A Panamanian golden frog, a.k.a a golden arrow poison frog, a critically endangered species. Image taken at the Oakland Zoo.
This post is going to highlight some animals that have been red listed by the IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature) as endangered or critically endangered.
The Panamanian golden frog (shown above) has become the icon for the amphibian decline movement. This frog has been part of legend and myth in Panama and is a symbol for good luck. There’s even pictures of this frog on their lottery tickets! However, due to habitat loss, chemicals and now a horrible outbreak of the chytrid fungus, these animals are so near extinction that zoos, government agencies and universities both in the United States and in Panama have joined together to protect it, while simultaneously increasing awareness about global amphibian declines. Project Golden Frog is focused on education, research, habitat preservation and captive breeding programs, such as the one at the Oakland Zoo, where this picture was taken. Have I mentioned Save the Frogs?
Ocio, an African penguin. This species was just recently IUCN red listed as endangered. Image taken at the California Academy of Sciences.
The African penguin has just this year been listed as endangered. The IUCN spent over a year examining the data and finally concluded that this species should be listed due to rapid population declines. There are many reasons why the number of African penguins is dropping, but one of the major ones is lack of food. They are competing with commercial fisheries and there has been an eastward shift of the current that carries their prime fish supply. Have I mentioned Seafood Watch, to prevent similar problems from happening to North American birds?
A spider tortoise, critically endangered. Image taken at the San Francisco Zoo.
This very tiny tortoise (I’m holding him in one hand while I take this picture) is from Madagascar. It was just listed as critically endangered in 2008. These animals are very habitat specific and they have lost and are losing habitat at an incredible rate. This species qualifies as critically endangered because it has lost (or will lose, if current rates continue) 90% of its habitat in only 3 generations. To make matters worse, what habitat they do have is severely fragmented. Also, radiated tortoises (another critically endangered species we’ll see in a future post) have suffered major population declines and people who previously sought radiated tortoises for food are now switching to the spider tortoise, so increased “hunting” pressure is also causing a population drop. This species is projected to be completely extinct in 60-80 years without protection and if current trends persist.
Elly, a black rhino who has contributed immensely to conservation programs. Image taken at the San Francisco Zoo.
This rhino is my home girl. I adore Elly. She was one of the first animals to really have me wondering about and researching conservation efforts-my first real connection to an endangered animal. She let me feed her son- her baby rhino number 13, Moja Doga.
Elly is part of a black rhino breeding program at the San Francisco Zoo. She has the world record for having the most calves in captivity-and she is a very good mommy. She’s retired now and is not going to have any more young. But her babies have gone out into the world to help protect rhinos.
You might be wondering-how does captive breeding help protect the black rhinos as a species? The answer comes in 3 parts. The first is education and making that connection, like the one I mentioned above. While it is incredibly important that we protect ecosystems and not just individual animals, making that first connection will draw people into the world of conservation action. I know. As a city girl, I had never really thought about rhinos until I got to know one. The second is research. Raising animals in captivity means that we can learn more about their reproduction, behavior, genetics, dung (very interesting stuff going on there) and more without disturbing animals in the wild. The third is breed and release programs. In programs like these, animals are raised in captivity and then released, increasing the wild population and genetic diversity. Release programs have just begun in 2008 in Kenya, with the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Zoological Society of London. Before any release program begins, the problems facing the animals should be addressed (as much as possible) and a protocol for releasing the animals established, to ensure that the animals are able to survive once released. The animals are also tagged, so they can be monitored and to allow scientists to conduct studies. All of this continues to take place as we speak. I’m happy to report that despite a bad 2009, black rhino numbers are on the rise. But their numbers are still low and much more work needs to be done. These animals are still listed as critically endangered, due to an over 90% population decline in ~60 years.
A scalloped hammerhead shark, listed as endangered. Image taken at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The scalloped hammerhead shark is one of many shark species that is not doing too well in the wild. They are often easy targets for shark finners because they tend to live in large schools. Their fins are also highly prized because they have a lot of fin rays. Shark finning is a problem for many species of shark, usually to make shark fin soup, which is considered a delicacy to some. It is however really high in mercury (often above FDA suggested daily limits) and I’m told it’s tough and tasteless. Still, it is believed that if you eat shark fin, you won’t get cancer. This is simply not true. In fact, the excess of mercury can adversely effect your health. Anyway, when shark finners catch sharks, they cut off their fins and then dump the rest of the shark-often still alive-back into the water to die. It is brutal and disgusting. The other serious problem facing these sharks is that they are frequently caught as by-catch. These two things combined has lead to some population decreases of 50-90% in the last 32 years. Have I mentioned Seafood Watch, which lets you know which fisheries use methods that minimize by-catch?
This post was not meant to be so sad, but to be a chance to learn more about animal species that aren’t doing so well and to see and appreciate them while we still can. There have been many species that were endangered, but thanks to strong conservation efforts, are surviving or even thriving again (buffalo, bald eagles, brown pelicans, American alligators, peregrine falcons, Canada geese, gray wolves, gray whales-to name a few). In fact, these species are the face of conservation and can really bring about the best in people. We just have to continue to fight.