Tag Archive | "extinction"

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Frog Sizes in Extremes

Posted on 04 June 2012 by RE Team

A frog species can be as small as few millimeter, while the largest species grows more than a feet. There is an interesting world of this amphibian.

Few years back in the jungles of Borneo, Dr Indraneil Das and colleague Alexander Haas discovered a new tiny species. It is a frog measuring only 3 mm in length. The full grown adults of the species are of the size 9mm to 12mm. This species named as “Microhyla nepenthicola” was found in Kubah National Park, Malayasia. This is one of the smallest known frog species in the world. But what is the smallest known Frog?


Goliath Frog in it's natural habitat @ courtesy Arkive.com


There is fierce competition for the smallest Frog award. Till 1996, Brazilian Gold frog (Psyllophryne Didactyla) was unanimously accepted by scientists as the smallest known Frog. This species grows 9.8 mm. But in 1996, a new frog species discovered  in Monte Iberia, Cuba claims equally small size. This species is names as  Eleutherodactylus iberia.

On the contrary, the largest living frog is out of any competition. It is known as Goliath frog (Conraua goliath) and found in central western African country Cameroon. This frog can grow up to 33 cm (more than a foot) without counting the legs. It can weigh around 3.3 kg (7 lb). Though very huge in size, this frog is very calm in nature and has a life span of 15 years. Though the Goliath frog is the largest “living” frog, the largest ever ”known” frog is called “Devil Frog” and lived in Madagascar 65-70 million years ago. From the fossils found it is apparent that it could grow till 40 cm in length and weigh up to 4.5 kg (11 lb). It was powerfully built, and had a very wide mouth and strong jaws.

There are hundreds new species of frogs discovered in recent. The above records may change any time. But, unfortunately the frogs along with all amphibiansa are facing serious extinction threat. It is estimated that more than 100 species have been declared extinct from the planet in last three decades. Thousands of them are on the verse of extinction. This mass extinction of amphibians is due human cause pollution, deforestation and also due to fungal a skin disease.

Scientists and researchers are taking serious steps to save them from this extinction event!

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Will the frogs disappear?

Posted on 04 June 2012 by RE Team

The most known household amphibian may very soon disappear from earth. Sounds unbelievable, but it is likely to occur soon if we don’t take some immediate action.  This amphibian extinction crisis is supposed to be the worst species conservation challenge in the history of humanity. The extinction is not about only one or two species, but about a complete class of animals, thousands of species!  It can be compared to extinction of dinosaurs only.


Infected Frog – courtesy brian.gratwicke @flickr


The main threat of this crisis is not any of the general threats like shrinking of habitat, global warming, pollution, killing of the species, etc. , but a parasitic chytrid fungus –Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. It is believed that the fungus started spreading around the world many decades ago, but unfortunately it was discovered only in ’90s. In last 30 years or so, the fungus has swept away more than 150 species of amphibians, mostly frogs.  Another 2000 species are already on the verse of extinction due to the same infection. It is said to be the worst infectious disease ever recorded among vertebrates in terms of the number of species impacted, and it’s propensity to drive them to extinction. The fungus infects cells of the outer skin layers of the amphibians that contain large amounts of a protein called “keratin”. The fungus feeds on this Kertain. Researchers aren’t yet sure of exactly how the fungus kills the frogs.

The most shocking thing in this process is that Human race will have to bear another blame on their shoulders for the mass extinction.  Its only humans who spread the fungus across all continents. Scientists believe that this fungus came from African clawed frogs that are actually immune to this fungus infection, one of the few amphibians resistant to the Chytric fungus. These frogs have spread far beyond their native habitat, carrying the fungus with them, due to global trade. Scientists around the world have used these frogs for research and, from the 1930s to the 50s, to conduct pregnancy tests.

There are many efforts amongst the researchers to save the amphibians from mass extinction. The most powerful among them is Amphibian Ark project powered by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), theIUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG), and the IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG).

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Will Someone Save The Vultures?

Posted on 17 May 2012 by RE Team

Once very easily sighted, many animals and birds vanished from everywhere without notice of most of the common people in India. One such bird is the Vultures. Few years back vultures were one of the common bird in the urban india, cleaning the carcasses around cities. No one ever bothered to think about them. They were seen in the tall trees and in the wastelands in the heart of the cities. But without much of notice, these urban friendly birds disappeared so quickly that people never got a chance to even realize. It is a shocking story for anyone living in India that these large and ugly looking(that’s how it is considered in culture) birds are on the brink of extinction and very soon it may become impossible to save the very few left.


Indian Vultures were considered the most common large bird of prey in the world in 80s and early 90s and they were found in millions


To start this tragic story of the vultures, we don’t have to look back much far. The vulture story is one of the latest event in human history like those in medieval world where some species faced extinction within a span of few years due to human activities. In 1980s, the vultures were found in millions in India, usually in group of hundreds. It was probbaly the most common large bird of prey in the world at that time.  Even in early 90s they were found almost everywhere and adapted well to the urban environment of India. No one could imagine at that moment that there is any danger to this species.


The vultures seemed to have adapted the urban world pretty well


The vulture crisis started only in mid 90s, when news of mass vulture deaths were reported in the local news frequently. The news reported deaths of hundreds of vultures in single instances, where they were found just found dead in a span of few square meters.  They were lying on grounds, hanging from trees, nests and in all possible posture. Initially it was thought to be as some poisonous drug in the carcasses they eat and taken lightly. Those incidents happening across all the zones in India were believed to be independent of each other. As news were reported almost daily from one place or the another, scientists took some initiatives but they were just mystified. For years these news took important place in the news media but slowly declined. The common people realized probably the death are reducing, but in reality, the groups of vultures started declining catastrophically from everywhere, so the death numbers of the vultures, to be able to find a place in the news media.


In the last decade dead Vultures were carried away like this in tens-hundreds in India. They were found dead everywhere, hanging from trees, in the nests or lying on the ground!


For more than a decade, these large birds faced deaths without a known reason to the scientists. It was as late as 2004, when scientists in the United States identified the cause: the drug Diclofenac. Diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory agent, has been deployed successfully in human medicine for decades. In most EU countries medication containing Diclofenac is only approved for treatment of humans. In India, Pakistan and Nepal it has been deployed in veterinary medicine as well since the 90s, in particular for livestock. When vultures feed on cattle carcasses, they too ingest the drug. The drug acts as a fatal poison to the vultures and they die from kidney failure.


The poor vultures died in thousands without a known reason at that time


Though the cause was discovered in 2004, it took the government in India and also Pakistan, Nepal two years to banned the medicine. In May 2006, the medicine was banned, but by that time almost 97% of the total vulture population was wiped out.

The medicine was banned, but due to other obvious reasons like habitat loss, etc. the vulture populations kept on declining in the Indian subcontinent. Now it is estimated that almost 99% of the vulture population vanished from nature in just 15 years.

Indian subcontinent is home to three vulture species, Slender-billed Vulture, Indian Vulture and Indian White-rumped Vulture. Currently only less than thousand individuals are believed to be alived from each species! They are now restricted to very small pockets in the country. The white-rumped Vulture weighs 3.5-7.5 kg (7.7-16.5 lbs), measures 89-93 cm (30-37 in) in length, and has a wingspan of about 260 cm (8.6 ft). Slender-billed and Indian Vultures weigh between 5.5 and 6.3 kg (12-13.9 lbs) and measuring 80-100 cm (32-40 in) long and 205 to 229 cm (81-91 in) across the wings.


Vultures are now found in small pockets in Indian subcontitent, with a total population of around a thousand - courtesy misiku1@flickr


The RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS, BirdLife in India) are pioneers in creating awareness on this crtically endangered bird. They have set up vulture breeding centres in northern India, West Bengal, Assam and also have been working on a campaign “Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction (SAVE)” across all three countries, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Some government initiatives have been also started and many centers across the country are opened in recent years. SAVE which is in place for more than five years now is the last hope for the vultures.

SAVE’s breeding program has contributed a lot in last few years. In 2008 the program was successful to breed artificially in captivity. But the artificial program is not that efficient, so the scientists looked into artificial hatching in incubators. 2010 brought success in this sector too.

But its unfortunate that there are still some reported news of mass vulture deaths as late as a week from today. On the first week of March, death of 20 vultures were reported at a paddy field in Goalpara district of Assam, North-East India.

Culturally vultures are always considered as symbol of death and something bad in India. They are neglected for thousands of years and just disappearing unnoticed. Species like tiger has got so much important in the country over the few years. But these large birds are simple neglected. Its already very late to bring to give attention to these birds, but if we don’t give them now, it will be too late. Like tiger, being on the top of the eco pyramid, vulture has got very important role in the ecosystem. In fact they are much more imporant than any birds in the human society. They have been keeping our environment clean and hygienic.

If drastic steps are not taken, the vultures may take space from high skies into just books in front of our eyes. In fact the Parsis, whose religion prohibits burying or burning their dead, had to resort to technology such as solar reflectors to hasten decomposition of corpses already. The vultures used to dispose of human remains set out for them on sacrificial “towers of silence” by adherents of the ancient Parsi religion till few years back.

Will you step up to save these poor large birds?


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Orange-bellied Parrot

Posted on 09 May 2012 by RE Team

The Orange-bellied Parrot is a “grass parrot” found only in South Eastern Australia.

The Scientific Name : Neophema Chrysogaster

Where is it found?

Till 1920s, the Orange-bellied Parrot was wide spread in Australia, hundreds in numbers in the coastal saltmarsh area. It was witnessed throughout Southern Tasmania during summer and during winter from Port Adelaide to Corner Inlet. But due to rapid agriculture expansion, industrialization and residential development, the habitat of the parrot species shrinked sgnificantly in mid 20th century. In 1970s Melaleuca was identified as the only known breeding ground for the species. During winter the birds migrate to Victoria,stopping over on King Island. The adults migrate during February and the juveniles during March-April. The birds migrate back by September to November to Tasmania.

The habitat map of remaining Orange-bellied parrots


How does it live?

The Orange-bellied Parrots feed primarily on coastal saltmarsh. They are generally found on the ground or in low foliage searching for food. The diet consists of seeds of several sedges, everlasting daisy Helichrysum pumilum and heath plants, including buttongrass. Orange-bellied parrots chose their mate for life. They reach the adulthood within a year. They make Nests within the holes of eucalypt trees that are not higher than 5 meters in height. The female incubates the clutch of four eggs. The lifespan of the species is around 4 years in wild. But in captive they can live longer. The oldest male recorded was 11 years and the oldest female was 10 years in captivity.

How does it look?

The Orange-bellied Parrot is a small parrot species, around 20-25 cm in length and 45-50 grams in weight. The adult male has two-tone blue frontal band, green-blue uppertail with yellow sides and prominent orange patch on belly. The under wing-coverts and flight feathers have royal blue leading edge. Its beak and feet are greyish in colour. The adult female is a dull green with a pale blue frontal band. The juvenile is similar to adult female but with a duller green frontal band.

What are the threats?

The recovery program for Orange-bellied parrot was established as early as 1983, 30 years from now. The recovery team studied and monitored the parrot for decades but unfortunately not able to stop the decline of population of the birds. The main threat for the birds population decline is attributed to loss of habitat specially the over-wintering habitat in the coastal region due to agriculture, industrialization and other human activities since the European settlement in the continent. The new sttlement also brought in new species like sparrows, goldfinches and greenfinches with whom the orange-bellied parrot has had to compete for food, nest etc. Predators such as foxes and feral cats have also taken their toll on the population. Another severe threat to the species is the low breeding productivity observed in recent years. The reason for this is not clearly known but may be due to the loss of high quality saltmarsh. The quality of saltmarsh is specially degraded in the mainland

Conservation Efforts

The Orange-bellied parrot recovery program was first started in 1983. The OBP recovery team has contributed a lot towards studying and conservation of the species over the years. Australian Government has invested millions of dollars in the conservation of the species directly or indirectly. Unfortunately the parrot’s population kept on declining and there is always a need of more fund to protect this beautiful species from extinction. The contribution from Birds Australia and the national/international volunteers not to be forgotten in the efforts of the parrot’s conservation. There are various sides of the total conservation efforts. This includes protecting the saltmarh homes, providing adequate food in the competitive environment, keeping the enemies away and keeping close eye on unexpected events like diseases, natural calamities etc. One major portion of the efforts also go into raising an ‘Insurance’ captive population. The current captive population stable at around 170 birds housed at various sites across Tasmania and mainland. Between 1994 and 2009, around 365 captive birds are released into the wild, unfortunately that couldn’t bring the wild population up.

We need to remember that extinction is irreversible process in science till now. If we lose the Orange-bellied parrot, it will be lost forever!

A small clip on Orange-bellied parrots by ‘Act Wild’

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Endangered River Dolphins

Posted on 07 May 2012 by RE Team

River Dolphins are amongst the rarest aquatic mammals. They are  found in big rivers of  Asia and South America. The river dolphins can grow till 9-10 feet long and weigh  almost 200 pounds. There are four different species of the river dolphins known to humans, out of which three are fresh water dolphins and the other one lives in saltwater estuaries. The fresh water species are: Ganges and Indus river dolphins (Sisu and Bhulan),  Amazon river dolpins  (Boto) and Chinese river dolphins (Baiji). La Plata Dolphin (Franciscana) is the only salt water river dolphin found in South America. All these four species are critically endangered. In fact, Baiji or Chinese river dolphins are declared functionally extinct in 2007. Here goes the stories of all the different species:


River Dolphin


Ganges and Indus river dolphins:

Till 1998 Ganges and Indus river dolphins were considered as two different species. But in 1998 they were recognized as two sub species of the same species.  These dolphins are found in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal in Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus rivers and their tributaries. The total estimated numbers of Ganges river dolphins is around 2000. Out of these, around 300 lives in Brahmaputra and are facing critical threat due to accidental killing through fisheries bycatch, followed by poaching for oil. Few decades ago the dophins were widely seen across Brahmaputra and almost all its tributaries. But now the dolphins survive only in small poackets of the river. The Indus rive dolphins also known as Blind river dolphins are found in the lower reaches of Indus river in Pakistan. Its believed that only 1000 of this species exist now in the Indus river.

Amazon river dolphins:

The Amazon river dolphins inhabit  Orinoco, Amazon and Araguaia/Tocantins River systems of Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela. This species is the largest and the most intelligent of all river dolphin species.  Although widely available in the Amazon, the number of this species is reducing every year.  Scientists believe that 1,500 dolphins are being killed annually in the western Amazon to fuel a lucrative trade in catfish, which feeds on dead animals.

Chinese river dolphins:

A team of scientists have concluded that the Chinese River dolphin, or baiji, is now functionally extinct following comprehensive surveys of its habitat.  Till 2006 it was found in Yangtze river of China. It is one more unfortunate event to animal history caused by human civilization. In last fifty years it is the only aquatic mammal extinction known to humans. Till 1950, around 6000 of this species existed in Yangtze river. But in few decades the number reduced due to hunting, pollution, habitat loss and other human interferences. The last Baiji was sighted in 2007.

La Plata river dolphins:

La Plata dolphins are the only river dolphins found in salt-water.  They inhabitat in in coastal Atlantic waters of southeastern South America.  They are greyish brown colour with the longest beak. The La Plata Dolphins grow 6 feet in length, weigh up to 50 kg (110 lb) and live for up to 20 years.  The La Plata River Dolphin is well known because of where it chooses to build it’s habitat.  It ranges through the La Plata River, which moves through Brazil and Argentina. Despite other fresh water dolphins, this particular dolphin has not adapted to only one type of water living.  It can move back and forth from the salt waters of the ocean and to the river waters that are fresh.  Scientists have raised concerns over the conservation of this species.  Large numbers of them are hunted or killed every year.


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Vietnamese Javan Rhino is Extinct

Posted on 25 October 2011 by RE Team

In April 2010, the rangers of Cat Tien National park could not save the female Rhino that fell prey to poachers. After this killing, there were no sighting of any Rhino in the park, nor any footmarks, dung. The analysis of all the dung samples collected during 2009-2010 revealed that it was of the same Rhino that was killed in April, 2010.

The rarest Rhino in the world got rarer, according to the annual report by International Rhino Foundation (IRF).  The report declares Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus) to be extinct in Vietnam and officially Indonesia is only country where it now exists in wild.

The Javan Rhino, also known as lesser One-horned Rhino, is ‘Critically endangered’ in IUCN Red list and not more than 44 individuals are surviving in wild as per the IRF 2010 report. All 44 individuals are found only in the Ujang Kulon National Park of Indonesia. The report says, “Sadly this year, we believe that the last Javan Rhino was poached in Vietnam’s Cat Loc Reserve. In Ujung Kulon, best survey estimates, backed up with camera-trap data, suggest that no more than 44 animals remain in the park. Of these, we suspect that there are only four or five females with breeding potential. ”


Javan Rhino Poached to Extinction in Vietnam - Photo Reuters


Indonesia is the last hope for the Javan Rhino, the rarest large mammal in the world. The utmost priority should be given to the protection of the existing population in Ujung Kulon and also expanding the current population to a second habitat for giving more chances of survival to the species.

Poaching is the greatest threat for the Javan Rhino. The Rhino horn brings extraordinary value in the black market which appeals the poachers easily. In China the horn believed to be cure of many ailments including heart disease, cancer, etc. This baseless believe has been killing Rhinos all over the world. The last  Javan Rhinoceros of Vietnam was killed by poachers only in April 2010.  It was shot at leg and horn hacked off in the Cat Tien National Park.

This One-Horn Rhino species was widely found in the south-east Asia region just a century back. During Vietnam war, due to easy availability of powerful weapons, Rhinos were killed in large number for their horns in Vietnam. In post war time, the species was believed to be extinct from Vietnam. But 1988, a hunter killed a Javan Rhino in the Cat Tien region of Vietnam. This gave a ray of hope and proved that the species was not extinct in the region.  This leads to a survey of the Cat Tien National Park in 1989 that found at least 15 Java Rhino specimens along the  Dong Nai River. Despite this discovery, the protection measures in the Cat Tien region was not proper and the population kept on declining majorly due to poaching. In 2000, experts pointed out that the Javan Rhino population in Vietnam might not ever recover. The population stood at just around 3-8, mostly consisting of female without any adult male capable of breeding.

In April 2010, the rangers of Cat Tien National park could not save the female Rhino that fell prey to poachers. After this killing, there were no sighting of any Rhino in the park, nor any footmarks, dung. The analysis of all the dung samples collected during 2009-2010 revealed that it was of the same Rhino that was killed in April, 2010. This is how the story of Javan Rhino ends in Vietnam. The Rhinos in Cat Tien region was a subspecies of Javan Rhino, Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus , now extinct. Despite of various protection efforts by various organization this rare species also became the victim of human activities. Very unfortunately the Vietnamese Rhino joined the long list of similar animals that vanished from the beautiful nature.

One of the very scary fact about the Javan Rhino is that captive breeding has not been successful for the animal in zoos till now. There is no captive population in existence to support the wild population. So, now all eyes will be concentrated on the Indonesian Javan Rhino.

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Photos of Nature