Monthly Archives: August 2008

Endangered tortoise found burned to death


An endangered tortoise has been found burned to death in a fire grate at Black Rock campground in the Yucca Valley area.

Joe Zarki, information officer for Joshua Tree National Park, says rangers are seeking information from anyone who knows anything related to the dead desert tortoise found Aug. 4. He estimates the tortoise was 45 years old.

Desert tortoises are a threatened species, protected by the federal Endangered Species Act as well as state wildlife laws. The desert tortoise also is California’s official state reptile.

–Associated Press

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Seabirds caught in fishing nets face extinction


Thousands of seabirds perish each year along South Africa’s vast coastline. Most of the deaths can be attributed to being caught in fishing nets, lines and hooks. The Albatross and Petrel species now face extinction but moves are afoot to remedy the situation.

Seabirds play an intrinsic role in marine ecosystems and global concern over dwindling numbers of seabirds has grown in the last couple of years. Marine and Coastal Management (MCM) says it wants to develop a national plan of action to curb the snaring of seabirds in long-line fishing.

Marine scientists from across the globe are gathering in Somerset West outside Cape Town to develop a plan to protect the albatrosses and petrels. Senior Researcher at MCM, Johann Augustyn, says they hope to come up with strong resolutions because seabird numbers are rapidly declining. Augustyn says it’s incumbent upon South Africa to conserve the species since many are found in South African waters.

He added that they were going to place observers on vessels to gather data and ensure that the mortality of the birds is kept at the lowest level possible. “We’ve recently also put out a seabirds and seals protection policy, = we are also following an ecosystem approach to fisheries interims of a number of measures like permit conditions which would protect seabirds against certain activities.”

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Australian frogs are facing extinction


AUSTRALIAN frogs are facing the biggest wildlife extinction threat since the disappearance of dinosaurs, with 14 of the most endangered species in Queensland.

The warning comes from amphibian expert Natalie Hill, of Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, and University of Queensland frog expert Professor Gordon Grigg.

Ms Hill said Queensland frogs in most danger were stream-dwellers like the Fleays Barred Frog and the Great Barred Frog, found in the Gold Coast hinterland, and the Lienis Frog, only found in the Ghungalu National Park west of Rockhampton.

“In some spots in the hinterland the Fleays are gone already,” she said.

Other species, including those found in suburban back yards, also needed protecting if they were to survive, Ms Hill said.

The threat has been recognised by naming 2008 The Year of the Frog, with experts saying people must act now to halt climate change, habitat loss, water pollution, introduced predators and a pathogenic skin-eating fungus, which have taken frogs to the brink of extinction around the world.

“The biggest contributor to their decline is the chytrid fungus, which has been transported around the world via toads humans use for medical research,” Ms Hill said.

More than 3000 of the world’s 6000 species of amphibians are now at risk of dying out.

Of the 219 Australian species, 122 are in Queensland, placing us at the centre of the battle to save frogs.

Scientists on the Gold Coast plan to build special “mini-arks” to house frogs for breeding programs so they can be released back into the wild.

Ms Hill said further research into how to stop chytrid fungus spreading in the wild needed to be done.

“At the moment we can’t stop the fungus in the wild, but there are treatments for captive frogs,” she said.

“Over time, it’s hoped frogs in captivity may build up a resilience to it and then be released back into the wild.”

Ms Hill said the frog extinction risk was the world’s “wake-up call”.

“In the past 20 years Australia has had eight frogs become extinct. Six of those were in Queensland,” she said.

Ms Hill – who will talk about the topic at Gecko House, 139 Duringan St, Currumbin, at 6.30pm Wednesday – said Currumbin planned to build “mini Noah’s arks” for frogs as part of a $50 million worldwide program to build high-quarantine safehouses across the planet.

University of Queensland Emeritus Professor Gordon Grigg compared frogs to “the canaries in the coalmines” because of their indicator status of the planet’s health.

How can you help?

  • Build a frog-friendly garden, including an elevated water feature like a wheelbarrow or barrel surrounded by reeds.
  • Limit the amount of chemicals you use in the home or garden to protect our waterways.
  • Keep cats and dogs inside at night.
  • Wash boots after walking in national parks to stop the spread of the chytrid fungus.

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Disease outbreak on Midway kills endangered ducks


HONOLULU (AP) _ The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says 134 endangered Laysan ducks have been killed by an outbreak of avian botulism on Midway Atoll.

Botulism is an acute paralytic disease caused by a toxin produced by a widespread bacterium.

It’s different from a botulism type that normally occurs in humans. It’s not transferable to people.

Midway’s population of Laysan ducks has dropped to about 270 from 400 because of the outbreak.

The rest of the world’s Laysan ducks live on Laysan Island, south of Midway. They number about 600 and aren’t threatened by the outbreak.

Midway has been home to Laysan ducks since 2004 when wildlife biologists started transplanting 42 of the birds there to grow a new population.

The ducks used to be widespread across the Hawaiian Islands.

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Climate change hastens extinction in Madagascar’s reptiles and amphibians


New research from the American Museum of Natural History provides the first detailed study showing that global warming forces species to move up tropical mountains as their habitats shift upward. Christopher Raxworthy, Associate Curator in the Department of Herpetology, predicts that at least three species of amphibians and reptiles found in Madagascar’s mountainous north could go extinct between 2050 and 2100 because of habitat loss associated with rising global temperatures. These species, currently moving upslope to compensate for habitat loss at lower and warmer altitudes, will eventually have no place to move to.

“Two things together—highly localized distribution close to the very highest summits, and the magnitude of these upslope shifts in response to ongoing warming—make a poisonous cocktail for extinction,” said Raxworthy. In a paper published this month in Global Change Biology, Raxworthy and colleagues found overall trends for elevation changes among 30 species of amphibians and reptiles. Uphill movement is a predicted response to increased temperatures, and other studies, including that of J. Alan Pounds in Costa Rica, have provided some empirical evidence of how tropical animals respond to climate change. Raxworthy’s research, however, is distinguished by the number and diversity of species, the demonstrated meteorological changes over the same time period, the relatively large shifts in elevation, and the broader assessment of extinction vulnerability for tropical montane communities. Currently, there is also a dearth of information available concerning climate impacts on biodiversity for tropical regions.

Raxworthy has been surveying the diversity of Madagascar’s herpetological assemblage since 1985 and discovered the uphill migration almost by chance while in the field. On repeated surveys of northern Madagascar’s mountains, the Tsaratanana Massif, he noticed that some species were missing from camps where they’d been previously observed. Moreover, some of these “missing” species popped up at the next higher elevation surveyed. “I noted this in the field as strange, but when I later sat down and looked at the data, the trend persisted,” Raxworthy explains. He culled elevation records and was able to compare surveys of animals over a ten-year period.

The results were dramatic. Among 30 species of geckos, skinks, chameleons, and frogs, and controlling for sampling effort, an average shift uphill of 19 to 51 meters (62 to 167 feet) was observed over the decade. When these results were compared with meteorological records and climate change simulations, the movement of animals could be linked to temperature increases of 0.1°C to 0.37°C (0.18°F to 0.67°F) over the same decade, which corresponds to an expected upslope movement of 17 to 74 meters (59 to 243 feet). Raxworthy’s results are robust because of the diversity of species included in his analyses. These animals come from five different families of amphibians and reptiles—narrow-mouthed toads, mantelline frogs, chameleons, geckos, and skinks—making it unlikely that a simple phenological change could explain the upward movement. “When you see a general trend across all these groups of organisms, it is likely to be related to a broad explanation like general temperature warming, not something more subtle such as seasonal variation,” says Raxworthy.

The direct link between observed movement up mountains, possible extinction, and climate change has consequences for Madagascar’s network of national parks. The government of Madagascar is currently planning to set aside 10 percent of its landmass for conservation purposes, and previous research by Raxworthy and colleagues published in Science in April used the distribution of 2,300 species of animals to map the areas of this island nation that provide adequate habitat for all species. “The Malagasy government is creating important new reserves and protecting forests. Sadly, however, with a phenomenon like global warming, species will move upslope, and so eventually may still lose all their habitat and go extinct,” says Raxworthy. “This conservation problem thus requires a global solution.”


The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, and Raxworthy worked with scientists from Université d’Antananarivo in Madagascar, National Chung-Hsing University in Taiwan, University of Michigan in the United States, and the University of Oxford in England.

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NOAA Confirms Caribbean Monk Seal Extinct


After a five year review, NOAA’s Fisheries Service has determined that the Caribbean monk seal, which has not been seen for more than 50 years, has gone extinct—the first type of seal to go extinct from human causes.

Monk seals became easy targets for hunters while resting, birthing, or nursing their pups on the beach. Overhunting by humans led to these seals’ demise, according to NOAA biologists.

The last confirmed sighting of the seal was in 1952 in the Caribbean Sea at Seranilla Bank, between Jamaica and the Yucatán Peninsula. This was the only subtropical seal native to the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.

“Humans left the Caribbean monk seal population unsustainable after overhunting them in the wild,” said Kyle Baker, biologist for NOAA’s Fisheries Service southeast region. “Unfortunately, this lead to their demise and labels the species as the only seal to go extinct from human causes.”

Caribbean monk seals were listed as endangered on March 11, 1967, under the Endangered Species Preservation Act, and relisted under the Endangered Species Act on April 10, 1979. Since then, several efforts have been made to investigate unconfirmed reports of the species in or near the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, southern Bahamas, and Greater Antilles. These expeditions only confirmed sightings of other seal types, such as stray arctic seals.

Five-year status reviews are a requirement of the Endangered Species Act to ensure that the status of a species listed as threatened or endangered remains accurate and has not changed, for better or worse. The most recent review began in 2003.

NOAA’s Fisheries Service plans to publish a proposed rule in the Federal Register, seeking public comment to permanently remove Caribbean monk seals from the Endangered Species List. Species are removed from this list when their populations are no longer threatened or endangered, or when they are declared extinct.

“Worldwide, populations of the two remaining monk seal species are declining,” said Baker. “We hope we’ve learned from the extinction of Caribbean monk seals, and can provide stronger protection for their Hawaiian and Mediterranean relatives.”

Hawaiian and Mediterranean monk seals are endangered and at risk of extinction with populations dipping below 1,200 and 500 individuals, respectively.

NOAA’s Fisheries Service is responsible for protecting the Hawaiian monk seal. That population is declining at a rate of about four percent per year, and NOAA biologists predict the population could fall below 1,000 animals in the next three to four years, placing the Hawaiian monk seal among the world’s most endangered marine species. Unlike the Caribbean monk seal, Hawaiian monk seals face different survival challenges, such as lack of food sources for young seals, entanglement in marine debris, predation by sharks, and loss of haul-out and pupping beaches due to erosion.

“The Hawaiian monk seal is a treasure to preserve for future generations,” said Bud Antonelis, biologist for NOAA’s Fisheries Service Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center. “NOAA’s Fisheries Service has developed a monk seal recovery plan, but we need continued support from organizations and the public if we are to have a chance at saving it from extinction. Time is running out.”

Other species of marine mammals that have gone extinct in modern times include the Atlantic gray whale (1700s or 1800s) and stellar sea cow (late 1700s), presumably due to overhunting by whalers. Exploitation of Caribbean monk seals began during the same time period.

Caribbean monk seals were first discovered during Columbus’s second voyage in 1494, when eight seals were killed for meat. Following European colonization from the 1700s to 1900s, the seals were exploited intensively for their blubber, and to a lesser extent for food, scientific study and zoological collection. Blubber was processed into oil and used for lubrication, coating the bottom of boats, and as lamp and cooking oil. Seal skins were sought to make trunk linings, articles of clothing, straps and bags.

Scientists are unsure about exactly when Caribbean monk seals went extinct. Although there have been no confirmed sightings since 1952, it is conceivable that undetected seals persisted for a short period thereafter. The seals lived 20 to 30 years, so experts believe that some adults possibly lived into the 1960s or 1970s.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 70 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.

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Indonesia finds huge haul of endangered pangolins


Indonesian police have found 14 tonnes of frozen pangolins in the largest ever seizure of the endangered animals, the Wildlife Conservation Society and TRAFFIC said in a statement on Tuesday (local time).

Indonesian Police Commissioner Didid Widjanardi said 14 people were arrested after a raid in Sumatra, where the animals were found stored in containers in a warehouse.

“The pangolins were packed and ready for export to China via seaports in Sumatra and Java,” he said.

The solitary and nocturnal ant eater is found only in Asia and Africa.

Its meat is considered a delicacy for some, its scaly skin can be made into handbags and shoes, and its scales and blood are used in Chinese medicine to treat allergies and sexually transmitted disease.

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