27 January 2009

Mushrooms for Breakfast, Mushrooms for Lunch, Mushrooms for . . .

Gilbert's Potoroo (Potorous gilbertii), Critically Endangered

Gilbert's Potoroo, named for the English naturalist John Gilbert, is perhaps the most endangered marsupial in Australia. Known as the Ngil-gyte by local aboriginals, it is a small marsupial rat-kangaroo, with soft fur, bulging eyes, and a tail almost as long as its 30cm body. If you know what bandicoots and wallabies look like, a potoroo is somewhere in the middle. Fewer than 50 wild individuals are restricted to two tiny areas on the southern coast of Western Australia.

These shy nocturnal creatures are an oddity in the mammal world, in that they are fungivores. That is, 90% of their diet consists of truffles, the fruiting body of underground fungi. The spores of over 40 types of truffle have been found in their dung! The rest of their diet consists of small insects and small fleshy fruit.

It was first discovered around 1840 in southwest Australia, when John Gilbert wrote that large numbers were procured by aboriginals for food in the space of a few hours. By 1870, it was believed extinct. It wasn't until more than 120 years later, in 1994 that Gilbert's Potoroo was discovered, still alive in Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve. Since then, a captive breeding population has been established in the same area, and another wild population has been established on nearby Bald Island. Currently, plans are underway to establish a third wild population at Waychinicup National Park.

The establishment of these distinct populations is crucial to increasing Gilbert's Potoroo's chances of survival. Threatened by wildfire (they live in dense, highly flammable vegetation that has remained unburnt for 50 or more years), introduced predators (feral foxes and cats), and changes to their habitat, their tiny population is at constant risk of extinction by a single catastrophic event. That is, a single wildfire could wipe out the majority of the population.

Research continues to learn more about the needs of Gilbert's Potoroo, as well as to help conservationists increase the breeding success of the captive population.

If you live in Western Australia, you can volunteer with the Gilbert's Potoroo Action Group, dedicated to preventing the extinction of it's namesake.

Learn more about Gilbert's Potoroo at Western Australia's Department of Environment and Conservation website.

23 January 2009

Endangered Eating: Frog Legs

There's a great article by Corey Bradshaw, about the enormous number of frogs that are being consumed by humans around the world. With a low estimate of 180 million consumed annually, the upper limit may be far north of a billion.

With habitat loss, global warming, the chytrid crisis and all the other threats facing amphibians and frogs in particular, here's one more thing that's contributing to their decline.

I really encourage you to check out the original article.

Antelope or Sheep?

Saiga Antelope (Saiga tatarica), Critically Endangered

Saiga antelope have an extremely distinctive appearance with an enlarged nose that hangs down over the mouth like a mini-elephant trunk. Mature males have almost vertical orange-ish translucent horns that are ringed at the bottom. Despite their common name they are thought to be intermediates between antelope and sheep. Their coats are sparse and cinnamon-buff in the summer but become white and around 70 percent thicker in winter.

Currently, there are three populations of the subspecies S. t. tatarica in Kazakhstan - the Ural, Ust'-Urt and Betpakdala, and one population in the Pre-Caspian region (a European population). Some herds from one of the populations within Kazakhstan migrate to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan during the winter. Each of these populations is distinct and there is little intermingling of the populations.

Until the early 1960s there was also a population of Saiga tatarica in China. Two populations of the Mongolian saiga (S. t. mongolica) inhabit the northwest of Mongolia. Saiga within the former Soviet Union were the subject of concerted conservation programmes. The population at one point reached almost one million individuals.

Saigas typically inhabit open dry steppe and semi desert grasslands of Central Asia and Pre-Caspian region. They prefer open areas free from dense vegetation where they run quickly (up to 80 miles per hour) to avoid predators such as wolves and humans.

Management of the species has now broken down however and illegal poaching is rife. Saiga horns are highly valued in traditional Chinese medicine as cures for illnesses such as strokes. Only the males of the species bear horns and poaching thus produces a population where there are far more females than males. The average life span of saiga is only around three to four years and if females do not mate every year the species can rapidly decline. They are on the CITES list and hunting is banned throughout the Saiga's range.

Maps and more information on the Saiga at EDGE - here.

Saiga also usually have one or (more commonly) two offspring at a go. I find Saiga terribly cute - adult or babies... they are - aren't they?!

07 January 2009

Purple, but Ugly

Purple Frog (Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis), Endangered

The first ever video footage of the Purple Frog is now available, thanks to EDGE (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered).

Those who know me well, know that my favourite colour is purple. But the colour of this frog isn't enough to make me call it beautiful. Or even anything short of hideously ugly. This is one creature that truly deserves its place over at Endangered Ugly Things. The BBC recently said that it "looks more like a squat, grumpy blob than a living creature.”

It was discovered in 2003. It spends most of it's time underground, where it eats termites, and only comes to the surface for a few weeks during the monsoon season, to breed. It belongs to the first new frog family to be discovered since 1926, is thought to belong to an ancient lineage of frogs, placing it at #4 on the list of EDGE Amphibians.

Total population is unknown, though it's thought to be rare, as only 135 individuals have ever been observed. Confined to a few small pockets in India, its minimal habitat is threatened, as forests are cleared to make way for plantations of cardamom, coffee, ginger, and other spices.

You can help by learning more about the Purple Frog, or supporting EDGE in its mission of protecting unique and endangered species.

06 January 2009

Eggs, Eggs, Eggs

Kakapo (Strigops habroptila), Critically Endangered

According to Radio New Zealand, this year could be a lucky one. With a population of less than 100, the critically endangered Kakapo has been slowly increasing due to dedicated conservation efforts. This breeding season, the Kakapo Recovery Programme is hoping for forty chicks.

Previously on this blog, the importance of rimu fruit to Kakapo breeding was discussed, and it appears that a bumper crop may be in the works. Additionally, there are more fertile adult females, than there have been in years. If these factors come together, the Kakapo population could increase by nearly 50 percent. With so many chicks, some would be raised by their parents, instead of hand-reared by humans, as they sometimes are when chicks are rare.

The breeding season has started less than a month ago, with the first mating of the season occurring on Christmas night. Chicks are expected in late February.

Keep up to date by following the Kakapo Ranger Diaries.

Donate, Volunteer, or Get Involved.

05 January 2009

Little Rhinos Offer a Little Hope

Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus), Critically Endangered

The Javan Rhinoceros is believed to be the rarest large mammal in the world. With only 40-60 individuals still alive, scientists worry whether the population was large enough to recover. It once lived in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Lao PDR. Today, it survives in two tiny isolated parks in Viet Nam and Indonesia. To really get an idea of its current and historic range, check out this excellent map from Wikipedia. Ujung Kulon National Park, on the western tip of Java has an estimated 50 individuals. Cat Tien National Park in Viet Nam has a mere 6 to 8, which may no longer be a viable population.

Some good news for these giants--scientists recently observed four young rhino calves and their parents in Ujung Kulon. According to the head of the park, the young rhinos were between 6 and 7 months and were in the company of their parents. This is a ray of light for the declining species and offers hope that they may be able to breed quickly enough to recover. Still they face difficult times, with the largest threat coming from poaching for traditional Chinese medicine. There are no Javan Rhinos in captivity to provide captive breeding or insurance populations.

How you can help:

Shop for rhino related products (t-shirts and such, not horns).

Join Crash! the Social Network for People who love Rhinos.

Donate to one of these Rhino Conservation organizations:

International Rhino Foundation, Save the Rhino

02 January 2009

National Geographic Article

The January 2009 issue of National Geographic has a great article about the Endangered Species Act, by Verlyn Klinkenborg, along with beautiful photographs of endangered species by Joel Sartore.

Check it out here.