28 November 2007

Breeding Rails

Guam Rail (Gallirallus owstoni), Extinct in the Wild

Guam is a tiny island territory, comprising a mere 541 square kilometers, or a little more than half the size of New York City. Until the 1980s, this little island paradise was home to the Guam Rail, which existed only on this tiny patch of land. In 1980 The Guam Rail disappeared from its natural home.

What happened? It all goes back to World War II, when foreign ships accidentally imported the Brown Tree Snake. The ground-dwelling Guam Rails had never had to deal with predators such as snakes before, and were completely defenseless. The snakes decimated not only the Rails, but also 9 other native species, 5 of which were found nowhere else in the world.

The Guam Rail is not extinct yet, however, as it is still held in captivity in Guam and American zoos, and has been bred successfully. Although reintroduction efforts are underway on the nearby island of Rota, their success is far from guaranteed, as the Brown Tree Snake persists and continues to threaten introduced birds. Researchers have had some success in keeping snakes out of small controlled areas, but as long as the snakes pose a threat, this species will require monitoring and management.

Recently, the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, one of the few zoos working to breed the birds, shipped off another year-and-a-half old Rail to join its struggling fellows back in the wild. Godspeed and goodluck!

27 November 2007

An Absence of Amphibians

Old pond
and a frog-jump-in

This famous haiku by the Japanese poet Bashô evokes images of an evening filled with the chorus of croaking frogs and splashes as they leap into an old pond. Unfortunately, unnoticed by the majority of the world's population, frogs around the world are falling silent. As various threats to their survival converge, like ants on a fallen bread crust, amphibian species in every nation are facing extinction. Threats such as habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change, pollution, and invasive species are stacking themselves up against amphibian populations. To top it all off, the deadly chytrid fungus, perhaps helped along by global warming, is devastating amphibians everywhere. Chytridiomycosis, the disease caused by the fungus, causes a problem in the functioning of the amphibian's pores, making it difficult for them to absorb water. Without the ability to rehydrate, they soon die from a lack of water.

Now, scientists around the world are working together in an effort to save the amphibians from impending doom. Amphibian Ark, a collaboration between several conservation organizations, is asking zoos and botanical gardens around the world to create a safe haven for a species of amphibian. These havens would only be temporary, until the disease crisis has been averted, and the animals can be safely returned to their natural habitats. If their efforts are unsuccessful, I don't want to imagine what will happen to the balance of the world's ecosystems as a whole class of animals is wiped out.

This issue is not something to be taken lightly. It's downright scary when you think of the implications of what could happen if all of the frogs, toads, and other amphibians disappeared. Frog Matters, a blog with the latest happenings from Amphibian Ark has a great post on things that anyone can do to help prevent a mass extinction.

Donate now to help prevent the next great extinction.

17 November 2007

Last Chance for the Vaquita

Vaquita (Phocoena sinus), critically endangered

Way back in February, I blogged about the 'little cows' or Vaquitas, which live only in the upper regions of the Gulf of California. At that time, their numbers were estimated to be under 400. That number has dropped to an estimated 150, although it's possible this number may be lower.

Then, as now, the greatest danger to the Vaquita is accidental death in the nets of fishing crews. At least 40, and possibly more, are killed each year as by catch. Scientists say that at least 100 Vaquitas must survive to preserve enough genetic diversity for the porpoises to prosper. That leaves, optimistically, only two years in which a turn around must occur. While there have been efforts in the past to create zones where fishing is not allowed, they have failed.

Now, in a last ditch effort to save the Vaquita, WWF, Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, and the Mexican government have pledged $14 million to buy boats and nets that kill the Vaquita, and developing economic alternatives for local fishermen. If this and other efforts do not work, the Vaquita will go extinct.

Here's an article with more info.

Support the survival of the Vaquita (cheque only).

09 November 2007


Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus), critically endangered

I've been away from the world of computers and internet and news in general for quite some time, having been limited to 10-30 minute spurts of online time, every week or so. So it was a nice surprise that one of the first pieces of news I stumbled upon was good. The critically endangered Iberian Lynx, found mainly in southern Spain, has been reduced to about 100 individuals, in two isolated populations. Recently, however, a previously unknown population has been discovered in central Spain, offering a bit of hope for the survival of "Europe's Tiger." Still, the Iberian Lynx is a long way off from stability or full recovery, still being threatened by habitat and prey loss, and accidental death by vehicles.