Markhors Make a Comeback

July 29th, 2012

Male markhor with kid. Photo by: Graham Jones/Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

A critically endangered, large wild goat named the markhor is the national animal of Pakistan.  In good news from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the population of markhors has been found to be climbing over the past few years.

  • In 1991, these animals reached an all time low of between 40 and 50 animals.
  • Most recent surveys have found a population estimated around 300, suggesting a total number of markhors to be around 1,500 individuals.
  • The iconic corkscrew horns of the markhor can reach an impressive length of up to 5 feet and are used by males to win females during breeding seasons.
  • The markhor can be found in scrub forests made of oaks, pines, and junipers.  In these forests they like to eat the grasses, leaves, herbs, fruit, and flowers.
  • The markhors have been threatened by illegal hunting, habitat destruction, and competition with domestic goats and sheep.
  • The low population not only affected the markhors themselves, but also carnivorous species such as the wolf and snow leopard, as they are a primary food source for them.
  • The ‘Markhor Conservancy’ is a conservation project that aids villages in sharing resources in order to protect the markhors.
  • The WCS also plans to help in the protection of other wildlife in this region such as the snow leopard and the Asiatic black bear.

Want to learn more?  Read the full story: Conservation success: markhor population climbing

Pledge to Double Tiny Buffalo Population

July 29th, 2012

Illustration of the tamaraw. For photos of the tamaraw: Arkive: tamaraw.

In the mountain slopes of Mindoro Island in the Philippines, ten-thousand mighty tamaraw buffalo once grazed.  Now, with less than 300 individuals remaining, these dwarf buffaloes are now classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

  • The WWF-Philippines has joined together with top academic institution Far Eastern University, along with environmental groups in Mindoro, with a goal of doubling the population of wild tamaraw by 2020.
  • While the tamaraw is the largest land mammal native to Mindoro, it is considered to be a dwarf species of buffalo.  Individuals stand at 1 meter tall (3.2 feet) and weight between 200 and 300 kilograms (440 – 660 pounds).
  • The tamaraw’s dark brown coat is broken with light markings on its stomach and above it eyes.
  • These nocturnal mammals have short, thick horns forming a distinctive V-shape above its head.
  • Decades of hunting, land clearings, and an disease have had devastating effects on the population.
  • Mindoro is one of seven distinct bio-geographical zones in the Philippines and supports the productive ecosystems of the Iglit-Baco mountain range and Apo Reef.
  • The tamaraw conservation effort brings together tamaraw research, ongoing efforts to protect the Apo Reef and other marine riches, and improved oversight and regulations for parks and public land use.

Want to learn more?  Read the full story: Conservationists pledge to double number of tiny buffalo

New rat discovered in Indonesia

July 29th, 2012

Christine’s Margareta rat. Photo by: Alessio Mortelliti/Sapienza University.

Researchers have discovered a new species of rodent in Indonesia’s Mekongga Mountains.

  • Christine’s Margareta rat (Margaretamys christinae), has been discovered on an Indonesian island called Sulawesi. It is only the fourth of its kind found (Margaretamy).
  • Alessio Mortelliti discovered the animal and says it differs to the other three by being smaller, having a white-tipped tail and living at high altitudes.
  • The rat was named after Alessio Mortelliti’s girlfriend.
  • “I strongly believe that it is very likely that several other undiscovered species may be present in the area, including other Margaretamys species,” Mortelliti said.
  • As a result of deforestation for agriculture, Christine’s Margareta rat may well be under serious threat. Speaking about all four rodents Mortelliti explained, “These are all forest species, so are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation”.
  • Mortelliti believes the creation of a protected area will help these species survive.
  • Discovering new mammals is rare. For example, in 2009, a total of 19,232 species were discovered; only 42 of these were mammals.

Want to learn more? Visit – New mammal discovered in Indonesia




Hopeful cure for diseased frogs

July 29th, 2012

Mountain yellow-legged frog. Photo by: Chris Brown, USGS.

Researchers are now treating tadpoles in Kings Canyon National Park, California with anti-fungal bacteria. The hope is that the treatment will provide immunity to a particularly devastating disease.

  • The chytrid fungal disease is a potentially deadly skin disease that causes heart failure in many amphibians.
  • It can spread through the water an infected individual has been living in or if an infected frog is introduced into an area both intentionally and unintentionally.
  • The disease is believed to be responsible for over 100 amphibian species extinctions since 1970.
  • Scientists are now using an anti-fungal bacterium – first discovered on red-backed salamander, to try and treat this disease in California’s mountain yellow-legged frog.
  • They are pouring the potential cure into the lakes in which these frogs live. Some populations have already been treated with the bacterium and San Francisco State University will be checking up on the results.
  • This bacterium may not only be key to the survival of the California mountain yellow-legged frog, which is listed as Endangered by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), but many frog species around the world.

Want to learn more?  Read the full story: Scientists testing anti-fungal bacteria on diseased frogs in California

Still time to save most species in the Brazilian Amazon

July 23rd, 2012

Burnt forest in the Amazon. Photo by: Alexander Lees.

Species that live in habitats that are destroyed or become unusable do not go extinct immediately: they tend to phase out through generations.  This is called “extinction debt”, and a study in the journal Science predicts that the Brazilian Amazon may soon be in danger of losing huge numbers of species to the debt collectors.

  • The study found that 80-90% of predicted extinctions in Amazonian birds, amphibians, and mammals has not happened yet, giving an opportunity to restore the destroyed habitats and ensure the future survival of the species
  • Insects, reptiles, fish, plants and fungi were not included in the study because researchers were unable to get enough data on species and distribution, but they face many of the same threats of extinction due to deforestation
  • The Amazon had lost almost 20%, or 720,000 km2 , of her forest by 2008 and would lose even more if deforestation continues at its current pace
  • It is unlikely that by the year 2020 deforestation would have either come to a halt or be reduced to 80%, both of which are optimistic scenarios used in the scientists model, which leads researchers to conclude that the extinction debt will only get larger (around 14% of family groups)
  • Recent decline in deforestation rates have helped provide conservationists with time to develop plans for the future preservation and restoration of the Amazon, hopefully before the species are lost forever
  • Many of the species that may go extinct in the coming years may never have been discovered by scientists

Want to read more? Click here to read the full article:

Madagascar’s lemurs are going extinct

July 21st, 2012

The Critically Endangered Indri lemur. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Lemurs are a family of primate found only on the African island of Madagascar.  Most species of lemur are in danger of going extinct, as indicated by a report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

  • Of the 103 species of lemur in Madagascar, 94 species are at risk, which is double the number of lemurs at risk of extinction on the 2005 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
  • 23 species are assessed as “Critically Endangered”, the highest risk category for species still found in the wild
  • 52 species were classified at “Endangered”, which is the second highest risk category for threatened species
  • 19 species were classified as “Vulnerable”, the third highest risk category
  • Christoph Schwitzer, the Head of Research at Bristol Zoo Gardens and a member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Primate Specialist Group, says that the numbers indicate that “Madagascar has, by far, the highest proportion of threatened species of any primate habitat region or any one country in the world…we now believe that lemurs are probably the most endangered of any group of vertebrates.”
  • Lemur extinction is a threat to Madagascar’s biodiversity and to the Malagasy people
  • Recent political instability in Madagascar has played a large role in losing important lemur conservation projects and an increase in detrimental activities such as hunting lemurs and illegal logging
  • Ecotourism and conservation funds are returning to Madagascar as people become aware of the country’s plentiful and unique biodiversity, including the richest primate diversity on the planet
  • New species of lemurs continue to be discovered in Madagascar, including a species of mouse lemur
  • Centre Valbio, a new, cutting edge research station in Ranomafana National Park recently opened and will help study Madagascar’s wildlife, including the several species of lemur that live within the park

Coquerel’s sifakas kissing. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Want to learn more? Read the full story: 91% of Madagascar’s lemurs threatened with extinction

For more information on Centre Valbio, click here:

Climate change and extreme weather

July 21st, 2012

Oxfam distributing water in southern Somalia during last years famine. Photo by: Oxfam.

Climatologists have released a report that indicates that climate change is not only a threat to the future, but is having consequences in present day weather systems.

  • Texans experienced a devastating drought in the La Niña year of 2011 that was twenty times more likely to occur in the context of current climate change than fifty years ago
  • The Texas drought caused billions of dollars in damages including loss of cattle, crops and trees
  • Britain is experiencing abnormally warm weather due to climate change; there has only been one warmer November in the past 350 years
  • Climate change played a large role in the drought that led to famine in Somalia last year
  • The probability of droughts and lack of rain in the areas around the Pacific and Indian oceans is much higher due to rising temperatures at the sea surface, especially during La Niña years
  • Scientists recognize that not every extreme weather event is related to climate change, though many reports indicate that there are connections between extreme events and climate change
  • Research that connects climate change to extreme weather events is becoming very important as it can help us understand how the world is changing and how we can better prepare ourselves
  • One way to help slow climate change is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by cutting down on fossil fuel consumption and protecting important ecosystems

Want to learn more? Click here to read the full story: Climate change increased the probability of Texas drought, African famine, and other extreme weather

Snow leopards collared for the first time

July 21st, 2012

Close-up of collared snow leopard. Photo by: John Goodrich/WCS.

Scientists managed to capture and collar two snow leopards for the first time, in Afghanistan.

  • Snow leopards live in mountainous regions and live at high altitudes within ranges such as the Himalayas
  • Listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN); they are subject to many threats including poaching, loss of prey, human intrusion of their habitat and are often killed because they eat livestock.
  • Scientists have now identified climate change as another potential threat to snow leopard survival.
  • It is predicted that as the climate warms, the treeline will move and be able to survive higher up the mountain; this is bad news for the leopards as they don’t like forested areas and they may be driven further up the mountains.
  • Snow leopards also don’t like heights that exceed 4,800 metres (16,000 feet) so their habitat is almost going to be ‘squashed’ into a smaller area.
  • Scientists have now captured and collared the 2 snow leopards in an attempt to understand the impacts of climate change on them.
  • “The information garnered from the tagging will assist researchers as they learn more about the range, behavior, movements, and habitat used by snow leopards,” Peter Zahler, WCS Deputy Director of Asia Programs, said in a press release.
  • Researchers also state that if snow leopard habitat was to shrink, there would be other problems too; leopards and humans will come into contact more often leading to even more poaching and killing related to livestock taking.
  • Experts fear many alpine (mountain) species will suffer as a result of climate change.

Want to learn more?  Read the full story: First snow leopards collared in Afghanistan as species faces rising threat from climate change

The soccer ball that produces electricity

July 21st, 2012

SOCCKET powering a light. Photo courtesy of Uncharted Play.

Two university graduates have successfully invented a soccer ball that produces electricity.

  • Jessica O. Matthews and Julia Silverman – graduates of Harvard University have invented a soccer ball that converts kinetic or ‘movement’ energy into electricity; the SOCCKET.
  • The two women came up with the idea while undertaking an engineering class that needed ideas for a project to address a social problem.
  • Many parts of the World don’t have access to a stable supply of electricity.
  • Soccer is huge in these parts of the World, so while kids (or adults) have fun with a ball, they are also creating something very useful.
  • When the ball is kicked, it rotates. Inside the ball several magnets rotate, as the ball does, and these move within conductive wire. An electric current is generated and stored in batteries inside the ball for later use (it can charge small devices).
  • “Although skeptics initially believed the ball would not capture a useful amount of power, the SOCCKET team knew that the ability to harness even a little bit of energy could make a huge difference in the lives of billions around the globe,” says Alison Smith, who is a senior associate at Uncharted Play.
  • The inventors hope that the SOCCKET will have an impact around the World. It is already being ordered in several countries; Mexico, South Africa, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Haiti.
  • Soon it will also be possible to buy your own SOCCKET through the company website and fuel hours of play – and your cell phone.

An inside look at SOCCKET. Photo courtesy of Uncharted Play.

Want to learn more?  Read the full story: Soccer lights up kids’ lives: new technology produces cheap, portable power


Colorful Rainforest Frog Discovered and Named After Prince Charles

July 16th, 2012

Hyloscirtus princecharlesi. Photo by Luis A. Coloma.

Researchers discovered two frog species in Ecuador and named one in honor of Prince Charles.

  • Two previously unknown frog species were found in the highly endangered cloud forests of Ecuador.
  • One species was named Hyloscirtus princecharlesi, in honor of Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, for the royal’s work to preserve tropical forests.  The second species is called Hyloscirtus cryptico.
  • Hyloscirtus princecharlesi was first identified by Luis A. Coloma, an Ecuadorian scientist. In 2009 he collected specimen in the wild at Reserva Las Gralarias, a private nature reserve.
  • Both species live in montane forest streams, a habitat that has been particularly affected by the chytrid fungus epidemic.
  • The chytrid fungus epidemic has killed untold numbers of amphibians globally and driven dozens of species to extinction since the early 1980s.
  • Amphibians are at great risk globally due to habitat loss, introduced diseases like the chytrid fungus, over-harvesting, the effects of climate change, pollution, and invasive species.
  • More than two out of every five amphibians assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) are considered threatened.

CITATION: LUIS A. COLOMA at al. Molecular phylogenetics of stream treefrogs of the Hyloscirtus larinopygion group (Anura: Hylidae), and description of two new species from Ecuador. Zootaxa 3364: 1–78 (2012)

Want to read more?  Click here to see the full story: New Colorful Rainforest Frog Named After Prince Charles.