Extinction Blog

Rare frog delays extinction for another year

Less than 100 Mississippi gopher frogs remain in the wild. Another 75 or so live in five zoos around the country. And thanks to the efforts of biologists and scientists, another few hundred tadpoles could survive long enough to add to that population in the next few years.

The rare frog breeds in shallow ponds that tend to dry up during droughts, which makes it very hard for tadpoles to survive. In fact, no tadpoles survived droughts in 1999 and 2000, and some only survived in 2001 because the National Guard brought in water to refresh the pond.

Luckily, this year brought ample rains, and the three ponds where the frogs are known to exist did not dry up. Thanks to the weather and the efforts of biologists who helped protect the tadpoles from a deadly parasite, 181 young frogs survived. Their long-term survival is still a question, though, as they face many natural threats and will take several years to mature enough for breeding.

In addition to the wild populations, several zoos are trying to breed the frogs in captivity. The first attempt, at Memphis Zoo, failed when all of the tadpoles died.

The gopher frog was listed as a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1983. It finally gained that protection 18 years later, in December 2001.

Will it last another 18 years? That's hard to say, but at least someone is looking out for them. That's more than many endangered species can say.

Poaching puts African fauna and flora at risk of extinction

The poaching crisis in Africa is getting worse on a daily basis, putting dozens of species at risk of extinction and threatening the economic stability of the continent.

It's not just the elephants and rhinos you hear about that are in danger. It's also plants like aloe vera and other species which are being overharvested for the "global cosmetic, food and beverage industries."

That's the word this week from wildlife conservation experts and policy makers where are attending the 9th Governing council of the Lusaka Agreement on Cooperative Enforcement Operations Directed at Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora, an inter-governmental formed in 1994 to fight wildlife crime in six African nations.

According to a report from The New Times, illegal trade in "rhino horns, hippo teeth, primates like Gorillas and African monkeys, skins of leopards, zebras, cheetahs, giraffes, pythons, turtle shells, coral shells, snakes, crocodiles, birds and many other species" is worth over $120 million a year.

Lusaka representatives blamed the proliferation of weapons and the almost non-existent legislation that could prosecute poachers for the rapid increase in illegal harvesting.

The Lusaka team is trying to get more countries to come on board, but it's hasn't been easy. Many African stations still aren't signatories to the Convention in Trade on Endangered Species (CITES), which governs the international species trade.

Canada fails to protect grizzlies, killer whales

Two of nature's most awesome predators are quickly disappearing in Canada, and the government seems willing to let that happen.

In Alberta, grizzly bear populations have dropped 60% in just six years, from 1,000 to less than 400. Government scientists said back in 2002 that the bears needed protection as a "threatened" species, but no action was ever taken. Now, the Alberta Sustainable Resource Development says it will not act to recover the species, only to "maintain" it at its currently low level.

Conservation groups say this population level is too low, and that at least 1,000 mature bears are needed to maintain a healthy genetic diversity.

Why did the Alberta government act this way? Well, it seems it was either the bears or oil development. Guess what won?

(A "loud and active off-highway vehicle lobby" also pushed to keep the grizzly from gaining greater protections.)

Elsewhere, conservation groups are suing the Canadian government to protect the population of killer whales off of British Columbia. Killer whales are not an endangered species, although several local populations, such as the one off the BC coast, are isolated and shrinking.

The Ottawa government last month decided not to establish any new critical habitat or recovery methods beyond existing measures.

Killer whales off of BC live in two groups, a southern population with just 87 whales, and a northern population with 240. The southern population has dropped 20% since 1993. Killer whale expert Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard told The Calgary Herald that "For most species a population reduced to 87... they'd be toast. We wouldn't even be considering recovery as a viable possibility."

Breeding failure could doom turtle to extinction

Alas, perhaps it wasn't meant to be. The last two Yangtze giant soft-shell turtles have failed to successfully breed, putting the future of the species up in the air.

Hopes had been high after the 100-year-old male and 80-year-old female mated earlier this year, after decades of solitary living. The mating produced 100 eggs, half of which scientists said appeared to be fertilized. But now comes the sad word that none of the embryos have survived.

According to the Turtle Survival Alliance, "a number of the eggs had very thin or cracked eggshells, suggesting that the diet of the animals prior to breeding was not optimal."

There's still hope. The turtles' diet has already been changed, and the turtles will have another chance to mate next May, during their next breeding cycle.

Of course, even if both of the elderly turtles survive the next six months and successfully breed, the species can't have much long-term success. After all, two individuals do not a gene pool make. But one can't help but to wish them all the luck they deserve.

Previously in Extinction Blog: Can Two Lone Turtles Save Their Species?

2008 Red List of Endangered Species: A 'bleak picture' of the world's biodiversity

Half of all mammal species are in decline, and 25% of them are endangered. More than one-fifth of all reptile species are at risk of extinction. And 1,983 amphibian species are either threatened or extinct.

All told, the 2008 Red List of Endangered Species, released today by the IUCN, paints a pretty bleak picture of the world's biodiversity. According to its data, at least 38% of the world's assessed species are currently threatened with extinction.

The new Red List update took five years and 1,700 researchers to complete. It contains data on more than 45,000 species -- just a fraction of the estimated 1.64 million species on Earth, but still the best list and best total research available anywhere. Even with all of this research, only 25,000 of the Red List species are fully documented and at least 4,800 are still data-deficient.

Sadly, some areas of the world with the greatest levels of biodiversity also have the greatest numbers of species at risk:
  • Madagascar: 636 species at risk
  • Tanzania: 589 species at risk
  • China: 816 species at risk
  • Indonesia: 1,087 species at risk
  • Malaysia: 1,141 species at risk
  • Philippines: 641 species at risk
  • Mexico: 897 species at risk
  • United States: 1,192 species at risk
  • Ecuador: 2,208 species at risk
  • Australia: 788 at risk
Habitat loss remains the greatest factor putting so many species at risk of extinction.

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