Feb 1
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Endangered Species of the Week: Semirechensk salamander

Semirechensk salamander (<em>Ranodon sibiricus</em>)

Semirechensk salamander (Ranodon sibiricus)

Species: Semirechensk salamander (Ranodon sibiricus)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The Semirechensk salamander is aquatic during the breeding season but terrestrial for the remainder of the year.

More information:

The Semirechensk salamander is greenish-orange on its upperparts, sometimes with a pattern of dark spots, and pale pink on its underside. The colour of this species changes depending on its environment, appearing darker when underwater and lighter on land in higher temperatures. The tail of the male Semirechensk salamander is generally longer than that of the female, and during the breeding season the male also has a much more prominent crest. The breeding season starts in April, following the snow melt, and continues until August. Throughout the breeding season, this species is aquatic, but it is terrestrial for the remainder of the year. Hibernation begins soon after the end of the breeding season.

The Semirechensk salamander has an extremely restricted range, being found only in the Dzungarian Alatau Mountain range in southern Kazakhstan and the Tianshan Mountains in northwest China. It occurs in small, cold, clear streams and brooks in mountainous areas, surrounded by coniferous forests and meadows.

This species is vulnerable to habitat changes including deforestation, over-grazing and soil erosion. Current populations are severely fragmented as a result of the scarcity of suitable habitats. The Semirechensk salamander is used locally as a basis for the treatment of malaria and broken bones, and collection for scientific, medical and commercial use has greatly reduced populations of this species in some areas.

Only one part of the Semirechensk salamander’s range is thought to fall within a protected area, although its presence there is unconfirmed. Current conservation efforts are thought to be insufficient to protect this endangered amphibian, but the creation of strictly protected areas could be an effective conservation measure to ensure its future survival.

Find out more about the Semirechensk salamander at the IUCN Red List and AmphibiaWeb.

See images of the Semirechensk salamander on ARKive.

Phoebe Shaw Stewart, ARKive Text Author

Nov 26
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In the News: Forest giraffe joins ever-increasing number of threatened species

The latest update to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has revealed that the okapi – the national symbol of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – is creeping ever closer towards extinction.

Okapi image

The okapi is now classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Into the Red

The okapi, also known as the ‘forest giraffe’, is endemic to the rainforests of the DRC, and has been found to be in serious decline across its range as a result of poaching and habitat loss. Following the latest set of assessments for the IUCN Red List, the okapi has been moved from being classified as Near Threatened to the far more serious category of Endangered. The presence of rebels, elephant poachers and illegal miners in its habitat have also contributed to the okapi’s dwindling numbers, leaving it just one step away from the highest risk of extinction.

The okapi is revered in Congo as a national symbol – it even features on the Congolese franc banknotes,” says Dr Noëlle Kümpel, co-chair of the IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group and manager of ZSL’s range-wide okapi conservation project. “Sadly, DRC has been caught up in civil conflict and ravaged by poverty for nearly two decades, leading to widespread degradation of okapi habitat and hunting for its meat and skin. Supporting government efforts to tackle the civil conflict and extreme poverty in the region are critical to securing its survival.”

The latest update to the IUCN Red List brings the total number of species assessed to 71,576, of which a worrying 21,286 are threatened with extinction. Threats to the world’s species range from habitat destruction and climate change to pollution and overexploitation.

Black-browed albatross

The black-browed albatross has been moved from Endangered to Near Threatened

Bad news for birds

According to the update, almost 200 species of bird are now classified as Critically Endangered, with the latest addition being the white-winged flufftail, one of Africa’s rarest birds. This small, secretive bird has suffered as a result of habitat destruction and degradation in its native Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Wetland draining, water abstraction, overgrazing and conversion of land for agriculture have all played a part in the decline of this species, and the IUCN is calling for urgent action to better understand this species’ ecology and address these threats.

Positive stories

However, it is not all bad news, as the population numbers of some species are currently increasing. The albatross family is one of the most threatened bird families on Earth, with bycatch in fisheries being the main threat to their survival, but populations of two such species are on the increase, putting them at a lower risk of extinction. The black-browed albatross has improved in status from Endangered to Near Threatened, while the black-footed albatross has moved from Vulnerable to Near Threatened.

Island fox image

The island fox is endemic to the California Channel Islands

Conservation success

One particularly positive story is that of the island fox, a canid endemic to six of the California Channel Islands off the coast of southern California in the USA. This species was once classified as Critically Endangered following catastrophic declines in the mid-1990s as a result of disease and predation by non-native species such as the golden eagle. All four subspecies of this relative of the mainland grey fox have since increased in number or are showing signs of recovery. The island fox’s change in status to Near Threatened is a credit to the hard work of the US National Park Service, an IUCN Member, which included captive breeding, reintroduction, vaccination against canine diseases, and the relocation of golden eagles.

Leatherback turtle image

Leatherback turtle

More to be done

This IUCN Red List update shows some fantastic conservation successes, which we must learn from, for future conservation efforts,” says Jane Smart, Global Director, IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group. “However, the overall message remains bleak. With each update, whilst we see some species improving in status, there is a significantly larger number of species appearing in the threatened categories. The world must urgently scale up efforts to avert this devastating trend.”

The importance of scientific knowledge and continued conservation action is highlighted in the case of the leatherback turtle. While the status of the global population of this species appears to be improving, the leatherback turtle continues to face serious threats at the subpopulation level. One of seven biologically and geographically distinct subpopulations, the Northwest Atlantic Ocean leatherback subpopulation is abundant and increasing thanks to successful conservation initiatives in the region. However, its counterparts from both the East Pacific Ocean and West Pacific Ocean subpopulations are suffering a severe decline as a result of extensive egg harvesting and incidental capture in fishing gear. It is feared that these threatened subpopulations may completely collapse if targeted conservation measures are not taken.

Black-footed albatross image

Populations of the black-footed albatross are on the increase

Raising awareness

Wildscreen, an IUCN Red List Partner, is working towards raising awareness of the diversity of life on Earth and highlighting the plight of its many threatened species. Through its biggest public engagement initiative, ARKive, an unparalleled collection of wildlife footage and images is being made freely available to all for conservation and education.

Educating people about the current extinction crisis is a vital aspect of the conservation movement,” says Dr Verity Pitts, ARKive Content Manager. “By connecting the world with nature, and successfully communicating the importance of biodiversity, we move one step closer to reversing – or at least halting – the decline of our most valuable resources.”

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content Officer

 

Jul 2
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In the News: IUCN Red List reports decline in world’s oldest and largest species

The latest update to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species highlights a worrying decline in many economically and medicinally valuable species, from small freshwater shrimps and cone snails to gargantuan conifers, some of the world’s oldest and largest organisms.

Bristlecone pine image

The bristlecone pine can live for up to 5,000 years

An impressive 4,807 species have been added to the IUCN Red List this year, bringing the total number of assessed species to 70,294, of which 20,934 are threatened with extinction. With the latest figures comes the upsetting news that three species have been declared Extinct: the Cape Verde giant skink (Chioninia coctei), the Santa Cruz pupfish (Cyprinodon arcuatus) and Macrobrachium leptodactylus, a freshwater shrimp.

Concern for conifers

These figures include the first global reassessment of conifers, a plant group which holds immense economic and medicinal value. For example, softwoods are used for paper and timber production, and the anti-cancer drug Taxol is derived from the bark of many species of yew. In addition, conifers take three times more carbon out of the atmosphere than temperate and tropical forests, making them the second most important biome on Earth for tackling climate change, after wetlands.

Worryingly, IUCN’s latest update shows that 34% of the world’s cedars, cypresses, firs and other cone-bearing plants are now threatened with extinction, an increase of 4% since the last complete assessment of this group 15 years ago.

Among the 33 conifer species whose conservation status has declined since the last assessment is the Guadalupe Island pine (Pinus radiata), which has moved from Least Concern – a category used for species at relatively low extinction risk – to Endangered. The most widely planted pine, valued for its pulp qualities and rapid growth, the Guadalupe Island pine faces several threats in its natural habitat, including illegal logging, feral goats and disease.

Guadalupe Island pine image

The Guadalupe Island pine is now classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Conservation success

Despite the alarming picture painted by the latest figures, there are some glimmers of hope. As a result of successful conservation action, Lawson’s cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana) has changed status, moving from Vulnerable to Near Threatened. Once a heavily traded species also threatened by disease, this conifer has improved in status following the introduction of better management practices in California and Oregon, and it is thought that this species could be listed as Least Concern within ten years if conservation action continues.

Conservation works and the results for the Lawson’s cypress are reassuring,” said Aljos Farjon, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission‘s Conifer Specialist Group. “However, this is clearly not enough. More research into the status and distribution of many species is urgently needed. We suspect that there are many new species waiting to be described but it is likely that they will never be found due to the rate of deforestation and habitat conversion for oil plantations.

Mammal assessments

White-lipped peccary image

Hunting, habitat loss and disease are threatening the white-lipped peccary

Hunting, habitat loss and suspected disease are all thought to have contributed to the decline of the white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari), a member of the pig family found in Central and South America. This species has declined by an alarming 89% in Costa Rica and by 84% in Mexico and Guatemala, and is now listed as Vulnerable.

Newly assessed on the IUCN Red List is the Yangtze finless porpoise (Neophocaena asiaeorientalis asiaeorientalis), a subspecies of the narrow-ridged finless porpoise. Found only in China’s Yangtze River and two adjoining lakes, this species is one of the world’s few remaining freshwater cetaceans, and its population has been declining by more than 5% annually since the 1980s. As a result of its small population size and increasing threats, including illegal fishing, high levels of vessel traffic and pollution, the Yangtze finless porpoise has been classified as Critically Endangered.

This latest Red List update is further evidence of our impact on the world’s threatened biodiversity,” said Richard Edwards, Chief Executive of Wildscreen, the charity behind the ARKive initiative. “Further evidence that extinction is real, and that we must all act, and act now, if we are to prevent this most tragic reality for many more of the world’s species.”

Yangtze finless porpoise image

The Yangtze finless porpoise is a subspecies of the narrow-ridged finless porpoise

First for freshwater shrimps

The first ever global assessment of freshwater shrimps has also been completed as part of this latest update, with the results showing that 28% of this group are threatened with extinction due to the effects of pollution, habitat modification and the aquarium trade. As well as being an important part of the freshwater food web, freshwater shrimps such as the giant river prawn (Macrobrachium rosenbergii) are used for human consumption.

Another first for the IUCN Red List is the assessment of cone snails, of which 8% are at risk of extinction. These tropical invertebrates are important predators in their marine ecosystem, and in addition are extremely valuable to the medical industry, as their lethal toxins are used for the development of new pain-relieving drugs. The beautiful shells of these species have been collected for centuries and in some cases are worth thousands of dollars, although the greatest threats to cone snails are habitat loss and pollution.

Once again, an update of the IUCN Red List provides us with some disturbing news,” said Simon Stuart, Wildscreen trustee and Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission. “However, there are instances of successes. For example, increased survey efforts in Costa Rica have uncovered new subpopulations of the Costa Rica brook frog and the green-eyed frog. Sadly, much more needs to be done as the overall trend to extinction continues in many species.

Starrett's tree frog image

The rediscovered Starrett’s tree frog has been moved from Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct) to Critically Endangered

Trapdoor spider image

This Critically Endangered trapdoor spider, known only from a single cave in Malaysia, is a new addition to the 2013 IUCN Red List

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To learn more about the latest update to the IUCN Red List, read the IUCN Red List update press release.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Mar 26
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In the News: More than 10% of the population of a Critically Endangered tortoise seized in Thailand

A man has been arrested for attempting to smuggle over 10% of one of the world’s most endangered tortoise populations into Thailand just a day after the conclusion of a CITES meeting where delegates resolved to clamp down on illegal wildlife trade.

Ploughshare tortoise

The Critically Endangered ploughshare tortoise is threatened largely by habitat loss.

Two wildlife smugglers have been arrested at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Thailand, for attempting to bring 54 ploughshare tortoises (Astrochelys yniphora) and 21 radiated tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) illegally into the country. Both species are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and occur only in Madagascar. Wrapped up alive and hidden in suitcases, the tortoises were flown from Madagascar to Bangkok via Nairobi.

Chris Shepherd of TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, commented, “The criminals behind this shipment of ploughshare tortoises have effectively stolen over 10 percent of the estimated population in the wild.”

Radiated tortoise

The radiated tortoise is prized for its beauty and is in high demand in the illegal pet trade.

The beautiful appearance and rarity of these species has driven their demand in the black market pet trade. Both species are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that their trade is only permitted in exceptional circumstances. The radiated tortoise has suffered an immense decline in numbers due to habitat loss, hunting and collection for the pet trade, and is at risk from extinction within the century if further conservation action is not taken.

The 38-year-old Thai man was arrested as he attempted to collect the suitcases from the baggage carousel. However, the bags were registered to a Malagasy woman who was also arrested on site. The same man was arrested earlier in the year on a similar smuggling charge. Both felons are to face charges in Thailand.

We encourage the authorities to throw the book at these two. Making an example of them will hopefully serve as a deterrent for other smugglers,” said Shepherd.

Black pond turtle

Black pond turtles seized earlier in the day are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

The seizure was made hours after 300 Indian star tortoises (Geochelone elegans) and 10 black pond turtles (Geoclemys hamiltonii) were found in abandoned luggage at the same airport. Although listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, Indian star tortoises are protected within their range (India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan), from which commercial export has been banned due to the high demand for this species in the pet trade. Black pond turtles are listed on CITES Appendix I.

Thailand seized over 4,300 tortoises and freshwater turtles between 2010 and 2012, and half of these were Indian star tortoises. The Conference of the Parties meeting saw a decision by delegates from Thailand and Madagascar to cooperate in an attempt to control wildlife smuggling between the two countries.

Illegally traded green turtles

Greater international cooperation is needed to fight the illegal trade in wildlife.

We urge authorities to go after the criminal masterminds behind these shipments and break the trade chains that threaten these incredibly rare animals,” Shepherd concluded.

The seized animals are currently being held in the Bang Pra Breeding Centre, a government rescue centre in Chonburi, Thailand. It is hoped that they will soon be able to be returned to Madagascar, where conditions and climate are more suitable for their survival.

 

Read more on this story at The Guardian – Over 10% of a single tortoise species’ population found in smuggler’s bag and TRAFFIC – Largest seizure of Critically Endangered ploughshare tortoises made in Thailand.

Read more about the ploughshare tortoise, radiated tortoise, and the black pond turtle on ARKive.

 

Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

Feb 20
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In the News: Little giant for Brazil

For the first time, scientists have caught a glimpse of the breeding behaviour of the rare giant armadillo in the wild.

Giant armadillo walking

Armadillos are one of the oldest groups of mammals

Burrowing rarity

Found throughout the Amazon rainforest and Brazil’s Pantanal region, the giant armadillo is the largest species of armadillo in the world. Classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, this species’ nocturnal and burrowing habits make it particularly hard to study and, so far, relatively little is known about its breeding behaviour.

However, a new study, led by scientists in Brazil, has used modern technology to help answer questions regarding the poorly known mating behaviour of the giant armadillo. Camera traps are a particularly effective non-intrusive method of gaining insight into the lives of shy, lesser-known mammal species, and their use in this study has been highly valuable.

Giant armadillo emerging from burrow

Armadillos have a quirky appearance

Baby giant

Scientists from the Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project have monitored a female giant armadillo since November 2011  using the remote camera traps and, in January 2012, the presence of a male giant armadillo around the female’s burrows raised hopes that a romance might blossom. While aware of the possibility of wishful thinking, the scientists were optimistic, particularly when, after six months, the two armadillos shared a burrow for several days, after which the male disappeared.

Five months afterwards, suspicions were raised when the female began to use only one burrow, an unusual behaviour for this species which frequently moves between burrows. Three weeks later, the nose of a newborn giant armadillo was finally caught on camera, confirming what the scientists had hoped to find. Further photographs of the infant were captured as it emerged from the burrow, its age estimated to be around four weeks old.

Arnaud Desbiez, Project Coordinator says, “Documenting the birth of a giant armadillo is an exciting step forward to helping us better understand the biology and reproduction of this cryptic species and ultimately help us conserve it.

Although there are many questions still to be answered, the scientists have found evidence that suggests giant armadillos only have one offspring at a time.

photo of giant armadillo and infant

Camera traps snapped the approximately four week old baby giant armadillo leaving the burrow with its mother

Conserving rare species

This long-term study of a giant armadillo has provided essential information on its behaviour that can be used to help conserve this rare species, which has never bred in captivity. The information will help provide an understanding of the species’ population dynamics, which can be used to influence future conservation plans.

The secretive nature and rarity of the giant armadillo means that its local extinction can easily go unnoticed, and to lose such a species before we know anything about its ecology and behaviour would be devastating. Long-term studies such as this one are fundamental to understanding the ecological role played by rare and endangered species.

Hunter with dead giant armadillo

Hunter with dead giant armadillo

The giant armadillo is particularly vulnerable to habitat loss and hunting, due to the large amount of meat its body supplies, and estimates suggest its population may have declined by at least 30 percent over the last 25 years. Without intervention, coupled with knowledge of the species’ behaviour and ecology, this trend is likely to continue. The giant armadillo is sadly the least studied species of the Dasypodidae family, a problem that the Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project is working hard to solve.

 

Read more on this story at Mongabay – Scientists document baby giant armadillo for first time (photos)

View photos and videos of the giant armadillo on ARKive.

 

Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

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