The Alphabet Soup of Conservation
The Stars of the show
Who's in the video?
In order of appearance…
Also known as Tasmanian tigers or Tasmanian wolfs, thylacines were shy, nocturnal dog-sized marsupials with a jaw-span that rivals that of a snake. They were neither tigers nor wolves. Were? Yes, the thylacine has been extinct since 1936.
Native to Tasmania, New Guinea, and the Australian mainland, they were hunted to extinction. As Europeans settled Australia and Tasmania, thylacines found easy meals at livestock ranches. They were considered menaces, nuisances, and overall threats. Folklore portrayed them as vicious predators who would kill children, pets, and livestock. A bounty was placed on them. People were paid to kill them. And, in no time, they were extinct.
Benjamin, the thylacine in the video, was the last of his species. He lived at Hobart Zoo in Tasmania. He died of exposure when his keeper forgot, one evening, to bring him indoors and out of the elements. Every part of this story of extinction could easily have been prevented.
Search the internet to learn more about thylacines. Their evolutionary role is a fascinating story of convergent evolution, meant to fill the niche that wolves fill on other continents to maintain the balance of nature. And it is a tragic story of extinction.
NORTHERN WHITE RHINOCEROS
The northern white rhino is on the brink of extinction. Formerly found in several countries in East and Central Africa south of the Sahara, the remaining individuals live in a heavily guarded, protected park in Kenya. The last male died of old age in March 2018. Two females—a mother and daughter—remain. Why do they need protection? Poachers want their horns. Poaching has destroyed this species.
This IUCN actually lists the northern white rhino as Critically Endangered although only two females remain. Scientists are attempting to fertilize eggs harvested from the last two females with frozen sperm from the last two living males via in vitro fertilization (IVF) to revive the species. In September 2019, scientists from a laboratory in Italy announced that they had successfully created two Northern white rhino embryos. The plan was to transfer the eggs into a surrogate captive Southern white rhino at a later date, in the hope that a new Northern white calf will eventually be born. No updates have been available since January 2020.
Search the internet to learn about the desperate attempts made to save the dwindling population of northern white rhinos from extinction. It is, indeed, a cautionary tale.
Western chimpanzees might be considered national treasures in the West African countries that they still inhabit, but they are under siege. They are hunted for their meat. This is not sustenance hunting. It is for non-essential luxury meat, and it is illegal. Babies are sold into the illegal pet trade. They are most often the fall-out of bushmeat hunting, taken from their dead mothers to be sold, often with shrapnel wounds and other injuries sustained in the hunt. For each baby taken, it is estimated that 10 adults lose their lives in their effort to protect the child. In addition, West Africa is experiencing a surge in economic development and growth. With it, forests are being decimated for residential and commercial use. The growth is expected to continue. Without the forests, the chimpanzees have nowhere to live. They are already extinct in some West African countries.
The current population of Western chimpanzees has declined by 80% in the last 25 years. The IUCN believes that these threats will persist for years to come, despite conservation efforts. The Western chimpanzee is listed as one of the world’s 25 most endangered primate species in the IUCN’s 2018-2020 Primates in Peril report.
Ring-tailed lemurs are found only on the geographically isolated African island of Madagascar and, along with other lemur species, are found nowhere else on earth. They are more ecologically flexible than other lemur species and can tolerate a variety of extreme environments and drastic temperature ranges.
Despite their large range and flexibility, population density is often very low and populations are largely restricted to isolated fragments throughout their geographical range. Habitat loss, hunting, and live capture for the illegal pet trade are the greatest causes of concern for the future of this charismatic species.
Tonkean macaques, also called Tonkean black macaques, are native to the central portion of the island of Sulawesi and nearby Togian Islands in Indonesia. They are losing habitat. With land conversion for agriculture, the Tonkean macaques’ natural habitat has been rapidly disappearing—especially since the 1980s when cacao plantations became a steady source of cash for farmers. Because Tonkean macaques raid crops, they are often trapped and killed in retaliation. Although they are able to adapt to degraded forests, their population is declining.
Emperor tamarins are not currently threatened or endangered. However, their habitat faces ongoing deforestation, particularly in Peru. Much of the Peruvian Amazon has been deforested for agriculture or for natural resources, such as wood and rubber. Other areas of forest where emperor tamarins live have largely been spared from devastating deforestation.
As with many other small primate species found in the Amazon, emperor tamarins are subjected to the illegal pet trade. Their quirky appearance and large mustaches draw intrigue from those wishing to sell them into the industry. This places further stress on the species’ long-term viability.
GRAY'S BALD-FACED SAKI
Gray’s bald-faced sakis, also known as the Rio Tapajós saki, are found in the Amazon basin of South America. They inhabit areas of northeastern Brazil, in the states of Acre and Amazonia in the Amazon basin. Their range also extends into southeastern Peru and the very north of Bolivia and is bounded by major rivers which act as barriers to the dispersal of these monkeys. Their distribution across these areas appears patchy, but, due to their quiet nature and avoidance of humans, their populations can be hard to assess. These sakis show a strong preference for closed-canopy, tropical moist forest compared to other local habitats such as palm swamps or floodplain forests, which they tend to occupy less.
Scientists do not know enough about the gray’s bald-faced saki populations to know if they are threatened. Despite this, the overall population is assumed to be in decline. Threats to the species include habitat loss due to deforestation and hunting. They are hunted for the pet trade and sometimes to use their distinctive coats for decoration.
Some species are little-studied because they live in very remote regions and are difficult to access. Some, like most sakis, live too high in trees for humans to observe. And some are just not considered to be as interesting or special as other better-known species. Believe it or not, lack of study can be a real disservice to species. Just because they have not been studied does not mean that they are any less “at-risk” than any other species. Without study, they are not afforded the protections that better-studied species garner. We could lose them before we even know enough about them to save them.
The white-cheeked macaque is not featured in the video, but it is an example of a species that is Not Evaluated. Here’s their story:
A bird-watching group from northeast India, composed of wildlife photographers and biologists, affirmed the discovery of the white-cheeked macaque while visiting Mêdog county in southeastern Tibet in March 2015. As happenstance would have it, this newly discovered species was heralded just days earlier in the American Journal of Primatology with an account from a team of Chinese researchers who had set up camera traps in four Tibetan gorges. After reviewing many months of collected camera trap images (more than 700!), along with direct observations and photographs, the Chinese team were convinced they were looking at a “new monkey.”
Later scientific testing, including physical measurements and molecular diagnosis through DNA extracted from four collected skin specimens, would confirm the white-cheeked macaque as a distinct, previously unknown primate species, and as one of the most important zoological discoveries of the decade.
Illegal hunting by local tribes and habitat loss due to the construction of hydropower stations in Mêdog are threatening the lives of these monkeys. Conservationists fear that extensive tracts of riverfront forest (white-cheeked macaque habitat) will be flooded and forever lost with the construction of the hydropower station. In addition, new roads will lead to an influx in the human population and in human settlements—and lead to an increase in the bushmeat trade by providing hunters with easier access to the macaques.
“Not Evaluated” usually applies to recently described species, like the white-cheeked macaque. Given the dearth of information about this newly named species, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has not yet assessed their population numbers or the threats to those populations. But this categorization does not mean that these whiskered monkeys are safe. Without extensive study, white-cheeked macaques are not afforded the protections that better-studied species garner. We could lose these monkeys before we even know enough about them to save them.
Wildlife researchers recognize the discovery of the white-cheeked macaque as an alarm call for the conservation of the species, along with the conservation and protection of other species (those already discovered and yet to be discovered) in this biodiverse region. They urge additional wildlife surveys and studies and call for environmental protection in southeastern Tibet.
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