Wildlife

California tortoises died trying to reproduce during drought

Scientists examining the deaths of female desert tortoises in Southern California said it appears the animals died while exhausting their water and energy to lay eggs during California’s historic drought.

Researchers want to know why female tortoises are dying in greater numbers than males in the Joshua Tree National Park.

U.S. Geological Survey biologist Jeffrey Lovich said he believes the tortoises died during a desperate attempt to fight extinction. He called it an “evolutionary gamble” — choosing to try and reproduce despite harsh conditions.

“Females will go out of their way to produce a clutch of four or so eggs,” Lovich told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “They’ll do it during a drought, when they can’t find the water they need, to have a chance to win at the game of life.”

Over the past three decades, Joshua Tree’s tortoise population has plummeted from about 30,000 to an all-time low of roughly 3,000.

Desert tortoises are a threatened species that typically have 50-year lifespans in the wild, with some living 80 years.

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Chimp Extinction

Tanzanian experts fear that chimpanzees could join elephants and rhinos as the most threatened wildlife species in the country due to their dwindling populations.

“A hundred years ago, there were probably 2 million, but now only 150,000 to 200,000,” said Anthony Collins, a baboon researcher at Gombe Stream National Park.

He told Tanzania’s The Citizen daily that destruction of habitat, illegal hunting and capture for medical research are the greatest threats to the chimps’ survival.

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Wildlife

US Marines Airlift 1,100 Tortoises to New Home

The U.S. Marine Corps had an unusual mission this month: to airlift more than 1,000 desert tortoises across the Mojave Desert.

Desert tortoises are native to the southwestern desert, and a population of the reptiles had made their home near the U.S. Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California. However, plans to expand the Marines’ training grounds for large-scale exercises with live fire would have put the tortoises at risk, so the military took on the massive task of relocating approximately 1,100 desert tortoises.

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Vinegar offers hope in Barrier Reef starfish battle

Coral-munching crown-of-thorns starfish can be safely killed by common household vinegar, scientists revealed Thursday in a discovery that offers hope for Australia’s struggling Great Barrier Reef.

The predatory starfish is naturally-occurring but has proliferated due to pollution and run-off at the World Heritage-listed ecosystem, which is also reeling from two consecutive years of mass coral bleaching.

Until now other expensive chemicals such as bile salts have been used to try and eradicate the pest — which consumes coral faster than it can be regenerated — but they can harm other marine organisms.

Tests by James Cook University, in collaboration with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), showed vinegar was safe, effective and cheap.

Study head Lisa Bostrom-Einarsson said crown-of-thorns were injected with vinegar at four sites on the reef over six weeks, causing them to die within 48 hours with no impact on other life.

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Wildlife

Madagascan tortoise on verge of extinction

Unless the government of Madagascar takes swift action to enforce international anti-poaching and anti-trafficking laws, the country’s largest tortoise – the ploughshare tortoise (or angonoka tortoise) – will likely go extinct in the wild within the next two years, warns a coalition of NGOs working on tortoise conservation.

Ploughshare tortoises live only in the Baly Bay National Park in north-western Madagascar, a park established in 1997 specifically to protect the species in its natural habitat.

Poachers target the animal to export to international collectors as a highly coveted pet with its striking gold and black shell.

Conservationists estimate there may be less than 100 mature adults left in the reserve.

Wildlife

Giant Tortoise Rebounds From Near Extinction

The famed giant tortoise of the Galapagos Islands has been brought back from the verge of extinction after its population dropped to only 15 by the 1960s.

Captive breeding and conservation efforts have allowed that number to rebound to more than 1,000.

“The population is secure. It’s a rare example of how biologists and managers can collaborate to recover a species from the brink of extinction,” said James P. Gibbs, a biologist at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

He was lead author of a study that charted the growing success of the islands tortoises, published in the journal PLOS ONE.

But Gibbs cautions that the giant tortoise population is not likely to increase further on the island of Española until the landscape recovers from the damage inflicted by now-eradicated goats.

After the imported goats devoured all the grassy vegetation and were removed from the island, more shrubs and small trees have grown.

The report says the vegetation hinders both the growth of cactus, which is a vital piece of a tortoise’s diet, and the tortoises’ movement.

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Wildlife

Poaching Pushes 2 Madagascar Tortoises to Brink

Illegal poaching is “raging out of control” and pushing radiated and ploughshare tortoises to the brink of extinction, according to a statement from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

More than 1,000 of the animals have been confiscated from smugglers in the first three months of 2013 alone, the environmental group reported. A total of 54 ploughshare tortoises were intercepted in Thailand, and the species is “now the most common tortoise for sale in Bangkok’s infamous Chatuchak wildlife market,” according to the statement.

The ploughshare tortoise was once common in northern Madagascar but as of 2008 it was estimated that there were only 400 individuals left in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. These reptiles can grow up to 19 inches (47 centimeters) long and weigh up to 42 pounds (19 kilograms).

The radiated tortoise lives in the country’s south. Its dark brown or black domed shell is covered with bright yellow or orange starlike patterns and can grow up to 16 inches (40 cm) long. They can live for an estimated 100 years, according to the IUCN.

“These tortoises are truly one of Madagascar’s most iconic species,” James Deutsch, executive director of the Africa Program at WCS, said in the statement. “This level of exploitation is unsustainable. Unless immediate action is taken to better protect the wild populations, their extinction is imminent.”

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