Sep 28
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In the News: 30-year comeback for black-footed ferret

Conservationists are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the rediscovery of the black-footed ferret, a rare mammal which was once thought to be extinct. 

Black-footed ferret photo

Black-footed ferret at burrow

 
Once thought to be the world’s rarest mammal, the black-footed ferret now numbers over 1,000 individuals thanks to concerted conservation efforts.

The black-footed ferret is native to North America, where its natural habitat is prairie grasslands. Destruction of this habitat for agricultural purposes and eradication of its main prey, the black-tailed prairie dog, led to the rapid decline of the black-footed ferret population in the first half of the 20th century. Diseases such as canine distemper and plague further exacerbated this decline.

By the 1970s, the black-footed ferret was believed to be extinct, until in 1981 a farmer’s dog in Meeteetse, Wyoming, brought back a dead ferret to its owners. This discovery sparked the creation of the Black-Footed Ferret Recovery Program.

Black-tailed prairie dog photo

Main prey of the black-footed ferret, the black-tailed prairie dog

30 years of conservation

Since its rediscovery, the black-footed ferret has been the focus of concerted conservation efforts by U.S. federal and state agencies in cooperation with private landowners, non-profit organizations and Native American tribes. Captive breeding efforts have since produced some 7,600 ferrets, with reintroductions back to the wild beginning in 1991. There are now a total of 19 reintroduction sites, with 150 to 250 individuals being released each year.

The main goal of the current black-footed ferret recovery plan is to have the species downlisted as an endangered species by 2020, and completely removed from the endangered list by 2040. The biggest threats to this recovery are now a lack of suitable reintroduction sites and disease, although an effective plague vaccine has now been developed.

Black-footed ferret photo

Black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes)

Kristy Bly of WWF said this of the success, “With 2011 marking the 30th anniversary of the rediscovery of the black-footed ferret, we now have more reason than ever to celebrate. Through these relocation efforts, we have established approximately 5,600 acres of prairie dog colonies, creating nearly half of the area needed to restore a self-sustaining population of black-footed ferrets to Thunder Basin grasslands.”

For more information on black-footed ferret conservation, visit the Black-Footed Ferret Recovery Program.

Read more on the story in National Geographic’s article – Black-footed Ferret: The Comeback Kid Celebrates 30 Years of Rediscovery.

Read more on the story in WWF’s article – A Second Chance for Black-Footed Ferrets.

View images and footage of the black-footed ferret on ARKive.

Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author

Sep 28
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ARKive’s Top 10 Giants

We’ve already shown that the natural world can be loud, colourful and smelly. It can also be gigantic. Here’s ARKive’s top ten nature’s giants. And we’re starting off pretty big… 

Giant sequoia 

Giant sequoia photo

Giant sequoia

Meet the worlds largest tree, the giant sequoia. Arguably the largest living organism on earth, the giant sequoia can measure 11 metres across and 95 metres high. The oldest individuals are over 3000 years old – this means that they’ve been around since the Iron Age. 

Blue whale

Blue whale photo

Blue whale

The biggest living animal, the blue whale weighs in at 100 to 120 tonnes. That’s as many as 20 African elephants put together. The blue whale could only have evolved in water – its bones simply would not be strong enough to hold such mass on land. At nearly 30 metres long, with a heart the size of a small car and veins big enough for a human to swim down, the blue whale is one remarkable giant, especially if you consider it survives on tiny krill (but in bulk: it can eat up to 40 million krill a day).   

Whale shark

Whale shark, mouth detail whilst feeding

Whale shark feeding

The whale shark is the largest fish on earth, growing up to 12 metres long. Whale sharks filter feed, surviving on plankton and small fish. However, if you were to look into a whale sharks mouth you’d see about 300 tiny teeth – the function of these is still not known. 

African elephant  

Male African elephants walking

Male African elephants walking

Weighing in at 6 tonnes, the African elephant holds the title of heaviest land animal. Feeding on plants with little nutritional value, the elephant will eat for 18 hours a day to sustain its enormous bulk. 

Leatherback turtle

Male leatherback turtle in open ocean

Male leatherback turtle in open ocean

Leatherback turtles are the largest and most widely distributed marine turtles. They are able to dive to enormous depths of more than 1000 metres in search of jellyfish and other soft-bodied prey. 

Galapagos giant tortoise

Old male Duncan Island tortoise in typical habitat

Male Duncan Island tortoise

The Galapagos giant tortoises are not only huge, with shells measuring over a metre across, but they are also the longest living vertebrate on earth, able to survive for over 150 years. The size and slow nature of the giant tortoises means that they were easy targets for hunters, and three out of the eleven species have already gone extinct. 

Gorilla

Eastern lowland gorilla silverback, portrait

Eastern lowland gorilla silverback

The biggest, and one of the rarest, of the apes; the gorilla hasn’t had the best reputation in the past. But depictions like King Kong could not be further from the truth. These gentle giants are strictly herbivorous, and live in stable, family groups. 

Ostrich

Two males and a female Somali ostrich ssp. molybdophanes

Two males and a female Somali ostrich

The ostrich is the largest and heaviest living bird. Its bulk may mean the sky is off limits, but the flightless ostrich is still able to run at 50 kilometres per hour for 30 minutes or more. It has huge eyes; at 5 centimetres across they are the largest eye of any land animal and are roughly the same size as the ostrich’s small brain.

Komodo dragon

Komodo dragon feeding on a Timor deer

Komodo dragon feeding on a Timor deer

The largest lizard in the world, the komodo dragon at first glance appears to be a relict from the dinosaur age. You’d not want to enter this dragons den: the komodo is famed for its predatory methods, using its powerful jaws and venom to bring down prey as large as water buffalo.

Chinese giant salamander

Chinese giant salamander on leaves

Chinese giant salamander on leaves

The worlds largest amphibian, the Chinese giant salamander is massive – any salamander growing up to nearly 2 metres is truly a sight to behold. In China, they are known as the ‘baby fish’ as they can sound like a crying infant when distressed. They are long lived, with one captive individual surviving for 52 years.

Lauren Pascoe, ARKive Media Researcher

Sep 27
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Happy Birthday Google!

As you may have noticed, today’s Google Doodle is a rather jolly party scene, marking Google’s 13th Birthday. As you know, the ARKive team love a good birthday, and we are also big fans of Google.

If you’re not familiar with Google Earth, you might be surprised to hear that you can now dive beneath the ocean waves and explore the bottom of the sea from the comfort of your own computer. By installing the ARKive Google Earth plugin, you’ll be shown a number of ARKive place marks around the globe, each denoting a marine species found in the area, which can be clicked on and expanded for further facts, photos and footage.

To mark the occasion today, we thought we would pick 13 of our favourite sea creatues, all of which can be found using the ARKive Google Earth plugin, and set you the challenge of tracking them down on the ARKive layer!

Google Earth screenshot showing ARKive species content

Kicking off our list we have two beautiful rays, the manta ray and the spotted eagle ray. Here’s a hint, both live in tropical waters…

Manta ray photoSpotted eagle ray photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next up we have a couple of spectacular sea birds, the wandering albatross and the white-chinned petrel. Both of these large birds breed on sub-Antarctic islands, keep your eyes peeled!

Wandering albatross photoWhite-chinned petrel photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

You are best off heading north to track down our next two species, the narwhal with it’s famous tusk and the beautiful bowhead whale.

Narwhal photoBowhead whale photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

More marine mammals up next! The super cute sea otter and the noisy northern elephant seal. Your best bet is to scour the Pacific…

Sea otter photoNorthern elephant seal photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two stunning sharks are next on our list to track down, the great white shark and the smooth hammerhead. Both these species have a large range, but we recommend searching the waters around the second largest continent.

 Great white shark photoSmooth hammerhead photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

These next two species are coral reef inhabitants; can you find the humphead parrotfish and Denise’s pygmy seahorse?

Humphead parrotfish photoDenise’s pygmy seahorse photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And last but by no means least, can you pinpoint the Macaroni penguin?

Macaroni penguin photo

Let us know how you get on. Remember, if you get stuck, a sneaky look at the ARKive species profiles might help you out….

Explore hundreds more ocean species using the ARKive plugin or explore ARKive on Google Earth via the global awareness and ocean layers.

Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher

Sep 27
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In the News: Fishing boats kill up to 320,000 seabirds a year

Up to 320,000 seabirds are being killed each year after being caught up in fishing lines, according to a new study.

Photo of wandering albatross hooked and drowned by long-line fishing

Wandering albatross drowned by longline fishery

The study, published in the journal Endangered Species Research and being presented today at the World Conference on Marine Biodiversity, reports that some seabird species are being pushed towards extinction as many fishing fleets fail to implement simple measures to prevent bycatch.

Seabirds heading towards extinction

The most frequently caught species are albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters, with the total number of seabird deaths estimated at 160,000 to 320,000 a year. Of particular concern are the Spanish longline fleet in the Gran Sol fishing grounds off southwest Ireland, which may kill over 50,000 birds a year, as well as the Japanese tuna fleet, which may kill 20,000 birds a year.

The study only looked at longline fisheries and did not take into account seabird deaths associated with trawl and gillnet fisheries. These may also be making a significant contribution to seabird mortality.

Photo of black-footed albatross pair bonding

The black-footed albatross, classified as Endangered by the IUCN

According to Orea Anderson, the lead author of the study, “It is little wonder that so many of the affected seabird species are threatened with extinction – their slow rate of reproduction is simply incapable of compensating for losses on the scale this study has demonstrated.”

Substantial improvement in some fisheries

There has, however, been significant success in reducing seabird bycatch in some fisheries. This is partly down to decreased fishing effort and partly to the implementation of simple but effective mitigation measures.

These measures include setting longlines at night when birds are less active, dying fish bait blue to make it less visible to birds, controlling fish discards, using bird-scaring devices, and setting lines deeper underwater. Around South Georgia in the southern Atlantic Ocean, tough measures have brought about an impressive 99% reduction in seabird deaths, while South Africa achieved an 85% decrease in its foreign-licensed fleet in 2008.

Photo showing close up of a grey petrel

The grey petrel, another seabird under threat from bycatch in fisheries

Another of the authors of the study, Cleo Small, said, “Using simple bird-scaring lines and weighting of hooks as they enter the water could dramatically reduce the number of seabirds being killed.”

More to be done

Unfortunately, seabird deaths are still a problem in other fishing fleets, with many failing to take these simple measures to reduce bycatch. There is also a lack of good data on seabird deaths in many regions, including around Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Norway, the Mediterranean, and some Asian fishing grounds.

The authors of the study say that minimum standards of data collection and reporting of bycatch are necessary to properly monitor the problem.

Photo of Laysan albatross pair with chick in nest

Laysan albatross pair with chick

As simple and inexpensive measures have been shown to quickly and substantially reduce seabird deaths, they recommend that these should be implemented across all fisheries, to reduce bycatch to levels that no longer pose a significant threat to seabird populations.

Find out more about seabird conservation at the Albatross Task Force.

Read more on this story at the Guardian – Fishing boats ‘killing up to 320,000 seabirds a year’.

View photos and videos of albatrosses and petrels on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

Sep 26
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In the News: The state of Britain’s mammals

The last decade has been a mix of highs and lows for some of Britain’s most distinctive mammals, according to the tenth annual report by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES).

Photo of Scottish wildcat resting in woodland

Populations of the Scottish wildcat are now estimated at fewer than 400 animals, making it ‘Critically Endangered’ in the UK.

The report, entitled ‘The State of Britain’s Mammals’, highlights mixed results for many species, including endangered populations of the Scottish wildcat.

However, according to David Macdonald, Professor of Wildlife Conservation at the University of Oxford and co-author of the report for the last 10 years, we should not be pessimistic. Conservationists are hopeful that past successes can guide future efforts to protect some of Britain’s best-loved mammal species.

If one could roll back and look at what in 2001 we might have expected the picture to be, I think it’s amazingly positive,” says Macdonald.

Getting the public involved

Photo of hedgehog in grass

The hedgehog has declined in the UK from 30 million in the 1950s to an estimated 1.5 million 40 years later.

Public involvement has been a huge boost to mammal monitoring in Britain.

The hedgehog, for example, has benefitted significantly from public concern over declines in its numbers. The public participated in a national ‘Hogwatch’ survey in 2006, making conservation charities aware that hedgehogs were declining. Further monitoring confirmed substantial declines, with numbers having plummeted from 30 million hedgehogs in the 1950s to an estimated 1.5 million in the 1990s.

As a result, conservationists are now working to reduce the amount of pesticides used in agriculture and to protect habitat in rural areas. The hedgehog has also been included on the government’s Biodiversity Action Plan.

This year, more than 15,000 people joined the Hedgehog Street campaign, and worked with their neighbours to improve urban habitats for the hedgehog and other urban mammals.

Amateurs and enthusiasts have also been getting involved with numerous other national monitoring surveys, and their involvement has vastly improved data on many more species, from bats to dormice. The huge increase in the quantity of data on mammals has allowed conservation efforts to become increasingly targeted for species needing support.

Conservation success

Photo of common otter adult and cubs

Despite nearly disappearing from the British countryside in the 1970s, the otter has now returned to every county in England.

Over the past decade there have been a number of conservation success stories for Britain’s mammals and, according to Mike Richardson, Chair of Trustees for PTES, these success stories serve as indicators of far-reaching change.

The otter, for example, is just one species which has made a comeback in Britain’s waterways, and this year it was announced that the otter has now returned to every county in England.

The remarkable recovery of the otter has been attributed to bans on pesticides in the 1980s and improvements in river water quality.

You could take a very simplistic good news story – we’ve got more otters – but if you actually think about that, what that means is we’ve got hundreds of miles of cleaner rivers and streams and waterways,” says Richardson.

The otters are simply reflecting a huge improvement in major habitat change in the UK which must be affecting a whole myriad of other species.”

Tough challenges ahead

Despite the conservation successes of some species, the authors of the report make it clear that the next decade will hold far greater challenges, with bigger and more difficult issues to tackle.

These include problems such as trying to balance agriculture and biodiversity, contending with the issue of badgers and bovine TB, and attempting to mitigate the problems facing one of Britain’s most iconic mammals, the red squirrel.

End of the red squirrel?

Photo of red squirrel feeding in winter coat

The iconic red squirrel has suffered a dramatic decline of more than 50% in Britain over the past 50 years.

According to scientists, the future of Britain’s red squirrel is far from bright. The red squirrel has declined by more than 50% over the past 50 years, largely due to the presence of the introduced grey squirrel, which arrived in Britain from North America. The grey squirrel competes with the red squirrel for food and habitat, as well as carrying the squirrel pox virus which has decimated native red squirrel populations.

Despite trapping and culling programmes of grey squirrels in some areas, ecologists predict that the red squirrel will soon only exist in areas inaccessible to greys. Conservation action plans have highlighted key survival sites, mostly conifer forests in the Scottish highlands. Grey squirrels are known to dislike conifer forests, meaning that these will be an essential refuge for the red squirrel if it is to survive in Britain. Scientists are also continuing to work on a vaccine to eliminate squirrel pox.

Read more in the BBC article about the state of Britain’s mammals.

Find out more about the People’s Trust for Endangered Species.

Read the full ‘State of Britain’s Mammals’ report.

Search for more British mammals on ARKive.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author

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