Wild Elephants

Worldwide Animal Population Has Declined Nearly 70% In The Past 50 Years  

According to the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Living Planet Report for 2020, nearly 21,000 monitored populations of mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and birds – which make up around 4,400 species – have declined an average of 68% between 1970 and 2016. Even more staggering, species living in Latin America and the Caribbean have been disproportionately impacted and have declined, on average, by up to 94%. 

The WWF releases this same report every two years to show us how severe climate change is actually impacting the planet and its billions of inhabitants. The report also reveals how these species specific ecosystems have dwindled within past decades, and shows a clear increase in damage that keeps getting progressively worse every year. 

WWF President and CEO Carter Roberts recently made a statement condemning humanity for destroying species populations out of greed and economic gain. He also claims that the US’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic goes to show how irresponsible our world leaders can actually be when it comes to major issues impacting the entire planet. 

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“We cannot shield humanity from the impacts of environmental destruction. It’s time to restore our broken relationship with nature for the benefit of species and people alike.”

The report directly blames humans as the sole reason for this massive decline and “dire state” the planet is now in. Generally speaking, it claims that the exponential growth of “human consumption, population, global trade and urbanization over the last 50 years” it’s what’s led to the unprecedented and monumental decline of natural resources and habitats. 

The destruction of rainforest habitats for farming has been a key factor in the loss of biodiversity and overall population growth for certain species. The amount of land that’s been stripped from natural habitats in Europe, Central Asia, North America, Latin America, and the Caribbean accounts for 80% of total global deforestation. Land loss in those areas has also led to a 70% decrease in terrestrial biodiversity and 50% decrease in freshwater species biodiversity. The systems now implemented in these cleared out plots of land emit 29% of global greenhouse gases as well. 

“Climate change creates an ongoing destructive feedback loop in which the worsening climate leads to the decline in genetic variability, species richness and populations, and that loss of biodiversity adversely affects the climate.”

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The report states that every single part of the ocean is affected by overfishing pollution and littering. Humans depend on certain marine ecosystems for food and other resources, however, the process of acquiring these resources is doing more damage than good. The emphasis on human health and the planet’s health has also never been more connected. 

The Covid-19 pandemic and multiple wildfires, and other natural disasters that seem to be occurring constantly at this point, prove that humans and nature are greatly connected and need one another to survive. Within the past 50 years, the child mortality and poverty rate has decreased while life expectancy has increased, however, the irreversible damage being done to the planet could completely undo that due to a lack of resources and healthy living environments. 

Within the past 80 years, the rate of infectious diseases emerging has increased “dramatically,” and nearly half of the diseases that have surfaced did so as a direct result of land destruction/change brought on by the food industry. One study reported that diseases originating in animals are responsible for 3 million deaths every year; the Covid-19 pandemic being the most severe example of this. 

So what’s the solution? For those of us at home, we can continue to practice being green everyday, however, the real change needs to come from our world leaders and the multiple industries that exist and actively destroy the environment for financial gain. It’s up to us at home to stay educated and informed, and to vote in all elections for candidates who support improving the planet.

Ozone Layer

Research Team Discovers Evidence Of Mass Extinction Event From 359 Million Years Ago

Researchers at the University of Southampton recently published findings in the journal of Science Advances that revealed evidence of a mass extinction that took place on Earth nearly 360 million years ago. The extinction was a result of high levels of UV radiation that destroyed the planet’s forest ecosystems and killed thousands of species of fish as well. This influx in UV radiation was a result of one of Earth’s climate cycles that collapsed part of the ozone layer.

The ozone layer depletion was a direct response to the rapid warming of the planet brought on by the ending of an intense ice age. The researchers behind these findings were adamant about sharing this evidence, as Earth’s current climate status is showing parallels to what it was like 359 million years ago when this mass extinction took place. The team’s research consisted of collecting rock samples from the mountains in East Greenland. The area of land they were specifically collecting from used to be the location of a huge ancient lake that was “in the arid interior of the Old Red Sandstone Continent, [which] made up of Europe and North America.”

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“This lake was situated in the Earth’s southern hemisphere and would have been similar in nature to modern-day Lake Chad on the edge of the Sahara Desert. Other rocks were collected from the Andean Mountains above Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. These South American samples were from the southern continent of Gondwana, which was closer to the Devonian South Pole. They held clues as to what was happening at the edge of the melting Devonian ice sheet, allowing a comparison between the extinction event close to the pole and close to the equator,” according to media reports.

In a lab setting the researchers dissolved the rocks in hydrofluoric acid which, according to the research, released microscopic plant spores that looked like pollen. These spores had somehow managed to remain preserved for hundreds of millions of years, and upon further exploration, the team discovered these spores had strangely formed spines on their surface. The spores also had dark pigmented walls, which led the team to believe both abnormalities were a result of UV radiation damaging the DNA of the spores themselves. 

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The conclusion was now that during a time of rapid global warming millions of years ago, the ozone layer must have collapsed for a short period, which then resulted in the Earth and all its living inhabitants to be exposed to extremely harmful levels of UV radiation, and thus triggering a mass extinction on both land and in shallow waters. 

“During the extinction, plants selectively survived, but were enormously disrupted as the forest ecosystem collapsed. The dominant group of armored fish became extinct. These extinctions came at a key time for the evolution of our own ancestors, the tetrapods. These early tetrapods are fish that evolved to have limbs rather than fins, but still mostly lived in water. Their limbs possessed many fingers and toes. The extinction reset the direction of their evolution with the post-extinction survivors being terrestrial and with the number of fingers and toes reduced to five,” said Lead researcher Professor John Marshall, of the University of Southampton’s School of Ocean and Earth Science. 

As previously mentioned, Professor Marshall’s main goal with releasing all of this newfound research is to warn humanity of how similar our planet’s current climate looks to how it did right before this mass extinction that killed thousands of species and redirected the way we evolved. The team plans on continuing their remote research in Greenland in hopes to further learn more about past climate emergencies, and how to better prepare for them today.


Bumblebees Are Facing Mass Extinction Thanks To Climate Change

Climate change has inflicted its fair share of damage on the planet within the past decade. It’s no surprise that the complete destruction of millions of acres of our natural world has led to a massive increase in endangerment and extinction rates for the species living within those habitats. Just recently over one billion animals fell victim to the devastating bushfires that have been blazing throughout Australia for over three months. 

Obviously, rebuilding what has been lost, and repopulating species that are dwindling in size are top priority for many scientists/environmentalists. One of the biggest concerns comes from the major loss of bumblebee’s throughout North America and Europe specifically. In fact, the likelihood of finding a bumblebee in their traditional habitats within those two continents has declined by a third since the 1970’s. 

Rising global temperatures are causing more species of bumblebee to move further north in both North America and Europe. Bumblebee’s are an obviously essential part of the food chain, as their work benefits all species on Earth. They’re responsible for pollinating fruits, vegetables, and wild plant life that feeds millions of other types of animals and insects. Without their pollination, a myriad of plant species that we use for food will die off, adding even more pressure on scientists who are already trying to combat the world’s growing food shortage issue. 

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“There had been some previous research showing that bumblebee distributions are moving northwards in Europe and North America, as you’d expect with climate change. But this was the first time that we have been able to really tie local extinctions and colonizations of bumble bees to climate change, showing a really clear fingerprint of climate change in the declines that we’ve seen,” Dr. Tim Newbold of University College London (UCL) stated

Global warming, habitat loss, disease, and strong pesticides are the main culprit when it comes to the considerable decline in both range and abundance of bumblebees. There are approximately 250 different species of bumblebees. Researchers and conservationists have done extensive studies of bumblebee population rates. In fact, in a study that specifically looked at more than half a million records of 66 bumblebee species from the 20th century, as well as from the years 2000 to 2014, researchers found that the greatest decrease in population size occurred between the latter years. 

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This isn’t surprising; while climate change has always been an issue, it’s devastating effects have sizeably increased within the 21st century thanks to advances in technology and industrialization. As previously stated, the likelihood of a normal habitat being occupied by bumblebees has dropped 30% more than what the rate was between 1901-1974 (according to the records that were studied).

Since bees are moving further north, in an attempt to move away from the extremely warm weather that has only gotten worse as the years have gone by, the southern areas of both North America and Europe have suffered the greatest loss. These migration patterns do mean that the bees aren’t dying, just inhabiting newer areas, which may seem like a silver lining, however, their survival in more northern areas of the world doesn’t compensate for the loss that the southern areas are enduring. 

Measures such as increasing the margins and buffer strips around agricultural fields that are rich in flowers and wildlife and the preservation of grasslands are deemed effective tools in alleviating the rapid decline in bumblebee species. They can provide bees with forage and help underpin stable populations of pollinators, whose survival is crucial for European food security,” wrote the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

While systematic change is really the only way the planet can reach a turning point in terms of climate change, there are still things we can do at home to at least help our local bumblebees from facing mass extinction. Planting flowers, vegetables and any other type of vegetation in our outdoor living spaces will attract these friendly bees to come and get to work. Remember, bumblebees typically never sting, especially when they’re just left alone, so set out some plants to pollinate and help the world become a little greener, even if it is just in your backyard.


Flock of Undiscovered Songbirds Discovered Across Remote Islands

Since 1999, only an average of around five or six new bird species have been discovered across the planet each year. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the discovery of ten previously unseen songbird species has been met with a great deal of interest by ornithology and biodiversity experts the world over.

The discovery, detailed in the Jan. 10 issue of Science magazine, reveals an intriguing look at avian biodiversity. Made across several Southeast Asian islands near Sulawesi in the Wallacea region – Peleng, Taliabu and the Togian group – the discovery lists five new species alongside five new subspecies, based on the physical features, DNA and song variations of the birds. Some of these differences are visually prominent – for example, the yellow-bellied Togian jungle-flycatcher (Cyornis omissus omississimus) features a crown of iridescent blue feathers to set it apart from its cousins.

It had long been suspected that islands of Taliabu, Peleng and the Togian group may be home to a number of undiscovered bird species. The islands in question are separated from Sulawesi, the nearest landmass, by deep ocean waters; this has restricted a number of animals for intermingling throughout the region, as well as limiting access from predators. In fact, a number of tropical forest birds in the area rarely explore outside of safe, shady forest cover, meaning they are relatively undisturbed by other species.

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In recent years, the majority of new bird species have been found in South America, namely Peru and Brazil. The discovery of new species in Indonesia isn’t a total surprise though, as some researchers in the 1990s did identify what they believed to be new songbird species in the region, but neglected to collect specimens or formally describe any findings. However the fact that animals have been able to exist and survive there for so long without being documented is somewhat surprising – especially considering the number of species found.

The birds are not living without risk though – logging and severe forest fires have been threatening their habitats in recent years, and some predictions suggest the newly discovered species may not survive many more years. These elements are putting a great deal of pressure on biodiversity across the planet, and while conservation efforts are working hard to ensure the survival of such species, little can be done for those that have yet to be discovered.

So what does this discovery mean for avian biodiversity across the world as a whole? Considering North America alone has seen numbers of birds decline by 29% since 1970, the survival of these species is crucial. In the U.S., these numbers are largely due to the loss of natural habitat caused by both climate change and agricultural development, as birds are struggling to survive without the correct environment available, while seabirds are also facing the threat of marine heat waves. Living so remotely, the newly discovered songbirds have managed to largely avoid some of these factors – however this does not mean they aren’t at risk from environmental threats.

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The general consensus between researchers is that Earth is currently undergoing a sixth mass extinction, meaning for the sixth time in the life of the planet global fauna is experiencing a catastrophic collapse in numbers. The United Nations predicts up to one million species could face extinction, and this includes a large number of birds. Conservation groups are working hard to ensure that animals are protected from threats, but as we have seen with the recent wildfires in Australia, this is not always possible. Taliabu and Peleng’s own forest fires have proved that the birds are at risk, and the situation is not getting any better.

Frank Rheindt, associate professor of biological sciences at NUS and one of the researchers involved in the discovery, has been keen to encourage the importance of increased protective efforts, stating that “while most of the avifauna we described seems to tolerate some form of habitat degradation and is readily detected in secondary forest and edge, some species or subspecies are doubtless threatened by the immense levels of habitat loss on these islands. As such, urgent, long-lasting conservation action is needed for some of the new forms to survive longer than a couple of decades beyond their date of description.”

On the whole, the revelation is an overwhelmingly positive one – such a wealth of species points to positive levels of biodiversity in the region. Rheindt and his team are optimistic that the methods used in this discovery could be effectively applied in other regions and for other forms of wildlife in the future. “Going forward, the use of earth-history and bathymetric information could also be applied to other terrestrial organisms and regions beyond the Indonesian Archipelago to identify promising islands that potentially harbour new taxa to be uncovered,” stated Rheindt.

Asteroids kill dinosaurs

New Study Says an Asteroid, Not Volcanic Activity, Killed the Dinosaurs

For decades, scientists have argued about what caused the global mass extinction event that killed the dinosaurs. While there is general consensus that climate change is to blame, scientists disagree over what event occurred that triggered a rapid transformation of the planet’s weather systems. Though some believe that the environmental impact was caused by massive volcanic eruptions in India, most scientists think that an asteroid impact is to blame. Now, a new research paper published in Science is hoped to end the debate, as the researchers found that the volcanic eruptions occurred too far before the extinction event that took place 66 million years ago to have been its cause.

With this research, the scientists are hoping to put to rest the theory that K-Pg, which is the scientific notation for the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, was caused by volcanic activity. According to Yale assistant professor of geology & geophysics Pincelli Hull, who helped author the research paper, “a lot of people have speculated that volcanoes mattered to K-Pg, and we’re saying, ‘No, they didn’t.’” 


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According to Hill, “volcanic activity in the late Cretaceous caused a gradual global warming event of about two degrees, but not mass extinction.” In other words, although climate change caused by volcanic activity had an impact on the global ecosystem, it was not rapid or dramatic enough of a warming event to cause the extinction of 75% of life on Earth, as is observed in K-Pg. The study also offers an answer to a question that has for years remained a mystery, which is why massive eruptions that took place in India in the immediate aftermath of the extinction event did not cause a corresponding warming event. According to this study, the ocean absorbed an enormous amount of CO2 in the aftermath of the asteroid impact, which may have hid the warming effect of the volcanic activity.

The asteroid impact which is now widely believed to have been the cause of K-Pg was first discovered in 1990, after samples from the Chicxulub crater in Mexico were analyzed by scientists who determined that the crater was caused by an asteroid impact that took place around 66 million years ago, at precisely the same time as the extinction event. Since the discovery of the crater, further research has produced evidence that this in fact was the impact site of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. In 2016, for instance, a drilling project drilled into the impact crater, obtaining rock core samples that seemed to confirm the theory, as materials extracted from the impact site match the geological record across the world that was formed in the wake of the asteroid impact.


More Efforts Made To Protect Leopard Population In Sri Lanka

Anjali Watson is a Sri Lankan conservationist on a mission to save the leopard population in her country. For 26 years Sri Lanka was involved in a devastating civil war that not only took the lives of thousands, but devastated the environment in the country as well. The combination of war, climate change, and deforestation has left the residential leopards basically homeless and isolated into small areas within the little forestland that’s left. 

According to Watson, it’s impossible to tell how much the leopard population in Sri Lanka has decreased since the war, however, we do know that about 70% of their habitat was destroyed and only 750-1,000 leopards remain in the country. 

Habitat destruction hasn’t been the only threatening force destroying the leopard population either, as multiple leopards have been accidentally killed by getting caught in wire snare traps that are typically used to hunt wild boar and deer for food.  

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“As Sri Lanka’s top predator, and its only big cat, the leopard plays a key role in Sri Lanka’s ecosystem. We call it an umbrella species because taking steps to save leopards protects all the other species that share their forest home,” Watson said in an interview with CNN.

Watson also stated that she was living in Canada when she met her husband and decided to move to Sri Lanka to help with wildlife conservation in general, as both her and her husband were passionate about the issue. In 2000 the two moved to the country to launch a “pilot program” that was focused on observing leopard populations in the Yala National Park. 

Back then, however, Watson stated that there was little to no knowledge about the species of leopard living in Sri Lanka, and in order for them to truly protect the species from further endangerment, they had to learn more about their lives and roles they played within the overall ecosystem. Watson stated that their first major goal back then was to count the entire species within the area to see what kind of population they were working with. 

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They were able to collect data on the leopards’ population size by using remote cameras that were placed all throughout the country. These cameras were equipped with motion detection technology, allowing Watson and her team to be notified every time a leopard was present at a certain location and snap a photo. They were able to differentiate each leopard because every single one has its own unique pattern of spots. 

From there they were able to launch the Wilderness and Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT) in 2004, which now has four major headquarter locations in Sri Lanka. Now, their motion sensor camera technology has vastly expanded, giving them greater access to more of the land. The fact that a lot of the habitable land for these leopards has been destroyed does work in the group’s favor, as there are fewer areas to cover with cameras and observe the species while protecting them as well. 

“Installing the cameras is often grueling work. It can involve long drives on spine-rattling, rocky tracks, clambering up hillsides, bushwhacking through jungle, and occasional encounters with elephants, bears and snakes, as well as leeches and ticks. Out in the field, our team collects leopard scat to find out which animals they are hunting — leopards are not picky eaters and their diet includes deer, monkeys, wild boar, porcupines and hares,” says Watson.

Watson went on to discuss how WWCT’s long term plan is to use all of the data they’ve been collecting to help shape preservation grounds and new areas of land in which the leopards can roam free without fear of destruction or death. Watson claims the dream is to create secured buffer zones between protected areas for wildlife and the standard forest patches to ensure that this species has a chance to survive, and recover.

South Africa Plants

South Africa Is Seeing A Massive Increase In Plant Extinction

The Succulent Karoo desert is located between the country of Namibia and South Africa. What the United Nations describes as the most “biodiverse arid desert on the planet” is home to more than 6,300 rare plant species, and countless exotic animals, most of which can only be found there. 

According to reports, a combination of overgrazing from wildlife, plant poaching, and other human demands on the desert has left only 25% of the Karoo in a habitable, intact state. It’s for this reason alone that conservationists in Africa have made protecting the Succulent Karoo a main priority. However, not many officials in Africa take the conservationist effort seriously, as for the most part the Karoo is just a barren desert. However, this desert’s ecosystem is extremely fragile and valuable to all of Africa’s inhabitants. 

Succulents are defined as plants that store water in their leaves, stems or both for long periods of time, hence why they’re most commonly found in dry, arid, desert environments. Cacti and aloe plants are the most common types of succulents, and the Karoo desert is full of them. In fact, the Succulent Karoo alone contains a third of the entire planet’s succulent species. 

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The 6,300 plant species that grow in the Karoo often have bright and colorful flowers stemming from them, which indicates to insects and small animals that they contain moisture and nutrients. Insects come and drink the water and eat the leaves, which in turn attracts insect-eating animals to the desert, such as moles, scorpions, tortoises, birds, and lizards, most of which have sub-species that are exclusive to the Karoo, much like a majority of the succulents. These beautiful plants also attract a plethora of tourists when they’re in bloom, however, tourists also means illegal poachers, and I don’t mean the kind that are hunting elephants. 

“A growing illegal market for succulents is fueling poaching activities in the Karoo region. Scorpions, baboon spiders, and some lizard species also fall prey to poachers in the region. Overgrazing by farmed ostriches, sheep and cattle is also seriously damaging the desert landscape, especially during droughts. This environment is very easily damaged, and has a long recovery period. The desert has also been mined for uranium, diamonds and sand, leaving great scars in the landscape,”says Marienne De Villiers, an ecologist for the South African government’s conservation organization, CapeNature.

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The desert is so vast and the inhabitants are so sparse and small that scientists find themselves having a difficult time locating and identifying species for protection. However, recently CapeNature researchers and conservationists have begun using drones to locate certain species that otherwise are out of sight. 

According to the researchers, the drones they use are mounted with infrared sensors that are connected to a machine that is able to identify species from long distances based on shapes and motion. Scientists are able to use this information to learn about when certain species are typically out in the open and therefore more susceptible to poaching threats. 

According to the Environmental Literacy Council, an international conservationist non-profit, only 3% of the Succulent Karoo Desert is protected under government legislation. This issue is CapeNature’s main focus, so much so that in 2002 they created something called the Biodiversity Stewardship Program. This program calls upon local landowners and farmers in South Africa to be recruited for their land as a space for wildlife to live and be protected. Paying landowners for portions of their vast properties is much cheaper than raising the funds to actually buy new land to be used as a wildlife safe haven.

“Over time, these projects have helped to build buffer areas and wildlife corridors throughout the Western Cape, helping to protect the Succulent Karoo and its rare species. I hope the Stewardship program will educate people about the value of the desert for years to come. There’s still so much that we don’t know about the Succulent Karoo, and there’s probably a wealth of species still out there waiting to be discovered,” says De Villiers.

Surfer at Beach

How Climate Change is Affecting the Australian Summer

The Australian summer is something that many around the world long to experience. Who would not want to spend the long warm days on the beach, surfing some of the world’s greatest waves while soaking up some sun? Or maybe staying at home and lounging around the pool in the backyard, inviting friends and family over for a barbecue. Such thoughts bring feelings of happiness and relaxation.

But the summer of the last few years has brought another feeling to the mix: fear. Due to the increasing number of bushfires – many close to homes, businesses, retailers and schools – residents, and therefore vacationers and tourists, are increasingly worrying about the threat of damage to their properties and lives.

2019 has seen higher numbers of bush fires than in previous years, with much of the country now living with a haze of smoke even if they are not directly affected by the fires. This last week has seen the town of Batemans Bay in New South Wales having to evacuate to the beach while the fires rip through their homes while many campgrounds around the continent have closed for the summer due to the “code red” conditions.

Australia – as well as many other countries across the world – has seen its summers increase in temperatures over the years, however the link between the current conditions as well as anthropogenic climate change is immense.

So far over 5 million hectares of land have been lost. Compare this to the estimated 906,000 hectares that were lost in the Amazon Rainforest earlier in the year. It is staggering that there has not been more coverage – or more help provided from the rest of the world.

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And it is not just land that has been devastated. So far there have been eighteen deaths, including firefighters, as well as the enormous amount of wildlife that has been lost. Figures currently estimate there have been around 500 million animals that have died with 30 percent of the koala population wiped out.

Australia sees higher temperatures in January and February, so these statistics are only going to get worse causing many to call on the government for more support.

However, while Australia sees bushfires every year making it the continent most likely to burn, what has made this year so bad? As with all fires, bushfires need specific resources to grow – dry fuel, weather conditions and ignition. And thanks to the effects climate change is having on the weather and fuel, the fires are becoming bigger and occur more often and for longer.

Scientists have been warning us that the world is getting warmer each year, with Australia increasing in temperature by one degree Celsius throughout the last 100 years, and this has caused a change in the intensity, as well as the frequency, of their heat waves.

The increase in the temperatures has caused an increase in evaporation, drying the fuel and soil load. Over ten years ago the IPCC – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – came to the conclusion that the continuing anthropogenic climate change would increase how often Australia would experience fires. They also predicted that these fires would increase in intensity.

With the rising temperatures continuing to dry out the environment, they can be reduced by precipitation or by increasing the vegetation, which can improve humidity.

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However Australia’s southern states have seen a considerable decrease in rainfall, with the southwest seeing a decrease of nearly twenty per cent in the last forty years. The southeast has also seen a decrease of eleven percent of rainfall since the 1990s.

While there are many factors contributing to the drop in rainfall the positive trend in the Southern Annular Mode (SAM) is one of the biggest. The change has seen the westerly winds across the Southern Ocean to move south towards Antarctica, meaning the rain-bearing cold fronts are bypassing southern Australia.

Scientists have also blamed the trend of anthropogenic climate change for increasing the trend in the SAM.

These changes have played a significant role in why the 2019-2020 summer has been so intense, however southeast Australia has been suffering from a drought for the last three years having not seen any winter rain since 2017, which has not happened in Australia’s history before – not even when they experienced their ten year droughts including the Millennium Drought.

And with large areas of vegetation unable to survive the wet rain forests are drying out, meaning areas that would not normally see fires are starting to burn.

This year also saw one of the most severe positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) events which saw the cold sea-surface temperatures putting a halt to one of the biggest resources of moisture for Australia. When these events happen Australia usually experiences a longer fire season and the positive IOD events are another aspect of global warming as they are occurring more often.

With many Australians accusing their government of not doing enough to stop climate change – and many not even acknowledging that it is an issue – it is hard to see that these fires will start to reduce. And that is not good for anyone anywhere.

Baobab Trees

One Third Of All Tropical Plant Life In Africa Is Now Under The Threat Of Extinction

According to a new study, a third of tropical plant species in Africa are currently under the threat of extinction due to climate change occurrences. With so much focus on the many animal species that are under the same threat, plant endangerment is often overlooked. However, these plants especially are essential for up-keeping a multitude of the planet’s ecosystems, as they are a constant source of oxygen and food. Plants are also the base for a lot of medicines and materials used in our everyday lives that we often take for granted. 

The Guardian reports that studies show 86% of mammals are on the Red List of critical endangerment by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Comparatively, only 8% of all of Earth’s plant species are on the same list, however, when it comes to ecosystem maintenance, that percentage is already to high. Logging, mining, and extensively unnecessary agricultural industrialization is leading the cause. 

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The IUCN states that since the Industrial Revolution took over the planet, almost 600 species of plants have been wiped out completely, and that number is growing more rapidly everyday. Plants are often overlooked and not discussed when it comes to the climate action debate, generally, deforestation is the main issue at hand. While deforestation is one of the leading causes of the deterioration of our planet, plant endangerment poses and equal threat, it just doesn’t seem like it would. 

In order for any sort of species to end up on the IUCN’s Red List, two main things need to be analyzed. They focus on population reduction, and habitat reduction for where the species is located/indigenous to. The IUCN has used those two factors to create an online computer algorithm to calculate and classify conservation status’ of certain species. This algorithm is what lead teams of conservationists to their conclusions about the massive amount of species endangered in Africa currently.  Using this algorithm, researchers inputted over 20,000 plant species indigenous to Africa, and found that almost 7,000 of those species are under the threat of complete extinction.

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“These species are falling into categories ranging from vulnerable to critically endangered. That means almost a third of the plant species examined might be threatened by extinction, a proportion expected to hold even if all tropical African species are considered. There is an extra 38% of species which we assess are geographically restricted, so they are rare, but for which no obvious threats for the moment are identified. If the human pressure increases, which is very likely in most parts of tropical Africa, they will be likely threatened in the very near future,” The Guardian reports. 

Basically, there’s still a whole slew of plant species that aren’t accounted for when using this algorithm due to the fact that they’re so rare that they’re inaccessible to include in the data. However, it can easily be assumed that these species are under the same threatening level, especially since they’re already considered to be “rare” which is just a fancier word for endangered. 

The data is suggesting that these species are in critical endangerment and the IUCN is collecting new data everyday in an attempt to determine which species are under the biggest threat and what regions need the highest level of conservation efforts. However, even when that data becomes conclusive, it’s important to note that real systematic climate action is the one true solution to reverse the extensive damage that has already been done.

Mouse Deer

“Mouse Deer” Thought To Be Extinct Photographed For The First Time In 30 Years

Southern Vietnam is making some wildlife history this week, as a tiny deer-like animal no bigger than a rabbit has been photographed and seen for the first time in almost three decades! The silver-backed chevrotain, more simply known as the Vietnamese mouse deer, was thought to be extinct by conservationists because the last recorded sighting of one was twenty five years ago. The last recording was made by Russian wildlife researchers who obtained a dead mouse deer from a local hunter who also believed the species was extinct. Ever since then the animals have remained completely off the radar. 

“For so long, this species has seemingly only existed as part of our imagination. Discovering that it is, indeed, still out there, is the first step in ensuring we don’t lose it again, and we’re moving quickly now to figure out how best to protect it,” said Vietnamese biologist An Nguyen, an associate conservation scientist with Global Wildlife Conservation.

The Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) made the assumption thirty years ago that the chevrotain was yet another species that has fallen victim to intense deforestation/habitat loss as a result of climate change, or illegal poaching and trafficking. This was especially due to the fact that wire snares have become such an intense problem in the southern Vietnam region. Wire snares are homemade traps that hunters use to trap wildlife for trafficking purposes, more than anything, according to CNN. In fact, within the past five years patrol teams have seized over 200,000 of these illegal traps that were discovered in Vietnam alone. 

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The discovery was made near the beach city of Nha Trang after a team of researchers and scientists working for the Journal of Nature Ecology and Evolution interviewed a slew of local villagers and forest rangers who reported potential sightings of the then thought to be extinct creature. After the documented villager accounts for the sightings, scientists set up hidden camera traps in the various areas where the reports came from and waited. The traps were set up for five months and in that time the team was able to record over 275 pictures of the silver-backed chevrotain. 

The result was way more than any of them expected, so they set up twenty nine more cameras around the same area based on where the previous photos were captured. After that, they were able to capture almost 2,000 pictures of the chevrotain, all occurring over the course of five short months. That’s a staggering amount of recorded data for an animal that was previously thought to be extinct. While the re-discovery of a “mouse-deer” like animal may not seem like a huge deal to some, to conservationists, it’s like discovering that the dodo bird still exists. 

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The animals are quite adorable, weighing in at a maximum of ten pounds, they’re the world’s smallest hoofed mammals, and despite the nickname, they aren’t actually related to mice or deer. They are also no stranger to staying out of the spotlight. In the report covering the rediscovery, the team of researchers mention how the species was first discovered by scientists in 1910. After that initial discovery there were no more recorded verified records of chevrotain until 1990! Even then it was just one single animal which was seized from a hunter in Vietnam who captured it illegally.

“Before this we only had these two historical sightings separated by quite some distance—one in the southern part of Vietnam and the other much further north. But we knew that many people have camera-trapped in the wet evergreen forests and hadn’t seen it, so we thought we should look at the dry forest habitat that’s really different and where not many people have looked. To the scientific world this was a lost species, but local people had known about it. It was only by utilizing the local ecological knowledge that we were successful. That can be replicated for other species in other parts of the world,” said Andrew Tilker, Asian Species Officer at the GWC. 

Tilker along with the other researchers who participated in this amazing rediscovery made it a clear point that just because history shows that these animals survive under the radar, that doesn’t mean that there still isn’t a massive threat to the remainder silver-backed chevrotains. Local citizens most likely never reported sightings as a means to protect them from illegal wildlife poachers/traffickers.