13 December 2010

Gharials Reclaiming River?

 © Sanjib Chaudhary
Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus), Critically Endangered

The Gharial, a critically endangered crocodilian, survives only in fragmented habitats throughout India and Nepal. In the past, it also occupied rivers in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Myanmar. It's current population is thought to be a mere 200 individuals.

Good news then, that it has recently been seen in places where it hasn't been for 40 years or more--the Hooghly District (near Kolkata) on the Ganges River in India.

iREBEL, a conservation organization, and Innovative India Tourism Pvt. Ltd, teamed up with other partners to conduct surveys in the area after hearing Gharials had been sighted there. They discovered a viable breeding population in a 170 km stretch of the river.

The group hopes to establish reserves along the river to protect the Gharials, as well as Gangetic Dolphins and other species living in the area, as many threats still face these nearly extinct and beautiful crocodilians.

The main threats to Gharials are outlined in a report published by the group:

1. Fishing – especially with gill nets and set nets. Juvenile gharials often become entangled and die.
2. Destruction of sandbanks for use in brick factories
3. Disturbance by humans while basking in the sun
4. Industrial pollution
5. Perception that gharials are man-eaters like other crocodiles

If you want to help, you can support the gharials through eco-tourism. You can sign up for wildlife tours with iREBELInnovative India Tourism Pvt. Ltd, or WWF-India, or even volunteer to help with their work.

You can also support the Gharials through the Gharial Conservation Alliance.

17 November 2010

Blogs Galore

Check out these two great articles over at Vet Tech. NEY made the list at number 4 on the top 101. Also check out some of the other blogs mentioned. Thanks Vet Tech!

Top 101 Blogs to Inspire You to Protect Endangered Species

50 Inspiring Blogs Fighting for Endangered Species

14 November 2010

Orange Bellied (Yellow Breasted Green Headed Blue Winged) Parrot

Orange Bellied Parrot (Neophema chrysogaster), Critically Endangered
Photo copyright Dave Watts
The Orange Bellied Parrot is sick, and this is a really bad time to be sick.

With a mere 50 or so individuals surviving in the wild, this species is edging closer to extinction every day. For the past few years, the wild population has been estimated between 140 and 180 birds--a steep decline from 'common, or locally abundant' in the 1920s. Only in the past year have the numbers dropped even lower as sightings of wild birds have grown fewer.

Three captive breeding populations exist in zoos around Australia, and it's these unfortunate Orange Bellies that are sick. An unknown virus has infected birds in the captive breeding program, causing some of them to lose their feathers and weakening their immune systems. Scientists believe that the virus may spread more easily in the captive population because they are so close to each other. The program has had some success annually releasing captive-bred birds to help sustain the wild population--so if the captive breeding program suffers, so will the wild population.

Orange Bellies are a migratory species, breeding and nesting in southwestern Tasmania, and spending the rest of the year in coastal areas in South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales. This month is migration month, and all wild Orange Bellies are making their way south to Tasmania, where mated pairs will build nests and lay 2-6 eggs.

Of course, these parrots also face the usual threats of habitat loss and invasive species. You can learn more about their food, habitat, life cycle, and what's being done to help them here. If you live in Australia and want to help, you could volunteer with Birds Australia.

28 September 2010

3000 Frogs Isn't Very Many

Photos courtesy of Frogwatch.

White-bellied Frog (Geocrinia Alba), Critically Endangered

Sixty White-bellied Frogs are now exploring their native habitat for the first time, after being released into the wild last week. These glossy bellied frogs live only in the province of Western Australia, where they have the dubious distinction of being this region's only critically endangered frog species.

The total population of all White-bellied Frogs is estimated at less than 3000. This might be an impressive number if you were talking about Facebook friends or gigabytes of data, but when you're talking about the entire population of a species, 3000 equals hanging by a thread.

They are mostly being affected by habitat loss, and a related problem, habitat fragmentation. As humans encroach on their living space, they also divide it. These frogs are known to exist in 56 subpopulations, with no movement between any of the groups.

This latest release is the first time young frogs (aka froglets) have been introduced to the wild from the captive breeding program run by the Department of Environment and Conservation. Transplantations of large numbers of eggs have occurred, but the results of this new approach will help scientists determine the best methods of helping boost the population of this unique amphibian.

Check out the Amphibian Ark--an organization dedicated to helping endangered frogs all around the world.
Read more details here or some technical data here.

12 February 2010

It's a Big Problem

Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus)
(Photo courtesy

The Basking Shark is endangered in the Pacific and in trouble in the Atlantic (
COSEWIC 2007, listed as vulnerable by the IUCN) and is little known by most humans. A call to our lab to determine which “sea monster” carcass had washed up on a Nova Scotia shore had us discover a Basking Shark that had apparently died at sea.

These gentle giants can grow up to 15 metres in length and have the longest known gestation period of any vertebrate (up to 3.5 years!), so replacement is low. Despite their size, I think Basking Sharks are pretty cute. First, they’re filter feeders, so the fear factor is totally related to being humungous and able to knock your head off with a casual flip of the tail. Second, their rounded noses make them look a bit more like a seal than a shark. Unfortunately, they can become tangled in nets and fishing lines or hit by ships as they cruise near the surface of the water, feeding on the rich biodiversity of plankton there.

I’ve been up close and personal with a lot of Atlantic sharks, and their sheer bulk makes them seem invincible. They aren’t. In the pacific, the situation is
even worse.

What can you do to help them out? As with any ocean fish, this is a tough question. Avoiding
cruise ships is a good first step, but minimizing your contribution to water pollution (salts, fertilizers, sewage? learn more here) and eating a vegetarian diet (slower global warming and no nets or lines to tangle or maim non-target species) are even better. Finally, tell your friends! We’re the species responsible for their decline, so we can certainly act to change that.

22 January 2010

Splash! Puurrrrr.

Flat-headed Cat (Prionailurus planiceps), Endangered

An awesome article from New Scientist, about a water-loving cat with webbed feet.

21 January 2010


The year has just started, but already one month has already nearly passed. The rest of the year will be gone before we know it, and soon it will be December once again.

Despite how fast this year will go by, there are plenty of opportunities to make a difference. The UN has designated 2010 the Internatial Year of Biodiversity (IYOB), to celebrate all of life of earth, and the ways in which our lives are enriched by it.

In order to promote biodiversity and raise awareness of endangered species, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is highlighting a species a day. There's a link to the Species of the Day to the right, so follow along and learn a bit more about some of the threats facing the biodiversity of our planet.

Click here to find a IYOB celebration near you.

18 January 2010


'Alala (Corvus hawaiiensis), Extinct in the Wild

The 'Alala, has been Extinct in the Wild since 2002. What is an 'Alala you ask? 'Alala is the Hawaiian name for a bird that others call the Hawaiian Crow.

The last few wild birds lived out their lives on the island of Hawaii, in the Kona Forest Unit of Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge. Now, the 'Alala no longer exists, except for sixty some birds in two breeding centers, (one on Maui and one on the Big Island of Hawaii), and a single bird at the San Diego Zoo.

The birds declined because of a variety of factors, including habitat alteration by wild cattle, sheep, and pigs. These animals would clear the underbrush of the native plants that the 'Alala depended on for food. The lack of underbrush also made the Hawaiian Crow more susceptible to attacks from it's main predator, the 'Io, aka the Hawaiian Hawk. Logging and the conversion of forested land into agricultural land added to the problem.

Recovery efforts have been underway since at least the 1970s, but with little success. Between 1993 and 1999, 27 captive reared birds were released. Twenty-one of those died in the wild, and the remaining 6 were recaptured to preserve their genetic diversity for the captive breeding program. The captive breeding population has grown over the years, but very slowly.

Currently, a single 19-year old bird is being kept at the San Diego Zoo, where it is hoped that it will be possible to collect his sperm, so that his important genes will not be lost, since he will no longer breed.

In 2009, the US Fish and Wildlife Service published an update to its recovery plan for the 'Alala, including plans for continued captive breeding and eventual reintroduction into conserved and protected habitats. In order to carry out the recovery plan, an estimated $14 million will need to be found.

You can stay up to date on the latest news and information about the 'Alala at Crows.net.

[January 20, 2010, 9:32 pm, corrected the location of the breeding centers in paragraph 2]

04 January 2010

Lost and Found

Forest Owlet (Athene blewitti), Critically Endangered

Happy new year! 2010 and I write about a species lost and found again!

The Forest Owlet existed for only a decade after it was first described before being rediscovered113 (!) years later in 1997. I had the priveledge to attend a talk by one of the discoverers, rather re-discoverers, a few weeks back here in New Delhi.

Pamela Rasmussen is like an adventure book come to life - filled with a long tale of controversies, mysteries and finally the finding of a SPECIES! A dream all nature explorers and adventurers carry from childhood. So here is the story of the Forest Owlet as I recollect it.

This Owlet was never prolifically observed and a tumbling and twisting tale of specimens follow its course in history. The search only had a few specimens in various museums to follow as a lead. So put on your Detective Cap and follow on - soon these specimens were studied and a tangled web of specimen fraud was unraveled starring in the lead role a Colonel Richard Henry Meinertzhagen a British soldier, an intelligence officer and an ornithologist. Once the truth slipped out and after many a long and hard survey a few tiny patches of forest in India in the Satpuras were found to house these beautiful birds. Its habitat is largely protected in Melghat Tiger Reserve, Taloda Reserve Forest and Toranmal Reserve forest. The key differentiation between notified reserves and reserve forest is the level of actual protection. All 3 places are however under the IBAs of India, broadly strewn across the country and under surveillance by hawk-eyed (or should I say Owlet-eyed) IBCN members. Critically endangered and with ever increasing habitat reduction the Forest Owlet is as closer than ever to vanishing once more than it was a hundred years back!

If you see any Owlet near your garden sunning itself you'll realize the joy of seeing an intelligent predator at their most relaxed... I saw Spotted Owlets (not in danger of becoming extinct) in my garden the other day and it made me think of the Forest Owlet once more.

It would indeed be a shame to lose this bird again after so painstakingly finding it. After all, this time round we may not be as lucky as a hundred years back to see it re-surface again!

You can even adopt this and a few other birds here! This photograph is by Nikhil Devasar.