16 December 2008

David vs. Goliath, Mice vs. Albatross

Tristan Albatross (Diomedea dabbenena), Critically Endangered

According to Scientists from The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the Critically Endangered Tristan Albatross has suffered its worst ever breeding season. Out of 1764 chicks counted in January, only 246 survived to fledge.

Tristan Albatrosses, which breed only on British-owned Gough Island in the South Atlantic, are being decimate by mice. According to Richard Cuthbert, an RSPB scientist, mice have been known to prey on the birds for a long time. Previously, the birds were threatened by introduced and non-native rats, pigs, dogs, and cats. Once these predators were removed, the mice population expanded.

The mice, originally introduced in the 18th or 19th century by sealers, are now three times larger than their mainland brethren, and have adapted to be carnivorous--subsisting on young birds and eggs rather than seeds and insects. Even though the mice have become larger, they are still vastly outweighed by the albatross chicks. Why don't the albatrosses fight back? Although they do fight back against other types of prey, it seems that they are not able or do not know how to appropriately fend off the non-native mice. The mice often work together, attacking at night, quickly gnawing through the nest and straight into the chicks body.

With such low numbers of surviving chicks, Tristan Albatrosses are very close to the brink of extinction. Relatively slow breeders, pairs only nest every other year, producing a single chick each time. Adults are further threatened by the long-line fishery. Fishing boats towing miles of fishing line, with thousands of hooks baited with squid or fish, often attract Albatrosses, who attempt to snag the bait and become entangled or hooked and drown.

"Tristan Albatross is being hit by a double whammy. The chicks are predated by mice and the adults and juveniles are being killed by longline fishing vessels," said John Croxall, chair of BirdLife's Global Seabird Programme. "Unsustainable numbers are being killed on land and at sea. Without major conservation efforts, the Tristan Albatross will become extinct."

Is there any hope? Some. In New Zealand, similar situations with rats have been successfully dealt with by dropping rat poison from helicopters. The RSPB has done preliminary studies indicating that a similar solution would solve the mice problem on Gough Island, and is encouraging the British government to come up with the needed funds.

You can help. Get involved with the Save the Albatrosses Campaign.

Donate to Bird Life International's Preventing Extinctions Program.

If you live in the UK, you can contact your representatives and ask them to support funding for wildlife in the UK Overseas Territories.

You can also donate to Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which works against the illegal use of long line fishing.

02 December 2008

Baby Goliaths Can't Hide

Goliath Grouper (Epinephelus itajara), Critically Endangered

The Critically Endangered Goliath Grouper is the largest grouper in the Atlantic, growing more than 2 meters (6 feet) long, weighing more than 450 kg (1000 lbs), and living up to 40 years. Recently, the Ocean Research & Conservation Association (ORCA) used an underwater acoustic camera system (similar to the sonar dolphins or bats use) to visualize baby Goliaths among the murky waters of mangrove roots. Baby Goliaths, up to 1 meter long, spend the first 5-6 years of their lives, almost exclusively in and amongst the waters around mangroves.

Conservation action began in 1990 when the US placed a moratorium on fishing, and the Caribbean did the same in 1993. Though the population has increased it will take many years for numbers to recover to previous levels. Additionally, in some areas, fishing continues despite the bans. It is sometimes difficult to accurately assess the recovery of the species, in part because of the inability to visualize Baby Goliath numbers in murky and cloudy waters. The new camera system used by ORCA should alleviate this problem, and make surveys of Goliath populations easier.

Read an article here.

Donate to Ocean Futures, an Ocean Conservation that has worked to conserve the Goliath Grouper in the past.

24 November 2008

Crab Colossus

Coconut Crab (Birgus latro), Data Deficient

Here's a great post about another Data Deficient creature, rather larger than the Pygmy Tarsier. Check it out at Endangered Ugly Things.

21 November 2008

Abundant or Rare?

Pgymy Tarsier (Tarsius pumilus), Data Deficient

The Pygmy Tarsier, thought by some to be extinct, has been rediscovered. This giant-eyed, four inch long primate lives on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, and was previously known only from a few specimens collected for a museum in 1921. In 2000, scientists accidentally trapped and killed one, while studying rats.

Determined to learn more about these creatures, Sharon Gursky-Doyen set out to find them. With the help of her graduate student Nanda Grow, a team of locals, and a large number of mist-nets (very fine netting for catching small animals and birds), two males and one female were captured and fitted with radio collars.

So far, there are more questions than answers. Why do Pygmy Tarsiers have claws instead of nails, as most primates do? Why don't they call to each other or mark their territory with scent? (Gursky-Doyen thinks they may be vocalizing at frequencies out of the range of human hearing). How many Pygmy Tarsiers are still out there and where exactly do they live?

This is perhaps the most important question. Listed as Data Deficient by the IUCN, Pygmy Tarsiers may be on the brink of extinction. With fragmented habitat and humans encroaching on their space, they might be extinguished like a match in the wind. Or, they might be numerous and widespread, and simply very hard to observe, since they live in the high mountains and only come out at night.

Gursky-Doyen and Grow are working on a paper that will hopefully answer some of these questions. They hope that whatever happens, the rediscovery of this species will encourage government officials to offer it some protection. Although part of its range is within the 2000 square kilometers of Lore Lindu National Park, it shares that space with 60 villages, some of which are expanding into the mountains.

If you want to help the Pygmy Tarsier, you can donate to the Nature Conservancy, which is working to protect Lore Lindu National Park. Make sure to direct your donation to Indonesia.

10 November 2008

First Home for Blue-throated Macaws

Blue-throated Macaw (Ara glaucogularis), Critically Endangered

With only an estimated 300 individuals surviving in the wild, the Blue-throated Macaw is critically endangered. The threats come mainly from habitat loss and illegal trapping. To nest, the birds require motucu palms, which grow in islands dotting the grasslands of Bolivia. Unfortunately, the only known habitat suitable for the birds exists on private ranch lands, where annual burning and intensive cattle grazing occur. The other major threat to these birds is illegal trapping for the caged-bird market.

Fortunately, several conservation organizations working together have purchased an 8500+ acre ranch where Blue-throated Macaws are known to nest. This is the first protected area for these rare birds, which is great news. However, much more area needs to be protected to ensure the recovery and continued well-being of these magnificent birds. There are four other ranches for sale, that combined with the new purchase, hold 41% of the Blue-throated Macaw population. Unfortunately, at $30 an acre, the land is being eyed by foreign cattle ranchers.

If you want to help protect the habitat of the Blue-throated Macaw, you can donate to the World Land Trust, Bird Endowment, Loro Parque Foundation, or Asociación Armonía, all organizations involved in the conservation of the Macaws.

You can also buy a stuffed toy Blue-throated Macaw or sign up for a Parrot Lover's Cruise from Bird Endowment.

27 October 2008

Step 1: Find them.

Wetar Ground Dove (Gallicolumba hoedtii), Endangered

The Wetar Ground Dove, a bird known from only a few specimens since the early 1900s, all of them outside its native island of Wetar. Now, it has been rediscovered on the island for which it was named, and in larger numbers than ever observed. Thirty to forty of the birds were seen together, the largest recorded congregation.

Wetar is a large island, and perhaps, according to scientists working on the island, "the single most pristine in South-East Asia". Unfortunately, the island is already facing significant pressure from development, as plans to extend an existing asphalt road will open up the interior of the steeply hilled island.

You can support Columbidae Conservation, who are working to protect the Wetar Island, for the Wetar Ground Dove and the other unique species and ecosystems that currently thrive there.

22 October 2008

Some Birds May Smell Sexier

Kakapo (Strigops habroptila), Critically Endangered

The Kakapo, featured here several times, might benefit from a little cologne it appears. Scientists working with the Kakapo breeding program, noticed that a few of the males received significantly more attention than others, and they think it may have to do with the birds' body odor. To find out, they're sending feathers to Tom Goodwin, an animal olfactory chemist in Arkansas.

Because the Kakapo's population dropped to a gene-pool-reducing 91 individuals, genetic diversity is very important to their survival. If most of the females are only breeding with a few males, the gene-pool could remain dangerously small. If a synthetic perfume that makes less attractive males seem sexier can be developed, their genes would also get remixed into the overall population, increasing the diversity of the gene-pool.

If you want to help save the Kakapo, you can donate, become more informed, or get hands on and volunteer with the Kakapo Recovery Programme.

19 October 2008

Hector's Dolphins Still Unprotected

Hector's Dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori), Endangered

A new study by researchers at New Zealand's Otago University has added to the mountain of evidence that Hector's Dolphins are being killed at a rate that will lead to their extinction . . . unless something changes. These dolphins, with their uniquely rounded dorsal fins, are declining due to commercial and recreational fishing using gill nets and other methods that entangle them as bycatch.

Hector's Dolphins have the most limited range of any cetacean, except the Vaquita. Living only around the coast of New Zealand's two islands, they are divided into two subspecies. The South Island Hector's Dolphins have been reduced to less than 7500 individuals, while the Critically Endangered North Island subspecies, also known as Maui's Dolphins, have been reduced to a mere 110 individuals.

The New Zealand government has restricted fishing in parts of the Dolphin's range, but complete protection has not been realized, partially because of resistance from the fishing industry.

If you want to help, you can petition the New Zealand Government to enact full protection, adopt a Hector's Dolphin through WWF New Zealand, or join a Facebook Cause dedicated to the Hector's and Maui's Dolphins.

08 October 2008

Fortune 500

Booroolong Frog (Litoria booroolongensis), Critically Endangered

Over a year ago, I wrote of the Booroolong Frog, a critically endangered species, confined to less than 10 square kilometers, and decimated by drought and forest fires.

Now, the species will receive a boost of 500 captive bred frogs, who are primed to breed. The 9 month old frogs are the offspring of 6 adults and 20 tadpoles that were taken into captivity two years ago. According to scientists involved with raising them, the males will mate in a brief breeding frenzy and die.

The species has declined because of habitat degradation and the chytrid fungus, which has affected amphibian species around the globe.

Donate to the Taronga Zoo, which is breeding Booroolong Frogs for release into the wild.

Or Donate to the Amphibian Ark, a movement working to save all frog species in decline.

11 September 2008

More Monkeys Is Good News

Gray Snub-nosed Monkey (Rhinopithecus brelichi), Endangered

This endangered monkey is confined to a 400 square kilometer reserve in China. Up until 1978, their mountainous home was severely disturbed and damaged due to mining activities. Since then, the Fanjing Mountains Natural Reserve has been established, and their population has increased from an estimated 400 in 1979 to 850 today.

Since 1992 the Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve Administration Bureau has successfully bred seven captured individuals, producing a mere 16 offspring-an average of one per year.

You can donate to Save the Primates to aid conservation of primates world-wide.

10 September 2008

No More Protein!

Kakapo (Strigops habroptila), Critically Endangered

The Kakapo is a large ground-dwelling parrot, found only on two small, isolate islands in New Zealand. The total number of birds has risen to 91 in the past year, but this number is still precariously low.

Part of the problem is that Kakapo only lay eggs every three to five years, when Rimu Trees produce an especially large harvest of fruit. When this happens, the Kakapo feast and breed. Scientists have been trying to increase the frequency with which these beautiful birds breed, by supplementing their diets with protein, known to be an important nutrient for other breeding species.

Now, the importance of protein for the Kakapo is being questioned. Professor David Raubenheimer has recently analyzed the nutrient content of the Rimu fruit, and found that it is low in protein and high in calcium. He thinks that calcium may be more important for breeding Kakapo, as it would be used in their eggshells and incorporated into their unusually large skeletons.

Scientists will continue to try and increase the breeding frequency of the Kakapo to boost the population, by using a new formulation of feed that more closely matches the content of the Rimu fruit. One question still remains, however. Is it just the nutrients that are limiting the Kakapo, or are they programmed to breed only when there is an abundance of Rimu fruit?

If you want to help save the Kakapo, you can donate or just become more informed.

09 September 2008

One. Five. Zero.

Vaquita (Phocoena sinus), Critically Endangered

One. Five. Zero.

That's the estimated number of Vaquitas Marinas, or little sea cows still alive. These miniature porpoises (featured here previously), which live only in the Gulf of California, are the most endangered cetacean. If nothing is done, they are likely to become extinct within the next year or two, or sooner.

The main cause of their decline, is not habitat loss, climate change, or pollution (although these things do affect the Vaquita). The biggest threat to the survival of the Vaquita is the nets local fishermen. The nets are intended for other fish and shrimp, but an estimated 40 are caught accidentally each year. When your total population is 150, losing 40 is a big deal.

The Mexican government is pledging 16 million US dollars to pay fishermen to avoid the Vaquita's habitat or to stop fishing altogether. Some of the money will also be spent to teach fishermen alternative techniques using snares that are too small to endanger Vaquitas.

So far, about 1000 fishermen (40%) have agreed to stay out of Vaquita habitat or stop fishing altogether. This is a good start, but more is needed. With the population already so low, if the Vaquita is to make a full recovery, accidental deaths due to fishing must be reduced to zero.

Here's a great site with information about the history of the conservation of the Vaquita and the threats it faces.

Support the survival of the Vaquita (cheque only).

23 April 2008

Still Hanging On

(Teucrium ajugaceum)
(Rhaphidospora cavernarum)

Two plants thought to be extinct, have been rediscovered in Cape York, Queensland, Australia. Neither plant had been seen since the late 1800s

22 April 2008

More for Your Money

Normally, here at Not Extinct Yet, I tend to focus on organizations that are working on conservation of endangered species or animal groups--the Kakapo, the Vaquita, Rhinos, Frogs, etc.

But for Earth Day 2008, I thought I'd present an opportunity to give, which will help conserve an endangered ecosystem--the Atlantic Forest of eastern Brazil. The forest, a hot-spot of biodiversity, has lost 93% of it's original area. It is home to many endangered species, including the Golden Lion Tamarin.

The Nature Conservancy, one of my favourite organizations, has started the Plant a Billion Trees campaign, to restore the Atlantic Forest. Their goal is to, well, plant a billion trees obviously. Over the next seven years, they will plant Guapuruvu, Golden Trumpet, Ice-cream Bean, and Capororoca trees, which will restore important habitat, as well as remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

For just $1, you can plant a tree. Every tree counts!

Happy Earth Day!

Jabba the Hutt or Rare Frog?

Bornean Flat-headed Frog (Barbourula kalimantanensis), Endangered

On the island of Borneo, lives a frog that has been described by David Bickford as "a squished version of Jabba the Hutt," the slimy slug-like character from the Star Wars movies. Resembling a famous alien, however, isn't its claim to fame. Bickford, of the National University of Singapore and a team of scientists, recently discovered that Barbourula kalimantensis is the only known lungless frog in the world. It 'inhales' 100% of its oxygen through it's skin.

Scientists speculate that the adaptation has allowed this frog to survive in the clear, cold, fast-flowing streams where it lives. Having lungs would make the frogs more buoyant, and hence more likely to be washed downriver. As it is, the denser lungless frogs can more easily sink to the bottom of the river without being swept away. This fast-flowing cold current habitat, is what makes lunglessness (is that a word?), possible. The cold water can hold more oxygen, and the current delivers it quickly and efficiently to the frogs flattened body, which provides a greater surface area for gas exchange. In water that is still, warm, or even slow-moving, these flat frogs can't survive.

Which is unfortunate, because the rivers of its forest home, are becoming slower and warmer, as illegal logging and gold-mining pollute the rivers and destroy vital habitat. The Bornean Flat-headed Frog may be headed for extinction if action isn't taken very soon.

If you want to help, you can donate to the Heart of Borneo project, organized by the WWF, which aims to conserve a chunk of rainforest. You can also donate to Amphibian Ark, an organization committed to conserving frogs and other amphibians.

21 April 2008

Short Snouts are Back

Short-snouted Seahorse (Hippocampus hippocampus), Data Deficient

Earlier this month, conservationists from the Zoological Society of London announced that several Short-snouted Seahorses (which are actually fish, for those who wondered) had been found in the Thames River. Though they had been found earlier, the announcement was delayed, until official protection for the Seahorses came into effect on April 6, 2008, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. Conservationists believe that the rediscovery of the Short-snouted Seahorse illustrates the improving health of the Thames as habitat for marine life.

The conservation status of Short-snouted Seahorses is unknown, and the IUCN classifies them as Data Deficient. They could be abundant and plentiful . . . or they could be teetering on the brink of extinction.

The Seahorse Trust works worldwide to conserve Seahorses, and you can donate to their cause from their website.

20 April 2008

A Friend for Kim Qui

Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei), Critically Endangered

Back in December, I wrote about the Yangtze Giant Soft-shelled Turtle. Then, there were only two known Rafetus swinhoei known to exist, both in captivity, in separate zoos in China. It turns out that they aren't, in fact, the last two in existence. There are at least two others. One, highly revered by the Vietnamese and figuring prominently in legends as Kim Qui, the Golden Turtle God, lives in Hoan Kiem Lake, in Hanoi.

The discovery of the fourth, and only other known surviving turtle of this species, was recently announced by the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Scientists backed by the zoo spent three years searching in Vietnam, up and down the Red River. They finally found success at a lake just west of Hanoi, where locals said they occasionally spotted the rare turtle. As there are so few of these rare turtles left, every individual offers a greater hope for recovery. With only four known, however, prospects of long-term survival aren't very positive.

Rafetus swinhoei can live to be up to 100 years old, and perhaps it's not too late. There is a plan in the works to breed the male and female turtles from the Chinese zoos. So far though, no one knows for sure whether that attempt will be successful. Keep your fingers crossed.

You can join the Turtle Survival Alliance if you want to make a difference. You could also make a donation.

17 April 2008

Endangered Eating - Indian Bushmeat

Himalayan Quail (Ophrysia superciliosa), Critically Endangered
River Terrapin (Batagur baska), Critically Endangered
Malabar Civet (Viverra civettina), Critically Endangered
Pygmy Hog (Sus salvanius), Critically Endangered
Hoolock Gibbon (Bunopithecus hoolock), Endangered
Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle (Chitra indica), Endangered
Swamp Deer (Cervus duvaucelii), Endangered
Capped Langur (Trachypithecus pileatus), Endangered
Markhor (Capra falconeri), Endangered
Asiatic Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus), Vulnerable

"Musk-deer jerky, rice garnished with boiled macaque, roasted porcupine and marbled cat curry," begins an article published at OneWorld South Asia.

The article takes a look at some of the reasons that endangered species in India are rising in popularity as foods. From status symbols to subsistence fare, many of India's most endangered species are being decimated, one meal at a time. Read the full article, to learn more.

15 April 2008

World's Rarest Bustard

Bengal Florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis), Critically Endangered

The Bengal Florican, known by locals as "the whispering bird," has a long black head and neck, long, mostly white wings, and long yellow legs. It received it's nickname from the displays of male birds, which in mating season, struts into a clearing and ruffles it neck feathers. It jumps into the air, then drifts back to the ground, giving a deep humming call as it descends--hence "the whispering bird." It usually competes with other nearby males.

The Bengal Florican survives in areas of India and Nepal, but the largest part of its fragmented population ekes out its existence in the dry grasslands of Cambodia. With less than 1500 individuals, the Bengal Florican is listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered, and scientists estimate that it may be extinct in Cambodia within 5 years.

The biggest threat to these birds is habitat loss. According to a recent article, "Since 2005, a rush to turn grasslands into large-scale rice farms has gobbled up one-third of the Bengal Florican's habitat in Cambodia."

A land protection program, designed to stop development of critical habitat, has been implemented with some success. The program, a collaboration between the Wildlife Conservation Society, BirdLife International, and Cambodian authorities, protects 135 square miles and has canceled several previously planned developments. Still, the Bengal Florican isn't out of danger by a long shot. Though conservationists have attempted to win villager's support, resistance remains and some areas continue to be developed.

You can donate to BirdLife International, which is working to save 189 of the world's most endangered birds, including the Bengal Florican. Or, if you can spare 20,000 British pounds a year, you can become a Species Champion, and champion the survival of the Bengal Florican.

Here's a video of the Bengal Florican--unfortunately not of the male's mating dance.

08 April 2008

Incremental Increase

Iberian Lynx (Lynx Pardinus), Critically Endangered

Three Iberian Lynx kittens have recently been born in captivity, boosting the population of the worlds rarest cat.

Saliega, raised in captivity since birth, has produced her fourth litter in as many years. Three kittens were born, but only two survived, which is often the case in the wild. However, Brisa, Saliega's daughter, produced two kittens of her own within days of her mother. Of those two, one was still-born, and the other is being cared for by staff at the breeding center in Huelva, Spain.

Azahar and Frans, another pair of Iberian Lynx at a zoo in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, are expected to have a litter in mid-April.

There are currently only about 150 Iberian Lynx living in the wild, and scientists have estimated that there is a 95% chance the they will be extinct within 32 years, without drastic measures. A captive breeding program is underway, and additional centers are being constructed, but the problems of habitat loss and fragmentation continue to plague the recovery of Europe's last large feline.

Support efforts to save the lynx through petitions, donations, and other methods.

07 April 2008

Home Sweet Home

Asiatic Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus), Vulnerable

A new bear rescue center in Vietnam welcomed it's first inhabitants today--four Asiatic Black Bears, also known as Moon Bears. The bears were rescued by police seven months ago, when they were found in the luggage compartment of a bus. The center will eventually be able to hold up to 200 bears.

Animals Asia, the group operating the center, say they hope to end the illegal bear trade in Vietnam. Although it is legal to raise bears, the sale of bear meat and bile are forbidden. However, both are sold in a thriving black market. Some 4000+ bears are still trapped in cages across the country at illegal farms, in part because there is no place for them once they are rescued. Animals Asia hope that by providing a home for these bears, the government will be able to actually enforce the laws.

The use of bear bile for traditional medicine is still widespread and deeply rooted in the culture. Farmers extract the bile from the animals with a syringe, and sell it for use in cures of the eyes and liver, and other illnesses. Animals Asia hope that the center will send a message about the importance of animal protection to the Vietnames people.

Take a minute to sign a petition to help prevent the abuse of bears.
Donate to the Moon Bear Rescue effort.
Read more, here, here, and here.

03 April 2008

Kakapo - 91 and counting

Kakapo (Strigops habroptila), Critically Endangered

The critically endangered Kakapo is now five newly hatched chicks further away from extinction. The five chicks were recently hatched on Codfish Island a southern New Zealand island. The new hatchlings bring the world's total Kakapo population to 91, and if two more existing eggs hatch live chicks, it will rise to 93.

Part of the reason for the slow rise in Kakapo numbers, is that they only breed every three to five years. The breeding years are linked to years in which certain trees produce high yields of fruit. Scientists think that they may have found a way to mimic the conditions of these high fruit yields, by using some of the chemicals in the fruits themselves, that may trigger the birds to breed. If so, they may be able to increase the number of Kakapo eggs laid each year. For a more detailed explanation, check out this article.

Here's a video of a newly hatched Kakapo.

If you want to help save the Kakapo, you can donate or just become more informed.