Entries in Extinction (3)


Red Pandas, Cursed by Their Adorable Looks, Face Extinction

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The red panda, an animal that once roamed vast regions of the Earth, is now on the brink of extinction, and its adorable face and gentle curiosity is only adding to its plight.

These creatures can be found in the wild at the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, in countries such as Nepal, Bhutan and in the jungle areas surrounding Darjeeling, India, a crowded, chaotic city known for growing some of the world’s best teas.

But even there, the red panda’s natural habitat, the best chance to see one face-to-face is at a zoo. Conservationists believe there are less than 10,000 left in the wild.

Once sought after to keep as pets, red pandas are now hunted for their pelts. In Nepal and northern India, poachers can command a heavy price for their body parts. In some parts of China, their bushy tails are considered good luck charms in wedding ceremonies.

Red pandas also face the threat of deforestation. It takes as much as four pounds of bamboo a day to keep these little guys going.

Darjeeling is home to one of the most successful red panda breeding centers in the world: The Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park. But while zoo officials hope their match-making will produce offspring that potentially could be returned to the wild, they also worry about what they called the “red panda curse” -- their cute faces and loving natures make these animals a target.

Red pandas seem so lovable that they have been featured in movies -- Dustin Hoffman voiced the character Master Shifu in the Kung Fu Panda movies -- as well as video games, postage stamps and beer bottles. Even Firefox, the popular Web browser, is named after them.

When red pandas were first discovered in the early 1800s, a full 50 years before the giant panda, they were a must-have accessory of the Victorian age. Furry, friendly and about the size of a house cat, European women clamored to have a red panda by their side.

As far as biologists know, red pandas only exist today in the region around the Himalayas. However, a red panda tooth, estimated to be around 4 to 7 million years old, was recently found in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee.

Steve Wallace, the curator for the East Tennessee Natural History Museum located in Gray, Tenn., said he and his team have unearthed evidence of giant turtles, saber-toothed cats and pot-bellied rhinos at the Gray Fossil site, but were not expecting to dig up an ancient red panda tooth.

Since it was discovered, red panda bones have become common at the site. Wallace said the ancient Tennessee “firefox” was probably much larger, about the size of a mountain lion, and thrived in the thick forests once found in that part of the world.

One theory about what caused the red pandas to disappear from the Blue Ridge Mountains is that raccoons moved in and began competing for the same food. While scientists do not yet fully understand why evidence of this animal surfaced in the southern United States, they are hoping their discoveries can help bring the red panda back from the brink.

“Understanding why fossil red pandas were so much more successful, so much more widespread, than pandas today, could be a very beneficial to actually protecting them and ensuring that they’ll be here for future generations,” Wallace said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Marine Species Face Mass Extinction, Experts Say

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(OXFORD, England) -- Marine experts are now prophesying a perfect storm: a world where marine species could undergo unprecedented levels of extinction.

"The speed of change, particularly related to climate change is so great there simply isn't time for marine life to adapt to these new conditions," said Alex Rogers, a professor of conservation biology at the University of Oxford.  "When we've seen mass extinctions in the past they've been associated with large disturbances in carbon system of the oceans.  That's what we're bringing about through our own actions today."

Earlier this year, Rogers and 26 other researchers from six countries met for a three-day workshop in England to examine ocean stressors, such as overfishing.  This week, the panel of marine experts released a summary report from Oxford University -- and the full report is on the way.  Their findings?  A disturbing decline in the health of the ocean that is on track to get much worse.

Multiple factors, such as acidification of the ocean, rising ocean temperature and overfishing are contributing to the rapid decline of some species, such as reef-forming coral.  Rogers, lead author of the International Programme on the State of the Ocean report, says other species, such as sharks, may follow.

"In the Mediterranean nearly 50 percent of sharks are under threat of extinction in that region," Rogers told ABC News.

The significance of the scientists' meeting, Rogers explained, was to gather experts from different branches of marine biology and figure out how negative changes to the ocean are interacting with one another.

In some cases, the impacts canceled each other out, but Rogers said, "In many cases we found the impacts were negatively synergistic -- this means that when the effects are taken together, the overall effect is greater than the single effect."

The best example of this, he explained, is the coral reef ecosystems.  Overfishing and bleaching of the reefs, combined with the acidification that causes the corals to bleach, means the loss of "the most diverse marine ecosystems on the planet."

And one of the most valuable, Rogers pointed out.  The coral reefs provide tourism, coastal protection, and living environments for marine species.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Putin Wants to Save the Last 3,200 Tigers from Extinction

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- What has been hailed as the most significant meeting ever to discuss the fate of a single non-human species is under way in the Russian city of St. Petersburg. Conservationists and government officials from the 13 countries where tigers roam have gathered for a four-day "tiger summit" to commit to a plan for fighting the big cats' extinction, led by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Conservationists say because of poaching and deforestation, only 3,200 tigers remain in the wild, less than the number in captivity in Texas. The tiger population is at an all-time low, down from around 100,000 a century ago. Of the remaining tigers, only 1,000 are breeding females, the key to the species' survival.

Tiger experts say that unless drastic measures are taken, tigers could soon be extinct. At the end of the summit, participants are expected to commit to doubling the tiger population by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger after 2010 in the Chinese zodiac.

To do that, the countries and conservation groups will commit an estimated $330 million, the bulk of which will come from the World Bank -- which has spearheaded the global tiger initiative -- and the 13 "tiger range" countries, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Despite not having wild tigers of its own, the United States has contributed millions to the preservation cause. There had been hopes that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would attend the forum (the undersecretary of state is representing the United States at the summit).

Russia and its tiger-loving prime minister have been applauded for their efforts to raise awareness and reverse the tigers' decline. Putin was given a tiger cub for his birthday in 2008, a month after he famously shot a Siberian tiger with a tranquillizer dart as part of a collaring program.

"The complexity in saving the tiger is not great, but the scale of the challenge is," said Wildlife Conservation's Society's Walston. "If we do the basics right, if we support the men and women on the ground to prevent poaching of tigers, then we're going to allow tigers to do what they do naturally, which is to breed and recover."

Putin and the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will address the conference Tuesday.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio