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Monday, August 30, 2010

French Population of European Otters Increasing

The European, or Eurasian, Otter population in France was at an all-time low in the 1970s, down to 1,500 otters in the French wild, where once 50,000 had dwelt. They had once covered Africa, Asia, and Europe, but even now, the otters are extinct from some of these continents. Water pollution and demand for their luxurious coats led to the diminished population through most of the twentieth century. The 1980s and 1990s brought the first legal protection of the species, the banning of jaw traps, and increased water quality. France continues to work to reintroduce animals to the wide regions they once roamed, although they have so far been unsuccessful. In 2004, the European Otter's conservation status was lowered from vulnerable to near threatened, and, even since, their numbers have continued to rise.

The European Otter is an aquatic mammal with a current range from Russia to Europe, and including parts of the Middle East. They eat a variety of foods depending on availability, including fish, birds, bugs, and small mammals. They live in both salt and fresh water, requiring access to each. Interestingly, it is believed that they have adapted to smell underwater. They are relatively territorial and solitary creatures, desiring an area of approximately eleven miles for themselves, allowing mild overlapping only with members of the opposiste sex. Despite their isolation, they have a system of communication, able to make more than a dozen basic calls to one another.

Since their inclusion on many conservation lists, their numbers have increased. Hunting is illegal in many areas and tunnels have even been built in some countries to allow the otters safe passage under roads. Diverting natural water sources into canals and dams still causes the otters major turmoil, as do pollutants, both new and accumulated. A European Breeding Programme has been established to elevate European Otter populations, but it is a controversial subject as to whether captive-bred otters can be successfully introduced into the wild.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Smithsonian Breaks Record for Black-footed Ferret Births

The Smithsonian National Zoo's conservation facility has announced that it has broken its previous record in the number of both Black-footed Ferret litters and total kits born this year. A total of twelve litters, fifty kits, have been born to the Conservation Biology Institute since just May 7, 2010, with all but one surviving. These ferrets only go into heat once a year, so intricate breeding plans are crucial. Approximately 500 Black-footed Ferrets have been born to the Smithsonian Zoo's conservation center since they first received a handful of the creatures in 1988. The ferrets born throughout this year so far are going to be entering the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center, with the hopes of educating them and releasing them into the wild.

Black-footed Ferrets are an endangered mammal, ranging throughout central North America. The small animals have been considered endangered in the US since 1967, with only one known population by 1985. In 1985, the last of the species were taken into captivity to attempt breeding. Breeding and reintroduction to the wild have both been incredibly successful, with the 18 captured ferrets leading to a current estimated world population of 1,000, with 750 existing in the wild.  

The Black-footed Ferret's decline was due in part to its strong dependency on prairie dogs. The ferrets eat approximately 100 prairie dogs each year, and shelter in their burrows after eating. As prairie dog populations waned due to habitat destruction and their reputation as a nuisance to farmers, Black-footed Ferret populations followed. Diseases had also spread among both of the species, with prairie dogs contracting both bubonic plague and monkeypox. The ferret breeding and releasing programs have drastically strengthened their numbers. Prairie dogs are also experiencing new conservation efforts, including education to farmers that their benefits outweigh their costs, and transportation of healthy colonies into areas with sparse populations.