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Extinction Countdown


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Leopards, Tortoises, Harlequin Frogs and other Links from the Brink


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Last year I wrote somewhere around 150 articles about endangered species. I could have easily written closer to 1,000. One blog simply can’t cover all of threatened species around the world, as hard as I try. But I hate letting news items (not to mention species) fall through the cracks. And so, here is the first installment of a new weekly feature I’m calling “Links from the Brink,” where I will present to you some of the previous week’s stories and other worthwhile items that didn’t make it into Extinction Countdown:

Whale of a Tale: There has been a bit of a baby boom for endangered North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) this year, with at least 20 mother whales calving in the waters off of Georgia and Florida. This follows last year’s troubling results, in which only six calves were born. The annual average number of cows and calves counted since 2000 is 21, so this year’s number isn’t exceptional, but it is good news.

amur leopardSpots Rising: Also on the increase: Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) populations in Russia, where the number of these critically endangered big cats has grown by 50 percent — to an estimated 48 to 50. That’s not many, but it’s better than it was six years ago when there were just 35, and it’s better than an estimate I reported on last year, which put the population range at 40 to 50.

Tortoise Smuggling: TRAFFIC, the international wildlife trade monitoring organization, reports on a massive seizure of hundreds of endangered tortoises in Thailand, including 54 ploughshare tortoises (Astrochelys yniphora) from Madagascar. The estimated wild population for this critically endangered species is just 400 individuals. A team from Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in the UK is now en route to Thailand to help assess the health of the rescued turtles and provide husbandry support, a necessary step since few animals rescued from the illegal wildlife trade ever get repatriated back to their countries of origin. (Coincidentally, this species was once thought to be extinct but was rediscovered by Jim Juvik, whom I interviewed this week regarding another critically endangered species, the golden coin turtle.)

Big news for a tiny frog: Scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute have successfully bred the teeny tiny Limosa harlequin frog (Atelopus limosus) in captivity, a move they say represents “the last hope for their species.” Full-grown frogs of this species are only about an inch across. Like many Panamanian amphibians, the colorful frogs are highly endangered by the chytrid fungus, as well as habitat loss, water pollution and climate change.

The Worst News of the Week: Poachers have slaughtered 89 elephants in Chad, including more than 30 pregnant mothers. This comes a year after a similar massacre of 450 elephants in Cameroon.

The Best News of the Week: One faction of the M23 rebels — whose murderous assaults have plagued the rangers who lay their lives on the line to protect mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — has been defeated. Too many lives, both human and animal, have been lost in this fighting that is less about politics and more about power and money.

Mapquest: Looking at things in a broader context, do you know how many species in your state are protected by the Endangered Species Act? Or how many species are candidates for protection under the ESA? EcoWest has a handy chart.

A Bad Record for Manatees: And finally, this year’s toxic red tide has killed (at last count) at least 184 manatees off the west coast of Florida. That’s beats the previous record death toll of 151 manatees set back in 1996. Meanwhile, another 55 manatees have died since July in Florida’s Indian River Lagoon but no one knows for sure what is killing them.

That’s it for this time around. For more endangered species news stories throughout the week, read the regular Extinction Countdown articles here at Scientific American, “like” Extinction Countdown on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter.

Photo: The critically endangered Amur leopard by Mark Abel. Used under Creative Commons license

John R. Platt About the Author: Twice a week, John Platt shines a light on endangered species from all over the globe, exploring not just why they are dying out but also what's being done to rescue them from oblivion. Follow on Twitter @johnrplatt.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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