Nov 26

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

 

Oct 19
Photo of Louisiana pine snake

Louisiana pine snake (Pituophis ruthveni)

Species: Louisiana pine snake (Pituophis ruthveni)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The Louisiana pine snake is non-venomous, instead using its body to crush its prey.

More information:

One of the rarest and least understood snakes in the United States, the Louisiana pine snake occurs in longleaf pine forests in parts of Louisiana and eastern Texas. This large snake relies on pocket gophers for food, hunting them in their underground burrows and pinning them to the side of the burrow to kill them. It also eats some other small mammals, as well as birds, bird and turtle eggs, and lizards. The Louisiana pine snake spends most of its time underground, usually relying on pocket gopher burrows for shelter and for hibernation sites. This snake has the smallest clutch size of any North American snake, at just three to five eggs. However, its eggs are larger than those of other North American species.

The Louisiana pine snake’s longleaf pine habitat is one of the most threatened ecosystems in the United States, with only 3% of the original forest now remaining. Much has been logged or degraded by urbanisation, agriculture and the cultivation of other pine species. Changed fire regimes have also altered the structure of the habitat, making it less suitable for the snake and its prey. The Louisiana pine snake is often killed on roads and may be threatened by collection for the pet trade. Recommended conservation measures for this snake include protecting its remaining populations, maintaining and restoring its habitat, and undertaking more research into its populations and behaviour. The Louisiana pine snake is a candidate species for potential listing on the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and is legally protected in Texas. A reintroduction project is underway for this rare and elusive species.

 

Find out more about the Louisiana pine snake at the National Wildlife Federation and see Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation for more information on reptile conservation.

See fact file and images of the Louisiana pine snake on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Sep 14
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

May 23

The 23rd of May is World Turtle Day – a whole 24 hours dedicated to highlighting the plight of the hundreds of turtle and tortoise species around the world. These incredible reptiles range from the feisty to the downright funky, so here at ARKive we thought we would join in the celebrations by sharing our top turtle facts and some turtley awesome images!

Common snapping turtle image

The common snapping turtle is a rather feisty species, known for being somewhat short-tempered and aggressive

Top Turtle Tidbits

  • Turtles are found on every continent, except for Antarctica
  • Turtles are thought to have lived on Earth for over 200 million years
  • There are more than 330 recognised species of tortoise and turtle, just 7 of which are sea turtles
  • The sex of most turtle hatchlings is dependent on the temperature at which they are incubated – in many species, low incubation temperatures produce males, whereas higher temperatures lead to the production of females
Flatback turtle image

A mysterious species, the flatback turtle is listed as Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List

Turtle Profile: Flatback turtle

  • The distinctive-looking flatback turtle is distinguished by and named for its extremely flat, round or oval upper shell, which characteristically turns upwards at the rim
  • The flatback turtle is the only endemic species of marine turtle, nesting solely along the northern coast of Australia and on off-shore islands
  • This species has one of the smallest ranges of all the marine turtles, being limited to the tropical waters of northern Australia, Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya
  • This enigmatic species is known to produce the largest eggs and hatchlings relative to its adult body size of all the sea turtle species

Fascinating flatback fact – Over much of its nesting range, the flatback turtle is predated upon by the largest reptile of them all – the saltwater crocodile!

Chaco side-necked turtle image

Any guesses as to how the Chaco side-necked turtle got its name?!

Did you know?

  • Although all turtles and tortoises have a shell, not all of them are able to withdraw their head and limbs into it
  • The shell of a turtle or tortoise is actually made up of many different bones, and is an evolutionary modification of the rib cage and a section of the vertebral column
  • The upper part of the shell is known as the ‘carapace’, while the under part is called the ‘plastron’
Burmese starred tortoise image

The Critically Endangered Burmese starred tortoise has a striking shell pattern

Testudines under threat

Turtles and tortoises belong to the taxonomic order ‘Testudines’, and are among the world’s most endangered vertebrates, with about half of these incredible reptilian species being at risk of extinction. They face a whole host of threats, from pollution and habitat destruction to collection for the pet trade, food or for use in traditional medicines.

One of the most threatened species of all is Swinhoe’s soft shell turtle, also known as the Yangtze giant softshell turtle, which can weigh over 120kg. The historic range of this enormous species has diminished considerably as a result of wetland destruction, water pollution and over-collection of the species for consumption, and the global population of this fascinating reptile now numbers just four individuals, two of which are in captivity.

Swinhoe's soft shell turtle image

Unfortunately, only two individuals of Swinhoe’s soft shell turtle remain in the wild, both of which are male

What is being done to help?

Thankfully, various conservation organisations and individuals are working tirelessly to help save turtles and tortoises from the brink of extinction. Here are some actions being taken to ensure the future survival of these fascinating creatures:

  • Shrimp fisheries are now using Turtle Excluder Devices, which only allow shrimp-sized objects to enter the nets, preventing turtles from being caught as bycatch
  • Many species are now listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that international trade is strictly monitored and controlled – this should hopefully prevent some collection of wild turtles for the international pet trade
  • Some nesting sites are protected during the nesting season to ensure that eggs cannot be collected and subsequently sold
  • Captive breeding programmes and the protection of areas which are known to support turtle populations could ensure the long-term survival of these magnificent reptiles

Are you turtley in awe of sea turtles? Want to learn more about them? Then why not check out our eggshellent new ARKive Education resource – Turtle Life Cycle – and play the turtle-tastic board game!

Find out more about turtles, tortoises and their conservation:

Learn more about reptile conservation:

View photos and videos of turtle and tortoise species on ARKive

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

May 17
With a third of the world’s amphibians, a quarter of all mammals and one in eight birds thought to be endangered, raising the public profile of these species and their plight is essential if we are to succeed in rescuing these species from the brink of extinction.  
 
Endangered Species Day, which was started by the United States Senate back in 2006, gives people the chance to learn about the importance of protecting endangered species through events and activities, and highlights the everyday actions that everybody can take to help protect the natural world. 
 

This year Endangered Species Day is on the 17th of May and here at ARKive to show our support we have decided to showcase some of the less well known endangered species.

Greater bamboo lemur 

Once widespread throughout Madagascar, the greater bamboo lemur is now restricted to just 1-4% of its historic range. The largest of the bamboo lemurs, this species was believed to be extinct for almost 50 years until it was rediscovered in 1972. The main threats to the greater bamboo lemur is habitat destruction by slash and burn agriculture, mining and illegal logging.  

Spoon-billed sandpiper

The spoon-billed sandpiper is a small, attractive bird with a distinctive spoon-shaped bill. As this species has very particular habitat requirements, only breeding in coastal areas with sand and sparse vegetation within six kilometres of the sea, habitat loss and alteration have greatly impacted upon it. Recent population surveys have shown that numbers of this species are declining rapidly. However, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust are taking action to save this species by setting up a conservation breeding programme to buy some time while the major problems are tackled.

Tonkin snub-nosed monkey 

Presumed to be extinct before its rediscovery in 1989, the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is an unusual and distinctive-looking monkey. With its broad, flattened face, pale blue rings around the eyes and thick, pink lips, it almost has a comical appearance. The range of the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey has been greatly reduced by massive deforestation and intensive hunting. The total population of this monkey may number only around 200 to 250 individuals, and these are fragmented into small subpopulations which are unable to interbreed.

Vaquita

The vaquita is a small and slender porpoise species endemic to Mexico. In 2007 it was estimated that only about 150 vaquitas remained in the world. The main threat to this species is drowning after becoming entangled in gill nets and trawl nets, which is estimated to be claiming the lives of 39 to 84 vaquitas each year.

Chinese giant salamander

 Growing up to 1.8 metres in length, the Chinese giant salamander holds the record for being the largest salamander in the world. This fully aquatic amphibian is well adapted to its lifestyle in the mountain streams of China. As a result of habitat alteration, stream pollution and over-collection for its flesh, which is considered a delicacy in Asia, populations of the Chinese giant salamander have dropped by more than 80% since the 1960s. 
 

 

Ploughshare tortoise 

Endemic to Madagascar, the ploughshare tortoise is one of the rarest land tortoises in the world. Classified as Critically Endangered, this tortoise faces several threats, including habitat loss from bush fires and predation of eggs and young by the introduced bush pig. The primary threat to the ploughshare tortoise is illegal collection for the international pet trade, which has escalated in recent years. This situation is made worse due to this species’ slow growth rate and low breeding potential, which reduces the ability of populations to recover.
 

Coco-de-mer

A giant of the plant world, the coco-de-mer is a palm species which produces the largest and heaviest seeds of any plant in the world. Endemic to the Seychelles, the Endangered coco-de-mer has already been lost from three of the Seychelles islands in its former range. The main threat to this plant species is the collection of its seeds, which has almost stopped all natural regeneration of population’s.

Saola

The saola is an unusual, long-horned bovid which was discovered as recently as 1992. The entire range of the saola is found in a narrow area of forest on the border between Vietnam and Laos. Classified as Critically Endangered, the saola is increasingly threatened as a result of hunting, as well as habitat loss and habitat fragmentation due to the development of infrastructure within its small range.   

Titicaca water frog

Endemic to Lake Titicaca, the Titicaca water frog is the largest truly aquatic frog and can weigh up to 1 kg. While its extremely loose skin gives it a bizarre appearance, the skin is very rich in capillaries, enabling the frog to remain underwater without having to surface for air. Unfortunately, the Titicaca water frog is under great threat as a result of over-collection for human consumption.

Estuarine pipefish

Believed to be extinct in the early 1990s until being rediscovered in 1995, the estuarine pipefish is still at risk of extinction. The loss of this pipefish from the majority of its former range is thought to be due to construction of upstream dams. These developments restrict the supply of fresh water which brings with it essential nutrients required by the phytoplankton upon which the food chain depends.

 These are just a few of the species which need our help – find out more about endangered species by visiting our Endangered Species topic page.

Jemma Pealing, ARKive Researcher

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