The Recovery of the Island Fox


Island Foxes. Source: The Guardian

We are happy to share another win for wildlife conservation. One of America’s rarest mammals, the island fox, has experienced a record-breaking recovery twelve years after the species was declared endangered. Here’s the story from The Guardian:

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has delisted three subspecies of island fox – endemic to the San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz islands – just 12 years after they were granted endangered species protections due to a catastrophic 90% population loss.

The island fox is one of the smallest canids in the world, around the size of a domesticated cat. They are thought to have evolved on the channel islands, located off southern California, over the past 6,000 years and initially thrived due to a lack of predators, feasting on mice, crickets and the occasional crab.

However, the island fox suffered badly during the late 1990s after use of the pesticide DDT wiped out bald eagles on the islands. Golden eagles, which prey on the foxes, quickly replaced the fish-loving bald eagles, leading to numerous fox deaths.

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Turns Out the Red Wolf is Part Gray, Part Coyote

John Woodhouse Audubon – Red Texas Wolf – Google Art Project via WikiMedia Commons

Last time I recall linking to a story with gray wolves, it was in the context of rewilding. And though I haven’t written about the red wolf before, it’s another North American species that is protected under US federal law in the Endangered Species Act. But new genetic research published last week on the DNA of North American wolf genomes is showing that the red wolf is in fact a hybrid species; a mix of gray wolf and coyote. The same goes for the Eastern gray wolf, another protected species. Carl Zimmer reports for the New York Times:

The finding, announced Wednesday, highlights the shortcomings of laws intended to protect endangered species, as such laws lag far behind scientific research into the evolution of species. Continue reading

Cacti in Trouble from Collectors

Mammillaria herrerae. Photo © Jardín Botánico Regional de Cadereyta

While we have amateur ornithologists, herpetologists, mycologists, and entomologists who contribute to this blog, we haven’t had many botanists around, and therefore we learned something new today about cacti: they’re a group of plants that’s only present in the Americas, apart from one species that grows in Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and South Africa. We also read some bad news from a Cool Green Science blog post by Christine Peterson, which is that 31% of cacti species have a threatened status, a terribly high proportion. Peterson writes,

The smugglers carried their tiny prizes tucked away in suitcases of jalapeños and dirty laundry. The spicy fruit was supposed to deflect inspections. Perhaps they thought the dirty laundry would do the same. Another rare item sat nestled in a new box of Uncle Ben’s Rice. Russians had a hard time finding Uncle Ben’s Rice back home, says Nicholas Chavez, Special Agent in charge of the Southwest Region for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

From the Los Angeles airport, the six Russian men weren’t carrying precious art or poached ivory. They were smuggling cacti stolen from National Parks and Indian Reservations. Some of the cacti they had were labeled appendix two, which means they aren’t currently “threatened with extinction but may become so unless trade is closely controlled,” according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

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Scientists Speak On Behalf Of Yellowstone Grizzly Bears

Thank you, EcoWatch, for keeping us posted on Jane Goodall’s never-ending advocacy on behalf of various members of the animal kingdom we co-inhabit the earth with:

Dr. Jane Goodall is one of 58 prominent scientists and experts who have signed a letter asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to retain Endangered Species Act protections for Yellowstone-area grizzly bears. Continue reading

Bad News for European Vultures

Bird of the Day August 13, 2013: White-rumped Vulture in Ahmedabad, India photographed by Srinivasa Addepalli

Vultures are very important members of many ecosystems in the world as members of a waste-management team, but their role as carrion-feeders is putting them at risk, and has been since the California Condor was endangered in the US (though it’s recovering now). We’ve featured these birds in our daily photo posts quite a bit, even just a week ago, and now there’s news from Scientific American, covering research published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, that European vultures are more threatened than ever, this time by a veterinary drug given to cattle:

A veterinary drug blamed for driving vultures to the brink of extinction on the Indian subcontinent could cause thousands of bird deaths now that it is being used in Spain.

Researchers have expressed concern over use of the anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac in cattle since it was approved for veterinary use in Spain in 2013, as the drug is toxic to vultures who may consume it via dead cows. Now, modelling by Rhys Green, a conservation scientist at the University of Cambridge, UK, and his colleagues suggests that the drug could cause populations of that country’s Eurasian griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus) to decline by between 1–8% each year.

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Good News for Manatees

Florida manatee Credit: Carol Grant/Getty Images via Scientific American

When we wrote about “sea-cows” before here it was in a post about water hyacinth. Now Scientific American is sharing some good news on the species that we weren’t aware about, with great increases in their population’s numbers. Sean Carroll reports:

Good news seems to be rare these days, and good news about the environment even rarer.

But in January this year, after fifty years on the endangered species list, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed to remove the manatee as its numbers in Florida have increased 400% in the past 25 years. And just this month, the FWS proposed to delist the Greater Yellowstone grizzly population as the number of bears has increased from 136 in 1975 to about 700 today.

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Swallow-tailed Kite Conservation

Bird of the Day 9/19/15: Swallow-tailed Kite (Reserva El Copal, Costa Rica)

I’ve had the fortune of seeing this long-rumped raptor outside of the United States, where they are now considered rare despite their wide range throughout the Caribbean and Central and South America. And although the population did decrease in the last several decades, the IUCN does now list the species as having an “increasing” population trend. This interesting article in The Nature Conservancy, however, does raise concern over habitat loss and the species’ vulnerability. Ginger Strand reports:

Maria Whitehead yanks her feet out of the water as something crashes into Bull Creek next to the boat. Seconds later, a 10-foot-long alligator surfaces a few yards away. As the prehistoric reptile glides off, leaving a sinuous wake in the tannin-brown river, Whitehead casually retrieves her binoculars and goes back to watching a nest of swallow-tailed kites near the top of a soaring pine.

A project director for The Nature Conservancy in the South Carolina Lowcountry, Whitehead seems unfazed by nearly losing a toe on the job. So does Craig Sasser, manager of the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge. Wading into primeval cypress swamps, scaling 100-foot pine trees, paddling up tidal rivers through clouds of insects in triple digit heat: These are all part of researching swallow-tailed kites, a spectacular but poorly understood raptor.

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Creative Conservation

White rhinos in South Africa. Photo © Michael Jansen / Flickr via Cool Green Science

From our counterparts at TNC’s blog Cool Green Science comes a second post on the wacky strategies sometimes implemented to save endangered wildlife species. Poisoning rhino horns so people can’t use them for so-called medicine, treating bats for fungus with banana bacteria, killing invasive snakes with acetominophen-filled dead mice thrown from helicopters, the list goes on. Justine Hausheer writes:

Consumers of illegal rhino horn products might be in for a bit of a nasty gastrointestinal shock. In an effort to protect their population of rhinos from poachers, the South Africa’s Sabi Sand Game Reserve is injecting parasiticides and pink dye into their rhinos’ horns. The chemical cocktail isn’t lethal (to humans or the rhinos) but it will send anyone that ingests powdered horn racing for the nearest restroom. Reserve staff have already treated more than 100 rhinos and put up sign warning poachers of the treatment.

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Endangered species : Nilgiri Langur

Two centuries ago, under the British rule, much of the Western Ghats forests were cut down to be replaced by tea plantations. In 1895, the damming of the Periyar river plunged 26 square km of pristine forests into what is now called the Periyar Lake. The 925 km2 of dense hilly forest that form the Periyar Wildlife sanctuary may seem huge, but it is actually a limited territory for the endemic species. Continue reading