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Diseased Tigers, Wounded Rhinos 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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Diseases, poachers, smartphones, sewage and animal psychology are in the news this weekend.

sumatran tigerTemper Tantrum: Evidence of canine distemper has been found in Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae) in Indonesia, according to a recent report from BBC News. Distemper has previously been found in Amur tigers (Panthera tigris altaica) in Russia, where it proved to be quite deadly. As I wrote in 2011, inoculating wild tigers against this dangerous disease—which is often transferred from domesticated dogs—is almost impossible.

Rhino Survivor Update: In March 2012 poachers hunted down three white rhinos on Kariega Game Reserve in South Africa, killing one and chopping the horns off the other two. The surviving male, Themba, later died from his injuries. Even today the female, Thandi, continues to suffer. A new injury she suffered this week will require surgical attention and further slow her reintroduction into “normal” rhino life.

Thandi’s original injuries were so severe—the poachers cut deep into her face to get every inch of her valuable horn—that even a year of healing has still left the skin on her face (where her horn used to be) weaker than normal. Unfortunately, rhinos tend to head-butt each other as part of their social order. Kariega Reserve recently added a new male rhino to Thandi’s habitat, and it appears the two animals may have had a “head to head confrontation,” according to a post on the reserve’s blog.

Dr. Will Fowlds of Investec Rhino Lifeline, who has been treating Thandi all of this time, says they have learned a lot from caring for her, information which they are already putting to use helping other poaching survivors. “It appears there is still much to learn about integrating survivors back into normal rhino society,” he said. “The tragedy of her story continues as we now progress into the lows of surgery once again following the highs of seeing her doing so well and how beautifully her face had recovered.”

Not Smart: A lot of people use bird call apps to identify the chirps and caws and songs around them. Other people use those same smartphone apps to call birds into sight. That’s bad, as The Guardian reports. A new public awareness campaign from Dorset Wildlife Trust is asking people to stop calling the birds, as it can distract rare species from nesting and tending to their chicks.

Lone Wolves: As gray wolves approach the end of their protected stats in this country, and hunting takes a toll on once-growing packs, how much does the death of an individual wolf matter? Check out this great piece in Psychology Today by Virginia Morell.

Let it Burn: The Philippines will burn $10 million worth of seized elephant tusks on June 21. In a media statement, Environmental secretary Ramon Page said, “Our decision to destroy these ivory tusks that entered the country illegally is to show to the whole world that the Philippines will not tolerate illegal wildlife trade.” Gabon took a similar action last year. Hopefully more nations will follow.

Oh, Poop: Effluent threatens endangered Tor putitora fish in Pakistan. That can’t be good news.

Get Involved: How can the average person help protect biodiversity? WGBH offers five citizen science projects just waiting for your involvement.

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.

Photo: Sumatran tiger by Roger Smith. 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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