Sep 14
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Endangered Species of the Week: Chinese alligator

Photo of Chinese alligator with head emerging from water

Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis)

Species: Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The Chinese alligator is one of the world’s smallest crocodilians, reaching only two metres in length.

More information:

The Chinese alligator is one of the most endangered crocodilians in the world. Once widely distributed throughout the eastern Yangtze River system in China, it is now mainly restricted to a small reserve in the Anhui Province of the lower Yangtze. The Chinese alligator inhabits temperate regions and spends six to seven months of the year hibernating in a complex underground burrow system. This species hunts at night, feeding mainly on aquatic molluscs such as snails and mussels, which it crushes in its teeth. Some fish, waterbirds and small mammals are also taken. The Chinese alligator nests between July and August, laying around 10 to 50 eggs in a mound nest constructed from plant materials. Although originally found in slow-moving rivers and swampy areas, the Chinese alligator is now restricted to agricultural pools within reserves.

The Chinese alligator population has undergone a severe decline, with surveys in 1999 finding only 130 to 150 wild individuals. The main cause of this decline is the conversion of wetlands to agriculture to support the region’s growing human population. The Chinese alligator also comes into conflict with farmers, as its burrows can cause drainage problems in fields and it may feed on farmers’ ducks. International trade in the Chinese alligator is banned under its listing on Appendix I of CITES, although the skin of this species is fairly worthless on the international market. Fortunately, captive breeding of Chinese alligators has been very successful, and a large captive population now exists. Some reintroductions have begun, and the Chinese government has allocated money towards the creation of new alligator habitat. It will also be important to educate local people about the importance of this secretive reptile.

 

Find out more about the Chinese alligator at the Crocodilian Species List and BBC Nature.

See more images of the Chinese alligator on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Sep 13
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In the News: Blobfish claims landslide victory as world’s ugliest animal

Its grouchy face and slimy, gelatinous body have won the blobfish the honour of becoming the official mascot of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, as well as the unofficial title of world’s ugliest animal.

Public vote

First taking form as a science-themed comedy night, the society launched a campaign urging members of the public to vote for its mascot from a pool of ‘aesthetically challenged’ threatened species. The main aim of the campaign, which was run in conjunction with the National Science and Engineering Competition, was to draw attention to the threats facing these bizarre and often ignored creatures.

Our traditional approach to conservation is egotistical,” said biologist and TV presenter Simon Watt, president of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society. “We only protect the animals that we relate to because they’re cute, like pandas. If extinction threats are as bad as they seem, then focusing just on very charismatic megafauna is completely missing the point.”

The campaign featured eleven ‘ugly’ species, each of which was championed by a comedian and was promoted via a special YouTube video message before the public was asked to vote for their favourite. “I have nothing against pandas,” added Watt, “but they have their supporters. These species need help.”

Proboscis monkey image

Proboscis monkey males have enlarged noses

Blobfish emerges victorious

After around 88,000 video views and more than 3,000 votes, the campaign came to its conclusion at the British Science Festival in Newcastle with the announcement of the blobfish as the winner. Supported by comedian Paul Foot, this species received a whopping 795 votes and will now become the official mascot of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society.

Some would describe it as a bit ugly, but I think the sad face of the blobfish belies a kind and very wise little brain in there,” said Foot of his chosen species.

A strange, gelatinous creature, the blobfish lives off the coast of south-eastern Australia and Tasmania, where it lives at depths of between 600 and 1,200 metres and is rarely seen. Incredibly, the blobfish is able to thrive at these depths, despite the pressure being several dozen times higher than at the surface. With its body being just slightly denser than water, the blobfish spends its life bobbing around in the ocean, feeding on crabs and lobsters. However, fishing trawlers pose a significant threat to this aesthetically challenged species, as it becomes caught up in their nets.

Titicaca water frog image

The Critically Endangered Titicaca water frog

Daily extinctions

With an estimated 200 species going extinct each day, the Ugly Animal Preservation Society is keen to promote the conservation of less well known or less adored species, and Watt is pleased with the success of the campaign, saying, “We’ve needed an ugly face for endangered animals for a long time and I’ve been amazed by the public’s reaction.”

Watt also hopes that the attention given to these animals has brought a lighter side to conservation, and that it has highlighted the importance of habitat conservation.

Carly Waterman, from the Zoological Society of London’s EDGE of Existence programme which aims to highlight and conserve evolutionarily distinct, ‘one-of-a-kind’ species, praised the efforts of the campaign, saying, “A large proportion of the world’s biodiversity is being overlooked, so flying the flag for these species is a really positive thing.”

Axolotl image

The axolotl, an unusual amphibian

Other contenders

A whole host of fascinating creatures were in line for the title of world’s ugliest animal, including the flightless dung beetle, the European eel and the dromedary jumping-slug. In addition to the blobfish, the other four species in the top five following the public vote were the:

Read more on this story at BBC News – Blobfish wins ugliest animal vote and The Guardian – Blobfish voted world’s ugliest animal.

Watch Paul Foot’s acceptance speech on behalf of the blobfish.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Sep 7
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Endangered Species of the Week: Carnaby’s black-cockatoo

Photo of Carnaby's black-cockatoo feeding

Carnaby’s black-cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus latirostris)

Species: Carnaby’s black-cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus latirostris)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: Carnaby’s black-cockatoo can potentially live for 40 to 50 years in the wild.

More information:

Carnaby’s black-cockatoo is a large, black cockatoo found only in south-western parts of Western Australia. This species generally breeds in dry eucalypt woodland and forages in nearby heath and scrubland, although it has also adapted to plantations of non-native pines. Its diet consists mainly of seeds, although it also takes some fruit, nectar and insect larvae. Hard fruit cases are crushed in the short, powerful beak to access the seeds inside. Carnaby’s black-cockatoo is a sociable species and may form large flocks outside of the breeding season, when many individuals move to wetter coastal areas. Pairs mate for life and nest in hollows in large eucalypt trees, where they lay clutches of two eggs. Typically, the second chick dies soon after hatching and only one chick is raised.

Carnaby’s black-cockatoo has undergone a significant decline in the last century, vanishing from much of its former range. The main cause of this decline is the widespread clearance, fragmentation and degradation of its habitat. The large trees this species uses for nesting are failing to regenerate due to overgrazing by sheep and rabbits, while the clearance of important feeding habitat around breeding sites means adults have to travel further to find enough food for their chicks. Carnaby’s black-cockatoo is also sometimes illegally captured for the pet trade, and is often killed in collisions with cars. Fortunately, a number of conservation measures are in place to protect this large parrot. Captive breeding is underway, and Carnaby’s black-cockatoo is legally protected in the wild. Key areas of habitat are being protected and restored, and BirdLife Australia runs a survey known as the ‘Great Cocky Count’ to map this species’ populations.

 

Find out more about Carnaby’s black-cockatoo at WWF Australia and the Australian Government.

See images and videos of Carnaby’s black-cockatoo on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Sep 5
Share 'In the News: Invasive species threaten Europe’s towns and cities' on Delicious Share 'In the News: Invasive species threaten Europe’s towns and cities' on Digg Share 'In the News: Invasive species threaten Europe’s towns and cities' on Facebook Share 'In the News: Invasive species threaten Europe’s towns and cities' on reddit Share 'In the News: Invasive species threaten Europe’s towns and cities' on StumbleUpon Share 'In the News: Invasive species threaten Europe’s towns and cities' on Email Share 'In the News: Invasive species threaten Europe’s towns and cities' on Print Friendly

In the News: Invasive species threaten Europe’s towns and cities

Europe’s towns and cities are particularly vulnerable to the threats posed by invasive alien species, and experts say that action needs to be taken to control them.

Close up photo of a northern raccoon

Native to North America, the northern raccoon is an invasive species in parts of Europe

Invasive alien species are plants or animals that are not native to an area and which therefore lack natural predators, meaning they are able to spread rapidly.

Urban areas are at high risk from invasive species because of their large number of transport links, with many non-native animals and plants arriving accidentally at ports and airports. Some species also arrive through the plant and pet trades.

Threats to native wildlife

Invasive alien species can pose a significant threat to native wildlife, often through competition or predation.

Photo of red-eared slider ssp. elegans on rock

Abandoned pet turtles such as the red-eared slider can threaten native turtle species

According to Chantal van Ham, European Programme Officer for IUCN, “These non-indigenous species represent one of the main threats to the world’s biodiversity. This threat is set to increase unless meaningful action is taken to control their introduction and establishment.”

Non-native species can also cause problems for humans living in urban areas. For example, common ragweed, which is native to North America, is spreading rapidly across Europe and can cause hay fever and asthma-like symptoms. Other plants, such as Japanese knotweed, can cause structural damage to buildings.

IUCN conference

IUCN has recently released a publication entitled Invasive Alien Species: The Urban Dimension, which lists case studies from more than 15 European countries which show action being taken on invasive species in urban areas.

Photo of harlequin ladybird

The harlequin ladybird is an invasive insect that threatens native species in Europe and elsewhere

To address the issues posed by invasive alien species in Europe, IUCN is also hosting a conference today in Gland, Switzerland. The aim of the conference is to bring together local authorities, scientists, NGOs and policymakers to analyse the problem of invasive species in urban areas, and to discuss potential solutions.

Chantal van Ham said that local authorities have a key role to play in taking action to reduce the risk of invasive species becoming established. However, she added that it will be important for local authorities to have the support they need to do this.

European action

Photo of American bullfrog sitting on grass at the water's edge

The American bullfrog has been named one of the top 100 most invasive alien species in the world by IUCN

Next week, the European Commission is expected to publish its plans on tackling invasive species across Europe and to announce a legal framework which will require action to be taken on the issue in all EU member states. It will also look at the control methods which are available and the ways in which established invasive species populations can be managed.

 

Read more on this story at BBC News – Invasive alien species threaten urban environments and IUCN – Invasive alien species: the urban dimension.

You can also find out more about invasive species at the GB Non-native Species Secretariat and the IUCN/SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group.

Do you teach 11-14 year olds? Take a look at the invasive species teaching resource on ARKive’s education pages!

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

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