Jan 18
Close up of the Annam leaf turtle

Annam leaf turtle (Mauremys annamensis)

Species: Annam leaf turtle (Mauremys annamensis)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: Until recently, the Annam leaf turtle had not been documented in the wild for 65 years.

More information:

The Annam leaf turtle has a dark brown head with striking yellow stripes that extend from its snout to the base of the neck. Three ridges, known as keels, run along the back of its dark brown upper shell. The underside of the shell, known as the ‘plastron’, is yellow-orange with black blotches on each bony plate. The Annam leaf turtle’s feet are fully webbed, which make it well adapted to its semi-aquatic lifestyle.

This species is omnivorous and will readily eat fruit, fish and invertebrates. A semi-aquatic creature, the Annam leaf turtle feeds both on land and in water, and lays its eggs in a hole dug into the soil. The young turtles emerge after around 80 to 90 days, and resemble miniature adults in appearance.

The Annam leaf turtle is found in a small area of central Vietnam. It inhabits lowland marshes and slow-moving or still bodies of freshwater. The small range that this species inhabits is a prime location for rice production, which puts the turtle’s habitat at risk. The Annam leaf turtle is also under constant threat from unsustainable hunting and illegal trade. In China, it can often be found for sale as meat or traditional medicine.

The Annam leaf turtle is protected under Vietnam’s wildlife protection law and is also listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that international trade in this species should be carefully monitored. Despite trade in the Annam leaf turtle being illegal, it continues to occur as the law is often poorly enforced. Various breeding programmes have recently been set up and captive populations are increasing. These programmes try to involve local school and university students to boost awareness of this Critically Endangered turtle’s perilous situation.

 

Find out more about the Annam leaf turtle at the Southeast Asia Campaign and the Turtle Survival Alliance.

See images of the Annam leaf turtle on ARKive.

Phoebe Shaw Stewart, ARKive Text Author

 

Nov 30
Photo of a male Lesser Antillean iguana

Lesser Antillean iguana (Iguana delicatissima)

Species: Lesser Antillean iguana (Iguana delicatissima)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: Dominant male Lesser Antillean iguanas turn from green to dark grey, and when reproductively active will flush pink in the jowls and become pale-blue in the scales on the sides of the head.

More information:

Female Lesser Antillean iguanas have a uniformly bright green body, pale head and brown tail. Hatchlings and juveniles are also bright green, with white flashes from the jaw to the shoulder, and three white bars on the sides of the body. They have brown flashes which darken when the individual is stressed.

Displays involving side-walking and head-to-head pushing contests determine the most dominant male Lesser Antillean iguana, who is rewarded with easy access to females. Reproduction coincides with the wet season, ensuring there is plenty of fresh plant growth to feed hatchlings. Hatchlings live mainly on the ground among thick vegetation, spending more time higher up in the trees with age.

Once present throughout the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean, the Lesser Antillean iguana is now confined to the islands of the northern Lesser Antilles. Clearance of suitable habitat for agriculture and tourism is a major threat to this species, particularly affecting communal nest sites. Feral predators such as Indian mongoose, cats and dogs, continue to reduce Lesser Antillean iguana populations.

The Lesser Antillean iguana is legally protected from hunting throughout its range, but law enforcement is limited. Accidental road kills are also a problem, principally because the majority of deaths are of migrating pregnant females and dispersing hatchlings. A further threat to the Lesser Antillean iguana is the confirmed hybridisation with common iguanas, responsible for the disappearance of the Lesser Antillean iguana in Les Îles des Saintes.

Proposals for the creation of nature reserves in other areas of the Lesser Antillean iguana’s range have been put forward, and captive breeding programmes are being run at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Memphis Zoo and San Diego Zoo.

 

Find out more about the Lesser Antillean iguana at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the IUCN SSC Iguana Specialist Group

See images and videos of the Lesser Antillean iguana on ARKive.

Phoebe Shaw Stewart, ARKive Text Author

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

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