Gopher Tortoise

August 29th, 2012

Essay By Elizabeth Loudon

It’s breezy. I can hear the wood planks squeak and creak as I rush down the path. The sun sits directly overhead. I approach the waterfront and stop to admire the power and beauty of the crashing waves. An old lady with a dog stops to ask me about my writing. She mentions that she saw a group of kids earlier, so she was wondering what we were up to. I grin and reply, “Yep, I’m a straggler.” Although I am carrying on a conversation, I’m distracted by the urge to ditch my shoes and frolic barefoot. I feel like a child, but I must practice self-control and limit my frolicking. The group is always ahead of me, and I should be running to catch up. Oh, the challenges of being a straggling tortoise in a world of hares!

When I return to the boardwalk, I begin traveling at an accelerated pace. All the dips and inclines make me feel like I’m walking on the Great Wall of China. I am trying desperately not to be the last student to return to the parking lot. Just as I’m rounding a bend, I see a round object in the sand moving slowly and steadily towards the boardwalk. I come to an abrupt halt and stand face to face with a gopher tortoise. Like a paparazzi, I quickly remove my camera phone from my pocket and snap pictures of the rare creature. I begin to talk to him, hoping I can coerce him to come closer. What am I thinking? He’s not a dog! To my great surprise, he continues to approach me.

Gopherus Polyphemus

Gopherus Polyphemus. Photo by NASA.

He sits for a second and stares at me. Would it be conceited to think that he’s as interested in me as I am in him? Nah, if anything he’s just assessing me to see if I am a threat. Gopher Tortoises have the conservation status: “vulnerable.” Not only do they cope with environmental degradation, but they also experience poaching because humans desire their habitat and their meat. The Gopher Tortoise earned the nickname of “Hoover Chicken” during the Great Depression because it was viewed as an economical and easily hunted source of food. As a result of habitat loss and predation, gopher tortoises are at great risk. If I were a corrupt developer, or a hungry poacher, or even a misguided pet seeker, I would be quite dangerous to the gopher tortoise. It is unwise for him to approach me with such fearlessness, but he is fortunate that I am simply a curious student.

In the modern day, the biggest advantage that a vulnerable or endangered animal can have is being appealing to humans so that they are inspired to protect and preserve it. The easiest way to earn this advantage is not by being an indispensable member of an ecosystem, nor by being increasingly uncommon. In all seriousness, the best method for appealing to humans is by being cute. As I gazed at the gopher tortoise, I concluded that he’s in luck. Although he’s not cuddly like a polar bear, he’s adorable in his own right. While initially optimistic, I began to realize that even the adorable and relatively famous polar bear isn’t likely to survive the appalling consequences of the environmental destruction it is currently experiencing. If the polar bear can’t make it, does the gopher tortoise even have a chance?

The realist in me cautiously hopes that the gopher tortoise can beat the odds and thrive. Tortoises are often associated with age and wisdom because they have the potential to live for more than fifty years. In the ancient story of the tortoise and the hare, we are taught that tortoises should not be underestimated. If humanity is similar to the self-assured and speedy hare, our childhood fables should remind us that hasty progress and overconfidence are perilous. If we do not recognize the benefits of taking our time and pacing ourselves, we may wake up to a world that is without the gopher tortoise. How then would our children be able to comprehend the story of the tortoise and the hare?

Beautiful new insect discovered on Flickr

August 13th, 2012

Adult green lacewing (Semachrysa jade sp. n.). Photo by Hock Ping Guek

Scientists identified a brand new species of insect after looking at photos posted on Flickr.

  • The insect is a type of lacewing called Semachrysa jade and lives in the forests of Malaysia.
  • Shaun Winterton, a researcher from California, saw the animal after looking at photos posted by a Malaysian photographer, Hock Ping Guek on the website Flickr.
  • Winterton believed it was a brand new species and in order to prove it, he needed to go to Malaysia and collect one. Around one year later Winterton and Stephen J. Brooks of the natural history museum did just that.
  • Lacewings are famous for their feeding habit, which changes dramatically as they age.
  • “Adults mostly feed on flowers, but the larvae are ferocious predators of other insects, frequently carrying the dead carcasses of their prey on their backs after killing them using their enormous, sucking tube-like jaws,” explained a statement released by Pensoft Publishers.
  • Thousands of “new” insect species are described by scientists each year. There are around 1,200 species of green lacewing currently known.

Want to learn more? Read the full story: Scientists discover beautiful new insect species after stumbling upon photos on Flickr


Sumatran rhinos spotted on camera

August 13th, 2012

Camera trap photo of Sumatran rhino in the Leuser ecosystem. Photo by: Leuser International Foundation (LIF).

Remote camera traps have caught images of the Critically Endangered Sumatran rhino in the Leuser ecosystem in Sumatra

  • The Leuser ecosystem is the only place in the world where Critically Endangered Sumatran tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutans live in the same ecosystem.
  • A survey has revealed that there are 7 – 25 Sumatran rhinos still alive in Leuser.
  • Camera traps have photographed 1 male and 6 females.
  • The last survey, in 1985 – estimated a Sumatran rhino population of around 60 – 70 animals in the area.
  • Sumatran rhinos are under threat due to poaching (illegal hunting) and habitat loss and the camera traps even caught evidence of this happening in Leuser.
  • Scientists believe that rhino numbers are too small to maintain healthy breeding populations and are now attempting to breed Sumatran rhinos in semi-wild enclosures, where they may be carefully monitored. One such sanctuary has already had a rhino baby in June this year!
  • It is believed that there are less than 200 wild Sumatran rhinos left worldwide.

Want to learn more? Read the full story: Camera traps confirm that Sumatran rhinos still roam Leuser rainforest

Belize: Losing Forest Fast

August 13th, 2012

According to the Water Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean, Belize has experienced an accelerated rate of deforestation since 2010.  This means that many species of plants and animals can more easily become endangered, or even extinct.

  • Using NASA technology, images have been taken of Belize between early 2010 and early 2012 to compare forest cover.
  • After analyzing the data, the small country of Belize was found to have lost 25,264 hectares of forest in the past 2 years alone.  That is a little larger than the bustling city of Chicago, IL in the United States.
  • Compared to 2010’s forest coverage of 62.7%, the now 61.6% coverage shows a more rapid rate of decline as opposed to years past.
  • We must work toward saving this rainforest.  Many precious species may be lost as a result of this deforestation.

Want to learn more?  Read the full story: Deforestation accelerates in Belize

Lightless World’s Top Predator

August 13th, 2012

Tepui, or flat-topped mountain, in Venezuela. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Scientist’s have recently discovered a creature considered to be the the lion of the cave!  Unexpectedly, this top predator is a Venezuelan cricket!

  • This large, meat-eating cricket was discovered on a tepui, or table-top mountain, in Venezuela.
  • These little guys are actually top predators!   They have adapted to become the ultimate hunter in pure darkness.
  • Although this new found species is yet to be officially described, it is known to hunt on both land and water.  Bugs beware – there’s nowhere you are safe!
  • The discoveries will be highlighted in BBC’s upcoming The Dark: Nature’s Nighttime World, although video of the cricket can now be seen on their website.

Want to learn more?  Read the full story: ‘The lion of the cave:’ new predatory, swimming cricket discovered in Venezuela

Humpbacks Postpone Migration

August 7th, 2012

Rhett A. Butler /

An animal is only as good as his next meal, especially when you’re a humpback whale!

  • Due to the world’s ever-changing climate, the ice that normally sends krill running has not been reaching as far as usual.
  • Since this ice has remained at bay, the krill have decided to hang around the arctic a little while longer, and where there is krill, there are humpbacks!
  • These humpback whales have accordingly delayed their migration with the decision of the krill to remain in the arctic.
  • The most important thing to an animal is its food source! Sometimes animals will be forced to make changes in order to stay fed.

Want to learn more?  Read the full story: Humpback whales delaying migration due to Antarctic changes

3000 new species of amphibians over the past 25 years

August 7th, 2012

Rhett A. Butler /

Over the past 25 years, scientists have discovered 3000 new species of amphibians!  This increase has brought the number of known amphibians to a total of 7000 species.

  • In these past 25 years, on average, 1 new species of amphibian is discovered every two and a half days, with 100 new species already having been discovered in 2012.
  • While today we continue to discover new species, this may quickly change in years to come.
  • Climate change, habitat destruction, pollution, invasive species, capturing, and disease are all things that have sent amphibian populations into a whirlwind of decline.
  • Over 150 species since the early 1980’s are known to have gone extinct, with 40% of the surviving amphibians at risk.
  • With species going extinct at this rate, it is very important to work towards the conservation of the amphibian population.

Want to learn more?  Read the full story: 3000 new species of amphibians over the past 25 years

Guyana rainforests receive money

August 7th, 2012

Aerial View of Rainforest, Iwokrama Reserve. Photo: © Pete Oxford/iLCP.

Guyana, a country in South America has some of the most intact rainforest in the World. A new £8.5 million trust fund has been set up up to keep it that way.

  • The Guyanese government have teamed up with Germany and Conservation International (CI) in order to create a trust fund that will help conserve the countries’ protected areas.
  • “Guyana is globally recognized for its unique biodiversity and for having one of the lowest deforestation rates in the developing world,” Robert M. Persaud, Guyana’s Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, said in a press release.
  • Guyana is home to a wide variety of impressive species such as the giant otter, jaguar, giant anteater and the giant leaf frog amongst its’ vast array of tropical birds and fish.
  • Currently, almost 9 percent of Guyana’s land is protected.
  • 76 percent of Guyana is covered by forest and astoundingly, over half of this is considered primary forest (forest that has seen little or no disturbance).

Want to learn more?  Read the full story: Guyana rainforests secure trust fund

Tigers under threat from Indian coal mining

August 7th, 2012

Bengal tigers in India’s Tadoba region. India holds more tigers than any other country in the world. Photo courtesy of Greenpeace.

Coal mining in India is growing and is having huge implications for one of the most endangered and iconic animals in the world; the Tiger.

  • India is currently home to around 1700 tigers, over half of the planet’s entire population of wild tigers.  Conservation efforts in India have been some of the most successful in the global fight to save tigers from extinction.
  • Tigers, male tigers in particular, need huge areas to roam and find new mates.  Even the protected areas that already exist are too small for the long-term health of the tigers.  Corridors, or land areas connecting parks and reserves where tigers can roam freely, are important to the survival of a healthy tiger population in India.
  • Coal is a fossil fuel that contributes to the ‘greenhouse gas effect’ and climate change. India is the world’s 3rd largest producer of coal.  India’s pursuit of coal has resulted in the industry invading and destroying the tigers’ precious territory.
  • Tigers are continually under threat from poaching (illegal hunting) and habitat loss.  Several of the Tiger Reserves in India share borders with coal mines, and as the mines grow, the tigers’ critical habitat will likely be affected.
  • These forests are also home to near threatened leopards, endangered Asian elephants, vulnerable sloth bears and other threatened species.
  • Greenpeace, an organization studying the effects of coal mining on tiger habitat, says that it’s time for India to make a rapid transition to wind and solar energy in order to decrease the demand for coal.

Surface coal mining in Bihar, India. Around 70-80 percent of India’s power is currently provided by coal.

Want to learn more?  Read the full story: Tigers vs. coal in India: when big energy meets vanishing cats



Chad on the hunt for elephant poachers

August 7th, 2012

Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Following an elephant massacre on 24th July, the president of Chad sent soldiers (including helicopters) to the Mayo Lemie – Chari Baguiri area to try and catch the poachers.

  • Poachers killed at least 30 elephants in south-western Chad during the early hours of Tuesday, July 24.
  • Stephanie Vergniault, president of SOS Elephants described how she witnessed armed horsemen chasing a herd of elephant with “war weapons” and that most of the dead elephants had missing tusks.
  • She says that previous efforts to thwart poaching have largely been unsuccessful because the poachers are camping deep within the jungle and use cars that have tinted windows and no license plates to supply food and weapons. She also said while many people are aware of poaching going on “they are so afraid to lose their life that they shut their mouth.”
  • The president of Chad, Idriss Deby Itno, is reportedly personally concerned about elephant poaching and was unhappy to hear of this latest attack.
  • President Deby has sent 200 soldiers in two helicopters and 15 pickup trucks to patrol the area.
  • SOS Elephants has called for the creation of a formal protected area for protection of the area and its’ elephant population.
  • Vergniault believes the President’s involvement could be important in catching the poachers. “I really believe he will catch some poachers soon,” she said.
  • Elephants are poached for their ivory tusks, which are then sold in the illegal markets of other countries such as China, Japan, and even the US.

Want to learn more?  Read the full story: President of Chad sends troops after elephant poachers