Some interesting stories have surfaced in the past couple of months in endangered species news.  I found the following were the most interesting.

Poaching is always in the forefront of endangered species news.  Video cameras have now been developed which could be the key to saving the rhinoceros from extinction. In addition to a camera, these devices contain tracking technology and a heart-rate monitor.  Known as RAPID – Real-time anti-poaching intelligence devices – it is hoped they will end poaching and collect evidence to use against poachers. These devices are scheduled to be painlessly embedded in the horns of South African rhinos – home of the majority of the remaining rhinos – by early 2017.

ivory poaching endangered news

USFWS Mountain-Prairie, CC BY 2.0, via flickr

Elephants are being pushed to extinction by an out of control ivory market in Hong Kong according to Discovery News.  International trade of ivory was banned in 1989 but a report by Save the Elephants suggests that tusks found from newly slaughtered elephants are being passed off as new ivory and are being illegally smuggled to China. Stockpiles of ivory collected before this date are apparently available for use in China. Hong Kong’s ivory trade is a significant problem in international efforts to end the killing of African elephants.

Jennifer Viegas reports that the 6th mass extinction began about 40 years ago. Mass extinctions are sudden, global decreases in the diversity of life-forms.  When three out of four familiar species disappear in a short span of time you are seeing a mass extinction.  Human-caused disturbances have been a huge factor in this loss of biodiversity.  Anthony Barnosky, a researcher from the University of California at Berkley warns the window of opportunity to reverse the changes causing this mass extinction is closing quickly.  We may only have a decade or less to find the solutions to stem the tide.

Conservation groups have announced the creation of seven new protected ‘parks’ in Madagascar.  Many weird and beautiful threatened creatures will have their habitat protected in these areas.  These 7 areas make up 75,000 acres on the eastern side of the island along the Indian Ocean.  Species protected include the Golden Mantela Frog whose habitat of only 35 square miles lies within the protected area.  The Indri Lemur, a unique singing primate and the world’s largest lemur is also protected in these ‘parks’.

Seeing a Harpy Eagle is amazing and about as rare as finding a unicorn.  Considered near-threatened, it nests high in the understory of the Peruvian rainforest making it difficult to spot.  Photographer Jeff Cremer was thrilled to captured this elusive bird including a nestling in a number of wonderful photographs.

Any stories telling of efforts at reintroducing lost species to an area are prime endangered species news.  Ecuador has released 201 tortoises on Santa Fe Island in the Galapagos Archipelago where a similar subspecies of tortoise went extinct over 150 years ago.  The released tortoises are from the species Chelonoidis hoodensis from Espanola Island.  This species is genetically and physically very similar to the extinct Chelonoidis species which was native to Santa Fe. This release project is considered a milestone in conservation efforts. Conservationists will study the ecosystem changes arising from the introduction of this similar but new species to the island including its interactions with other animals on the island, especially the 6500 land iguanas native to Santa Fe.

A similar project has occurred in Rwanda where 7 lions (2 male and 7 female) have been reintroduced after being wiped out over 20 years ago due to the county’s 1994 genocide.  The lions were chosen based on their reproductive potential.  Their differing ages and varied genetic make-up will give a good start for creating a stable population.

Kiwi Bird - endangered species news

Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust, Public Domain, via Wiki Commons

The use of DNA technology in helping the fate of threatened animals always makes interesting endangered species news.  The Kiwi Bird is a unique, flightless bird and researchers have managed to sequence its genetic code.  Why is this important you might ask?  A number of sequence changes explain the bird’s adaptation to a nocturnal lifestyle and knowledge is power when it comes to stopping the pressures leading to an animal being threatened.  Researchers have found that the genes for color vision have been deactivated and it has more smell receptors than other birds meaning it relies on smell rather than sight for finding food and evading predators.  Most importantly, it was discovered by comparing the DNA of multiple Kiwi birds, they have very low genetic diversity making it more difficult for them to recover from heavy population declines.

Many plants exist due to dispersal of their seeds by animals.  It was once thought that big animals consumed and thus dispersed large seeds.  That assumption has been proven incorrect.  It has been discovered that large animals eat a wide variety of seeds both large and small.  This finding is important because it suggests many more plant species are at risk of becoming extinct if large animals disappear and are no longer available to disperse their seeds.

Climate change is a heavy factor in the extinction of many species and is important in endangered species news reports.  Polar bears are an iconic animal featured in reports of the effect climate change is having on the fate of animals.  Earlier research suggested that Polar bears could avoid starvation from longer summer food deprivation by reducing their metabolic rate thus entering a kind of ‘walking hibernation’.  New research which has involved collecting the body temperatures of polar bears is suggesting that this is not the case.  Loss of Arctic ice means the bears have less access to seals which provide the protein and fat stores they need to survive harder times.  If they can’t reduce their metabolic needs during times when food is harder to find then their numbers will continue to decline.

Follow the links below to read the full stories behind recent endangered species news. Some of the developments are exciting and full of promise.  A few remind us we have a way to go in our conservation efforts to protect the important resource of Earth’s biodiversity.

AFP.  “Ecuador Releases 201 Tortoises on Galapagos Island“.  Discovery News.  Discovery News.  28 June, 2015.

AFP.  “Hong Kong Ivory Trade Called Major Threat to Elephants”  Discovery News. Discovery News.  16 July, 2015

 Discovery News.  “Rhino-Cam Could Help Catch Poachers in the Act“. Discovery News. Discovery News. 20 July, 2015

Ghose, Tia, Livescience.  “Rare Harpy Eagle Chick Captured in New Pics“.  Discovery News.  Discovery News.  13 July, 2015

Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. “Kiwi bird genome sequenced: The kiwi, national symbol of New Zealand, gives insights into the evolution of nocturnal animals.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 July 2015.

Niiler, Eric.  “New Reserve Protects Madagascar’s Weirdest Creatures“.  Discovery News.  Discovery News.  17 July, 2015

Viegas, Jennifer.  “Animals Dying Off in Current Mass Extinction“.  Discovery News. Discovery News.  19 June, 2015

University of New South Wales. “Global study of seed consumption uncovers wider risk to plant species.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 July 2015.

University of Wyoming. “Polar bears threatened: Experience limited energy savings in summer.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 July 2015.