When sharks attack humans, it’s big news. But what about when it’s the other way around? Not so much. So let’s review the statistics: last year there were 71 “unprovoked attacks” made by sharks on humans which resulted in a single fatality. Compare that with the 100 million sharks killed by humans every year. Despite Spielberg’s best efforts, it seems sharks are the ones that should be afraid of us.
Research from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature reveals, “more than half the world’s ocean-going sharks face extinction in the near future.” And a lot of this boils down to…shark fin soup. Seriously. In Asia, shark fin soup is considered a delicacy and symbol of respect. That’s why a pound of shark fin fetches $300. Then there’s the superstition that shark cartilage cures arthritis and cancer, furthering the illegal poaching and price hikes.
“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “To talk of many things: Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—Of cabbages—and kings—And why the sea is boiling hot—And whether pigs have wings.” Although, Lewis Carroll’s famed Through the Looking-Glass may appear like hallucinogenic hurdy gurdy, there’s a line in there that’s most prophetic (and no, its not the shoes).
Although not quite “boiling hot,” the sea temperature is certainly rising causing the polar ice sheet to thin, and leaving its occupants including the walrus increasingly without a home. Although exact numbers aren’t known, “recent surveys by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and others put the number at roughly 190,000, with the vast majority of walruses in the Pacific half of the Arctic and sub-Arctic Circle.”
It’s a twist on the standard doomed love story: instead of two beings desperately wanting to be together who shouldn’t, we have two beings who desperately need to hook up but probably won’t. For ridiculous reasons.
For once, abstinence has dire consequences.
It’s bad enough that China had to say goodbye to the Yangtze River dolphin last year when the species was declared extinct. But without immediate action, the fate of the Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle will be the same.
The Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle is considered to be one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world. It is characterized by a wide, flat shape, leathery carapace (shell), and a deep head with a pig-like snout. Normally found in large river systems — specifically the Yangtze River in eastern China — they are, as of this writing, the rarest turtle in the world. The severity of their situation was first brought to light in the early 1990s, and in 2004 it was believed only six turtles remained.
Cuba’s Zapata Swamp sounds much more impressive in its native Spanish — Ciénaga de Zapata. And impressive it is. The largest and best preserved wetlands in the Caribbean, it’s estimated that “this marsh holds 65 percent of Cuba’s birdlife, including native species the Zapata wren, rail and sparrow, as well as 1,000 plant species.” However, the threat of climate change could result in these wetlands disappearing altogether — in less then 50 years.
Located 100 miles southwest of Havana with a latitude just 22 degrees north of the equator, these tropical wetlands are under siege. Humans live on the fringes of this UNESCO World Heritage site, bringing with them the inevitable by-product of civilization, pollution. Global warming is contributing to the mix by increasing the likelihood of hurricanes — the worst of which struck back in 2001, boasting wind speeds up to 210 km/h.
China’s been under such fire lately.Thank goodness for field naturalists. These tireless volunteers brave the elements, brambles and blisters in an effort to preserve precious native flora and fauna, as well as promote nature conservation and protect endangered species. (This, while the rest of us are hanging out in malls, watching the Wire or dating.) It sounds like tedious work, but the rewards are huge when it pays off — as was the case for Kevin Bonham, a local field naturalist in Tasmania, Australia.
Bonham chanced upon the “dense midge orchid” — a species of plant that was long thought extinct. (The last one was recorded in 1852.) And it’s not just one or two — an officer from the Threatened Orchid Project says an incredible 60 patches were found on private land. (Just what he was doing on the private land was not reported.) ABC News quotes him as saying: “They’re tiny, so they’re only 4 to 7 centimeters tall and very fine, so unless you’re really down on your hands and knees looking, you’d just miss them.” (Okay, what he was doing on private land down on his hands and knees is probably best skipped right over.) Furthermore, “you’ve got to be there at that right window when they’re actually in flower to actually see them or else there’s nothing above ground, just a tuber below ground.”
Surprisingly many animals have adapted to the harsh environment, among them elephant, lion, leopard, oryx and the rare mountain zebra. We explore by light plane, landing on beaches and rough strips, and by 4-wheel drive vehicles. There are no roads among the huge dunes.
When the Sultan of Java sent the Sultan of Sulu a gift of Pygmy Elephants hundreds of years ago, he couldn’t possibly have understood that this gift would save a genetically distinct species from extinction. The Pygmy elephant is genetically distinct from other Southeast Asian elephants and was once found only on and around Java. With the arrival of Europeans starting in the 1500s, the elephant lost most of its original territory and became extinct by the end of the 1700s — following the typical pattern of European-minded man-over-the-environment philosophy. Continue Reading / Additional Photos / Videos
Those of you hoping to find Prince Charming by kissing a toad had better start considering other dating options, like match.com. The chances of this fairytale ending coming true are getting slimmer by the second. Scientists warn that frogs and their cousins, the toads and newts, could disappear entirely within 20 years. That’s right, extinct. But this time it’s not because of global warming, rather a deadly virus.
London Zoo’s amphibian expert Iain Stephen said: “Over the next 20 or 30 years we could be talking about the biggest mass extinction since the dinosaurs” (via The Sun). Some of the cold-hearted amongst you could argue: big deal. The death of dinosaurs didn’t adversely affect humankind. Quite the contrary — it’s allowed us to thrive (while inspiring us to create animated masterpieces like the Flintstones). With frogs, however, it’s different. Frogs play an important role in the food chain: “They typically live on insects, worms and snails (and) in turn, they are eaten by birds, fish and mammals such as badgers and foxes”. Losing them would upset the fragile balance of nature.
Having seen more than my share of black & white westerns (which, by the way, is my least favorite film genre), my impression of the pre-white man Old West is a land filled with Indians (aka Native Americans) and buffaloes. I’ll spare you the history lesson of the American Revolution and why the landscape is no longer filled with either and skip right to the recompensation. We know how our government has attempted to compensate the Native American, but what have we done for the buffalo? A lot, it turns out.
In some ways, the plight of the buffalo was among the first casualties of man’s carelessness with the planet — a near extinction of this enormous creature after several generations of North American land takeovers and expansion. But researchers at the Wildlife Conservation Society say we may one day soon be seeing wild herds back on the plains.
VU for vulnerable. That’s how the World Conservation Union’s Red List categorizes the orange roughy. Which means it’s “considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild”. So, to prevent them going the way of the Dodo, you’d think we’d simply stop catching them, right?
Err, wrong. According to a 2003 report by the World Wildlife Fund and Traffic, reckless and unregulated deep water fishing is rapidly causing the demise of the orange roughy.
Orange roughy favor the deep ocean seamounts and plateaus off the coast of New Zealand and Australia, Namibia and the northeast Atlantic Ocean. Once known as slimeheads, orange roughy were renamed by New Zealanders because of their bright orange color and rough scales. (And because — let’s face it — it sounds more appetizing than “slimeheads”.) The PR campaign has certainly worked a treat. In a land where convenience is king, Americans can’t get enough of the boneless, mild tasting, firm white fillets that seem perfect for freezing. According to TerraNature, the US is, in fact, the biggest importer of the orange roughy, “importing more than 19 million pounds annually in recent years, accounting for nearly 90 percent of documented catches”, while New Zealand is the main supplier “providing more than 60% of United States imports in 2002″. I knew those hobbits were trouble. Continue Reading / Additional Photos / Videos
There is no one endangered species that’s more important than another. However, in the case of tigers, their majestic beauty and awesome power make the fact that they’re indeed in trouble all the more unbearable. The New York Times reports that “there are only about 3,000 remaining in the wild, down from about 100,000 a century ago.”
Ironically enough, it seems their status as the most potent symbol of Asia is what makes them vulnerable. Tigers are under threat due to illegal poaching (their body parts are used illegally in Chinese medicine), loss of habitat and loss of prey.
But now for the good news.
Of the 15,000 to 20,000 tigers in captivity — namely in zoos, breeding facilities, circuses and private homes — it was previously thought that only 1,000 of them could be used in managed breeding programs which are “designed to preserve genetic diversity among Bengal, Sumatran and other tiger subspecies.” The rest were considered “generic”, meaning that they’re hybrids or of unknown genetics. However, a new study by Shu-Jin Luo and Stephen J. O’Brien of the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity at the National Cancer Institute, published in Current Biology, suggests that these generics are not so generic after all.