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.