By Federico Kacoliris
The El Rincon stream frog only lives in hot springs at the headwaters of a small Patagonian stream. With just a handful of decimated populations remaining, the critically endangered frog is struggling to survive.
El Rincon stream frog, also known as the Somuncura or Valcheta frog (Pleurodema somuncurense)
This small frog is almost entirely aquatic. Its coloration is green and brown with several dorsal spots, and some individuals can have a clear vertebral line.
Where it’s found:
The hot springs of the headwaters of the Valcheta Stream, in northern Patagonia.
IUCN Red List status:
Critically endangered due to a continued decline in extent and quality of its aquatic habitat and the local extinction of some subpopulations
Invasive predator salmonids (rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss) have cornered these frogs in their last habitat. And even there, they also face habitat destruction by livestock.
Notable conservation program(s) or legal protections:
The Wild Plateau Initiative (Somuncura Foundation) is running an action plan framed on habitat restoration and population recovery of this species. The recovery program is based on ex situ breeding and reintroduction of individuals into restored habitat.
My favorite experience:
I was part of the first reintroduction attempt of this endangered species in the wild — in a restored habitat where a local population had become extinct. Releasing captive-born individuals into a wild habitat, where they will be protected and free of threats, makes me happy and confident about being able to do something for the sake of the wild.
What else do we need to do to protect this species?
Next steps include continuing with ongoing conservation activities, promoting the legal protection of the frog's habitat, and engaging the local community in conserving it.
- Velasco M, Berkunsky I, Akmentins M, Kass C, Arellano M, Aguirre T, Williams J, Kacoliris 2019. Status and population dynamics of the Critically Endangered Valcheta frog Pleurodema somuncurense on the Patagonian Somuncura Plateau. Endangered Species Research, 40: 163 – 169.
- Martinez Aguirre T, Calvo R, Velasco MA, Arellano ML, Zarini O, Kacoliris 2019. Re-establishment of an extinct local population of the Valcheta Frog, Pleurodema somuncurense, in a restored habitat in Patagonia, Argentina. Conservation Evidence. 2019.
- Velasco MA, Berkunsky I, Simoy MV, Quiroga S, Bucciarelli G, Kats L, Kacoliris 2018. The rainbow trout is affecting the occupancy of native amphibians in Patagonia. Hydrobiologia, 817: 447 – 455.
Federico Kacoliris has a Ph.D. in natural sciences. Over the past decade, he has focused on the conservation of some of the most endangered species in the southern corner of South America. Ten years ago he started the Wild Plateau Initiative (today, Somuncura Foundation) with the aim of protecting endangered species in Patagonia. His work with amphibians, which is supported by the Conservation Leadership Programme and the People's Trust for Endangered Species, is one of the first of its type in Argentina.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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Africa's elephants are in trouble, and human activity is to blame.
For the first time, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List assessed Africa's elephants as two separate species: the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) and the African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana). They found that both species are endangered, and the forest elephant critically so.
"Africa's elephants play key roles in ecosystems, economies and in our collective imagination all over the world," IUCN Red List Director General Dr. Bruno Oberle said in a press release. "Today's new IUCN Red List assessments of both African elephant species underline the persistent pressures faced by these iconic animals."
BREAKING NEWS: African elephant species now Endangered and Critically Endangered - IUCN Red List With today's upda… https://t.co/RXRmB10DBE— IUCN Red List (@IUCN Red List)1616677290.0
The last time that the IUCN assessed Africa's elephant population was in 2008, The New York Times reported. At that point, all of Africa's elephants were considered as a single species, and were listed as "vulnerable," one step better than endangered.
However, mounting genetic evidence indicates that there are two species of elephants on the continent. Africa's forest elephants typically live in West Africa and in tropical rainforests in Central Africa, IUCN pointed out. Savanna elephants prefer open areas like grasslands and deserts. The two species' ranges rarely overlap, and a 2019 study found that they rarely reproduce with each other.
There are also physical and life-cycle differences between the two species, according to The Guardian. Forest elephants are smaller, gestate longer, and have oval ears and smaller tusks. Savanna elephants live in larger family units, have larger ears and their skulls are shaped differently. Some scientists have questioned splitting them into distinct species, because they do sometimes cross breed. However, others say the new categorization is long overdue.
"The separation between them is probably greater than the separation between lions and tigers," Dr. Alfred Roca, a geneticist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told The New York Times.
The new categorization has important conservation implications. For one thing, it reveals how much trouble both species, but especially the forest elephants, are really in. The new assessment found that the population of forest elephants had fallen more than 86 percent in the last 31 years, while the population of savanna elephants has decreased by at least 60 percent in the last 50 years, according to the IUCN. As of 2016, there were 415,000 elephants of both species alive in Africa.
For both species, the main drivers of the decline have been poaching, which peaked in 2011, and habitat loss through the conversion of their homes for agriculture and other human uses.
"With persistent demand for ivory and escalating human pressures on Africa's wild lands, concern for Africa's elephants is high, and the need to creatively conserve and wisely manage these animals and their habitats is more acute than ever," Dr. Kathleen Gobush, lead assessor of the African elephants and member of the IUCN SSC African Elephant Specialist Group, said in the press release.
Viewing them as distinct species can help with these conservation efforts, Gobush further explained to The Guardian. So far, savanna elephants have dominated research and the popular imagination, while forest elephants are less studied.
"This reclassification allows dedicated attention to each animal – the forest elephant and the savanna elephant – and then to tailor conservation plans according to each species' needs, which are different," Gobush said.
One bit of good news from the assessment is that conservation can work when done right. Subpopulations of forest elephants are doing well in the most protected areas of Gabon and the Republic of the Congo, according to the IUCN. The same is true for the largest single grouping of savanna elephants, who live in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.
However, the stakes are high. Elephants play an important role in their ecosystems, Gobush told The New York Times. Forest elephants are the sole dispersers of some tree species, while both create new habitats for other animals by eating plants and knocking down trees.
"Both of them really could be considered gardeners tending to the vegetation, more than probably any other animal," Gobush said. "We just can't afford to lose them, really."
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As more and more homeowners make the switch to solar power, you may be considering putting panels on your own roof. But before you purchase a home solar system, you should consider the major solar energy pros and cons.
Of course, using the sun as an energy source can reduce your household's monthly electric bills and minimize your carbon footprint. However, making the switch to renewable energy isn't always the best choice for all homeowners. Let's take a closer look at the pros and cons of solar energy.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Pros and Cons of Solar Energy: What You Need to Know
By installing a home solar system, you can use solar panels to harness the sun's rays, convert them into electrical energy and use that energy to power your home. This can offset or even completely replace the energy you'd typically get from your utility company.
While the advantages of solar energy are plenty, there are also some drawbacks. Here are the top solar energy pros and cons to consider when deciding if solar panels are worth it for your home.
Benefits of Solar Energy
We'll begin with a summary of the main advantages of solar energy.
1) You can significantly reduce or even eliminate your household electric bills.
One of the most significant benefits of solar energy is also the most obvious: By harnessing energy from the sun, you can cut back your dependence on electric utility, which means you'll see a sharp drop off in your monthly electricity bills. In fact, the average solar system lasts for two to three decades, which means that your return on investment will pay for the system itself over time.
2) Going solar can reduce your carbon emissions.
Another one of the main advantages of solar energy is that it's a clean and renewable energy source. What this means is that you reduce your greenhouse gas emissions and decrease your environmental impact. While energy from coal and other fossil fuels tend to create a lot of environmental pollutants, solar energy does not produce any direct pollution at all, which makes it far and away the most environmentally friendly way to power your home.
3) Investing in a solar power system can increase the value of your home.
Solar homes are becoming considerably more appealing, and installing the best solar panels can bump an estate's resale value by a decent amount. Note that this helps offset one of the primary cons of solar energy, which is the steep startup cost of solar panels — but more on that later.
4) Going solar can make you eligible for rebates and tax incentives.
Over the past couple of decades, the federal government has implemented numerous plans to incentivize solar energy, including tax credits and rebates. Many state governments have followed suit, particularly those where sun exposure is most consistent. (North Carolina has actually been one of the leaders in this space.) Thanks to this, there are some significant ways to recoup part of your solar investment almost immediately. Again, this can help offset the initial cost of your solar panel system, allowing you to generate some savings even before those utility reductions begin to stack up.
Disadvantages of Solar Energy
There are obviously some significant benefits of solar energy, but it's only fair to outline some of the drawbacks, too. A few of the most notable disadvantages include:
1) Not every roof can accommodate a solar system.
Solar panel installation requires you to have a certain kind of roof. If you have an older home, especially one with slate or cedar tiles on the roof, then you may not be able to buy solar panels for your personal use. Additionally, homes with skylights and other rooftop features may not have the surface area needed for solar panels. If you don't have a lot of space or you're unsure about your home's solar capability, contact a local solar installer for a consultation. Most top solar companies will send out a representative free of charge.
2) Solar energy can be very location-dependent.
You may have a roof that's ideal for solar panel installation and still not be a good candidate for solar energy. Why? Because to take full advantage of solar energy, you need to live in a place that gets consistent sun exposure from day to day. So, if you live in a part of the country that tends to be pretty cloudy or grey, solar may be a non-starter. And if your roof is partly shielded by trees or by neighboring homes, you may not get the best mileage from a solar energy system.
3) Solar savings tend to correspond with energy bills.
If you have high energy bills, then going solar will probably give you significant savings. But the inverse is also true: If you live somewhere with low utility costs, then the savings from switching to solar energy are going to be more modest. In other words, there are some parts of the country where the financial advantages of solar energy are going to be pronounced, and other places where those financial advantages are going to be fairly inconsequential. It all depends on the cost of electricity where you live.
4) The upfront cost of going solar can be quite expensive.
According to some estimates, the average cost of a solar system investment is around $13,000, and for some homeowners, may exceed $20,000. The specific number will vary according to the size of your home, your household energy needs and the type of solar panels you choose. For example, if you make your own DIY solar panels, you'll cut down on installation costs, or if you want to get the most efficient solar panels, they'll cost significantly more.
There are plenty of ways to offset the cost, including tax incentives, utility savings, increased home value and financing options. Still, there's no getting around it: Making the switch to solar energy is always going to prove costly.
Free Quote: How Much Can You Save on Solar?
Cost is a major factor to consider when weighing the pros and cons of solar energy. Fill out the 30-second form below to get a free, no-obligation quote from a top solar company in your area to help you decide if solar is right for you. You could save up to $2,500 each year on your electric bills and receive both federal and state tax rebates.
Weighing the Solar Energy Pros and Cons
So, do the advantages of solar energy outweigh the disadvantages? Unfortunately, there's no easy answer here, as different homeowners may experience different levels of savings when they make the jump to solar.
Before investing in a system, make sure you do your due diligence. Research local sun exposure, tax incentives and your own household energy expenses. And, get quotes from a few solar providers that can give you more details about how much a new system will cost you. By weighing the pros and cons of solar energy, you can make the most advantageous decision for your household.
In the diminishing refrains of a bird's call, signs of our world disappearing around us.
What happens to us as the wild world unravels? Vanishing, an occasional essay series, explores some of the human stakes of the wildlife extinction crisis.
Our small family knew bobolinks from a bird refuge four hours away. Each spring my partner and I made the trip to Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge with our daughter in hopes of seeing the 90-plus species of migratory birds we typically spotted over the course of a binoculared weekend. As we headed West we anticipated the winnowing, sky-dance displays of Wilson's snipe, the oranges of Bullock's oriole flashing high in the cottonwoods, and the bright spots of sunshine that dart through riparian thickets — the yellow warbler.
But the bobolink was like a sentinel, the first to greet us each year.
When we found the bobolink's tuxedoed back and rambling song rising from the fields alongside the dirt road leading to our campground, we knew we'd arrived just where we should be — and right on time. This moment marked not merely the end of our drive but also the bobolink's astounding feat of flying over 12,000 miles since we'd last heard his call. Bobolinks, who tend to be seen singly, attested to the braiding of wings and land and sea, to the astonishing rhythm of spring's abundances, and to the persistent migrations of birds, songs and birders.
One year, just after a bobolink greeted us, we pitched camp at dusk beneath the cliff where hundreds of nesting cliff swallows performed their evening skyward wheelings. As our 5-year-old daughter worked, her little arms pounding tent stakes, she began to sing for the bobolink. Inspired by the bird's flitting from grassy perch to golden ground, by his piccolo song, we three found ourselves crafting a round.
You know rounds, those woven songs — three layered voices, each joining a line or two after the last until a trio of distinct melodies harmonizes in circling chords. The round ends in a perfect reversal of its beginning, the first voice departing the plaited strain, then the next, until final notes resolve into silence. Early in life, our daughter learned to hold her part as we sang rounds in the car, on the trail, paddling the canoe. We sang popular ones like "Dona Nobis Pachem," the elegiac notes of that repeated phrase evocative of a wood thrush fluting in pine forest: Give us peace, give us peace, give us peace. Other times, we made up the songs.
That night at the refuge, tent secured, we practiced new harmonies as the sun set in bronze browns over the distant squawks and trumpeting of sandhill cranes. Our completed round rang staccato notes rising and falling, like the bird's twinkling call (Allegro!):
You will miss Bobolink if you blink.
Bobolink, you make me think!
Bobolink made us think because we worked hard to find the bird as we drove into camp. Each breeding male requires a broad territory of tall-grass meadow, so we scanned a wide swath for yellow-backed head, black chest, black-and-white back. We surveyed fence posts and the heads of tall grasses. We rolled down the windows, batting back mosquitoes, hoping bobolink's chattering call might draw our ears and then our eyes. We had to pay attention.
In the years that followed, our bobolink round became a ritual we performed while setting up camp, celebrating his sentinel welcome and garrulous song. But then one year our song went unsung, our round vanishing with the bird.
We didn't see bobolinks that spring. Or the next. Maybe our timing was off, we thought. Most likely bobolinks were absent from those fields because they were suffering, their status "declining." During my lifetime alone, the global population of bobolinks has fallen by more than 65% — this according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which includes bobolinks in a list of species "most at risk of extinction without significant conservation actions." So we sat in silence at the campground, our daughter wondering how a song no longer suited its own habitat.
Sure, we could sing other rounds, like the one made up of the words for numbers, each numeral corresponding to a note of the scale, complex in its dissonance but perfect for distracting little legs tired from hiking on mountain trails. Or growing girls mourning missing birds in quiet fields. There's also the funny round her dad made up, something about magpies sitting on fenceposts until they eat animal roadkill. ("Yuck, Dada," our daughter says before she joins in, too.) Yes, our daughter knows about nature red in tooth and claw, or beak and talon. She knows, too, about species death — that passenger pigeons, for example, were driven extinct across generations, disappearing entirely in the course of someone's childhood-still-in-progress.
In recent years the bobolinks have returned to the refuge fields. A wildlife biologist reports that their numbers are actually increasing there, but both she and I know better than to give up our concern, because the birds' presence at this one protected location belies their globally diminishing numbers. Without the deliberate preservation of more prairies, fields and meadows, without changes to the frequency of agricultural mowing across wide swaths of land, bobolinks may die off entirely.
Our daughter, now a teen prone to raising her eyebrows when we start singing rounds and to issuing occasional dramatic outbursts, says, "Nature is dying!" But her sentiment isn't just teenage angst. How can I express to her my grief over the very real possibility that her melodies will soon have no referents in the landscapes that inspired them? Will she become so accustomed to forms of life falling away that she thinks living means witnessing countless losses due only to human disregard? If so, how can she possibly feel safe loving her world? How can she feel safe loving anything?
For now, she knows two types of bobolink song. I hear them too sometimes, wafting from the occasional bird in the fields or from the reluctant lips of our teenager, who's thriving and becoming more complex. Unlike her earth.
I find myself mixing notes and phrases in my head, straining to make verses that fit her world, old refrains merging with new into a song more requiem than round:
Give her peace, give birds peace, make us think.
We will miss bobolink if we blink.
Rochelle L. Johnson is a writer, professor of environmental humanities and president of the Thoreau Society.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
Reddit investors have found a way to meme for good.
The amateur investors on subreddit WallStreetBets often refer to themselves as apes and use the phrase "Apes Together Strong," BBC News reported. Now, some subreddit members have started to take this saying literally. Within days, Redditors have raised $350,000 for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund by adopting more than 3,500 gorillas, The Guardian reported.
"It's safe to say that the #investor community on @reddit is not traditionally who we think of as our supporter base. But they definitely surprised and overwhelmed us over the weekend," the conservation group tweeted.
🚨WE HAVE NEWS 🚨 It’s safe to say that the #investor community on @reddit is not traditionally who we think of as ou… https://t.co/f3Vg6e44dv— Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund (@Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund)1615827823.0
The trend began last Friday when Reddit user Pakistani_in_MURICA posted an adoption certificate for a mountain gorilla named Urungano. The post received a 92 percent upvote rate and prompted many other users to follow suit.
The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund works with mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Grauer's gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to BBC News. On Twitter, the group said that the new funds would support their work studying and monitoring gorillas, and supporting the people who live near them.
The organization told The Guardian that it usually receives 20 new gorilla adoptions a weekend, a far cry from the thousands that the Redditors initiated.
"The support that has come to our organization, as well as others, is amazing," Tara Stoinski, the fund's president, chief executive and chief scientific officer, told The Guardian. "One of the biggest challenges in conservation is just that there's not enough funding for the challenges we face on the ground."
The Redditors have also donated to other organizations and adopted other species. The Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative, which studies endangered bonobos, said it received $4,500 from the WallStreetBets community.
Wow!! Thanks to the @Official_WSB community, we have raised $4,500 and bonobos are now featured in @Newsweek! We ar… https://t.co/mlFI4en5Y5— Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative (@Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative)1615996027.0
The Redditors have also moved beyond apes to adopt endangered animals such as elephants, pangolins and sea turtles, according to The Guardian. The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which runs a sanctuary for orphaned elephants in Kenya, experienced a $10,000 rise in donations over the weekend.
"It's a new supporter base for us, for sure, one that we're extremely thankful for," the trust's Amie Alden told The Guardian. "We've currently got more than 90 dependent orphaned elephants in our care and it's an expensive undertaking."
The WallStreetBets community first rose to fame in January, when they noticed that hedge funds were betting against stocks, including GameStop and AMC, and banded together to buy several stocks to boost their prices, Business Insider explained. This caused the share price of GameStop to skyrocket from less than $5 a share at the end of December to more than $450 by Jan. 28, forcing some hedge funds to close their bets at a loss. Some of the Redditors referenced the saga by making their animal donations in the name of GameStop or "Jim Cramer's Tears," The Guardian noted.
"This is the sort of thing that happens when people unaccustomed to having money suddenly get some," BBC News reported one Redditor saying.
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
The California condor has been teetering on the brink of extinction for decades. When the species was first assessed in 1994 for the IUCN Red List, the global authority on the conservation statuses of species, it was listed as "critically endangered." Nearly 30 years later, its status has not changed. But this doesn't tell the whole story.
Conservationists have actually been working hard to keep the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) alive with captive breeding and reintroduction efforts. "They would be extinct without conservation by now," Claudia Hermes, a Red List researcher at BirdLife International who has worked on the California condor listing, told Mongabay. "But with conservation, they actually respond fairly well."
Now, a new addition to the IUCN's Red List — the IUCN Green Status of Species — illustrates the condor's positive response to conservation efforts, despite its critically endangered status, and its high recovery potential if these efforts are maintained.
"The Green Status really fills this gap because it tells us that despite the fairly high extinction risk that we still have this hope," Hermes said.
The preliminary green status for the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus). IUCN
A new paper published July 28 in Conservation Biology introduces the IUCN Green Status as a new assessment framework that provides information about the ecological functionality of a species within its range, and also how much a species has recovered due to conservation efforts. A team of more than 200 international scientists from 171 institutions presented preliminary Green Status assessments for 181 species, ranging from the pink pigeon (Nesoenas mayeri) to the gray wolf (Canis lupus) to the Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis).
"It's providing a more nuanced picture of what's going on with a species and that's going to provide information that's really important for conservation planning and also measuring and celebrating the impact of past conservation," lead author Molly Grace, a researcher at the University of Oxford who led the development of the IUCN Green Status, told Mongabay. "The Red List is a wonderful tool, but when we try to use it beyond what it was made to do, which is to measure extinction risk, then we sometimes get answers that are a bit misleading or don't tell the full story."
The IUCN Green Status will classify species into nine recovery categories that will use historical population levels to indicate if a species has been largely depleted from its range or if it is nearing recovery. The assessment framework will also measure the impact of past conservation efforts, species' reliance on conservation action, and how much a species could gain in the next 10 years due to conservation action. It also offers a long-term view of species' recovery potential over the next 100 years.
A pink pigeon (Nesoenas mayeri) photographed in its native Mauritius. Sergey Yeliseev / Flickr
Sometimes a species' Red List status will align with the Green Status, but other times the two metrics will not match up. Take the burrowing bettong (Bettongia lesueur), a small marsupial, for example. The species' Red List status is "near threatened," which suggests that while the species is in peril there isn't an immediate risk of extinction. But the Green Status shows that the burrowing bettong is actually "critically depleted" from its range and does not have a high recovery potential due to the difficulties in controlling invasive species like cats and foxes that prey upon these animals.
Less than 2% of the surveyed species had a conservation impact metric of zero, which indicates "that conservation has, or will, play a role in improving or maintaining species status for the vast majority of these species," the authors write in the paper.
Co-author Elizabeth Bennett, vice president for species conservation at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), says the new framework can help incentivize conservation action.
"There are... donors that are starting to be interested in this because it's more fine-tuned and sensitive to change than the Red List," Bennett told Mongabay. "So within a granting period, you potentially could improve the green status of a species, where the Red List status tends to be much slower to react to change."
Burrowing bettong (Bettongia lesueur), a near threatened species that is critically depleted from its native range in Australia. Daniele Parra / Flickr
The IUCN Green Status will be officially launched online at the start of the IUCN World Conservation Congress, which will take place in Marseille, France, from Sept. 3-11, 2021.
"The core thing that excites me is that it's an optimistic view of where we want to go with species conservation," Bennett told Mongabay. "And it gives people a really good clear roadmap about that for each species. So instead of just saying, Oh, we don't want this species to go extinct… we can say, but we want it to be thriving, and we want to be playing its full ecological role. And this is what it could look like. And this is how we can get there."
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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The clone in question is a black-footed ferret named Elizabeth Ann, and her lineage could bring much needed genetic diversity to the imperiled species.
"[I]t was a commitment to seeing this species survive that has led to the successful birth of Elizabeth Ann," Ryan Phelan, the executive director of biotechnology conservation nonprofit Revive and Restore, said in a Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) press release. "To see her now thriving ushers in a new era for her species and for conservation-dependent species everywhere. She is a win for biodiversity and for genetic rescue."
Cutting-edge science and a blast from the past! Meet Elizabeth Ann. She’s the first-ever cloned black-footed ferret… https://t.co/L4SShmmXOQ— US Fish and Wildlife (@US Fish and Wildlife)1613669102.0
Elizabeth Ann's birth was a joint effort from FWS, Revive and Restore, ViaGen Pets and Equine, San Diego Zoo Global and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. She arrived on Dec. 10, with the birth first announced on Thursday.
The history of the black-footed ferret makes her birth an especially important milestone. The species once lived throughout the U.S. West, FWS recovery coordinator Pete Gober told The New York Times. But their numbers dwindled as their primary prey, prairie dogs, also declined due to habitat loss, poison and disease. At one point, scientists believed the black-footed ferret to be extinct.
"We thought they were gone," Gober told The New York Times.
That changed in 1981, when a ranch dog named Shep dragged one back to his owners' home in Wyoming. However, disease wiped out much of the newly discovered ranch population. The FWS captured 18 ferrets for a breeding program, but all of the ferrets they have bred and released since have come from just seven parents.
That's where Elizabeth Ann fits in. She is a clone of Willa, one of the last wild-caught black-footed ferrets whose genes were never passed on, according to FWS. However, they were preserved by the San Diego Zoo Global's Frozen Zoo in 1988, making Elizabeth Ann's birth possible.
"With these cloning techniques, you can basically freeze time and regenerate those cells," Gober told The Associated Press.
Scientists determined that her genome had triple the unique variations of the current ferret population, meaning that Elizabeth Ann's descendants could play a role in boosting the species' genetic health, according to FWS.
That won't happen right away, The New York Times reported. First, Elizabeth Ann will be joined by other Willa clones, as well as clones of a male named Studbook Number 2. The clones will breed, while their offspring will be interbred with wild ferrets. Scientists need to make sure that none of the mitochondrial DNA from the clones' surrogate mother, a domestic ferret, is passed on.
Cloning, which involves copying the genes of one plant or animal to make a new one, is emerging as a conservation strategy for imperiled species. Viagen, a Texas-based company that helped clone Willa, also cloned a Przewalski's wild horse last summer, The Associated Press reported. The Przewalski is a Mongolian horse species whose population of around 2,000 is descended from only 12 animals.
Cloning could also recover extinct animals. Ben Novak, Revive and Restore's lead scientist, wants to bring back the passenger pigeon, and the nonprofit is also looking into cloning a wooly mammoth. Some conservationists argue that these efforts take funding away from protecting existing species, The New York Times reported. But Novak argued that the genetic technology required for both de-extinction and conservation is the same.
The FWS also noted that it is not abandoning more traditional conservation efforts.
"Successful genetic cloning does not diminish the importance of addressing habitat-based threats to the species or the Service's focus on addressing habitat conservation and management to recover black-footed ferrets," Noreen Walsh, director of the Service's Mountain-Prairie region, said in the press release.
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The birds have begun to make a recovery in the southwestern portion of their historic range and now, thanks largely to the efforts of the Yurok Tribe, they will fly over the Pacific Northwest once more.
"As soon as I heard the news, I started crying," Yurok Tribe wildlife department director Tiana Williams-Claussen told OPB. "This is something that I've been working for literally my entire adult career."
On Tuesday of last week, the Yurok Tribe, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service announced a final rule that would create a new condor release facility to reintroduce the birds to the Yurok Ancestral Territory and Redwood National Park. This is in the northern portion of the birds' range, and marks the first time the birds will fly here in more than 100 years.
After 100 years, California condors will soar again over coastal forests and prairies in the Pacific Northwest. We'… https://t.co/9OHbGuke8I— U.S. Fish and Wildlife (@U.S. Fish and Wildlife)1616530058.0
The California condor played an important role in maintaining Pacific ecosystems and was also important to the culture of the Yurok Tribe and other Indigenous groups. The tribe worked 12 years to prepare for the reintroduction effort.
"For the last 20 years, the Yurok Tribe has been actively engaged in the restoration of the rivers, forests and prairies in our ancestral territory. The reintroduction of the condor is one component of this effort to reconstruct the diverse environmental conditions that once existed in our region. We are extremely proud of the fact that our future generations will not know a world without prey-go-neesh." Yurok Tribe Chairman Joseph L. James said in the announcement.
While condors once ranged as far north as Canada and, prehistorically, as far east as Florida, their numbers were devastated by human activity. By the early 1980s, there were only 22 of the birds left in the wild, The Guardian noted. These birds were placed in a captive breeding program and later reintroduced in southern and central California. This has proven successful, and there are now more than 300 birds in the wild in California, Utah, Arizona and Mexico.
"The California condor is a shining example of how a species can be brought back from the brink of extinction through the power of partnerships," Paul Souza, Regional Director for the U.S. FWS California-Great Basin Region, said in the announcement.
California condors are still an endangered species. One of the main threats to condors now is lead poisoning. Because the birds are scavengers, they can be harmed when they eat animals that have been killed with lead ammunition. Another danger is DDT, OPB noted. While the chemical has been long banned, it persists in the environment and can thin condor egg shells. Condors have also been put at risk by wildfires in recent years. A wildfire destroyed a condor sanctuary in Big Sur in August of 2020.
Chris West, who manages the condor program for the Yurok Tribe, said he hoped expanding the species' range would boost its chances of survival.
"There's a big success in the number of birds out there, but you don't want to put all your eggs in one basket," West told The Guardian.
Williams-Claussen also saw the birds' reintroduction as a moment of healing for the Yurok Tribe.
"Bringing a species like California condor, pregoneesh, back to our ancestral territory... that's a huge reparation in the wound that the Yurok people and all tribes in this area have suffered since contact and the disruption to our eco-region," Williams-Claussen told OPB.
The tribe is hoping to release the first condors in the fall of 2021 or the spring of 2022, according to the announcement.
During Wisconsin's first public wolf hunt in February, hunters killed 218 wolves, according to new research by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The hunt was not supposed to be legal until November 2021, but a pro-hunting group sued and won, allowing the hunt to take place in February. Wildlife officials were forced to end the legal hunt after only three days, according to HuffPost.
Gray wolves were dropped from the endangered list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 48 states, just this January before Donald Trump left the White House. Ex-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said that, at the time, the wolves "exceeded all conservation goals for recovery," according to HuffPost.
Since the gray wolf's removal from the Endangered Species Act, conservation goals are generally at the discretion of individual states, although they must submit five-year monitoring plans to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, according to HuffPost.
Adrain Treves, the lead author of the study and an environmental studies professor at the University of Wisconsin, said that the study's findings should raise concerns for future hunting seasons in the state, according to HuffPost.
In the Spring of 2020, there were at least 1,034 wolves in Wisconsin. The deaths brought the total number of wolves between 695 and 751, according to The Associated Press.
Between April 2020 and April 2021, 313 to 323 gray wolves were killed by humans — a majority of them killed during the February public hunt. The targeted amount of wolves to kill for population control was 119.
More than half of the non-hunting deaths are from "cryptic poaching," according to Treves and his co-authors. These deaths include illegal killing where the poachers leave behind no evidence. Other deaths may be from "automobile strikes and government-approved lethal controls for wolves harassing livestock," according to The Associated Press.
"Although the [Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources] is aiming for a stable population, we estimate the population actually dropped significantly," Treves said in a statement, according to HuffPost.
Treves and the co-authors of the study believe the wolf populations could recover in a couple of years if hunting is ceased, according to The Associated Press.
Daniel MacNulty, an associate professor of wildlife ecology at Utah State University, questioned the research, specifically the methods for calculating cryptic poaching.
"I would interpret the findings cautiously," he said, according to The Associated Press.
Other states, including Michigan and Minnesota, are considering wolf hunts this year. Republican legislators in Western states are also pushing for aggressive hunting methods, according to The Associated Press.
While Ed Bangs, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wolf recovery coordinator, described the events as a "killing spree," he said that wildlife managers can healthily preserve wolf populations using science, if authorities let them, according to The Associated Press.
"I have a lot of faith in wolves," Bangs said in an interview with The Associated Press. "They're very resilient and can bounce back."
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Can animals, like humans, lose their culture when separated from others like themselves? A new study provides rare evidence that they can.
"How America's most endangered cat could help save Florida."
As its headline promises, National Geographic's latest feature on the endangered Florida panther explores the unspoken, symbiotic relationship between the big cats and the humans they must coexist with. The article also showcases intimate, rare photographs of the panthers, which took five years to capture.
According to the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), Florida panthers are actually a subspecies of mountain lion — the only one remaining in the Eastern U.S. They're also known as pumas and cougars. The subspecies' historic range once extended from Florida to Louisiana throughout the Gulf Coast states, and even Arkansas, NWF reported. Today, wild Florida panthers can only be found in southwestern Florida.
Hunting decimated the population, and the species was among the first to be added to the U.S. endangered species list in 1973, with fewer than 30 individuals remaining, according to the National Geographic article. Habitat loss compounded the issue. With such a small population, inbreeding, which could lead to diseases and genetic malfunctions, was of particular concern. Journalist Douglas Main wrote the feature story, and he shared in a twitter thread how many people feared that Florida's panther had gone, or would soon go extinct, during that decade.
A massive conservation effort ensued, including bringing in eight Texas mountain lions to breed with the native Florida population in order to inject fresh genetic diversity into the population, Main said.
However, the subspecies is still so critically endangered that it remains vulnerable to "just about every major threat," NWF reported. Habitat loss is the biggest obstacle.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Florida panthers require large, contiguous areas of suitable land to live on. They are solitary and roam widely in order to meet their social, reproductive and energetic needs, FWS reported. Unfortunately, they are still restricted to less than five percent of their historical range, the report noted.
As more people move to Florida, continued development threatens the little remaining open land and panther habitat. For panthers, this is a huge challenge to recovery, and has increased cat-on-cat territorial spats and car collisions — the leading causes of death, National Geographic reported. About 25 Florida panthers are killed annually by vehicles, a devastating blow to a tiny population and "a reflection of how development and road construction threaten the species at a time when roughly 900 people are moving to Florida every day," the story detailed.
The conservation efforts worked to save the panther from the brink of extinction, but they're still very much at risk, said National Geographic Explorer Carlton Ward Jr. Ward is an eighth-generation Floridian and habitat protection advocate, as well as the photographer who spent five years capturing the panther images for the feature.
A male panther leaps over a creek at Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Florida. The rarely seen cats, which number only around 200, are reclaiming territory north of the Everglades, but their habitat is threatened by encroaching suburban sprawl. Carlton Ward, Jr.
For Ward, it became an obsession to document the elusive, endangered cats, and the pictures reflect that. "The lead image for the story, a panther jumping across a log around a flooded section of swamp, that picture took two years to capture," he admitted.
For five years, Ward set up state-of-the-art camera traps throughout the Florida woods and swamps. He shared with EcoWatch what he learned about the need to continue balancing Florida's tremendous population growth with conserving the iconic species.
"We need to cultivate a culture of coexistence," Ward said. "If the panther goes extinct, I will be worried about all the other wildlife and people in Florida, because it means we will have missed the opportunity we have now to conserve enough land to ensure balance between wildlife and people."
Today, the panther population has grown to roughly 200, and Ward's photos show that the cats are moving northward to reclaim old territories. This is critical, because northward expansion is the only path for long-term survival, Main wrote in National Geographic.
"The southern tip of Florida is not enough land to sustain a genetically viable, resilient population of panthers," Ward told EcoWatch. "The cats can only continue moving north if the Florida Wildlife Corridor, a patchwork of public and private lands that run through the state, is preserved. The Florida Wildlife Corridor is the lifeline and path of recovery for panthers."
Yet this requires the participation of landowners and ranchers, who need more conservation funding to prevent their open spaces from becoming subdivisions, parking lots and roads, Main explained in the story. Conservation easements use up development rights while allowing the owners to continue farming and ranching, Main said.
"The land is still there. We have a moment right now where we can choose to conserve," Ward told EcoWatch. "Hundreds of landowners are open to conservation as an alternative to development. They're waiting for conservation easements or to sell their land for national parks. We need to meet this opportunity."
Wildlife veterinarian Lara Cusack handles more kittens belonging to FP224. These young cats were measured and given immunity boosters while their mother was hunting away from the den. When panthers have space and protected habitats, their populations can grow. Only about one in three Florida panther kittens survives to adulthood. Carlton Ward Jr. / National Geographic Society
Landowners and ranchers, who were traditionally pitted against panthers when their cattle were eaten, will also benefit from increased protections for the cats. "On the Endangered Species Act, do you see 'cowboy' or 'rancher' written on it? No, but we benefit from the protections afforded the panther," Main quoted Florida rancher Elton Langford. "Both share a common enemy: Development," Main wrote.
People with multi-generational connections to the land share something in common with a species that's lived there for 20,000 years, Ward said. Both need the land to remain intact and open.
"There is common ground and common threat and common opportunity," Ward concluded. "That's where I feel the most hope — in how much common ground there is in saving a species, helping sustain a way of life and in sustaining the headwaters of the Everglades and the water supply. The panther is a great icon for everyone to conserve all of this."
For more on this story, visit National Geographic. The story appears in print in National Geographic's April 2021 issue.
"Return of the Florida Panther" is featured in the April 2021 issue of National Geographic. National Geographic Society
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The international animal welfare non-profit, World Animal Protection, launched a new investigation highlighting the rise of staged animal 'rescue' videos on YouTube.
Since 2005, YouTube has grown exponentially. Each minute, 500 hours of video are uploaded to the platform, according to National Geographic. With the sheer amount of content, it takes 10,000 people and machine learning to moderate the site.
Animal rights activists at the World Animal Protection are pleading for YouTube to more closely monitor fake animal rescue videos. These videos usually show innocent prey such as a chicken or a cat, being attacked by a larger predator, like a snake or crocodile, according to News Wire.
"Just when you think you've heard it all, humans think of another way to be cruel to animals. Social media giants like YouTube should be on the front foot when it comes to banning this disgusting content from their platforms," Ricky Gervais, animal advocate, comedian, and actor said, according to News Wire.
The staged attacks are resolved with human intervention, painting them as the human savior and disparaging the reputations of predator species. The videos can cause stress, injury or even death to the animals involved, according to National Geographic.
"Generally, if you are a wildlife photographer or filmmaker, it takes countless hours, days, months, or even years to get the footage ethically that can tell the story of a species in the wild," DJ Schuber, a wildlife biologist at the Animal Welfare Institute said to National Geographic.
In March, YouTube announced its intent to take action to ban staged animal rescue videos. However, since the announcement was made more than a hundred new videos were uploaded, and hundreds remain on the platform, according to a report from Lady Freethinker, an animal welfare nonprofit.
Lady Freethinker's report also found that there have been 180 fake animal rescue videos posted between October 2018 to May 2021. Of the 180 videos, 70 of them were uploaded in 2021, showing a rising trend in the cruel entertainment, according to News Wire.
The 50 most viewed fake animal rescue videos resulted in 133 million views. Ad revenue is generated from each view, making the profit directly linked to the viewer, according to News Wire.
The investigation also garnered attention to conservation concerns. The predators showcased in the videos, including Siamese crocodile and Lar gibbon are endangered species.
"There is no doubt that the animals in these videos will have suffered from injuries and severe psychological trauma, just for cheap thrills for viewers at home," Ben Williamson, program director for World Animal Protection said. "If urgent action isn't taken, we could see a whole surge of copycat content emerge – putting more animals and people at risk."
Audrey Nakagawa is the content creator intern at EcoWatch. She is a senior at James Madison University studying Media, Art, and Design, with a concentration in journalism. She's a reporter for The Breeze in the culture section and writes features on Harrisonburg artists, album reviews, and topics related to mental health and the environment. She was also a contributor for Virginia Reports where she reported on the impact that COVID-19 had on college students.
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French researchers have found that an unusual fish, the coelacanth, can live up to a century, doesn't fully mature until it reaches age 45, and spends years in the womb. Coelacanths are nicknamed, "living fossils."
Previously, it was estimated that the coelacanth was a fast-growing fish that lived for about 20 years. But, the new research published in Current Biology estimates that the fishes' life span is around 100 years. This conclusion was made by studying the coelacanth's scales under polarized light.
"The maximum longevity of coelacanth was five times longer than previously thought, hence around a century," Kélig Mahé, the paper's lead author, said in a press release.
When calculating the age of coelacanth fish in the past, researchers counted the large lines on a specific scale of the fish. However, the French researchers found that they were missing many smaller lines — lines that could only be seen using polarized light, according to The Guardian.
A marine evolutionary biologist at France's marine research institute said they found around five smaller lines for every big one. The oldest specimen they studied was 84 years old.
Coelacanths are slow-moving and can grow to be human-sized, though it takes many years to reach their full size.
A female coelacanth isn't sexually mature until their late 50s, while the researchers found that male coelacanth's become sexually mature between 40 and 69 years old. Interestingly, researchers think the gestation period for a coelacanth pregnancy is around 5 years.
Harold Walker of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego said this long gestation period is "very strange" for any animal, according to The Guardian.
The fish are estimated to have been around for 400 million years, and they were thought to be extinct until 1938 when they were found alive in the waters near South Africa.
Although not extinct anymore, the species is endangered, so researchers are only permitted to study fish that are already dead, according to The Guardian.
"Those that live slowly, producing few young over long lives — like elephants or great whales — are at great risk from us," Callum Roberts, a marine conservation biologist at the University of Exeter said in an email to Gizmodo. "According to this new study, the coelacanth hangs on at the brink of existence, and is at an exceptionally high risk of disappearing forever."
Audrey Nakagawa is the content creator intern at EcoWatch. She is a senior at James Madison University studying Media, Art, and Design, with a concentration in journalism. She's a reporter for The Breeze in the culture section and writes features on Harrisonburg artists, album reviews, and topics related to mental health and the environment. She was also a contributor for Virginia Reports where she reported on the impact that COVID-19 had on college students.