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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Russian Scientists Foster Moon Bear Orphans

Three Moon Bear cubs were found by scientists, probably orphaned because of the legal hunting of the bears in Russia. The adult bears' skins are sought for the attractive moon markings on their chests. Moon Bears, technically called Asiatic black bears, are considered to be a vulnerable species. They are protected throughout most of their natural habitat, but in Russia and Japan, hunting them is still legal. As National Geographic reports, "During traditional Russian bear hunts, hibernating bears are dragged from their dens and shot. If it’s a mother with cubs, the babies are often left to die."

The scientists are purposefully doing little more for the bears than give them food, for fear that they will learn to depend on and trust humans too much. The goal is to release the bear cubs back into the wild in a year or so, once they have regained their strength and have survived the winter.

Asiatic black bears are mostly herbivores, eating fruits, nuts, insects, and some smaller animals. As they climb trees, spending up to half of their time in them, the bears will bring twigs and leaves up with them, creating what appear as nests for the bears to sit in. Moon bears are associated with the mountain spirit in traditional Japanese culture, with many folklore and art pieces focused around the creatures. They are often used, unfortunately, in circus acts because of their curious nature and their intellect.

Even without the legal sport hunting of Russia and Japan, the threats to the bears still increases. In China and Southeast Asia, a large threat to the species is the bear bile trade, for use in traditional medicine. The bile is supposedly used to cure diseases.  Some people have created "bear farms," capturing bears from the wild and keeping them to occasionally drain them of bile. Bear paws are also a delicacy in these countries, with demand rising as more Asian countries come into wealth. Conservationists are hoping that tougher laws against bear bile farms and against Moon Bear hunting in general will help keep the animal's population from dwindling further.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sand Cat Kittens Born by Embryo Transfer

In vitro fertilization and embryo transfer procedures have produced the first sand cat kittens born by this method. The Al Ain Wildlife Park & Resort has reported the birth of two healthy kittens. This is the first phase of a program called Project Sand Cat. While one of the kittens has died since the birth in mid-December, it is the knowledge gained from the experience that makes the kitten's life historic.

The Arabian sand cat is itself not an endangered species, currently considered "near threatened." The importance of this procedure to conservation efforts, however, is immeasurable. Now that this method has been proven successful in producing healthy sand cat kittens, bigger plans can be made. The goal of this undertaking is to one day use in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer to birth more endangered species, such as the Arabian leopard.

Sand cats are most notable for their ability to withstand desert conditions. They have learned to burrow during the day to hide from the sun's heat. They also do not need to visit places where animals congregate for water, where predators may lurk. Instead, they obtain all necessary water from their food. The sand cats are carnivores, hunting mostly at night for rodents, lizards and birds. They are found in the Sahara, the Arabian Desert, and the deserts of Iran and Pakistan. 

Monday, May 24, 2010

Black Rhinos Released Into Wild

Five black rhinos were moved to Tanzania in the first step to introduce the creatures to the wild. They have so far lived protected in a South African conservancy. After spending time in enclosures, acclimating to their new environment, the rhinos will be slowly introduced to their new wild worlds.

The critically endangered black rhinoceros differs from its not threatened white rhinoceros counterpart in only a few ways. Most notably, black rhinos feature a "hooked" lip, compared to the white rhino's squared lip. They are actually able to use these prehensile lips to grasp twigs and grass when eating. The black rhino is also smaller than the white rhino and has a proportionally smaller skull and ears.

Because of poaching and habitat destruction, black rhino populations dwindled from an estimated 70,000 in the last 1900s, to scarcely over 2,000 in the new millennium. Their horns are what have made them targets to hunters. The horns are used in traditional medicine to supposedly treat an array of illnesses. It is hoped that the introduction of these implanted rhinoceroses will help restore the population that poachers had almost eradicated.

Manatees Threatened by BP Oil Spill

In addition to the sea turtles, brown pelicans, dolphins, and terns being negatively affected by the recent oil spill, the manatee may also be threatened. As Louisiana and the rest of the Gulf states move to wrestle against the encroaching oil, news reports have begun to pour in about the first wave of habitat destruction to the marshes along the coasts. The first affected animals have in some cases been rehabilitated, and in others, have been found dead. The website, Monga Bay, questions whether manatees could soon face a similar future.

Manatees are almost exclusively herbivores. It is in their quest for sustenance that they may be harmed from the oil spill. They may be hurt if they "ingest oil-damaged sea grass beds and other vegetation." Also, if they were to "come into contact with surface oil, this could irritate their eyes and mucous membranes while clogging the animals’ nostrils."

Manatees are currently classified as vulnerable to extinction by IUCN and endangered by the federal government. Their numbers have shifted drastically over time in both directions, as protection laws, accidents, and nature have affected the mammals in different ways. Manatees are mostly harmed by boaters, often maimed by their propellers. Considered slow and stupid for years, it was not a lack of intelligence that kept them from reacting to an approaching boat. Their boldness is really caused by the fact that they are intelligent, curious creatures and they do not have the ability to hear the motors coming.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Cute Spotlight: Fergusson Island Striped Possum

The Fergusson Island Striped Possum, also known as Tate's Triok, is an endangered opossum, found exclusive on a small island in Papau New Guinea. Very little is known about this species, as it has been seven years since the last of its kind was captured by scientists. It is a marsupial, closely related to the sugar glider. As so little is known about the Fergusson Island Striped Possum, the exact cause of its small numbers is not known. Just as with most endangered animals, humans are considered the main contributors to their endangerment.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Panther Experts Receive Accolades

Florida conservation experts were honored recently for their work to protect Florida's panther population. In the past, when the panther population dropped to as low as 30 in the Florida area, emphasis had been placed on breeding healthy new cats. Now that there are approximately 100 healthy panthers, the rewarded conservationists have worked on planning how humans and panthers can live peacefully together. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission writes that the Panther Response Plan "balances public safety while still protecting an endangered species." In addition to training people how to respond, they are gathering information about the panthers by attaching radios to caught and released cats and still working to strengthen the genetic health of the species.
via WCTV

May 21: Endangered Species Day


On May 10, 2010 Congress unanimously voted to make today Endangered Species Day. Headed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Endangered Species Day is supposed to be a day for people to think about the dwindling populations of some of our most beloved animals. Events are being set up at zoos, aquariums, and botanical gardens around the country to show off and discuss endangered species. While this is the fifth year that Endangered Species Day has been celebrated, this year is the first which has been recognized by the US government.

To see if events are happening around your neighborhood, search through Stop Extinction's Endangered Species Day Events website.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Raising Awareness About Cross River Gorillas

The African Conservation Foundation and the Environmental and Rural Development Foundation are beginning a campaign to raise awareness about the plight of this rare gorilla. They seek to raise funds to help protect the dwindling population. As human encroachment upon gorilla territories and global warming are the main causes of the Cross River Gorilla's decline, it is hoped that by spreading knowledge, real action can be taken towards their conservation.

The Cross River Gorilla is a type of Western Gorilla that is currently critically endangered. It is among the top 25 most endangered primates worldwide. It is only found in a small area, 12000 square kilometers, around the Cross River, the division between Nigeria and Cameroon. While there are several wildlife preserves in Cross River Gorilla territories, sanctions for those who enter, camp, and hunt illegally have been lax. The Cross River Gorilla website mentions, "Gorillas, here as elsewhere, are targeted not just for meat, but for their bones which are used in traditional medicine and as fetishes, and infants, if captured alive may be sold as pets."

National Aquarium Releases Rescued Harbor Seal

The National Aquarium, located in Baltimore, Maryland, released a rescued harbor seal back into the ocean May 13, 2010. The seal, named Hastings, had been in disrepair when he was picked up by the aquarium's Marine Animal Rescue Program in January. He had cuts on his fins, a slight case of pneumonia, was underweight, and severely dehydrated. Five months at the aquarium did Hastings well, enjoying his send-off into the waters of Maryland's Ocean City, even with a transmitter strapped to his back. The transmitter will inform aquarium staff about his feeding and migration patterns and hopefully will show that he has made a full recovery.

Harbor seals are not endangered animals, with a global population of around half a million. The illegalization of seal hunting across most of the world has raised the population to a healthy number. Harbor seals subsist off of numerous species of fish, with a crab, shrimp, or squid added in sporatically. They are able to stay underwater for up to ten minutes and can reach depths of 1500 feet or more.

Sichuan Takin Calf Born in Minnesota Zoo

A male Sichuan takin calf was born May 8, 2010 in the Minnesota Zoo. He was such an unexpected arrival to the zoo, he has been named Jingxi, Chinese for "surprise." He is considered to be healthy and has been put on exhibit with his mother and father, and an unrelated takin friend.


Sichuan takin, otherwise known as the Tibetan takin, is a "goat-antelope" who resides in the Eastern Himalayas. They eat a wide variety of vegetation, standing on their hind legs at time to reach leaves from tall trees. They tend to live in herds, especially during warm months. Other than humans, the takin has few predators, because of their horns and large size. Bears and wolves are two of the few animals who would attempt to fight this furry beast.

According to IUCN, the species is considered vulnerable due to its "decline of at least 30% over the last three generations... due to over-hunting and habitat loss." Nature reserves have been created in China and Bhutan to provide safe habitats for the animals. In Bhutan, the takin is their national animal. According to Bhutani mythology, a Lama created the creature out of the bones of a cow and a goat.
via ZooBorns and Kare 11

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cute Spotlight: Malayan Tapir

The Malayan Tapir is a little-known mammal, native to the rain forests of Southeast Asia. Despite appearances, tapirs are most closely related to the rhinoceros and horse. The young typically are decorated with stripes and spots, as pictured, and grow to have a simpler, black and white block pattern as adults. Aside from the coloration, the transition to adulthood also brings massive bulk. A full-grown tapir can weigh up to 1100 pounds.

Though they are vegetarians, tapirs are voracious eaters--primarily eating leaves, berries, and other fruits. They spend most of their time wallowing in pools or mud pits and have thus become adept swimmers. They are also excellent at smelling and hearing; their senses heightened because of their poor eyesight.

The average tapir lives to be approximately thirty years old. Of this, an average of 400 days is spent pregnant with each calf. In addition to the reasons mentioned below, the long gestation time for a singular tapir calf is partially to blame for their waning populations.

The Malayan Tapir, along with all over types of tapir, is currently considered endangered. The main threat to tapirs is, per usual, humans. Tapirs' habitats are being used for farming and they are occasionally hunted for sport. Organizations such as the Tapir Specialists Group conduct tapir research and conservation efforts around the world, breeding tapirs in captivity and providing refuge for displaced tapirs.

Endangered Lemur Babies Born at Busch Gardens

Born April 21, 2010, two red-ruffed lemur newborns are happily residing at Busch Gardens in Tampa. As their sex is not known, they have not yet been named.

The red-ruffed lemur is an herbivorous mammal and, like all lemurs, is indigenous to Madagascar. Because of hunting, pet trade, and habitat loss, the IUCN currently considers the red-ruffed lemur to be "endangered." They live an average of 15-20 years in the wild, but can live 5-10 years longer in captivity. For more information about red-ruffed lemurs, Woodland Park Zoo has an informative animal fact page.