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Sumatran Rhino Declared Extinct in Malaysia

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Sad news out of Malaysia. Once a primary habitat for the Sumatran rhino, Dicerorhinus sumatrensis, this country has now been declared void of this magnificent species.

http://news.yahoo.com/hairy-rhino-now-extinct-malaysia-232726584.html

Rarest Big Cat on Earth Starting to Make a Comeback – Yahoo News

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Rarest Big Cat on Earth Starting to Make a Comeback – Yahoo News.

Is rewilding of modern species a good idea? The answer: sometimes

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Building off of my previous rant against the idea of pleistocene rewilding I would like to discuss the idea of rewilding modern species. Unlike pleistocene rewilding, which suggests modern descendants of ice age megafauna should be introduced to habitats where their ancestors roamed, modern rewilding involves reintroducing an extirpated species, or at least a closely related subspecies, into an ecosystem which it was known to live in recent times. Probably the greatest example of this would be the reintroduction of wolves to the American west. Since most  gray wolf populations were completely eradicated from the lower 48 a closely related subspecies of gray wolf was brought in from Canada to repopulate American parks such as Yellowstone.

Unlike pleistocene rewilding this effort should not upset the ecological balance of habitats these modern species are reintroduced to. These species have evolved in these ecosystems and the ecosystem relies on them for certain services. Continuing with my gray wolf example, in the absence of wolves prey species exploded in population. These increased populations began to destroy their habitats, literally eating themselves out of house and home as there was no predator efficient enough to keep their populations in check. Restoring wolves to these habitats has returned the natural balance. Prey populations have fallen to more natural, sustainable levels and the plant community has begun to rebound.

While I still contend that pleistocene rewilding is a terrible idea, modern rewilding can be beneficial. However, I do not recommend we place modern rewilding as the highest priority. Some areas should strive for this if it is necessary to restore the habitat and there are no greater conservation concerns upon which they should focus. For example, I do not believe India should focus so much of its time and resources on the rewilding of cheetahs when the protection of their tigers and rhinos from poaching should be their highest concern at this time.

Additional Readings:

The first wolf family in Denmark since centuries? » Rewilding Europe A new beginning. For wildlife. For us.

Project to ship cheetahs from Africa to India totally misconceived – Telegraph.

WII Plans Rs 260 Crore Project for Reintroducing Cheetah in India – The New Indian Express.

African cheetah sourced for reintroduction to India – Big Cat Rescue.

Cheetah reintroduction stirs up debate – The Times of India.

Pleistocene Rewilding: Is it really a good idea?

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Recently a concept known as pleistocene rewilding has arisen within the conservation community. This idea is the cause of great controversy as it suggests we should introduce descendants of extinct pleistocene megafauna to ecosystems where their ancestors once roamed. This would mean releasing species such as lions (Panthera leo), tigers (Panthera tigris), and elephants (Loxodonta africana) into the Great Plains region of North America or bringing a species of rhino into Europe.

While restoring species to an ecosystem in which they, or at least their ancestors, evolved may seem like a good idea at first we must take a closer look at the implications of such an action. These species have been absent from these habitats for thousands of years, most since the end of the last ice age. These systems have continued to evolve without these species. In many places new species have arisen to fill the ecological void left by the extinction of these ancient species. Sure, there are examples of niches which have not been filled (for instance, no predator other than man has found a way to hunt the American pronghorn since the extinction of the American cheetah), but this does not mean we should intervene. More often than not introductions of species do not end well. I of course must cite the example of introduced species such as pythons and kudzu.

Some argue that it was the actions of ancient humans rather than natural selection which pushed these species into extinction. Whether this is true or not it does not justify the introduction of their modern descendants into ecosystems which have adapted to the lack of these pleistocene megafauna. Currently we have greater conservation issues at hand such as deforestation, poaching of rhinos, declining grassland birds, and deterioration of reefs to worry about something frivolous like pleistocene rewilding.

Additional readings:

Bringing wild rhinos into Europe proposal “red herring and won’t fly” – News – News – Voice of Russia UK, Voice of Russia – UK Edition.

Pleistocene Rewilding– in North America

Pleistocene Rewilding, Frankenstein Ecosystems, and an Alternative Conservation Agenda – Oliveira-Santos – 2010 – Conservation Biology – Wiley Online Library.

JSTOR: The American Naturalist, Vol. 168, No. 5 November 2006, pp. 660-681.

Rants from the Hill: Pleistocene rewilding — High Country News.

Would You Ditch Your House to Help Out a Tiger? – Yahoo News

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Would You Ditch Your House to Help Out a Tiger? – Yahoo News.

Sightings of rare species

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Below are a few articles I have recently found about rare species being spotted. These include a species of deer found in Vietnam which were thought to be extinct and the births of endangered Asiatic lion cubs in a French zoo.

‘Extinct’ deer turns up alive in Vietnam – Unexplained Mysteries.

Rare Borneo Bay Cat Captured in Stunning Photo – Yahoo News.

AOL.com Article – Cautiously, French zoo shows off rare lion cubs.

Rare false killer whale showing off Southern California allows for amazing encounters | GrindTV.com.

Why we don’t need pandas – Yahoo! News

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The following link is to an interesting and slightly controversial article on yahoo. To some extent I must agree with the author. Charismatic megafauna such as lions, eagles, and pandas do receive much more attention than less charismatic yet more critically endangered species. On the other hand, these charismatic species are often umbrella species. This means that conservation funding and efforts to protect these species has an umbrella effect by preserving the environment to benefit other species that were not the target. For example, there may be a species of salamander that occupies much of the same habitat as pandas. By protecting and restoring panda habitat we are benefiting the salamander, which on its own would not be a species that could capture the hearts of the public and generate funds to pay for the conservation efforts.

It may be true that we need to adjust how we spend conservation funding. Maybe the charismatic species are getting way to much when there is a less charismatic, but ecologically more important species, that is getting nothing. All that is certain is that conservationists need to reassess how we determine which species are of priority.

Why we don’t need pandas – Yahoo! News.

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