sudan, remain at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. One northern white rhino remains at the Dvur Králové Zoo and two remain at the San Diego Zoo.

Artist’s impression of living Protulophila polyps in a worm tube. Dennis Gordon and Erika MacKay [NIWA].

An animal that was thought extinct for the past 4 million years has resurfaced

Artist’s impression of living Protulophila polyps in a worm tube. Dennis Gordon and Erika MacKay [NIWA].

Artist’s impression of living Protulophila polyps in a worm tube. Dennis Gordon and Erika MacKay [NIWA].

Talk about a comeback! An international group of scientists report they’ve encountered evidence that suggests a long lost marine animal whose lineage can be traced back hundreds of millions of years ago and which was thought extinct for the past 4 million years is actually alive and well. The findings were made in Picton, New Zealand and marks a splendid demonstration of how geology, paleontology and biology join together to solve a big puzzle!

The animal is questions is called Protulophila – a tiny tentacled polyp – that was previously encountered only in fossil deposits in the northern hemisphere, specifically Europe and the Middle East. It was thought to have been extinct for four million years following a long geological history extending back 170 million years into the Middle Jurassic period in Europe.

Scientists believe Protulophila was colonial hydroid (resembling a hydra), being related to corals and sea anemones.

Scanning electron microscope photo of the openings of the ‘living fossil’ (Protulophila) in a worm tube. Photo: Paul taylor, Natural History Museum, London.

Scanning electron microscope photo of the openings of the ‘living fossil’ (Protulophila) in a worm tube. Photo: Paul taylor, Natural History Museum, London.

This year, however, an international team of researchers, comprised of scientist from New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in Australia, London’s Natural History Museum, and the University of Oslo, found Protulophila in a tubeworm from geologically young rocks less than a million years old, while conducting fieldwork at Wanganui.

[RELATED] Tree lobster thought extinct for the past 80 years is alive and well 

Amazed by the finding, researchers at the NIWA decided to investigate their private collection for more insight. What they discovered was examples of preserved Protulophila that had been overlooked, some which originating from samples collected in 2008 in about 20 meters of water near the town of Picton on the northeast corner of South Island. And indeed, the findings prove the tiny tentacled polyps are indeed a colonial hydroid related to corals and sea anemones, as suspected.

“Finding living Protulophila is a rare example of how knowledge of fossils has led to the discovery of living biodiversity,” said NIWA marine biologist Dr Dennis Gordon.

“It’s very exciting. Our detective work has also suggested the possibility that Protulophila may be the missing polyp stage of a hydroid in which only the tiny planktonic jellyfish stage is known. Many hydroid species have a two-stage life cycle and often the two stages have never been matched. Our discovery may thus mean that we are solving two puzzles at once.”

The gastric brooding frog incubates and hatches its eggs in its gut. The hatchlings then exit through the frog's mouth. (c) Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts

Scientists resurrect extinct frog species that gives birth through its mouth

The gastric brooding frog incubates and hatches its eggs in its gut. The hatchlings then exit through the frog's mouth. (c) Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts

The gastric brooding frog incubates and hatches its eggs in its gut. The hatchlings then exit through the frog’s mouth. (c) Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts

In a great leap forward towards reviving extinct animal species, scientists at University of New South Wales, Australia have grown embryos that contain the genetic markup of a rather peculiar, yet unfortunately extinct frog species native to Australia. The frog died off in the 1980s due to parasites, loss of habitat, invasive weeds and fungus, and was one of the few animals known in the world to give birth through its mouth.

Birth through its mouth? Well, we’ve heard of weirder uses of the oral cavity, like urinating, but the gastric-brooding frog’s breeding trick is quite nifty. When this frog used to lay eggs, these were coated in a substance called prostaglandin, which breaks off the gastric acid in the stomach, making it a hospitable place for just about anything, including eggs. Naturally, the frog swallows these eggs, incubates them directly in the gut and when they hatch, the little baby frogs crawl out through the mouth.

Alas, both subspecies of frog – the the northern and souther gastric-brooding frog – went extinct sometime in the mid ’80s, yet genetics is not keen of farewells. Aptly named the Lazarus project, scientists have inserted dead genetic material of the extinct amphibian (conveniently, frozen specimens were kept in a common household freezer) into the donor eggs of another related species of living frog  – the great barred frog, which also lives in Queensland.

“In the beginning, the single cell eggs just sat there. But then, all of a sudden, one of the cells divided, and then it divided again, and again,” said University of NSW palaeontologist Mike Archer.

“There were a lot of high fives around the laboratory at that point.”

Resurrecting  the extinct back to life

The eggs continued to grow into three-day-old embryos, which scientists refer to as blastulas. They didn’t survive afterwards, unfortunately,  it was confirmed however that these embryos contain genetic information from the gastric-brooding frog. Still, their findings mark a big step forward in research efforts directed towards riving extinct animals. The Newcastle researchers are confident that this is a purely technical, not biological problem and in future attempts they’ll be able to breed a gastric-brooding frog to adulthood.

“This is the first time this technique has been achieved for an extinct species,” conservation biologist Michael Mahony told the Sydney Morning Herald.

The researchers hope that someday they’ll be able to revive a slew of currently extinct species  – a flicker of hope that humanity’s monstrous mistakes might be mended –  such as the woolly mammoth, dodo, Cuban red macaw and New Zealand’s giant moa.

“We are watching Lazarus arise from the dead, step by exciting step,” says the leader of the Lazarus Project team, Professor Mike Archer, of the University of New South Wales, Sydney. “We’ve reactivated dead cells into living ones and revived the extinct frog’s genome in the process. Now we have fresh cryo-preserved cells of the extinct frog to use in future cloning experiments.

“We’re increasingly confident that the hurdles ahead are technological and not biological and that we will succeed. Importantly, we’ve demonstrated already the great promise this technology has as a conservation tool when hundreds of the world’s amphibian species are in catastrophic decline.”

Professor Archer spoke last week at the TEDx DeExtinction event  when the Lazarus Project was publicly discussed for the first time. Archer also expressed his ongoing interest in cloning the extinct Tasmanian tiger, which died off almost a century ago.

Arabica coffee extinct in the wild in 70 years

Pack your bags and save the children ladies and gents, it’s the end of the world! A group of researchers suggests that the odds are wild Arabica coffee will go extinct well by the end of the century, dealing a devastating blow to the coffee industry.

The study was conducted by researchers from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (UK), in collaboration with scientists in Ethiopia and it concluded that climate change alone could lead to the extinction of Coffea arabica, which is considered crucial for the sustainability of the coffee industry due to its remarkable genetic diversity. Coffee plantations, while having bigger yields, are from very limited genetic stock and don’t have the flexibility and resilience to resist climate change, not to mention other threats such as pests and diseases – it isn’t as high quality either.

In Ethiopia, the largest producer of coffee in Africa, climate change will have a major impact on coffee cultures, the study suggests – a worrying prospect for the world’s most popular beverage, the second traded commodity in the world, bested only by oil.

The study used a computer model to simulate the evolution of the species, and it was the first time this approach was used for coffee; quite a surprising lack of studies, if you ask me. As a matter of fact, even studies on plantation coffee have been limited, despite growing concerns of farmers.

Two different types of analysis were conducted: a locality study and an area analysis. Both came out dire. In the locality study, the most optimistic outcome showed a 65% reduction in the number of pre-existing bioclimatically suitable localities, and at the worst, an almost 100% (99.7%) reduction for the next 70 years. In the area analysis, this were slightly better: the best outcome was a 38% reduction, and the least favourable a 90% reduction.

Computer models are practically never totally accurate, but they do give a pretty good idea about what is about to happen – it’s impossible to take into consideration every single factor, but the main factors play the most important role; in this case, the main issue was loss of optimum bioclimatic suitability places natural populations under severe environmental stress. A handful of other previous studies have already shown that coffee yields as well as beverage quality are linked to the climatic environment.

Justin Moat, Head of Spatial Information Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew believes this should raise some serious concerns, and believes this kind of study could be applied to more plants:

“The worst case scenario, as drawn from our analyses, is that wild Arabica could be extinct by 2080. This should alert decision makers to the fragility of the species. Our aim is to develop and apply these analyses to other important and threatened plants, on a routine basis. There is an immense amount of information held in museum collections around the world, such as Kew, and we have only just started to unlock their potential for assessing some of society’s most pressing issues.”

Research was published in PLoS one

The last place to go for a primate on the brink of extinction

The northern white-cheeked crested gibbon is running out of places to live in – literally. Perhaps the only habitat they can still find in the whole world is located deep in the wilderness of Vietnam, according to Conservation International. The organization conducted a census, and found that the biggest population by far is located there, numbering 450 individuals.

The species is already technically extinct in China, and the numbers in Laos and other countries have gone down dramatically in the past years. This is but one of the 25 species of gibbons, all of which are endangered with some drawing extremely close to the brink of extinction. However, things are even worse than they would seem.

A species needs more than just barely survive; they need numbers which can account for genetic variety, otherwise, they will not be able to survive any other treats, be they natural or anthropic.

The white-cheeked gibbons are especially an interesting species. They are monogamous, and have been described as the most romantic primate species, because during the mating period, they sing to each other. They are also mostly vegetarian, and they rarely even touch the ground, jumping around from tree to tree.

Census finds just 219 white sharks near California

Sharks are some of the most fascinating creatures to ever have “walked” the face of the planet; the best argument for this claim would be that they stand alons on the top of the food chain, with no natural enemy, other than humans, of course. Among the species of sharks, a few stand out as true silent killers of the deep, and among these, one of the most interesting ones is the great white shark.

A first of its kind census regarding the number of these toothed animals revealed startlingly low numbers; as it turns out, there are only 219 adult and young adults in all the entire northeast Pacific Ocean.

“Once we went out and noticed that we were seeing the same sharks every year, it started to dawn on us that this population isn’t huge,” UC Davis doctoral student Taylor Chapple, the study’s lead author, told FoxNews.

“This low number was a real surprise,” Chapple said. “It’s lower than we expected, and also substantially smaller than populations of other large marine predators, such as killer whales and polar bears.”

Sadly, the image of these underwater predators has been greatly distorted by the media, thanks to ‘Jaws’, and a multitude of other movies in the same line. Sharks are nature’s ultimate killing machine, and it breaks my heart to see such admirable animals face such a fate, which they cannot escape.

Shorties: we only have one last chance to save the tigers

“A tiger is a large-hearted gentleman with boundless courage and when he is exterminated – as exterminated he will be unless public opinion rallies to his support – India will be the poorer by having lost the finest of her fauna”

So said Jim Corbett, a man whose fate was bound to that of the tigers, in 1944. In his day, there were way over 100.000 tigers. Now there are some 3.000 of them. Unless something significant changes fast, they WILL disappear as a wild species, and tomorrow’s generation will only see them in pictures and zoos. You really should read this brilliant post from The Guardian.

A fifth of all plants threatened by extinction

Rain Forest in Costa Rica

It seems that more and more species are threatened by extinction, and this doesn’t apply only to animals. A recent analysis conducted the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew together with the Natural History Museum, London and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) concluded that 22% of all the plants in the world are threatened by extinction. Why is this ?

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s Director, Professor Stephen Hopper, says: “This study confirms what we already suspected, that plants are under threat and the main cause is human induced habitat loss.

Well, the same old story. Man expands into habitat, man destroys habitat.

“For the first time we have a clear global picture of extinction risk to the world’s known plants. This report shows the most urgent threats and the most threatened regions. In order to answer crucial questions like how fast are we losing species and why, and what we can do about it, we need to establish a baseline so that we have something against which to measure change. The Sampled Red List Index for Plants does exactly that by assessing a large sample of plant species that are collectively representative of all the world’s plants.”

“We cannot sit back and watch plant species disappear — plants are the basis of all life on earth, providing clean air, water, food and fuel. All animal and bird life depends on them and so do we. Having the tools and knowledge to turn around loss of biodiversity is now more important than ever and the Sampled Red List Index for Plants gives conservationists and scientists one such tool.”

This cannot be underlined enough. Plants are on the base of every food chain, so practically all the animals and humans depend more or less direct on plants which makes this way more dangerous than it seems at a first glance.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman says, “This report comes at an important time in the lead up to the major international biodiversity meeting in Nagoya next month. It is deeply troubling that a fifth of the world’s plants are facing extinction because of human activity. Plant life is vital to our very existence, providing us with food, water, medicines, and the ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Pine

The most important things the study revealed can be summed up as follows:

– there are too many things we don’t know about plants. About a third of all plants are insufficient known, so it’s impossible to estimate how threatened they are;

– it’s estimated that over a fifth (22%) of all plants are threatened by extinction;

– plants are just as threatened as animals, if not more;

– gymnosperms (the group of plants that includes conifers) are the most threatened;

– the most threatened habitat is the rain forest;

– the most damaging process is habitat reduction.

Koalas in peril of extinction, due to habitat loss and an AIDS-like virus

The koala population has been going down for quite some while now, mostly due to habitat loss and the lack of laws to protect them, but now it seems they have a really, REALLY big problem. It’s recently been reported that koalas from the Queensland area (and not only) are dying from the spread of an AIDS-like virus, and if things keep going this way, they could be extinct in less than 15 years.

Koala Baby07RAM

”We’re seeing a 100 per cent infection rate in the populations we’re studying. On those figures, it should be considered a disease epidemic,” Australian Wildlife Hospital research director Jon Hanger said.

The big problem is that this retrovirus combines with the habitat loss and there already have been reported some local koala extinctions.

“‘We are losing the battle, and koala populations in smaller fragmented habitats are doomed to extinction. ‘We have hammered our biodiversity like you wouldn’t believe. If you look at a map of Australia on Google Earth you’ll see how few fragments of native vegetation are left across the continent. We have gone way beyond the tipping point for many of our ecosystems.”

Having looked at Google Earth I can say that this statement is not an exaggeration by any standards. He also pointed a finger at the “antiquated legislation” which is currently unable to provide any kind of protection to the little furry fellows.

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”They were written at a time when the main aim was to make it illegal to kill or collect koalas. They need to be urgently revised to factor in threats posed by climate change, the rapid spread of disease and urban development.”

It’s obvious that the needs and expectancies from the legislators have greatly increased, and hopefully they will see this and make the necessary steps. The Australian Wildlife Hospital and University of Queensland have published a progress report on the moving of young koala populations. The greatest distance traveled was 14km and the reproductive success was really high, but the relocated koalas have numerous problems to cope with. Feral dogs, competition for mates, clearing forests and droughts are just a part of what they will have to face.

As it turns out, the risk of extinction has been greatly misscalculated, underestimated by ~ 100 times ! This also raises more questions as 1 in 4 mammals, 1 in 3 amphibians and 1 in 10 birds are threatened with extinction; what happened if the mathematical model has been wrong here too??

Pushing Species To The Brink

We don’t usually want to face it, but the fact is that mankind is pushing virtually ever other species to the very brink of their existance, in our quest for resources of every kind. Just a few days aco, IUCN published a study which concluded that thirty-five percent of the world’s birds, 52 percent of amphibians and 71 of warm water corals are threatened by the climate change.

But it’s not really all bad; by analyzing some biological traits which makes species susceptible to climate change they were able to find that albatross, penguin, petrel and shearwater families are very vulnerable to such changes, but kite, hawk and eagle families are really resistant, which makes scientists refuse the possibility of an extinction similar to that at the end of the Permian.

“This is the first time that a systematic assessments of species’ susceptibility to climate change has been attempted,” says Wendy Foden, of IUCN’s Species Programme. “Climate change is already happening, but conservation decision makers currently have very little guidance on which species are going to be the worst affected.”

But the most disturbing thing is the fact that the corals are really vulnerable to this. Their sensitivity to high temperature is definitely something worth worrying about, and a possible destruction of corals would lead to more severe problems in time. This study aims to show exactly which species need protection and conservation more, because it’s obvious that we really aren’t capable of protecting every species, the way we should.

Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Head of IUCN Species Programme. “Climate change may cause a sharp rise in the risk and rate of extinction of currently threatened species. But we also want to highlight species which are currently not threatened but are likely to become so as climate change impacts intensify. By doing this we hope to promote preemptive and more effective conservation action.”

It’s official – The Monk Seal is extinct

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The Caribbean Monk seal (or West Indian seal) has been announced extinct on Friday. This comes as a shock (at least for me – and many others), as this is the first seal species announced extinct due to human activities; now, it will only be seen in drawings.After five years of futile efforts in which not even a single sighting has been reported, the U.S. declared extinct, and also declared that no other seal species has been extinct because of us. This probably (and sadly) opens the way for more such species to become extinct – unless something changes.

The Caribbean Monk Seal was a relatively small seal (6-9 feet) with rolls of fat around its neck and brown pelage that faded to a yellow-white color on the stomach. The last recorded sighting occurred in 1952.

Perhaps what’s even more important here is the lesson that must be learned. Humans left the population unsustainable due to overhunting. To how many other species have we done this? This will (and already is) ultimately affect us! Take just 10 seconds and think about that.

7 animals that lived along with your grandparents but not with you

More and more animals are becoming extinct each day, due to hunting, destruction of habitat, pollution, and so on. In the past 100 years, a significant number of animals have become extinct and you will never get the chance of seeing one, no matter what you do. Take a moment and think about what animals your grandchildren will have the chance to see, and what is the legacy you give them.

The animals aren’t presented in a certain order, it’s quite random.

7. Japanese Sea Lion

japanese sea lion

Believed to be extinct since 1950, the Japanese Sea Lion lived in the coastal areas of the Japanese Archipelago and the Korean Peninsula. Weighing up to 450 to 560 kg and reaching lengths of 2.3 to 2.5 meters (the males; females were smalled), they preferred sandy open beaches, but they sometimes used rocky areas for breeding too. Harvest records from Japanese commercial fishermen in the early 1900s show that as many as 3,200 sea lions were harvested, and in total about 17.000 specimens were killed, enough to cause their extinction.

6. Desert Rat Kangaroo

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It lived in the driest, hottest and most desolate environments in Central Australia, relying on its fantastic resistance and independance of water; in fact, it was so prepared that it even shunned the succulent plants of the sandhills. It was first sighted by Europeans in 1841 and was not seen again for 90 years. The last sighting was in 1935, which makes it quite a mysterious creature. They were able to travel enormous distances and high speeds, and they ‘paused only to die’.

5. Phantom shiner

phantom shiner
This elusive species of fish was once endemic to the Rio Grande basin and ranged from central New Mexico to southernmost Texas. Not too much information is available about them, and they were only spotted irregularly and only several times. The last known specimen was recorded in Mexico in 1975.

4. Labrador duck

labrador duck
The labrador duck was never common; it’s believed that this species of duck has been extinct since 1875. It’s also believed that it was the first bird to be extinct in North America sincer 1500. It was also called the Pied Duck and it fed on small molluscs. Its extinctions is quite a mystery, because it was not sought much by hunters. Still, humans are still probably responsable for its extinction as they caused the decline in mussels and other shellfish on which they are believed to have fed in their winter quarters, due to growth of population and industry on the Eastern Seaboard; this meant that the duck had no food left.

3. Quagga

quagga
The Quagga is a subspecies of the plains zebra which lived in great numbers in South Africa’s Cape Province and the southern part of the Orange Free State. It got this name as an onomatopoeia, being said to resemble its call. The quagga was the first extinct creature to have its DNA studied although the only live photographed member was the Regent’s Park Zoo mare in London.

2. Tasmanian Wolf

tasmanian wolf
It’s believed that the Tasmanian Wolf has been extinct for about 65 years. Despite its appearance and its popular name, this animal was not in fact a species of wolf, nor was it a dog, which it also resembled. It was actually a marsupial — the largest carnivorous marsupial in recent times — and was closely related to the kangaroo and the wombat. It’s extinction is attributed solely to human activities.

1. Caspian Tiger

caspian tiger
Caspian Tigers lived in China, Tajikistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey, being the westernmost subspecies of tiger. It’s believed that they became extinct in the late 1950s, though there have been several alleged sightings of the tiger. Being the third largest species of tiger ever to walk the face of the Earth, it still couldn’t resist the massive hunting parties which killed them down, mostly for fur. The Russian government have worked heavily to eradicate the Caspian tiger during planning a huge land reclamation programme in the beginning of the 20th century. They considered there was no room for the tiger in their plans and so instructed the Russian army to exterminate all tigers found around the area of the Caspian Sea, a project that was carried out very efficiently. Three cheers for the Russian government.