Tag Archives: animals

Mountain plover not warranted for endangered species listing

Nesting mountain plover (Photo/Fritz Knopf)

Here’s some food for thought.

The mountain plover’s populations now range around 20,000 birds left in the world. Across the globe, a very different creature, the saiga antelope, only boasts about 40,000. One of these animals is globally listed as critically endangered, and one was found not qualified for federal endangered species status. Any guesses?

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, after a review of the current scientific and commercial information found mountain plover not warranted for listing, citing threats to its habitat as less significant than previously thought.

Mountain plovers are a small ground-nesting bird that rely on short-grass prairies and shrub-steppe environments in the American West for breeding habitat. Land use and habitat loss have been a primary suspect in the disappearance of the plover, an animal so good at hiding, that science is just now starting to get a better idea of how many are left. Recent research shows that rather than being pushed out by agriculture, mountain plovers are actually using farmland as a refuge during nesting season.

I want to take this as good news, but with short-grass prairie and steppe disappearing, swallowed up by energy development and overgrazing, active cropland does not sound like the most stable of refuges for a bird of small numbers, stature and a master of camouflage.  My hope is that not being listed will help avoid animosity of the animal by landowners, and perhaps even foster pride and care of the plover so that farmers will not have to contend with being the harbor of an endangered species.

Saiga Antelope, numbers around 40,000, critically endangered and rightfully so.

How many of an animal is left is not necessarily determinant of whether a species should be protected. Many factors go into the decision. But one has to wonder, what makes a population of 20,000 birds so much more stable than 40,000 of another species?


First Photo of Fishing Cat with Baby in Wild

Fishing Cat with Kitten in Wild

Fishing cat with kitten in the wild of Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. (Photo/Namfon Cutter, Fishing Cat Research and Conservation Project)

 

 

The Secret Lives of Fishing Cats

 

Our resident fishing cat biologist friend, Namfon Cutter, was kind enough to give us permission to share her first-ever photo of a mama fishing cat with kitten in the wild. This is a rarely witnessed event!

With CAT in WATER, we are hoping to add to these efforts by incorporating new high-res camera-traps into the project that will bring you even more intimate views of these amazing critters.

Please enjoy this sweet moment in the life of a rare wild creature courtesy of Namfon and the Fishing Cat Research and Conservation Project.

With all the support so far, we are just $124 away from our start-up goal. Thank you to everyone who has pledged. This photo is the epitome of what you are helping to protect when you do so.

We’ll keep fund raising throughout this project, as the camera-trapping is a whole other canister of film. (I know, we like the old school lingo around here.) If you’d like to help support CAT in WATER, click HERE to learn more.

 


Protecting common species more important than saving endangered ones, new research suggests

Atlantic Cod, the importance of the ordinary animal

The once common Atlantic cod

In wildlife conservation, people tend to pay closer attention to the disappearing creatures. There is a sense of urgency, and rightfully so, to save the few, but new research indicates that it is the common things that need protecting. For if they go, all the ways that they influence the nature of the world will be so disturbed that even the rare will have nowhere left to go. Let’s face it. If things get so bad that even common critters aren’t around anymore, we’re in deep doo-doo.

The research, led by Kerstin Johannesson with the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, looked specifically at marine systems. Johannesson found that a vast number of species in the oceans are so rare, it’s difficult to find even  a few individuals anymore. “Committing most resources to saving individual species is not just an expensive business – it would also risk destroying the foundation for ecosystems,” states a press release on the study.

Common species, found Johannesson, create habitat for other species, so by protecting them, it’s possible to protect the rare animals as well.  Johannesson uses the once common cod in the fjords of the Bohuslän coast as an example of this phenomenon. Their numbers have virtually disappeared.

“Without the big predatory fish, the sea-grass meadows become clogged, with the result that the shallow bays no longer act as larders and nurseries for inshore fish,” Johannesson stated in a press release.

I don’t know if Johannesson’s conservation strategy is the right way to go, moreso than concentrating on endangered species, but who’s to say that we shouldn’t really implement both tactics? Regardless, I have no doubt that we need to understand better the value of the common creatures. After all preventative conservation, sure does sound a heck of a lot smarter and potentially easier than waiting to clean up a mess.

What are your thoughts?

Lead Researcher:

Kerstin Johannesson of the University of Gothenburg

Contact:

Kerstin Johannesson, Kerstin.Johannesson@marecol.gu.se, 465-266-8611


Insomniac Cavefish Might Hold Clues to Sleep Disorders in Humans

Mexican Blind Cavefish

Mexican blind cavefish

Sightlessness is a common adaptation of cave-dwelling animals. Sometimes, as in the case of the Olm eyeless cave salamander or “human fish,” they no longer even have eyes. Now scientists have learned that at least in a certain kind of cavefish, the Mexican blind cavefish, sleep, too, is a waste of resources.

Well, that’s not quite the right way to put it. It’s not so much that the fish don’t need sleep, it’s that they need to stay awake more, said the researchers in a press release.

“These fish live in an environment where food is generally scarce,” said Richard Borowsky of New York University. “If you are asleep when a bit of food floats by, you are out of a meal and out of luck.”

Borowsky and lead author of the study Erik Duboué first observed hints of the insomniac tendency of cavefish in the laboratory. Fish that typically hang out in brighter surface waters showed obvious sleep patterns. At night, they would get droopy fins and sink to the bottom of their tank. Captive cavefish on the other hand kept patrolling around the clock.

Cross breeding cavefish with other fish has shown that the wakefulness is genetic. Besides the gee whiz factor of the find, scientists think that this cave critter could hold clues to understanding sleep disorder in humans. That’s because the same gene that keeps the fish partying all night long, is likely also the gene that regulates similar behavior in other animals.

Scientific Journal:

Current Biology, April 7 issue

Authors and Affiliations:

Richard Borowsky of New York University

Erik Duboué of New York University

Contact:

Elisabeth Lyons, elyons@cell.com, 617-386-2121


Naked Penguins

Naked featherless African Penguin by Nola Parsons

Feather-loss disorder has also been observed in African penguins, which inhabit the coast and offshore islands of South Africa. (Photo/Nola Parsons)

Penguins already endure their fair share of image problems. They’re a bit pudgy around the middle (not that there’s anything wrong with that). They have wings, but can’t fly, and a beach strut that’s really more of an awkward waddle. Now these tuxedoed birds can add bald to that list.

In a somewhat alarming twist of fate, penguins are being born featherless, and scientists don’t know why.

The phenomenon first emerged in 2006 when researchers observed featherless black-footed (AKA African) penguin chicks at a rehabilitation center in Cape Town, South Africa. That year about 59 percent of penguin chicks at the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds lost their feathers, followed by 97 percent in 2007. Meanwhile, researchers with the Wildlife Conservation Society and University of Washington in Argentina also observed featherless Magellanic penguins in the wild.

In both cases, the featherless chicks grew at slower rates than their downy counterparts, most likely because they had to expend more energy to regulate their body temperature, said the researchers in a press release. The goose-fleshed penguins also had a tendency to spend more time in the sun, compared to feathered penguins. Many of these vulnerable chicks died during the study.

A researcher holds a featherless Magellanic penguin chick.

A researcher holds a featherless Magellanic penguin chick. (Photo/Jeffrey Smith)

So far, scientists don’t yet know what’s causing what looks like the avian version of mange. Disease, thyroid disorder, genetics and nutrient deficiencies could all be potential culprits, they say.

On a slightly more positive note, it does look like chicks that survive do eventually grow feathers. Researchers are working furiously to figure out what’s causing the trouble.

“We need to learn how to stop the spread of feather-loss disorder, as penguins already have problems with oil pollution and climate variation,” said P. Dee Boersma, one of the study authors in a press release. “It’s important to keep disease from being added to the list of threats they face.”

Scientific Journal:

Waterbirds

Study Authors and Affiliations:

Olivia J. Kane, Jeffrey R. Smith, and P. Dee Boersma of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Washington; Nola J. Parsons and Vanessa Strauss of the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds; and Pablo Garcia-Borboroglu and Cecilia Villanueva of Centro Nacional Patagónico

Contact:

John Delaney, jdelaney@wcs.org, 718-220-3275, Wildlife Conservation Society


The lazy animals’ guide to survival

Dormouse in winter sleep

For the dormouse, life can be hard. Raising the kids takes obscene amounts of energy. Anyone’s who’s ever tried to raise one knows these little guys are divas when it comes to feeding time. So dormice only breed when the acorns are good.

To the other extreme, they’re also on a lot of menus: owls, weasels, pine martens and both wild and domestic cats all like to eat them. The poor guy is even called the “edible dormouse.”  Basically, a public life for the dormouse is nothing short of a way to punch the ticket. That’s enough stress to tucker anyone out. So how do these guys survive? By sleeping through 8 months of the year.

You can learn more new science about the dormouse from the new study by Professor Thomas Ruf thomas.ruf@fiwi.at at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna or in the journal paper:

Survival rates in a small hibernator, the edible dormouse: a comparison across Europe by Karin Lebl, Claudia Bieber, Peter Adamík, Joanna Fietz, Pat Morris, Andrea Pilastro and Thomas Ruf at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0587.2010.06691.x/abstract


Urban Black-tailed prairie dog gets some love from National Geographic

A black-tailed prairie dog shouts the all clear from its burrow in a suburban Boulder neighborhood of Colorado.

A black-tailed prairie dog shouts the all clear from its burrow in a suburban Boulder neighborhood of Colorado.

On a visit to National Geographic.com today, I couldn’t believe my eyes as I looked at the Photo of the Day pick. There, featured in the little window was a thumbnail of an all too familiar prairie dog. I photographed him a few months back while hanging out along Boulder Creek Trail, and submitted the pic to National Geographic’s Your Shot.

Needless to say I’m jumping and pointing and wanting everyone to see, “make it your wallpaper!” But bottomline, it’s a reminder to me to enjoy local wildlife. Just because a species seems ubiquitous doesn’t mean it is, (the black-tailed prairie dog is being considered for endangered species listing). And even if an animal is common, isn’t it just as cool that we get see them?

Why not head out to take some pics of your own local wildlife? If you get any you like, feel free to shoot me an email, and with your permission and credit, I’ll post some on The Nature Files.  Or better yet, submit it to Your Shot, you never know where it could end up!

To see more photos from moheimphotography, click the name.


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