As it is Earth Day, my natural inclination is to look at the current state of Nature…Specifically, the status of certain animal species that are either holding on, currently threatened, or “on the brink”… Here are just four such cases:
Despite a compromise proposal put forth by conservati0n groups to keep the gray wolf (Canis lupus) protected under the ESA (but subsequently rejected by the courts), federal lawmakers have recently capitulated to ranching and hunting complaints and have allowed an exception to the ESA’s protection of the wolves. The “loop hole” applies to Rocky Mountain gray wolves (encompassing a vast part of the wolf’s range) and soon the States of Idaho an Montana will be allowing “controlled hunts” of the wolves.
Critics of the federal plan also point to Secretary of the Interior Salazar, citing a lack of principled leadership on the issue. For more on this development, check out the recent NY Times editorial A Hole in the Endangered Species Act.
Meanwhile, dwindling wolf packs in other areas of the country, such as in Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park, face extinction from a more “natural” threat: a lack of females. Of the 16 in this pack, only 2 are females — an insufficient number to maintain a viable breeding population in the wild.
In a slightly more positive development, India’s tiger (Panthera tigris) population appears to be growing, modestly. A March 2011 count showed just over 1700 animals on India’s tiger reserves, which is about 300 more than the 2007 count. The Global Tiger Initiative (GTI) has helped here and enjoys fairly widespread support amongst the world’s tiger-populated nations (Russia’s foreign minister Vladimir Putin is a big supporter of the TGI, as Eastern Siberia is home to most of the world’s off-reserve tigers.
The status of tigers in China is not so good, as the native population of tigers has dwindled in recent years to near extinction in the wild. China is also home to the world’s only tiger farms — raising tigers as livestock — presumably to maintain the market for some traditional, medicinal potions that use tiger whiskers and bones.
For more info on the mission to save the world’s tigers, check out my earlier article on Ecolocalizer: Saving Tigers from Extinction – A 6% Solution
The lethal geomyces fungus responsible for the hibernatory disruption of North American bats (various species of myotis) known as white-nose syndrome, continues to spread — most recently to Ohio and New Brunswick Canada. The fungus, first identified in 2006, is now found in bat populations in 17 US states and three Canadian provinces. A recent ecological survey found that 7 species of brown bat are now threatened with extinction.
Bats provide two essential ecosystem services — the limiting of insect populations, and, the pollinating of certain crops. The value of these services to US agriculture is estimated at nearly 4 billion dollars per year.
Curiously, the bat-killing syndrome is not a threat to UK and European bat populations (though it is present in these populations), which may hint at a possible genetic difference in the bat populations, or perhaps a combination of factors (including gene variants and climate change) found only here in North America.
For more on this mysterious bat scourge, its impact, and what you can do to help, visit : Bat Conservation International
In quite recent years, Adélie penguins –one of the most populous species of penguin — have been facing a mounting survival challenge from climate change-induced habitat loss.
As the Antarctic warms ever so slightly, and the rate of ice sheet/island cover loss continues, the more we will hear about the penguins’ threatened survival
But there are other threats out there: the recent oil spill in the South Atlantic has been taking its toll also on the northern rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes moseleyi) with some 3600 birds soaked in oil and still in need of treatment.
Emperor penguins — the world’s largest at up to 4 ft. in height — are also facing an existential threat from diminishing food supply due to warming. The regal penguin eats mostly krill and algae that grows on the underside of ice sheets. As waters warm, both krill and algae decrease in abundance. This situation manifests a double threat: a shortage of food for chicks and insufficient energy reserves for adults who must go without food while incubating their eggs.
For all things Emperor penguin-related, and a LARGE number of great photographs, visit the Emperor Penguin website.
These are just four examples of animals on the brink of survival; sadly there are too many more….
To learn more about the threatened status of these and other wild animals, checkout the Sci-Am ‘Extinction Watch’ review article: Wolves lose, tigers gain, penguins in peril and other updates from the brink by John Platt
Wolf: “Dakota” — howling adult wolf at the UK Wolf Conservation Trust
Tiger: Taragui; CC – By – SA 3.0
Bat: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Penguins: CommonismNow; CC – By 2.5
Michael Ricciardi is a well-published writer of science/nature/technology articles and essays, poetry and short fiction. Michael has interviewed dozen of scientists from many scientific fields, including Brain Greene, Paul Steinhardt, and Nobel Laureate Ilya Progogine (deceased). Michael was trained as a naturalist and taught ecology and natural science on Cape Cod, Mass. from 1986-1991. His first arts grant was for production of the environmental (video) documentary 'The Jones River - A Natural History', 1987-88 (Kingston, Mass.). Michael is also an award winning, internationally screened video artist. Two of his more recent short videos; 'A Time of Water Bountiful' and 'My Name is HAM' (an "imagined memoir" about the first chimp in space), and several other short videos, can be viewed on his website (http://www.chaosmosis.net). Michael currently lives in Seattle, Washington.