Extinction Blog

Extinctions predicted for fish, red panda

Habitat loss, pollution, overfishing and lack of protections are responsible for declining populations of several species.

The Conservation Law Foundation this week filed a suit to protect the Atlantic wolffish as an endagnered species in New England. The ugly fish's numbers have dropped 95% in the last 24 years. The species lives on the ocean floor, which in the New England region has been devastated by deep-sea trawling by commercial fishing operations.

Pollution, meanwhile, is driving some African fish to extinction, but not in the way you might think. Cichlids in Lake Victoria not being poisoned, they're being blinded. This causes females, which normally are only attracted to the specificly colored fish of their own species, to interbreed with related species. There are around 1,300 cichlid species in the world, but this interbreeding could wipe out some of them.

We hear a lot about the panda's plights, but what about the red panda? According to a report from the WWF, habitat loss and lack of awareness are taking their toll on red panda populations. The animals are often killed by cattle farmers. There are now just 314 red pandas in Nepal, with an estmated worlwide population less then 2,500.

Not all news about nearly extinct species is bad. In the Philippines, the buffalo-like tamaraw has seen annual population growths of 10% every year this decade. There are still only 263 tamaraws -- down from 10,000 early last century, but a slight bit higher than the 175 that existed in 2001. The tamaraw lives on a single Philippine island; it lost most of its numbers when human settlement brought diseases and reduced the species' range.

Bush Admin spins its move to protect 48 Hawaiian species

Hawaii has been called the "endangered species capital of the United States," with more species at risk of extinction (or already believed to be extinct) than anywhere else in the country.

For years now, conservation groups have been urging (and suing) the Bush Administration to protect the most endangered species in Hawaii, many of which have less than 50 individuals in existence.

Yesterday, the Interior Department finally responded, saying it will propose adding 48 Hawaiian species to the Endangered Species List. The species include 45 plants, two birds and one insect.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne called this a "holistic" and "ecosystem-based" approach, which really means that they are just lumping all 48 species into one proposed protected habitat just 43 square miles in size. (And it should be noted that nearly 95% of that land is already protected habitat for other endangered species.)

Despite criticism, this isn't necessarily a bad approach. As the AP reports: "For more than three decades, we've been struggling with one species at a time," said Dale Hall, Fish and Wildlife Service director, in a conference call with news media. "This gives us a chance to look at groups of species and at the same time be economical in the way we designate critical habitat."

The approach is also nothing new. As the Center for Biological Diversity points out, "it was the Clinton administration that developed and implemented an ecosystem-based approach to species conservation -- an approach that the Bush administration all but disregarded."

It will still take a "year-long study" to actually add these species to the Endangered Species List, meaning any action will be well after the Bush Administration leaves office (and maybe after they gut the Endangered Species Act as they head out the door).

Japan to preserve seeds of 1,690 endangered plant species

Japan's Environment Ministry this week announced a plan to try to prevent hundreds of different plant species from going extinct.

All told, 1,690 plant species have been designated by the Ministry as "endangered." Seeds from those plants will now be collected, dried, frozen and stored as a last-gap measure to keep the species alive.

Once collected, the seeds will be stored in a freezer at Tokyo's Shinjuku Gyoen park.

Obviously, this isn't the first seed bank of its type. Others include the Svalbard International Seed Vault in Norway and the Millennium Seed Bank Project in the UK. But this is a rare effort by a country's government to protect its natural biodiversity.

Further reading: Japan's National Biodiversity Strategy

Navajo Nation moves to protect bald eagles

It's been a year since the bald eagle was dropped from the Endangered Species List. But while our national symbol is doing quite well in 48 U.S. states, its recovery is less certain in Arizona, where fewer than 50 breeding pairs currently reside.

Conservation and Native American tribal groups sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which in March agreed to temporarily return the Arizona bald eagle population to the "threatened" species list. The groups now have until October 2009 to prove that the bird deserves to keep that protected status in the state.

But the Navajo Nation isn't waiting until 2009. Last week, they added the bald eagle to their own endangered species list (PDF), which contains several plants and animals that do not currently have federal protected status. (The Navajo Nation includes areas of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.)

The Associated Press reports:
Under the regulations, Navajo Fish and Wildlife officials would establish circular buffers around the nests and limit human activity during the breeding season to protect nesting eagles, their eggs and young. The types of permanent structures that could be built within those buffers also would be regulated.
The Navajo Nation also set aside 14,000 acres to protect the Mesa Verde Cactus. The cactus is listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, but no critical habitat rules or conservation plans exist.

China's tainted milk scandal hits endangered species

Two young orangutans and a lion cub at a Chinese zoo have developed kidney stones after being fed what turned out to be tainted milk.

So far, more than 50,000 human children have been affected by Chinese milk tainted with the industrial chemical melamine, which causes kidney stones when consumed.

The animals at Hangzhou Wild Animal Park were fed milk from manufacturer Sanlu for more than a year. They will now undergo ultrasonic treatment to break up their kidney stones, which are already affecting the urinary functions of at least one of the orangutans.

A zoo representative said that all new-born carnivores are fed milk or milk powder after being weaned. Hangshou will now start testing the urine of all of its animals to check for further problems. Other zoos and wildlife parks report they haven't encountered any troubles from tainted milk yet, but it could take months for any more cases to be discovered.

Sadly, developing.

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