This 1935 Image By Arthur A. Allen Is Among The Last Clear Photos Ever Taken Of Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers
Eleven Years After The “Extinct” Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Reappeared, Does This Storied Bird Still Exist?
BY PAUL GUERNSEY
For impassioned birders and informal wildlife enthusiasts alike, the wonder at the rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker 11 years ago was akin to hearing that a mermaid had swum to shore in southern California, or that a living unicorn had emerged from a Scandinavian forest. The spectacular ivory-billed (Campephilus principalis), with a 30-inch wingspan and second in size only to one other woodpecker species in the world, had last been spotted by trained observers prior to World War Two, and was assumed by most ornithologists to have gone extinct, a victim of habitat destruction in the form of clearcut logging in the lowland forests of the southeastern U.S. where it lived. (Cuban populations of ivory-billed woodpeckers were also thought to have vanished.) But for the better part of a century many people had maintained a faint, almost fanciful, hope that the woodpecker still existed—and then suddenly, on February 27, 2004, there it was, winging from tree to tree through an Arkansas swamp in full view of two highly experienced witnesses.
“When we saw that bird, it was the most hopeful sign imaginable” that the ivory-billed would dodge extinction, said Cornell University’s Tim Gallagher during a January 2015 telephone interview with AAW. “While it’s possible the bird we saw was the last one in existence—what are the odds of that?” As well as being one of the first observers in 2004, Gallagher was and is editor-in-chief of the Cornell Ornithology Lab’s Living Bird Magazine, a veteran field researcher, and the author of five books on birds, including two that chronicle the hunts for missing species of woodpeckers. [click to continue…]
Rain Forest Palm Oil Plantations Are Displacing And Killing Wildlife On Two Continents. Photo: Tony Hisgett
Something Easy You Can Do Right Now To Protect Rain Forests And Save Wildlife
Many of us hear about the destruction of rain forests and the resulting losses of wildlife and biodiversity, and we feel helpless. After all, it’s a huge problem, it’s happening far away from us, and the trees are being cut by people with money, political power, and a strong economic incentive to continue clearing the land. Although we can (and should) donate to the Nature Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund, and other conservation organizations, we are not rich, and there’s a limit to what we can give.
Recently, however, people interested in preserving rain forests in Africa, Indonesia, and Malaysia—rapidly shrinking forests that are home to all the great ape species as well as thousands of other animals including tigers, leopards, and parrots—began to receive some good news. There are strong indications that a worldwide grassroots campaign involving ordinary people with an interest in rainforest conservation is helping to change the behavior of some of the large companies that are indirectly responsible for much of the rainforest destruction. One way anyone can join this campaign is by adding their name to petitions being circulated online by a number of organizations, including one called Forest Heroes. [click to continue…]
Leatherback Sea Turtle. Photo: USFWS
Though They’re Still Endangered, YOUR Concern is Helping Some Species Recover
Make no mistake: Sea turtles of all species continue to face the threat of extinction. Until relatively recently, people the world over thought nothing of taking their eggs wherever and whenever they found them, and they also killed adult turtles for food. In addition, development along tropical and subtropical beaches has damaged and destroyed nesting areas, as have rising sea levels brought on by global climate change. Sea turtles also are accidentally caught and drowned in commercial fishing gear, killed by oil spills, and die from intestinal blockages after ingesting floating plastic that they mistake for something to eat.
Scientists estimate that the populations of most sea turtle species declined by 95 percent over the course of the 1900s—with the race toward extinction accelerating dramatically during the century’s final two decades. For example, in 1980, the worldwide population of the leatherback sea turtle—one of AAW‘s Top 10 Endangered Species—was thought to include around 120,000 breeding-age females. But just 15 years later, that estimate had dropped to between 20,000 and 30,000 breeding-age females.
Aside from the leatherback—the world’s heaviest reptile, capable of reaching an adult weight of close to a ton—other endangered sea turtle species include green sea turtles, loggerhead sea turtles, Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, and hawksbill sea turtles. All face the same daunting set of manmade environmental problems. [click to continue…]
Critically Endangered Species: The Western Lowland Gorilla. Photo:Jack Hynes
Our Ten Most Endangered Animals For 2015
We’ve made two important changes to All About Wildlife‘s Top 10 List of Endangered Species for 2015. Our updated Ten Most Endangered Animals list is now available for your viewing.
The first change is that we’ve replaced the Siberian tiger with . . . the tiger. In other words, while the Siberian tiger is still on our list, it now must share its spot with all the other remaining tiger subspecies: the Bengal, Indochinese, Malayan, and Sumatran tigers. We made this decision because all of the five subspecies are in deep trouble due to illegal hunting to satisfy demand for tiger body parts in China and Vietnam. Together they number fewer than 3,000 individual wild tigers—and it’s possible that as few as 2,500 remain in the forests of Asia. There are now so few tigers that it may be getting difficult for breeding-age animals to find one another in order to mate.
In addition, tiger conservationists tell us that, in spite of all the measures taken to protect tigers, illegal hunters continue to kill a couple of them every week. At this rate, we think it’s probable that within five years—by 2020—the only wild tigers remaining will be a handful in Siberia, and another handful in India, with the Indochinese, Malayan, and Sumatran tigers having slipped into functional extinction.
Based on the above, it seemed almost misleading to continue spotlighting one of the two tiger subspecies most likely to survive—at least for a little while—beyond the second decade of the 21st century. [click to continue…]
Not Wild: A Captive Malayan Tiger In A Zoo Swimming Pool. Photo: Hans Stieglitz
Words And Worry Won’t Stop The Endangered Cat’s Virtual Extinction In The Wild By 2020
BY PAUL GUERNSEY
Of course the tiger will never go extinct as a species. It’s actually a silly question because people are breeding them in pens like livestock in order to eat them and brew wine from their bones. Estimates of the tiger population in Chinese tiger farms stand at over 6,000 animals—double, or perhaps nearly triple, the number that are left in Asia’s shrinking, exploited, and abused wilderness areas.
The real uncertainty concerns whether there will be any endangered tigers remaining in the wild by 2020—a mere five years from now. A reasonable guess would would be that no, there won’t be wild tigers left. Not in any meaningful sense.
In 1900 there were nine tiger subspecies roaming Asia from the rainy jungles of the Indonesian islands to the icy forests of Chinese Manchuria and the Amur region of easternmost Siberia. About 100,000 of the animals existed in all. Now, just over 11 decades later, three subspecies are officially extinct: the Javan and Balinese tigers native to two of Indonesia’s islands, along with the huge Caspian tiger from the mountains of western Asia. A fourth subspecies, the South China tiger, hasn’t been seen in years. It is doubtlessly extinct, but seemingly has been “kept on the books” for political reasons. The remaining five subspecies consist of ragged remnants fast dwindling to the point at which the few mature breeding animals among them will have great difficulty finding one another. [click to continue…]
The Northern White Rhinoceros: Only A Handful Remain
The Northern White Rhino Is Almost Certain To Go Extinct—With Other Species To Follow
With the death last week of a 34-year-old male named Suni, the world’s population of northern white rhinoceroses dropped to six, and the rhino subspecies lumbered closer to the abyss of extinction. Suni was one of two breeding males at the Ol Pejecta Conservancy in Kenya. He appears to have died of natural causes. Even before Suni’s death, many scientists were skeptical that the small number of remaining northern whites could produce enough offspring with sufficient genetic diversity to allow the subspecies to survive.
Genetic diversity becomes a problem for any population that is close to extinction or extirpation because in order to produce young, individuals must mate with close relatives. This is called inbreeding. Eventually, inbreeding causes every member of the population to end up being a genetic near-duplicate of every other member, making the entire group vulnerable to illness and birth defects. [click to continue…]
An Extinct Animal: A Woolly Mammoth Model At The Royal British Columbia Museum. Photo: WolfmanSF
Are Large Numbers Of Our Earth’s Animal Species Going To Go Extinct?
It may already be happening. Many scientists believe that the earth likely is spinning on the verge of a mass extinction of animal species—something that has occurred five times since life originated on the planet. The most famous mass extinction is also the most recent—it was the one that swept dinosaurs from the face of the earth more than 65 million years ago.
Each mass extinction has destroyed well over half—up to 90 percent—of all the earth’s species. There have also been many lesser extinction events, including the one that carried off the woolly mammoth and many other ice-age species 10 to 15 thousand years ago.
While the planet’s biodiversity—its total number of species—probably has never been higher, human activity has been squeezing a large percentage of these organisms toward the edge of existence. Problems related to humans such as widespread habitat loss, illegal hunting, and climate change are having a particularly strong impact on the world’s large mammals—everything from elephants to polar bears. This is because large animals produce fewer young and need to range over larger areas in order to survive. But all sizes of animals are being affected. According to biologists at Stanford University, as many as one-third of the world’s vertebrate species currently are Threatened or Endangered. [click to continue…]