Sep 21
Photo of Sumatran rhinoceros in forest

Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis)

Species: Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The Sumatran rhinoceros is the smallest of the world’s five living rhinoceros species.

More information:

The Sumatran rhinoceros is one of the most endangered rhinoceros species. Although smaller than other rhinos, it is still a large, prehistoric-looking animal with thick, leathery skin. Calves and young adults have a long, dense covering of reddish-brown hair, which becomes thinner and darker as the rhino ages. The Sumatran rhinoceros is the only rhinoceros in Asia with two horns. This large mammal spends most of the day wallowing in pools or mud, becoming active and feeding in the cool of the night. The female Sumatran rhinoceros typically gives birth only once every 3 to 4 years, and the calf may stay with its mother for up to 16 to 17 months. This elusive species can live in a range of forested habitats.

The Sumatran rhinoceros once had an extensive range that stretched from the foothills of the Himalayas to much of Southeast Asia. However, it is now restricted to Sabah, Kalimantan, Sumatra, Peninsular Malaysia, and possibly Sarawak and Myanmar. Hunting and habitat loss have greatly reduced Sumatran rhinoceros populations, and those that survive are small, isolated and under threat from poaching for the traditional medicine trade. As with other rhinos, hunting for its horns is a major threat to this species. Sumatran rhinoceros populations are now so small that breeding is infrequent. International trade in the Sumatran rhinoceros is banned under its listing on Appendix I of CITES, and the species is legally protected in all countries where it occurs. Captive breeding of Sumatran rhinos has only recently shown any success, and international efforts to prevent poaching are believed to be the best hope for the future of this rare mammal.

 

The 22nd September is World Rhino Day! Find out more about activities taking place to celebrate rhinos on the World Rhino Day 2013 website.

You can also find out more about rhino conservation at the International Rhino Foundation.

See images and videos of the Sumatran rhinoceros on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Sep 20

The number of red squirrels in northern England has risen for the first time in 140 years, according to a new survey.

Photo of a red squirrel

The red squirrel is a much-loved species in the UK

Foreign invaders

The native red squirrel was almost wiped out across the United Kingdom after the grey squirrel was introduced from North America in the 1900s. As well as being larger and more adaptable, the grey squirrel carries a pox virus to which the red squirrel is susceptible.

As a result of the grey squirrel’s success, the native red squirrel is now restricted to just a few parts of northern England, the Isle of Wight and Scotland.

Photo of grey squirrel collecting leaves in mouth

The grey squirrel is native to North America, but was introduced to the UK in the 1900s

Red squirrel rise

Now, after years of decline, the red squirrel may be starting to make a comeback. A recent three-month study in 300 woodlands across northern England found that the number of red squirrels has risen by 7% compared to the same period last year. It also found that grey squirrels in the area were declining.

According to the wildlife group Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE), which carried out the survey, the increase in reds is likely to be a result of conservation efforts to improve their woodland habitats.

Conservationists have also been trapping squirrels, releasing the native reds but killing the non-native greys.

Photo of red squirrel

Although widespread across most of Europe and into northern Asia and Siberia, the red squirrel has undergone a serious decline in the UK

Good for tourism

As well as increasing in number, the red squirrels have also been returning to areas from which they had disappeared. For example, the survey found the species in Ambleside and Rydal in Cumbria for the first time in ten years.

The monitoring has helped us learn that there are now 20 squirrels close to our home here which inspires us to continue our efforts to save this native species,” said Phil Bailey of the Brampton Red Squirrel Group in Cumbria.

Photo of red squirrel feeding

Red squirrel feeding

The involvement of local people has been seen as crucial in helping the red squirrels to return, and this popular species is also an important draw for tourists. According to Simon O’Hare of the RSNE, “The effect on tourism is immeasurable. People never forget seeing red squirrels.”

 

Read more on this story at The Telegraph – After 140 years, red squirrels are fighting back and BBC News – Red squirrels rise by 7% in North after decline.

View more images and videos of the red squirrel on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Aug 31
Photo of red wolf panting

Red wolf (Canis rufus)

Species: Red wolf (Canis rufus)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: Breeding pairs of red wolves mate for life and usually live in small packs with their offspring, who help rear subsequent litters of pups.

More information:

A smaller relative of the grey wolf, the red wolf is characterised by the reddish colour of its fur, with this colour being most apparent on its neck and legs. The red wolf is most active at dawn and dusk, when it hunts mammals such as rabbits, deer, raccoons and small rodents. It is also reported to feed on carrion. Breeding pairs typically have litters of three to six pups, and all the members of the pack help to rear the young. The red wolf inhabits swamps, forests and wetlands, and was once common throughout the eastern and south-central United States.

The red wolf is one of the rarest canids in the world. Extensive persecution and forest clearance caused a dramatic decline in its population, while hybridisation with the closely related coyote posed a further threat. Despite being designated as an endangered species in 1967, the red wolf became extinct in the wild by 1980. Fortunately, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had already begun efforts to conserve this charismatic predator, and the last few wild individuals had been taken into captivity to start a captive breeding programme. The red wolf has now been reintroduced to a remote part of North Carolina, and as of 2010 the reintroduced population numbered around 130 individuals. The species is fully protected within its current range, but education programmes will be important in maintaining public support for this large carnivore. As a top predator, the red wolf can help control populations of deer, raccoons and small rodents, and therefore plays a vital role in the ecosystems it inhabits.

 

Find out more about the red wolf at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Red Wolf Recovery Program and the Red Wolf Coalition.

See images and videos of the red wolf on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Aug 30

Beyond the signature kangaroo or koala, did you know that Australia is also home to a wide range of lesser-known and somewhat bizarre-looking species such as the spotted handfish or the southern hairy-nosed wombat?  With astounding habitats including Barrow Island, the Great Barrier Reef, and the outback, we thought we would take the opportunity to highlight just some of the unique species found in this spectacular land!

Weedy wader Leafy seadragon swimming

The leafy seadragon is endemic to Australia, meaning it is found nowhere else on Earth. Living in shallow coastal waters, these slow-moving creatures call underwater seagrass meadows home, blending in perfectly due to their leaf-like appendages.

King croc

Immature saltwater crocodile swimming underwater

The largest of all crocodilians, the saltwater crocodile roams both the land and sea. By using its powerful tail and webbed hind feet, this species is an effective aquatic predator. The saltwater crocodile feasts on large land animals such as wallabies, dingoes, and even humans!

The face of climate change

Found only in northern Australia, the lemuroid ringtail possum may become Australia’s first victim of global climate change. Being unable to withstand temperatures over 86°F (30°C), this species is extremely vulnerable to heatwaves, which are expected to increase in frequency as the climate changes. In fact, a heatwave in 2005 was thought to have wiped out the entire population until a few individuals were finally discovered in 2009.

Misunderstood marsupial

Adult Tasmanian devil

Known for its frightening nocturnal screeches, the Tasmanian devil is the largest of the carnivorous marsupials. Contrary to its savage reputation, the Tasmanian devil is actually quite shy and is only aggressive when feeling threatened or when in competition with other devils.

Snack and swim

Dugong with remoras

Strictly feeding on plants, the dugong is often referred to as the ‘sea cow’, but it is actually more closely related to elephants than cows! Found off the coast of northern Australia, the dugong uses its flexible upper lip to rip whole plants apart, leaving ‘feeding trails’ on the sea floor. What a messy eater!

Water-free wallaby

Black-footed rock wallaby with young on rock

Found throughout Australia, the black-footed wallaby lives its life in groups of 10 to 100 individuals. Found primarily in rock piles and granite outcrops, this wallaby feasts mostly on grasses and fruit, and, interestingly, obtains nearly all of its water through its food.

Burrow builder

Southern hairy-nosed wombat

An expert digger, the southern hairy-nosed wombat is able to construct burrows that support a constant inside temperature of 78°F in the summer and 57.2 °F in the winter. These burrows are often formed as networks of up to thirty meters long that can host five to ten wombats.

Smooth sailing

Sugar glider on branch preparing to leap

The softly furred sugar glider uses the membrane along its body to glide distances of up to 150 feet between trees. This agile possum also has a rather distinctive alarm call, which is said to resemble a yapping dog!

Cultural croaker

Northern corroboree frog

Found only in the northern Australian Alps and the Australian Capital Territory, the northern corroboree frog has a local cultural story attached to its name. ‘Corroboree’ is an aboriginal word used to describe a gathering, where traditionally attendees are adorned with brightly colored yellow markings similar to those of this frog.

Aquatic ambler

Spotted handfish

A fish with ‘hands’ that can walk the ocean floor? It’s true! The spotted handfish, one of the world’s most endangered fish, is able to use its characteristic ‘hand-like’ fins to walk the sea floor, occasionally sucking on prey like shrimp and small fish. Threatened by development, a restricted distribution and a low reproductive rate, the spotted handfish population may be restored in the future through successful re-introduction programs.

If you’re looking to continue your ‘walkabout’ around Australia on ARKive, check out the new Barrow Island topic page or search the 1,200+ Australian species on ARKive today. Feel free to share your favorite Aussie species in the comments below!

Jade Womack, Education & Outreach Intern, Wildscreen USA

Aug 28

A significant improvement in the health of seagrass in a central Californian estuary is due to the return of sea otters, according to recent research.

Sea otter image

Researchers have found that the presence of sea otters may be improving the health of seagrass beds

Seagrass decline

Seagrass has been suffering drastic declines worldwide, and coastal California is no exception. Urbanisation has led to a massive increase in nutrient pollution along the state’s coast, with run-off from fields treated with nitrogen-rich fertilisers being blamed for the reduction in seagrass beds in the region. However, new research has revealed that the return of sea otter populations to the area may be enabling seagrass levels to recover.

Sea otters were hunted to near extinction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, mainly for their dense pelt which was extremely sought-after for the fur trade. This latest research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), suggests that the drastic reduction in sea otter numbers may have exacerbated the decline of seagrass in the region.

Sea otters are now returning to the area, and, despite the continued pollution of the ocean, the water-dwelling plants are now doing much better. It is thought that the return of sea otters has triggered a complex ecological chain reaction which favours the survival of seagrass.

Sea otter feeding image

Sea otters feed on crabs and other shellfish

Seagrass saviour

Scientists assessed seagrass levels in part of Monterey Bay, California, over the past 50 years, mapping increases and declines. A whole host of factors which could potentially affect seagrass levels were studied, but the only one which matched the recorded changes was sea otter numbers. The health of the marine ecosystem relies upon a delicate balance of predator and prey species, and scientists have theorised that it is a readjustment in this balance that is now enabling seagrass to thrive.

Increased nutrients in the ocean due to fertiliser run-off have favoured the growth of a particular type of algae which grows on seagrass, shading the leaves and causing them to die off. Ordinarily, this algae is kept in check by small invertebrates which feed upon it, but with the reduction in sea otters came an increase in one of its main food sources – crabs. Crabs feed on marine invertebrates, so higher numbers of crabs meant fewer invertebrates to keep algae levels down, therefore contributing to the drastic reduction in seagrass.

Testing the hypothesis

To test their theory, the researchers set up experiments in similar estuaries with and without sea otters, and carried out other tests in the field as well as in the lab. One experiment involved putting cages on the seagrass, with some being accessible to sea otters and some not. The results of the tests confirmed the hypothesis.

Sea otter image

Sea otters

Fighting climate change

Brent Hughes, lead author of the study, described seagrass as being ‘the canary in the coalmine’, as it can be used to predict the levels of nutrient pollution in the water. He marvelled at the positive effect the return of the sea otters is having, saying, “This estuary is part of one of the most polluted systems in the entire world, but you can still get this healthy thriving habitat, and it’s all because of the sea otters. So it’s almost like these sea otters are fighting the effects of poor water quality.”

Seagrass plays an extremely important role in the marine ecosystem, acting as a nursery habitat for a wide variety of fish species, and taking in carbon dioxide from the water and the atmosphere, therefore potentially helping in the fight against climate change. In addition to this, seagrass contributes to the stability and protection of the shoreline.

It’s what we call a foundation species, like kelp forest, salt marsh or coral reef,” said Hughes. “The major problem from a global perspective is that seagrass is declining worldwide. And one of the major drivers of this decline has been nutrient inputs from anthropogenic sources, via agriculture or urban runoff.”

Benefits

A ban on sea otters that was in place to prevent them from impinging on fisheries in the southern California area was lifted last year, and so the findings from this latest research are particularly relevant.

That’s important because there’s a lot of these kind of degraded estuaries in southern California because of all the urban runoff from places like Los Angeles and San Diego,” said Hughes. “Coastal managers will now have a better sense of what’s going to happen when sea otters move into their systems. There’s a huge potential benefit to sea otters returning to these estuaries, and into these seagrass beds that might be threatened.”

Read more on this story at BBC News – Sea otter return boosts ailing seagrass in California.

See more photos and videos of sea otters on ARKive.

Learn more about the importance of food chains and food webs in our exciting Web of Wildlife education resource.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

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