ThinkingShift species watch

April 28, 2007 at 3:00 am 4 comments

Kenya flamingoesRegular readers will have sensed my interest in the environment and endangered species. So I’ve decided to introduce a regular feature – the ThinkingShift species watch, which will illuminate species on the verge of extinction or, conversely, species that are being saved or protected. Like me, I’m sure you might find this a tad depressing but Earth and its many exquisite species are our responsibility and so we should be armed with the knowledge of their welfare so we can protect those who cannot protect themselves.

The Amur Leopard is the world’s rarest big cat. About 34 of these beautiful creatures still exist in the wild, yes that’s right only 34 or so. Only 7 are female. And this is 66 fewer amur leopards than needed for the species to survive. So I guess we put this cat on Earth’s doomed list. It will come as no surprise to learn that the human propensity to take over the planet aka development and deforestation, is the immediate cause of this leopard’s demise. Oh, and throw in hunting too.

The Amur Leopard’s natural habitat is along the Korean Peninsula, in the Russian Far East, and in northeastern China. It loves deep snow and the harsh cold of Siberian winters. Recently, four leopard litters were located, which could be a sign the population has some hope for regeneration. But conservationists say at least 100 are needed to ensure the cat’s survival.

There is some good news: the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources is looking to unify three protected areas where the leopard now lives and the Russian government is changing a planned oil pipeline route to avoid Amur territories. But there’s also some bad news: China is considering lifting its ban on the domestic trade in tiger parts used in traditional medicine. And leopards are often used as substitutes for tigers in Chinese remedies.

Also sliding towards extinction are amphibians and reptiles in a protected rainforest in Costa Rica – the dedicated reserve meant to save them not kill them off. Species of frogs, toads, lizards, snakes and salamanders have plummeted on average 75% in the past 35 years. Researchers suspect climate change has brought warmer, wetter weather to the refuge, with the knock-on effect of reducing the amount of leaf litter on the forest floor, which the various species rely on for shelter and tasty insects. Amongst those in dire straits: two species of salamander; the mimicking rain frog; the common tink frog; and the strawberry poison frog.

Amphibians are considered delicate sentinels of environmental change. Sudden population collapses were first noticed during the 1980s, during which more than 120 species are thought to have become extinct. The collapse of amphibian populations is happening in other ecosystems. Declined at least 75% in the past 35 years, even in protected areas: common salamander; strawberry poison frog; Bransford’s litter frog; broad-headed rain frog; Noble’s rain frog; mimicking rain frog; common tink frog; Warszewitsch’s frog; orange-tailed gecko; leaf litter lizard; striped litter skink.

At least there’s a good news story: Uganda’s mountain gorillas are increasing in number. There are only two places in the world where these rare gorillas live – Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is one of them and a recent census has found that the population has increased by 6% since the last census in 2002. Bwindi’s gorilla population now numbers 340 individual gorillas, up from 320 in 2002 and 300 in 1997. The overall population shows a healthy distribution of adults, infants and juveniles.

Bwindi is a thriving gorilla ecotourism spot and four of the 30 family groups are habituated for tourism or conditioned to tolerate the presence of humans for short durations. This brings in much needed revenue for the ongoing maintenance of Bwindi.

The current total population of mountain gorillas at Bwindi and the Virunga Volcanoes on the borders of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (the second gorilla site), brings the worldwide tally to approximately 720 individual gorillas.

Let’s hope that whilst we’re busy angsting over global warming, we also remember to angst over Earth’s declining species diversity.

Entry filed under: Endangered species, Environment, ThinkingShift species watch.

Publish or blog? Forget the cat: curiosity has been killed!

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. ace  |  April 28, 2007 at 11:18 am

    It is amazing mankind’s shortsightedness and greeed in the long and short run
    Such fooliishness and little respect for others

  • 2. Sophie  |  May 5, 2007 at 10:07 am

    Thought you might find this interesting:'s_Horse
    A group devoted to the ‘Sustainable Preservation of a Small Population’.
    The small population being a wild horse, native to Mongolia.
    Described as the sole surviving genuine wild horse in the world.
    In 1900 just 15 were alive in zoos.
    In 2000, 16 descendents of those were released into the wild and successfully reproduced.
    Now the free-ranging population is around 250!
    Due to this breeding program the status of this wild horse has changed from ‘extinct in the wild’ to endangered.
    I too am facinated with interesting stories of endangered species.
    Love the blog.

  • 3. Sophie  |  May 5, 2007 at 10:25 am

    One more I thought you’d like.
    I was in Borneo last year and was facinated with the Borneo Rhino which is a sub-species of the Sumatran Rhino. There are only about 13 surving Borneo Rhinos and this link shows the first ever photograph of one in the wild, taken recently with a motion triggered camera set up in the jungle by a full-time Rhino watch taskforce.
    Borneo is an amazing place to visit for someone interested in endangered species.
    They’ve got the Oran-utan, the Borneo Pygmy elephant and of course the Rhino and much more…
    Despite continued logging, expansion of palm oil plantations and poaching, much is being done toward the long term sustainabiliity of these species in Borneo.

  • 4. thinkingshift  |  May 5, 2007 at 10:35 pm

    Hi Sophie

    Thx for visiting ThinkingShift blog! and thx for the great links and information. I didn’t know about the wild horse in Mongolia and will certainly check it out. Good to hear that an endangered species is making a comeback!!


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