In Search of Lost Frogs: The Quest to Find the World’s Rarest Amphibians – book review

October 24th, 2014

By Gabriel Thoumi

In Search of Lost Frogs: The Quest to Find the World’s Rarest Amphibians describes the great quest to rediscover long-lost and presumed extinct frogs, toads, and salamanders not seen between 15 and 140 years ago. Since the turn of the millennium, over 250 amphibians have not been seen or recorded by science – many now presumed extinct – and it is estimated that over half of the Earth’s 7,000 amphibians are currently threatened with extinction.

By 2013, roughly 933 of the Earth’s 7,000 known species of amphibians were threatened with extinction. Many causes led to this extinction crisis, including habitat loss, deforestation and degradation, chemical dispersion, invasive plants and animals, degradation of the hydrologic cycle degradation, and global warming.  But few have proven as devastating to date as the chytrid fungus. Chytrid fungus, which leads to the highly-deadly skin disease chytridiomycosis in amphibians, may be partially responsible for over 100 amphibian extinctions since the 1970s.

After witnessing these trends first-hand, world renowned conservationist and nature photographer Dr. Robin Moore, with Conservation International and The Amphibian Survival Alliance, organized 33 teams globally in 19 countries on 5 continents in 2010 to search for evidence of 100 elusive frogs not seen in over a decade. Many of these amphibians were presumed extinct. By organizing communities and local conservationists to look for these “lost frogs,”—which also included salamanders and other amphibians—scientists could get a better sense of the current amphibian extinction tsunami, and maybe even save a few species before they vanished.. The new book, In Search of Lost Frogs: The Quest to Find the World’s Rarest Amphibians, tells this story.

This global effort led to the rediscovery of 40 frogs, toads, and amphibians not seen in over ten years. Notable rediscoveries include the Anamalai Dot-Frog – last seen in 1937 – and the Chalazodes Bubble-nest Frog – last seen in 1874. In the Chocó forest of Colombia, new species were also discovered, making Time Magazine’s top ten new species list in 2010.

In Search of Lost Frogs: The Quest to Find the World’s Rarest Amphibians you will learn about valiant efforts to save Earth’s most threatened amphibians in some the most dangerous places on Earth. Startling success stories will keep you in suspense while dramatic failures will inspire you to protect all of Earth’s species. Peppered with gorgeous photos by Moore, the book is a gritty, determined, realistic, and, at times, even hopeful story that is a must read for all of us who want to protect species on Earth.

How to order:

In Search of Lost Frogs: The Quest to Find the World’s Rarest Amphibians
Publisher:            A Firefly Book
ISBN:                        1770854649
Author:                   Robin Moore

Gabriel Thoumi, CFA, Certified Ecologist, is a frequent contributor to Mongabay.com.

Penguins: The Ultimate Guide – book review

October 22nd, 2014

By Gabriel Thoumi

Penguins: The Ultimate Guide IS the ultimate guide to penguins. With more than 400 pictures detailing all 18 penguin species on Earth, this book will educate and delight you. While it is a bona fide bird book, Penguins: The Ultimate Guide is also a beautiful coffee table book that would make a great gift for any wildlife lover.

Penguins: The Ultimate Guide will provide you with interesting facts about penguins, details about their natural history and evolution, approaches to their conservation as well as information on the impacts of climate change on their populations. While we often think we know a lot about penguins because of how often they are anthropomorphized and employed in the media, we really understand very little about most penguin species. This is because most of their lives are lived in remote locations and often underwater.

For example, did you know that….

  • The Gentoo Penguin can swim up to 22.3 miles per hour?
  • All penguins have barbs inside their mouths that allow them to hold onto slippery pray easily?
  • Penguins actually have long legs that are hidden underneath their feathers?
  • Penguins experience a catastrophic molt every year so they can replace all their feathers at once?
  • Penguins have nictitating membranes that serve as underwater googles allowing them unprecedented sight underwater?
  • Penguins preen gland secretes an oil that acts as a waterproofing agent?
  • Because they cannot fly, even the smallest amounts of petroleum will kill penguins by destroying the waterproofing on their feathers?
  • Avian cholera and avian pox and other pathogens can decimate penguin populations?

In many ways, as polar bears are the canaries of the Arctic demonstrating climate change’s awful impacts, penguins are canaries of the southern latitudes also demonstrating the catastrophic changes caused by climate change on Earth.

Penguins: The Ultimate Guide  is simply inspiring.

How to order:

Penguins: The Ultimate Guide

Publisher:            Princeton University Press
ISBN:                        9780691162997
Author:                   Tui De Roy, Mark Jones & Julie Cornthwaite

Gabriel Thoumi, CFA, Certified Ecologist, is a frequent contributor to Mongabay.com.

Reporter’s Journal: A story sans words

October 10th, 2014

Special Reporting Initiatives photographer Dominic Bracco II tries to capture the aquaculture scene at Liangzi Lake.  A local fishfarmer attempts to capture his own view.  Dominic’s photos will appear with Erik Vance’s reporting on the demand for sustainable fisheries products in China.

Photo credit: Shouqi Xie

Reporter’s Journal: It isn’t a beluga

September 30th, 2014

Special Reporting Initiatives Fellow Erik Vance gets up close and personal with a finless porpoise housed at Institute of Hydrobiology in Wuhan, China.  Vance and his colleague, photographer Dominic Bracco II, are reporting on the market for sustainable fisheries in China.

Photo credit: Shouqi Xie

An armadillo the size of a golf ball

September 26th, 2014

Rica just after birth. She was born the mere size of a golf ball. Photo courtesy of the Edinburgh Zoo.

Meet Rica, the baby three-banded armadillo.  Rica is a tiny new arrival at the Edinburgh Zoo born on August 24th and weighing in at just 81g or roughly the size of a golf ball.  She was born to proud parents Rio and Rodar who only arrived at the zoo in March of 2014.

“This is the first birth of any armadillo species at Edinburgh Zoo and it is amazing how quickly little Rica is growing up! She is just amazing to watch; always full of energy and scurrying about her surroundings like a perfectly formed miniature of a fully grown three banded armadillo,”  Gareth Bennett, Senior Presentations Keeper at Edinburgh Zoo, said in a statement. “For her first few weeks she could not quite roll up into a perfect ball because of her huge claws and softer, smaller shell, but she has now grown into her shell and can quickly pack herself into the tightly sealed ball which adult three banded armadillos are known for.”

Little Rica, along with her parents, is certainly an ambassador for some very noble conservation work supported by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland in the Brazilian Pantanal. The Giant Armadillo Project, lead by conservation biologist Dr Arnaud Desbiez, aims to establish the first long-term ecological study of giant armadillos in the Brazilian Pantanal wetland.  Mongabay has covered the work of Dr. Desbiez and The Giant Armadillo Project in the past, including a touching piece on the caring maternal nature of the species and the first photos of a baby giant armadillo.

Both the three-banded and giant armadillo are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, with ongoing exploitation and habitat loss and degradation as reasons for their decline.

Showing her true size. Photo courtesy of the Edinburgh Zoo.

Getting closer on her roll. Photo courtesy of the Edinburgh Zoo.

Rica and her mom. Photo courtesy of the Edinburgh Zoo.

 

A Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Tanzania – book review

August 5th, 2014

By Gabriel Thoumi

Cover art courtesy of Princeton University Press.

A Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Tanzania provides the most up-to-date guidebook for trekking in Tanzania. It includes detailed species accounts and delightful photos of 135 of the larger mammals of Tanzania. It is the first book to include both marine mammals and recently discovered species of Tanzania. While Tanzania has over 340 recorded mammal species, over 200 of these are rodents, bats, and shrews. For the most part, these smaller mammals are not included in this guidebook.

In 1961, when Tanzania became independent, it had one national park. Now over 20 percent of Tanzania has some form of conservation management. Yet, recently, the larger mammals of Tanzania are declining due to poaching, habitat destruction, illegal logging, charcoal production, mangrove degradation, and other activities.

For example, Tanzanian elephant populations have decreased 50 percent from 2009 to 2013, while Tanzanian black rhinoceros require 24-hour armed guard.

Yet Tanzania is challenging these trends by growing hectares under conservation, increasing national parks, expanding maritime reserves, and working with hand-in-hand with local communities and stakeholders to improve the state of their nation’s natural heritage.

A Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Tanzania organizes species descriptions with detailed analysis and many color photos. The book provides a detailed guide on how to observe these species with the least impact on their environment and in the most successful manner. Species checklists are provided for Tanzania’s national parks. Species are also organized by Tanzania’s 18 major vegetation zones.

A Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Tanzania is a great book that is part of the recent series of mammal and bird guides to Kenya and Tanzania by WildGuides.

All author royalties from the sale of A Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Tanzania will be donated to the Wildlife Conservation Society to support conservation projects in Tanzania.

How to order:
A Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Tanzania
Publisher:            Princeton University Press
ISBN:                    9781400852802
Authors:                Charles Foley, Lara Foley, Alex Lobora, Daniela De Luca, Maurus Msuha, Tim R. B. Davenport, and Sarah Durant

Gabriel Thoumi, CFA, Certified Ecologist, is a frequent contributor to Mongabay.com. 

The Amazing World of Flyingfish – book review

August 1st, 2014

By Gabriel Thoumi

Cover art courtesy of Princeton University Press.

Do you remember when you were a kid and you heard about flyingfish for the first time? I do. I was amazed. Fish that could fly! I wondered how far they flew and if they flew for real.

The first time I saw flyingfish in person, I had the good fortune to be sailing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, south to north. We were giddy with delight to see these amazing small fish of the sea.

In The Amazing World of Flyingfish, we are introduced to the beautiful flyingfish species from around the globe. Known as hummingbirds or butterflies of the sea, flyingfish are small bony fish from the family Exocetidae.

Steve Howell’s charming book The Amazing World of Flyingfish provides a short introduction to the world of flyingfish. Regardless of their prevalence globally in the ocean’s food chain, little is known about them. There are at least 60 species of flyingfish, although nobody knows for sure. Flyingfish are considered a delicacy in Japan and Barbados. In fact, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados have recently had an international conflict over fishing for flyingfish.

In The Amazing World of Flyingfish, flyingfish are described in beautiful photographs. The text is concise and describes what little is known about the natural history of flyingfish.

In the book, flyingfish are compared to other “flying” life of the sea. The only other life of the sea that travels similarly are in fact flying squid. Flyingfish can travel as long as 600 feet above the surface of the water, skimming the waves, while flying squid are only able to do a short one-time spurt above the waves.

The Amazing World of Flyingfish is great book for any fan of natural history and anyone who still remembers they day they discovered some fish can fly!

How to order:
The Amazing World of Flyingfish
Publisher:            Princeton University Press
ISBN:                        9780691160115
Author:                   Steve N. G. Howell

Gabriel Thoumi, CFA, Certified Ecologist, is a frequent contributor to Mongabay.com. 

A Sparrowhawk’s Lament: How British Breeding Birds of Prey Are Faring– book review

July 30th, 2014

By Gabriel Thoumi

Cover art. Courtesy of Princeton University Press.

Great Britain is known as a nation of birdwatchers – or twitchers – who will travel to great lengths to conserve bird habitat and to observe birds in the wild. Yet in certain circumstances, Great Britain’s birds of prey are persecuted. This cultural dichotomy is explored in wonderful detail in A Sparrowhawk’s Lament: How British Breeding Birds of Prey Are Faring.

Great Britain has 15 species of birds of prey, five of which were previously extinct and now have been successfully reintroduced with self-sustaining populations. Nonetheless, while Great Britain has a deep cultural reverence for their birds of prey, some species are still persecuted as they are seen as agricultural pests.

In A Sparrowhawk’s Lament: How British Breeding Birds of Prey Are Faring, author David Cobham and illustrator Bruce Pearson describe in great detail this dichotomy of Great Britain. Scientists, communities, writers, poets, and artists have worked diligently to improve public perception of birds of prey while at the same time some of these same birds of prey are threatened by British perception as pests.

Rich in cultural detail, descriptive illustrations, and personal recollections, A Sparrowhawk’s Lament: How British Breeding Birds of Prey Are Faring paints a canvas demonstrating how cultural perceptions can be changed to improve conservation outcomes.

How to order:
A Sparrowhawk’s Lament: How British Breeding Birds of Prey Are Faring
Publisher:            Princeton University Press
ISBN:                        9780691157641
Authors:                David Cobham with Bruce Pearson with a foreword by Chris Packham

Gabriel Thoumi, CFA, Certified Ecologist, is a frequent contributor to Mongabay.com. 

Birds of Kenya’s Rift Valley – book review

July 28th, 2014

By Gabriel Thoumi

 

Cover art courtesy of Princeton University Press.

Birds of Kenya’s Rift Valley is another Adam Scott Kennedy tour de force! Following up on the Kennedys’ series of bird and mammal books for Kenyan and Tanzanian travelers, previously described here on Mongabay.com. The Birds of Kenya’s Rift Valley is ideal for the traveler on safari visiting the Rift Valley’s national parks, such as Lake Nakuru, Lake Bogoria, Mount Longonot, and Hell’s Gate.

The value of a book like the Birds of Kenya’s Rift Valley is that it lends itself to easy interpretation and use by those who are interested in birdwatching, those who are interested in conservation, and those who care about biodiversity in general.

Similar to the previous guidebooks by the Kennedys, Birds of Kenya’s Rift Valley includes over 300 image collages of the most common regional bird species in their various plumages for each identification. Birds are organized into sections broadly defined by the ecological zone they reside in. A useful scientific checklist of names is included as an appendix.

I highly recommend the Kennedys’ series of bird and mammal books for the casual traveler looking for a good, easy-to-use set of guidebooks for the Kenya and Tanzania region.

How to order:
Birds of Kenya’s Rift Valley
Publisher:            Princeton University Press
ISBN:                        9781400851379
Author:                   Adam Scott Kennedy

Gabriel Thoumi, CFA, Certified Ecologist, is a frequent contributor to Mongabay.com. 

The Extreme Life of the Sea – book review

July 25th, 2014

By Gabriel Thoumi

 

Cover art. Courtesy of Princeton University Press.

The Extreme Life of the Sea, written by father and son team Stephen R. Palumbi and Anthony R. Palumbi, is simply a tour de force, a splendid must read for any natural history enthusiast.

In The Extreme Life of the Sea, we are taken through the challenges of the Earth’s oceans. From its great depths and abysses to extreme pressures and anaerobic environments, and in each location, we learn about the remarkable creatures that live there. The Earth’s oceans teem with creatures that have antifreeze in their blood, that switch sex as they reach maturity, that are little changed for millions and millions of years.

Stephen and Anthony Palumbi bring this undersurface world to us in their personal, engaging, journalistic style that is filled with charm and excitement. As you read each page, another discovery leaps out at you, capturing your imagination and encouraging you to read more.

One such story in The Extreme Life of the Sea is the following. In 1993, an Alaskan Inupiaq Eskimo hunted a Bowhead Whale (balaena mysticetus), as allowed under international treaty. While cleaning the carcass, the individual discovered deep inside an old scar in the whale, a broken off tip from an Eskimo stone harpoon. The stone harpoon tip was estimated to be at least a 100 years old. As a result, scientists began to understand that Bowhead Whales live two to three times longer than previously estimated, well into their hundreds.

The Extreme Life of the Sea is filled with many more remarkable stories like this one. It deserves to be read and reread again obtaining a special place on the bookshelf of any avid naturalist.

How to order:
The Extreme Life of the Sea
Publisher:            Princeton University Press
ISBN:                    9780691149561
Authors:                Stephen R. Palumbi and Anthony R. Palumbi

Gabriel Thoumi, CFA, Certified Ecologist, is a frequent contributor to Mongabay.com.