Monday, June 18, 2007

Rare Four-eyed Turtle Hatches At The Tennessee Aquarium

Endangered Hatchling May Represent A First In North America
Article from
A rare Beal’s four-eyed turtle recently hatched at the Tennessee Aquarium. According to aquarium herpetologist Enrico Walder this tiny turtle should be treated as big news. “According to records this species of turtle can only be seen at three North American zoos or aquariums, and is listed as an endangered species. This little turtle in Chattanooga may represent the first successful reproduction of Sacalia bealei in a North American institution,” says Walder.

With more than 500 turtles representing 70 species, the Tennessee Aquarium exhibits more turtles than any other public facility in the world. A clutch of three eggs was deposited around April 14th of this year, but only one of those eggs turned out to be fertile. Upon hatching, the baby turtle weighed just 6 grams and was only 38 millimeters long. There are only 18 known Beal’s four-eyed turtles in public zoos and aquariums throughout the United States and Europe. There are only seven males, five females and six of unknown sex including the one at the Tennessee Aquarium.

The Beal’s four-eyed turtle gets its name from the ocelli or false eye markings on the back of the turtle’s head. These animals were once common throughout southern China but have seen significant declines in their population in recent years. “As with many Asian species the Beal’s four-eyed turtle has been over collected for use in the Chinese food and traditional medicine trade,” reports Walder. Because this species has such a low reproductive rate it is doubtful they will ever return to the large numbers of Beal’s turtles seen in the wild just a few decades ago.

An animal like the Beal’s four-eyed turtle is considered endangered when the population of an organism is at risk of becoming extinct. The World Conservation Union has calculated the percentage of endangered species as 40 percent of all organisms based on the sample of species that have been evaluated through 2006.

A male Beal’s four-eyed turtle can be seen in the Aquarium’s “Rivers of the World” gallery located on the second level of the River Journey building. The Tennessee Aquarium’s newest turtle will be housed off exhibit to minimize stress and encourage feeding until it is hearty enough for public viewing. The Dallas Zoo and the Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero, California are the only other public institutions with Beal’s four-eyed turtles in their collections in the United States. The Charles Paddock Zoo received their turtle from the Tennessee Aquarium.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by Tennessee Aquarium.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Bird Species Show Sharp Declines in U.S.

Article by Christina Crapanzano, USA TODAY
A new study by the National Audubon Society shows that 20 common American birds, such as whippoorwills and the Rufous hummingbird, have declined by more than half in the past 40 years. "The sound of the meadowlark singing was the sound of summer; now it's not," said author and naturalist Scott Weidensaul, who joined the Audubon Society in announcing the study Thursday. Some bird species experienced more drastic declines, such as the northern bobwhite, whose population declined by 82%, and the Eastern meadowlark, which had a 71% decline.

Greg Butcher
, Audubon's bird conservation director, said the analysis indicates the impact of human behavior on bird habitats that is causing the dwindling numbers. He said key contributors are loss of grasslands and wetlands, suburban sprawl and industrialized agriculture. The study said the problem is compounded by "the escalating effects of global warming." "For the first time, we see a decline in the birds that breed in the Arctic tundra," Butcher said. He warned that some damage done to bird habitats cannot be reversed, but his goal is to "lessen the pace." "We're really pushing the limits here," he said. Carol Browner, who chairs the Audubon Society and is a former head of the Environment Protection Agency, said the bird population decline is "a problem," but added, "it's not a crisis, yet."

The study compared 550 species going back to 1967 by examining the Audubon's Christmas bird count and the U.S. Geological Survey's breeding bird count done in June. The analysis showed at least a 54% decline among 20 common bird species. Although the study focused only on birds, Butcher said similar declines could happen in other species. "One of the reasons we study birds is it shows us what's happening in other creatures," he said. "I definitely think what's happening is happening in other species as well." Weidensaul also said some bird species are overpopulated—— such as Canada goose and wild turkey. "We see more species that are in trouble than the ones that are doing really, really well," he said.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Threats To Wild Tigers Growing

Article from
The wild tiger now occupies a mere 7 percent of its historic range, and the area known to be inhabited by tigers has declined by 41 percent over the past decade, according to a recent article. Growing trade in folk medicines made from tiger parts and tiger skins, along with habitat loss and fragmentation, is believed to be the chief reason for the losses.

The assessment, by Eric Dinerstein of the World Wildlife Fund and 15 coauthors, describes the wild tiger's population trajectory as "catastrophic" and urges international cooperation to ensure the animal's continued existence in the wild. Despite the discouraging numbers -- there are believed to be only about 5,000 wild tigers left -- some conservation programs have been successful.

Dinerstein and his coauthors highlight a program in the Terai-Arc Landscape of northwestern India and southern Nepal as a notable victory. The scheme features wildlife corridors that connect 12 reserves. Tiger conservation efforts have also been successful in the Russian Far East. Many tiger reserves in the India, in contrast, have been mismanaged and have failed to protect the animals, according to the article.

Plans to make use of tiger parts harvested from farmed tigers in China represent an emerging threat, the authors argue. Any trade in tiger parts encourages poaching, because products made from animals farmed at great expense cannot be distinguished from products made from wild tigers. Because tigers must be able to roam over large areas, long-term conservation of the species will need planning that involves religious and civic leaders as well as national and local governments. International cooperation among nations that harbor the animal will also be essential.

Dinerstein and his coauthors conclude by recommending that these countries appoint "tiger ambassadors" to advocate for the species, step up efforts to prosecute poachers, and provide economic incentives to encourage conservation.

Article: "The Fate of Wild Tigers," Eric Dinerstein and colleagues, BioScience, June 2007.
Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by American Institute of Biological Sciences.