The news about endangered species doesn't slow down. Here, we update some Extinction Countdown stories covered in recent weeks:

A plan to save bats

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a national plan to combat the bat-killing white-nose syndrome (WNS) on May 17. As we have reported here many times before, the fungus that causes WNS has now spread to 18 states and four Canadian provinces, killing millions of bats since it was first discovered in 2006. The new plan includes goals to communicate information about WNS, research the fungus, track its spread and conserve affected bat species.

Is the plan perfect? Probably not. In a statement the Center for Biological Diversity's Mollie Matteson called it "vague and ultimately not ambitious enough to match the scale of this wildlife disaster."

But at least it's a start.

88 percent mortality rate

BirdLife International reports that 88 percent of the northern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes moseleyi) rescued from the March 16 oil spill off Nightingale Island have died. According to the official Web site for the Tristan de Cunha archipelago, a total of 3,718 rockhoppers were rescued and brought to rehabilitation centers on Nightingale and Inaccessible islands. Initial counts estimated 20,000 birds were caught in the spill. No one knows how many of the penguins died at sea.

Most of the penguins that survived the spill have since moved on to their winter feeding grounds. As of May 9, 420 birds remained in a rehabilitation center on the island, their feathers still too damaged to protect them from the cold South Atlantic waters.

"Too rare to save?" Not so fast

We recently covered a controversial algorithm developed by Australian mathematicians that said some species with populations below 5,000 individuals might not be worth the effort it would take to save them. But a new study, published in the June issue of Trends in Ecology & Evolution, shows that counting the number of animals is far less important than tackling the dangers that threaten the species. For example, the study says, it is more important to stop logging in orangutan habitat than it is to boost their numbers. "If we can remove the negative effects of human activities, even relatively small populations could be viable in the long term," co-author Philip Stephens of Durham University in England said in a prepared statement.

Hope for vultures?

The veterinary drug diclofenac has killed 99.9 percent of Asia's vultures over the past 20 years as the birds of prey ate dead livestock that had been treated with the drug. But now there's a glimmer of hope for the critically endangered birds. A new study found that although too many vultures are still dying of diclofenac poisoning—it's widely used despite being banned in India a few years ago—the number of animals being treated with the drug has fallen by half. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds tested 4,500 cattle and water buffalo carcasses in 2007 and 2008 and found diclofenac in just 5.6 percent of samples, down from 10 to 11 percent in 2004–06. (We'll have to wait and see if the drug's usage continued to decline in the last years of the decade.)

Branson backs down

Sir Richard Branson took heat last month for his plan to introduce threatened ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) from Madagascar to his private island in the British Virgin Islands. Well, Branson has listened to his critics, and although he'll still send the lemurs to Moskito Island, they'll be kept in large enclosures until their potential impact on the island ecosystem is better understood.


Photo: Little brown bat with white-nose syndrome, New York. By Al Hicks, N.Y. Dept. of Environmental Conservation, courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service