Rare newts in Prospect Park Zoo may be extinct in the wild

July 5th, 2013

By Phyllis Sena

Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS

The Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn, New York City, is now home to five critically endangered Kaiser’s spotted newts (Neurergus kaiseri).

These black, white, and orange amphibians are found only in a five-square-mile region in Iran. Severe habitat loss and the illegal trade of these rare amphibians has driven the species to possibly be extinct in the wild, and they are officially ranked as critically endangered by the IUCN. The Kaiser’s spotted newts live in the Animals in Art exhibit at the WCS Prospect Park Zoo, which is also home to a Amphibian Crisis exhibit that highlights the serious challenges amphibians face around the world.

For related information, see the article: Forgotten Species: the fiery Luristan Newt

Beautiful leviathan: the leatherback sea turtle

May 29th, 2013

A leatherback sea turtle in Galibi, Suriname. Photo by Tiffany Roufs.

By Phyllis Sena

The gargantuan leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is the largest of all sea turtles and according to the IUCN Red List, is also critically endangered with their population declining 90 percent in the past 20 years. This sea turtle got its name by having a soft, leathery textured carapace (top shell) instead of the common hard shell that other turtles have. This enormous species can weight up to 2,000 lbs. during adulthood and can measure up to 6 ½ feet long!

Leatherbacks are the most migratory and wide ranging of sea turtle species, but can also be seen feeding in coastal waters. Their largest nesting areas are found on the coasts of Northern South America and West Africa and within the United States, Puerto Rico and Southeast Florida are popular (and protected) spots for Leatherbacks to lay clutches of approximately 100 eggs at a time.

Since this species is on the IUCN Red List, their nesting beaches are protected and closely monitored by government and non-profit organizations who target the main causes of population decline: egg harvesting and bycatch. The term bycatch means incidental capture in fishing gear, mainly from large fishing ships that use gillnets, longlines, and traps as techniques to catch their fish. Sea turtles and other marine animals are frequently caught from these illegal methods, and because of this threat and egg harvesting combined, the leatherback population is having a hard time recovering.

Researchers measure the carapace of a nesting mother in Galibi, Suriname. Photo by Jeremy Hance.

Activism: funds needed to replant forest for nearly-extinct loris

June 28th, 2011

Note: as a news organization mongabay.com does not endorse the action below, but believes its readers may be interested in taking action or discussing the issue in comments.


Horton Plains slender loris. Photo courtesy of EDGE.

Researchers estimate that only 80 Horton Plains slender loris (Loris tardigradus nycticeboides) survive in the world. After believed to be extinct ZSL EDGE rediscovered the subspecies in a dwindling Sri Lanka forest in 2009. Now EDGE is working to raise money to fund reforestation of a vital corridor for the Horton Plains slender loris. Already, the loris has lost 80% of its habitat.

From the EDGE blog: “This project will not only benefit the endangered loris, but also a host of other species found within the threatened montane forest environment such as the leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya), the ‘shaggy bear monkey’ (Trachypithecus vetulus monticola), the endemic Nillu rat (Rattus montanus), and the Sri Lanka spiny mouse (Mus ohiensis) amongst others.”

To donate money to the project: Reforestation Project in Sri Lanka for Horton Plains slender loris.

Banana plantation threatens rainforest valley (video)

June 21st, 2011

Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains were recently spared a titanium mine, however now the region faces a new peril: bananas. The Australian firm Indochina Gateway Capital Limited has proposed a banana plantation in the Southern Cardamom Mountains. The plantation would likely destroy an elephant corridor for one of Cambodia’s last wild elephant populations. In addition, pesticides used in the plantation could pollute local waters, threatening nearly-extinct species, such as the royal turtle, and local people.

According to Wildlife Alliance: [we] recently proposed an alternate plantation location to Indochina Gateway as a win-win solution: Move the proposed location of the plantation to the nearby province of Kampot, where the same beneficial conditions exist (i.e. excellent water supply and good soil). Beyond that our proposed plantation area is actually closer to a harbor and labor sources, and it is located in truly degraded forest inside a low priority ecosystem.

For more information: Learn About the Threat to Key Tropical Forest Corridor Presented by Banana Plantation

For more on the conservation organization Wildlife Alliance:

Cambodia’s wildlife pioneer: saving species and places in Southeast Asia’s last forest

(05/11/2011) Suwanna Gauntlett has dedicated her life to protecting rainforests and wildlife in some of the world’s most hostile and rugged environments and has set the trend of a new generation of direct action conservationists. She has designed, implemented, and supported bold, front-line conservation programs to save endangered wildlife populations from the brink of extinction, including saving the Amur Tiger (also known as the Siberian Tiger) from extinction in the 1990s in the Russian Far East, when only about 80 individuals remained and reversing the drastic decline of Olive Ridley sea turtles along the coast of Orissa, India in the 1990s, when annual nestings had declined from 600,000 to a mere 8,130. When she first arrived in Cambodia in the late 1990s, its forests were silent. ‘You couldn’t hear any birds, you couldn’t hear any wildlife and you could hardly see any signs of wildlife because of the destruction,’ Gauntlett said. Wildlife was being sold everywhere, in restaurants, on the street, and even her local beauty parlor had a bear.

Rising hope for Asia’s vultures?

May 31st, 2011

Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction from The RSPB on Vimeo.

Vultures may not get a lot of love, or respect for that matter, from the public, but they play a vital role in cleaning up and recycling nature’s waste, which also helps prevent diseases from spreading. Vultures were once abundant throughout Asia, but that was until veterinary drug diclofenac became common. Used on cattle and livestock, researchers discovered in 2003 that the drug was toxic to vultures, killing any bird that consumed the deceased livestock. Within years populations plummeted, putting several once-abundant species on the Critically Endangered list.

Rapid response from conservationists, including innovative and unique programs, have provided hope that vultures species may still survive.

Photos: ugly is the new adorable when it comes to saiga babies

May 3rd, 2011

A pair of saiga calves.  Photo by: Igor Shpilenok.
A pair of saiga calves. Photo by: Igor Shpilenok.

Few species have seen a worse decline in the past 15 years than the Asian antelope, the saiga. Once known for making up one of the world’s largest migrations, the saiga population has dropped from 1.25 million in the 1990s to 50,000 animals today, plunging over 90% and landing itself on the Critically Endangered species list.

The Saiga Conservation Alliance (SCA), which is working hard to save this species from extinction, has turned to a new model to help: eco-tourism. The group, along with travel company Saga Voyages, is organizing a tour of a unique, rarely visited region in Russia to see and support the saiga. But that’s not all: birding, other wildlife viewing, and cultural visits are also apart of this unique trip. SCA hopes the tour will help convince locals in the region that saiga and other wildlife can bring economic investment and interest from abroad.

Saiga calves.  Photo by: Nils Bunnefeld.
Saiga calves. Photo by: Nils Bunnefeld.

An adult male saiga.  Photo by: Nils Bunnefeld.
An adult male saiga. Photo by: Nils Bunnefeld.

About the tour: First International Saiga Ecotour to Southern Russia

For more information (and photos from the region):

New eco-tour to help save bizarre antelope in ‘forgotten’ region

(05/01/2011) Imagine visiting a region that is largely void of tourists, yet has world-class bird watching, a unique Buddhist population, and one of the world’s most bizarre-looking and imperilled mammals: the saiga. A new tour to Southern Russia hopes to aid a Critically Endangered species while giving tourists an inside look at a region “largely forgotten by the rest of the world,” says Anthony Dancer. Few species have fallen so far and so fast in the past 15 years as Central Asia’s antelope, the saiga. Its precipitous decline is reminiscent of the bison or the passenger pigeon in 19th Century America, but conservationists hopes it avoids the fate of the latter.

Photos: the end of the radiated tortoise?

April 18th, 2011


Like the American bison or the passenger pigeon the radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) has gone from super-abundant to nearly extinct. The species could be gone by 2030 warn researchers. Photo by Robert Walker.

Once one of the world’s most abundant tortoises, numbering in the millions, Madagascar’s radiated tortoise is on the very brink of extinction. Killed for their meat by one of the world’s most impoverished people, new surveys last month by the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), The Orianne Society, and Nautilus Ecology have further confirmed the precipitous decline of this once common reptile.

“Traditionally, tortoise meat was served on special occasions, but now it is eaten on a daily basis. Hundreds of pieces of discarded tortoise shells litter the sidewalks in some communities. This staggering level of consumption is not sustainable,” explains Dr. Christina Castellano, Director of Turtle Conservation at The Orianne Society in a press release.

Armed poaching gangs are causing “the systematic extermination of this species” says Ryan Walker, a biologist with Nautilus Ecology.


Tortoise meat being prepared for sale in a poaching camp. Photo courtesy of The Orianne Society.


Radiated Tortoise shells litter the ground in the town of Tsiombe. Photo courtesy of The Orianne Society.

For more information on the demise of the radiated tortoise:

1000 rare tortoises poached each week in Madagascar

(09/30/2010) One thousand endangered tortoises are being illegally collected each week in southern Madagascar, reports WWF.

Once common tortoise from Madagascar will be ‘extinct in 20 years’

(04/05/2010) The radiated tortoise, once common throughout Madagascar, faces extinction within the next 20 years due to poaching for its meat and the illegal pet trade, according to biologists with the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Returning from field surveys in southern Madagascar’s spiny forest, they found regions without a single turtle. Locals said that armed bands of poachers were taking truckloads of tortoises to be sold in meat markets. The tortoise is also popular in the underground pet trade, although it is protected by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

Photos: tortoise dwarfed by grape, seriously

April 11th, 2011


No, this is not photoshopped: this month-old Egyptian tortoise (Testudo kleinmanni) is actually dwarfed by a grape.

A new resident of the Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) Whipsnade Zoo, Bedfordshire, the tortoise is the offspring of a group of tortoises seized by customs last year as a sting on the illegal pet trade. The tiny tortoise pictured weighs 0.2 ounces (6 grams), but within a decade will weigh nearly hundred times that much at 1.1 pounds (500 grams). They are the smallest tortoise in the northern hemisphere, unfortunately the Egyptian tortoise is also one of the world’s most threatened. Listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List, the tortoise faces agricultural and industrial pressures, but has actually been decimated by the pet trade, which is now illegal. Only a few thousand survive today in the wild. Photo courtesy of ZSL


A close-up of tortoise v. grape. Photo courtesy of ZSL.

Photo: Critically Endangered Mexican spider monkey with baby

February 27th, 2011

The Mexican spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi vellerosus), a subspecies of Geoffroy's spider monkey, is classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List. Surviving in Mexico and parts of Central America, the species has been decimated by habitat loss. Photos by: Rhett A. Butler.
The Mexican spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi vellerosus), a subspecies of Geoffroy’s spider monkey, is classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List. Surviving in Mexico and parts of Central America, the species has been decimated by habitat loss. These shots were taken in Mexico. Photos by: Rhett A. Butler.

Orangutan Awareness and Caring Weeks Collide

November 18th, 2010

post by by Melanie J. Martin, special to mongabay.com


Sumatran Orangutan in Gunung Leuser National Park. Photo by Rhett A. Butler in May 2010

The Orang Utan Republik Foundation (OURF) and other conservation NGOs are celebrating November 7-13, 2010 as Orangutan Caring Week. The theme this year is “Back to Green,” which, according to OURF, implies returning orangutans to the wild while becoming more ecologically conscious. Meanwhile, Orangutan Outreach and other NGOs recognize November 7-15 as Orangutan Awareness Week.

On November 10, says Orangutan Outreach, people around the world sported orange outfits in honor of the orange primates who share almost 97 percent of our DNA. Orangutan Outreach and OURF provide resources to help zoos, schools, and individuals hold their own awareness or fundraising events. More than a dozen zoos around the world will participate in Orangutan Caring Week, says OURF.

The NGOs stress that action must follow awareness. The critically endangered Sumatran orangutans stand on the brink of elimination, numbering about 6,600, and Bornean orangutans are endangered as well, numbering roughly 50,000, according to Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Australia. Furthermore, their populations have been separated by forest fragmentation, leading to potential genetic decline. Widespread awareness of the issues affecting orangutans may lead to increased protections for the hairy primates, the NGOs hope.

According to Dave Dellatore of the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS), palm oil poses the greatest threat to orangutans and the other species that share their habitat. Indonesia’s rainforests provide much of the world’s oxygen supply, and palm oil plantations are quickly claiming much of the natural forest. Logging, forest fires, and poaching, made possible by the easy access plantations and logging roads provide, also pose a serious threat, according to SOS.

Habitat destruction affects other species as well, like tigers, rhinos, and slow lorises. NGOs target orangutans because they’re a keystone species—when protecting orangutans, people protect vital habitat for numerous species, SOS claims. Plus, orangutans get people’s attention, as Andrew de Sousa of the Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Project (GPOCP) in Kalimantan says. “We use the orangutan as a mascot,” he states, since people often identify with the orange primates.

SOS encourages people to help orangutans and their habitat by writing to governments and companies, asking them to support sustainable palm oil. Speaking out about the issue, and helping others to cultivate awareness, has a much larger effect than trying to boycott products with palm oil, SOS says.

In Sumatra and Kalimantan, awareness campaigns never cease. GPOCP, for instance, holds presentations in local villages in southwest Kalimantan, sometimes led by teenage volunteers. “We didn’t ask them to do this,” says field officer Frederik Wendy Tamariska of GPOCP. Jimy, a seventeen-year-old Kalimantan native, does puppet shows in elementary schools and lectures in villages, also showing a film about rainforest biodiversity. He does this, he says, “Because I have a great interest to care about the environment and the forest,” and outside school hours can typically be found at the GPOCP’s environmental education center. As a result of grassroots awareness programs, villagers are adopting more sustainable practices, Tamariska and de Sousa assert.

The Indonesian government has recently taken steps to support conservation of its forests. In 2011, a moratorium on logging will halt new concessions on peatland and natural forests for two years, according to a recent Jakarta Globe article. The Indonesian government has also vowed to release all orangutans in rehabilitation centers by 2015, although many conservationists believe the process will take longer. These pledges may only become reality if backed by widespread public support. “The idea is to enroll the public to participate in ensuring the future of one of our closest primate relatives,” says OURF president Dr. Gary Shapiro.