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Deadly Snakes, Ugly Critters, Leonardo DiCaprio and Other Links from the Brink

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


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A deadly but critically endangered snake, one of the world’s rarest birds and a heavily guarded flower are among the endangered species in the news this week.

Bothriechis guifarroiA New Snake with a Sad Story: A gorgeous but extremely dangerous new snake species has been discovered in Honduras. The new palm pit viper has been named Bothriechis guifarroi in honor of assassinated forest campaigner Mario Guifarro, a former hunter and gold miner who was killed in 2007 after he switched his allegiances to protecting forests rather than destroying them. The researchers who discovered the new snake are recommending it be classified as critically endangered due to the ongoing habitat loss in the region.

Photo: Josiah H. Townsend, Department of Biology, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Celebrate Forty Years: Yesterday, May 17, marked the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. It was also the eighth annual Endangered Species Day. Don’t worry if you missed it—there are still dozens of Endangered Species Day events going on this weekend. Click here to find one in your area.

Let’s Hope for Another 40: Even as we celebrate 40 years of the Endangered Species Act, forces are hard at work trying to dismantle it. Most recently, 13 Republicans in the House of Representatives have formed a “working group” to examine how the act works. Considering that the participants include notorious anti-environmentalists such as Washington’s “Doc” Hastings, you have to wonder about their real agenda.

Kakapo Lost and Found: New Zealand’s critically endangered kakapo (Strigops habroptila) ranks high on the list of my favorite species. This week brought both good and bad news about these rare flightless parrots. The bad news is that a kakapo named Fuchsia has died, lowering the population of this species down to 124 birds. The good news is that another kakapo that had been missing for three months has been located. Even better, another unknown and possibly uncounted kakapo might be nearby. The Kakapo Recovery Program has the story on their Facebook page.

Ugly is Beautiful: I’m as guilty of this as anyone: It’s easier to promote and care about the more attractive and iconic endangered species than it is to worry about endangered slugs and other unbecoming creatures. That’s where the Ugly Animal Society comes in. This U.K.-based comedy presentation focuses on “Mother Nature’s more aesthetically challenged children.” Founded by Simon D. Watt, the events (there are a few coming up in June) will encourage people to “adopt” some of the world’s less-cute endangered species. Break a leg, folks!

Men in Black: Britain’s rarest flower will have 24/7 bodyguards when it is on display at the Chelsea Flower Show this week. Let’s hope this isn’t where all endangered species will be in the future.

wild onesBook of the Week: I’m about half-way through an excellent new book by Jon Mooallem, Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America. The book has a photo of a polar bear on the cover, but it’s really about people and how we relate to and interact with wildlife and endangered species. Wild Ones came out this week and it’s already earning high praise. I recommend it.

Celebrity Activist of the Week: An art auction organized by actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio has raised $38.8 million for environmental and conservation programs. As you could expect from DiCaprio’s ongoing efforts to help tigers and elephants, some of the funds will go toward initiatives to protect wildlife and endangered species. Way to go, Leo.

Well, 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.

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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  1. 1. MMaultby 10:00 pm 05/19/2013

    Are sure it wasn’t a Duncan the kokako that was missing for 3 months in NZ? Good story, but not a kakapo. Yes the names are annoying similar.

    Link to this
  2. 2. John R. Platt in reply to John R. Platt 10:50 am 05/20/2013

    Nope, the recovery of Duncan the kokako was a completely different story about a completely different rare bird species.

    Link to this
  3. 3. Steve_Davies20912 10:58 am 05/20/2013

    The 40th anniversary of the ESA will be Dec 28, if you’re using the signing of the law by President Nixon as the official “start” of the law. Not sure where May 17th came from, but ES Day does not coincide with the anniversary.

    Link to this
  4. 4. John R. Platt in reply to John R. Platt 5:44 pm 05/20/2013

    Y’know, I had in my notes somewhere why they picked the 17th as the anniversary/celebration date (it’s not the date the Act was proposed or signed into law). I’ll try to re-find that.

    Link to this
  5. 5. Steve_Davies20912 4:40 pm 05/21/2013

    I don’t know who said May 17 was the anniversary. This year is the 40th anniversary year; throughout 1973, there were hearings and debate about the bill, which was signed Dec. 28, 1973.

    Folks might have made the leap from “40th anniversary year” to “40th anniversary date” because that was the date chosen for this year’s Endangered Species Day, which is always in May.

    Thanks for looking into it, John.

    Link to this

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