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News articles on herps
Mongabay.com news articles on herps in blog format. Updated regularly.
(03/18/2010) The United Nation declared 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB). One of the goals of the IYB is to celebrate the achievements of the Convention of Biological Diversity signed by 192 countries since 1992. But what have we accomplished since 1992? Did we put an end to biodiversity loss? The truth is that there is not much to celebrate at all. Asia is a perfect example where the animal crisis and the loss of biodiversity have worsened over decades. The first question that should come to mind is: how many species have vanished in Asia because of human activities? Records of recently extinct species in Asia show 71 species that have disappeared in the wild. Examples include the Yunnan lake newt (Cynops wolterstorffi) from China, the Bonin thrush (Zoothera terrestris) from Japan, or the redtailed black shark (Epalzeorhynchos bicolor) from Thailand.
Secrets of the Amazon: giant anacondas and floating forests, an interview with Paul Rosolie
(03/10/2010) At twenty-two Paul Rosolie has seen more adventure than many of us will in our lifetime. First visiting the Amazon at eighteen, Rosolie has explored strange jungle ecosystems, caught anaconda and black caiman bare-handed, joined indigenous hunting expeditions, led volunteer expeditions, and hand-raised a baby giant anteater. "Rainforests were my childhood obsession," Rosolie told Mongabay.com. "For as long as I can remember, going to the Amazon had been my dream […] In those first ten minutes [of visiting], cowering under the bellowing calls of howler monkeys, I saw trails of leaf cutter ants under impossibly large, vine-tangled trees; a flock of scarlet macaws crossed the sky like a brilliant flying rainbow. I saw a place where nature was in its full; it is the most amazing place on earth."
Photos: Madagascar's wonderful and wild frogs, an interview with Sahonagasy
(03/03/2010) To save Madagascar's embattled and beautiful amphibians, scientists are turning to the web. A new site built by herpetologists, Sahonagasy, is dedicated to gathering and providing information about Madagascar's unique amphibians in a bid to save them from the growing threat of extinction. "The past 20 years have seen resources wasted because of a poor coordination of efforts," explains Miguel Vences, herpetologist and professor at the Technical University of Braunschweig. "Many surveys and reports have been produced that were never published, many tourists found and photographed amphibians but these photos were not made available to mapping projects, many studies carried out by Malagasy students did not make use of literature because it was not available."
Prehistoric snake gobbled-up dinosaur babies
(03/02/2010) A fossilized snake has been discovered inside a titanosaur nest in India, leading researchers to conclude that the snake fed on newly-hatched dinosaur babies, rather than their eggs like modern snakes. Paleontologist and snake expert Jason Head says that the snake, known as Sanajeh indicus, lacked the wipe-jaws needed to swallow eggs, but just-hatched baby titanosaurs would have been perfect prey for the 3.5 meter (nearly 12 feet) long serpent. Titanosaurs belong to the sauropods, long-necked herbivorous dinosaurs which includes the world's largest animals to ever walk the land.
Common pesticide changes male frogs into females, likely devastating populations
(03/01/2010) One of the world's most popular pesticides, atrazine, chemically castrates male frogs and in some instances changes them into completely functionally females, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors conclude that atrazine likely plays a large, but unsuspected role in the current global amphibian crisis.
Guyana bans gold mining in the 'Land of the Giants'
(03/01/2010) Guyana has banned gold dredging in the Rewa Head region of the South American country after pressure from Amerindian communities in the area. A recent expedition to Rewa Head turned up unspoiled wilderness and mind-boggling biodiversity. The researchers, in just six weeks, stumbled on the world's largest snake (anaconda), spider (the aptly named goliath bird-eating spider), armadillo (the giant armadillo), anteater (the giant anteater), and otter (the giant otter), leading them to dub the area 'the Land of the Giants'. "During our brief survey we had encounters with wildlife that tropical biologists can spend years in the field waiting for. On a single day we had two tapirs paddle alongside our boat, we were swooped on by a crested eagle and then later charged by a group of giant otters."
Savior of endangered crocodiles dies of malaria
(02/25/2010) Crocodile-expert and conservationist, Dr. John Thorbjarnarson, died of falciparum malaria in India on February 14th at the age of fifty-two. While many conservationists work with publicly popular animals like tigers and whales, Thorbjarnarson’s passion was for crocodiles. A Senior Conservation Scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Thorbjarnarson proved instrumental in saving both the Orinoco crocodile and the Chinese crocodile from extinction.
Extinct animals are quickly forgotten: the baiji and shifting baselines
(02/23/2010) In 2006 a survey in China to locate the endangered Yangtze River dolphin, known as the baiji, found no evidence of its survival. Despondent, researchers declared that the baiji was likely extinct. Four years later and the large charismatic marine mammal is not only 'likely extinct', but in danger of being forgotten, according to a surprising new study 'Rapidly Shifting Baselines in Yangtze Fishing Communities and Local Memory of Extinct Species' in Conservation Biology. Lead author of the study, Dr. Samuel Turvey, was a member of the original expedition in 2006. He returned to the Yangtze in 2008 to interview locals about their knowledge of the baiji and other vanishing megafauna in the river, including the Chinese paddlefish, one of the world's largest freshwater fish. In these interviews Turvey and his team found clear evidence of 'shifting baselines': where humans lose track of even large changes to their environment, such as the loss of a top predator like the baiji.
Where two worlds collide: visiting Tabin Wildlife Reserve
(02/21/2010) The vehicle stopped on the way into Tabin Wildlife Reserve as a troupe of pig-tailed macaques began making their way across the road. In a flash a domestic dog, which may or may not have been 'ownerless', ambushed the group. Chaos erupted as the big predator fell upon the community. As quickly as it began it was all over and the dog was rushing over with an infant monkey in its mouth, leaving the macaques' screeching out their helplessness. As my uncustomary welcome to Tabin Wildlife Reserve shows: the park is a meeting of two worlds. On the left side of the road leading into the reserve is a massive oil palm plantation, on the right is the rainforest and the many species the reserve protects. Tabin, therefore, gives the visitor a unique up-close view of the debate raging in Borneo and throughout much of Southeast Asia over conservation and environment versus oil palm plantations.
Forgotten Species: the fiery Luristan Newt
(02/08/2010) The salamander was a mythical creature before it was a real one: the word salamander means a legendary lizard that both survived-in and could extinguish fire. A creature that the Ancient Greeks, including Aristotle, appeared to readily believe in. No one knows how the term salamander transferred from a mythical fire-dwelling monster to the small amphibious animals it applies to today, but I have a theory. Perhaps the sight of salamanders like Luristan newt—charcoal-black and flame-orange—caused people in the seventeenth century to lend the name of myth to the taxa.
Pet dealer won't regain custody of 26,000 animals seized during raid
(02/02/2010) U.S. Global Exotics, an exotic pet dealer accused of animal cruelty and linked with a notorious wildlife smuggler based in Malaysia, will not be getting back of the 26,000 animals seized from their facility during a raid on December 15th, reports the Star-Telegram.
Photos: New tropical frog undergoes remarkable transformation
(02/01/2010) Nature never runs out of surprises. Exploring Sudest Island off of Papua New Guinea, researchers discovered a new species of frog that drastically changes its appearance from juvenile to adulthood, a transformation that has never been seen in another frog.The new species, named Oreophryne ezra, is shiny black with bright yellow spots. Yet when it matures, the frog becomes rose-colored and even its eyes change from black to blue.
Coup leaders sell out Madagascar's forests, people
(01/27/2010) Madagascar is renowned for its biological richness. Located off the eastern coast of southern Africa and slightly larger than California, the island has an eclectic collection of plants and animals, more than 80 percent of which are found nowhere else in the world. But Madagascar's biological bounty has been under siege for nearly a year in the aftermath of a political crisis which saw its president chased into exile at gunpoint; a collapse in its civil service, including its park management system; and evaporation of donor funds which provide half the government's annual budget. In the absence of governance, organized gangs ransacked the island's biological treasures, including precious hardwoods and endangered lemurs from protected rainforests, and frightened away tourists, who provide a critical economic incentive for conservation. Now, as the coup leaders take an increasingly active role in the plunder as a means to finance an upcoming election they hope will legitimize their power grab, the question becomes whether Madagascar’s once highly regarded conservation system can be restored and maintained.
Natural rafts carried Madagascar's unique wildlife to its shores
(01/20/2010) Imagine, forty million years ago a great tropical storm rises up on the eastern coast of Africa. Hundreds of trees are blown over and swept out to sea, but one harbors something special: inside a dry hollow rests a small lemur-like primate. Currents carry this tree and its passenger hundreds of miles until one gray morning it slides onto a faraway, unknown beach. The small mammal crawls out of its hollow and waddles, hungry and thirsty, onto the beach. Within hours, amid nearby tropical forests, it has found the sustenance it needs to survive: in a place that would one day be named Madagascar.
Photos: park in Ecuador likely contains world’s highest biodiversity, but threatened by oil
(01/19/2010) In the midst of a seesaw political battle to save Yasuni National Park from oil developers, scientists have announced that this park in Ecuador houses more species than anywhere else in South America—and maybe the world. "Yasuní is at the center of a small zone where South America's amphibians, birds, mammals, and vascular plants all reach maximum diversity," Dr. Clinton Jenkins of the University of Maryland said in a press release. "We dubbed this area the 'quadruple richness center.'"
Photos: expedition in Ecuador reveals numerous new species in threatened cloud forest
(01/14/2010) An expedition into rainforests on Ecuador's coast by Reptile & Amphibian Ecology International (RAEI) have revealed a number of possible new species including a blunt-snouted, slug-eating snake; four stick insects; and up to 30 new 'rain' frogs. The blunt-snouted snake, which feeds on gastropods like slugs, is especially interesting, as its closest relative is in Peru, 350 miles away. In addition, a fifteen-year-old volunteer with the organization found a snake that specializes on snails. The researchers are unsure of this is a new species: the closest similar snake is 600 miles away in Panama.
World of Avatar: in real life
(01/13/2010) A number of media outlets are reporting a new type of depression: you could call it the Avatar blues. Some people seeing the new blockbuster film report becoming depressed afterwards because the world of Avatar, sporting six-legged creatures, flying lizards, and glowing organisms, is not real. Yet, to director James Cameron's credit, the alien world of Pandora is based on our own biological paradise—Earth. The wonders of Avatar are all around us, you just have to know where to look.
Starving hyenas kill and eat 12-foot-long python during drought
(01/05/2010) Members with the conservation group Lion Guardians stumbled on a rare site in the Amboseli area of Kenya recently: six hyenas and a number of jackals were attacking and eating a 12-foot-long python. On their blog at WildlifeDirect, Lion Guardians describe the attack: "[the hyenas and jackals] tore into its body from the back, and were taking their share while the upper part of the python was still alive! The Lion Guardian team was shocked and surprised at the same time, having never seen anything like it before."
Gone: a look at extinction over the past decade
(01/03/2010) No one can say with any certainty how many species went extinct from 2000-2009. Because no one knows if the world's species number 3 million or 30 million, it is impossible to guess how many known species—let alone unknown—may have vanished recently. Species in tropical forests and the world's oceans are notoriously under-surveyed leaving gaping holes where species can vanish taking all of their secrets—even knowledge of their existence—with them.
Bridge development in Kalimantan threatens rainforest, mangroves, and coral reef
(01/03/2010) Balikpapan Bay in East Kalimantan is home to an incredible variety of ecosystems: in the shallow bay waters endangered dugong feed on sea grasses and salt water crocodiles sleep; along the bay proboscis monkeys leap among mangroves thirty meters tall and Irrawaddy dolphins roam; beyond the mangroves lies the Sungai Wain Protection forest; here, the Sunda clouded leopard hunts, sun bears climb into the canopy searching for fruits and nuts, and a reintroduced population of orangutans makes their nests; but this wilderness, along with all of its myriad inhabitants, is threatened by a plan to build a bridge and road connecting the towns of Penajam and Balikpapan.
Uninhabited tropical island paradise seeks REDD funding to save it from loggers
(12/17/2009) Tetepare may be one of the last tropical island paradises left on earth. Headhunting and a mysterious illness drove its original inhabitants from the island two hundred years ago, making Tetepare today the largest uninhabited island in the tropical Pacific. The 120 square kilometer island (46 square miles), long untouched by industry or agriculture, is currently threatened by logging interests. However, the island is not without champions: in 2002 descendents of the original inhabitants of Tetepare formed the Tetepare Descendents Association (TDA) to preserve the island. Recently they have teamed up with the Solomon Islands Government and the Solomon Islands Community Conservation Partnership to develop financing through REDD.
Extinctions on the rise in the Galapagos: fishing and global warming devastating islands' species
(12/03/2009) We may never see again the Galapagos black-spotted damselfish, the beautiful 24-rayed sunstar, or the Galapagos stringweed. These species from Galapagos waters may all very well be extinct. Other species are on the brink, such as the Galapagos penguin and the Floreana cup coral. A new report in Global Change Biology reveals that in just a matter of decades, overfishing and climate change has devastated the Galapagos' unique and famous ecosystems.
Not just the polar bear: ten American species that are feeling the heat from global warming
(12/01/2009) A new report, America’s Hottest Species, highlights a variety of American wildlife that are currently threatened by climate change from a small bird to a coral reef to the world’s largest marine turtle.
Guyana expedition finds biodiversity trove in area slated for oil and gas development, an interview with Robert Pickles
(11/29/2009) An expedition deep into Guyana's rainforest interior to find the endangered giant river otter—and collect their scat for genetic analysis—uncovered much more than even this endangered charismatic species. "Visiting the Rewa Head felt like we were walking in the footsteps of Wallace and Bates, seeing South America with its natural density of wild animals as it would have appeared 150 years ago," expedition member Robert Pickles said to Mongabay.com.
Photo of new chameleon species discovered in Tanzania
(11/23/2009) Researchers have discovered a new species of chameleon in southern Tanzania.
Extinct goat was "similar to crocodiles"
(11/16/2009) It sounds like something out of Greek mythology: a half-goat, half-reptilian creature. But researchers have discovered that an extinct species of goat, the Balearic Island cave goat or Myotragus balearicus, survived in nutrient-poor Mediterranean islands by evolving reptilian-specific characteristics. The goat, much like crocodiles, was able to grow at flexible rates, stopping growth entirely when food was scant. This adaptation—never before seen in a mammal—allowed the species to survive for five million years before being driven to extinction only 3,000 years ago, likely by human hunters.
DNA uncovers nearly extinct Siamese crocodiles in captivity
(11/15/2009) The Critically Endangered Siamese crocodile, once believed to be extinct in the wild, received some uplifting news this week. DNA testing of 69 rescued crocodiles at Phnom Tama Wildlife Rescue Center (PTWRC) in Cambodia found 35 purebred Siamese crocodiles.
Reptiles underrepresented on the IUCN Red List
(11/04/2009) Currently there are an estimated nearly 9,000 reptiles in the world, while the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List has assessed all of the world's described mammals, birds, and amphibians, reptiles have yet to be fully assessed, leaving herpetologists with an unclear picture of how reptiles are faring in the world. Currently, 1,677 reptiles have been assessed (less than 20 percent of the total number of reptile species known) with 293 added this year.
The Yangtze River may have lost another inhabitant: the Chinese paddlefish
(10/22/2009) In December of 2006 it was announced that the Yangtze River dolphin, commonly known as the baiji, had succumbed to extinction. The dolphin had survived on earth for 20 million years, but the species couldn't survive the combined onslaught of pollution, habitat loss, boat traffic, entanglement in fishing hooks, death from illegal electric fishing, and the construction of several massive dams. Now, another flagship species of the Yangtze River appears to have vanished.
Scientists uncover mystery of how frog plague kills its victims
(10/22/2009) One hundred and twenty species of frogs are reported to have gone extinct since 1980 (although the number is likely even higher). While devastated by habitat loss, pollution, and climate change, a baffling disease may be the biggest factor behind the alarming extinctions of frogs. Called chytridiomycosis, the disease is caused by the microscopic fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis which kills its tiny victims indiscriminately.
Present day tropical plant families survived in warmer, wetter tropics 58 million years ago
(10/18/2009) Fifty eight million years ago the tropical rainforests of South America shared many similarities with today's Neotropical forests, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Looking at over 2,000 fossils in Colombia from one of the world's largest open pit coal mines, scientists were able to recreate for the first time the structure of a long vanished rainforest. One inhabited by a titanic snake, giant turtles, and crocodile-like reptiles.
New killer snake invades Florida
(09/22/2009) A new invasive python in Florida may be worse than the species already causing ecological havoc across the Everglades, reports the Miami Herald.
Employing dogs to save endangered species and places, an interview with Megan Parker
(09/21/2009) For millennia dogs have been helpers to humans: they have herded and protected livestock, pulled sleds, hunted game, led the blind, located people after disasters, and sniffed out drugs. Now a new occupation can be added: conservation aide. Working Dogs for Conservation (WDC) was begun by Megan Parker in 2000: the idea, to use dogs' impeccable scent capabilities for conservation initiatives, appears so logical and useful when Parker talks about it, one is surprised it took environmentalists so long to realize the potential of dogs.
Photos: new gecko discovered on bizarre and beautiful Socotra island
(09/10/2009) Lying in the Indian Ocean half way between Somalia and Yemen, the strange island archipelagos of Socotra offer a bewildering array of life found no where else on Earth. Thirty seven percent of its plant species, ninety percent of its reptiles, and ninety-five percent of its snail species are endemic. Now biologists can add a new species to this list. Italian researchers unraveled the mystery of a gecko named Hemidactylus inintellectus. Inintellectus translates to 'misunderstood', since the gecko, which is common on the island, was consistently confused with other species.
South Korea's frogs have avoided amphibian crisis so far, an interview with Pierre Fidenci
(09/09/2009) Frogs are on the edge. Blasted by habitat loss, pollution, and a terrible disease, the chytrid fungus, species are vanishing worldwide and those that remain are clinging to existence, rather than thriving. However, an interview with Pierre Fidenci, President of Endangered Species International (ESI), proves that there are still areas of the world where amphibians remain in abundance. South Korea is not a country that is talked about frequently in conservation circles. Other nations in the region attract far more attention, such as Malaysia and Indonesia. But it was just this neglect that drove Pierre Fidenci to visit the nation and survey the amphibians there.
New species everywhere in Papua New Guinea's 'lost' volcano
(09/07/2009) A five week expedition into a remote extinct volcano has uncovered a treasure trove of new species in Papua New Guinea, including what may be the world's largest rat, a fanged frog, and a grunting fish. In all the expedition estimates it may have found around forty species unknown to science. The expedition was undertaken by a BBC film crew and scientists in January. Local trackers led them into the unexplored jungle, hidden beneath the Bosavi volcano's 2,800 meter summit. Six months prior to arrival, fields of spinach and sweet potato were planted to feed the expedition in such a remote area.
Save the frogs, save ourselves
(09/04/2009) Amphibians are going extinct around the globe. As a scientist specializing in frogs, I have watched dozens of species of these creatures die out. The extinction of frogs and salamanders might seem unimportant, but the reality couldn't be farther from the truth. Indeed, from regulating their local ecosystems, to consuming and controlling the population of mosquitoes and other insects that spread disease, to potentially pointing the way to new drugs for fighting diseases such as cancer or HIV-AIDS, the fate of these creatures is inexorably linked to our own.
Critically-endangered turtle seen in the wild for the first time by scientists
(09/03/2009) Scientists have stumbled on the Arakan forest turtle for the first time in the wild, according to a report by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). One of the world's rarest turtles, the Arakan forest turtle was thought to be extinct for 86 years, before being discovered in an Asian food market in 1994. It has never before been observed in the wild by scientists. A team with WCS found five of the Critically Endangered turtles in a wildlife sanctuary in Myanmar (also known as Burma). The rarely-visited sanctuary was originally created to protect Asian elephants.
Gold mining threatens world's most infamous reptile, the Komodo dragon
(08/24/2009) A row has taken off in Indonesia over whether or not to allow gold mining near Komodo National Park, home to the infamous, venomous, and largest of all lizards, the Komodo dragon. Eight mines have currently been proposed, several have already begun exploratory work. Critics of the gold mines contend that the mining threatens the ecology of the park and the Komodo dragon, listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN.
50 of the world’s most endangered crocodiles released into the wild in the Philippines
(08/18/2009) The wild population of the Critically Endangered Philippine crocodile Crocodylus mindorensis has just received a very welcome boost. Fifty crocodiles have been released into Dicatian Lake, Isabela Province on Luzon Island.
Pesticide use linked to dying frogs in California
(08/13/2009) Pesticides used by farmers in California's Central Valley could be killing frogs in the Sierra mountains, report researchers.
Photos: hundreds of new species discovered in Himalayan region, threatened by climate change
(08/10/2009) Scientists from a variety of organizations have found over 350 new species in the Eastern Himalayas, including a flying frog, the world’s smallest deer, and a gecko which has walked the earth for 100-million-years, according to a new report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The report, entitled Where World’s Collide, warns that these rare biological treasures, as well as numerous other species, are threatened in the Eastern Himalayas by climate change.
Despite legal protection, Indian turtles are poached for restaurant trade
(08/10/2009) Despite being accorded the highest level of protection under Indian law, soft shell turtles are regularly trafficked in Kerala for the restaurant trade, report researchers writing in in the journal Tropical Conservation Science.
Photo: Scientists discover new species of Komodo dragon-like lizard
(07/21/2009) German researchers have discovered a new species of monitor lizard in Indonesia using DNA analysis and morphological characteristics. The species, Varanus lirungensis, is described in the Australian Journal of Zoology.
Florida announces python hunt following snake invasion
(07/16/2009) Florida has authorized a cull of Burmese pythons that have invaded the Everglades and other wetland areas, reports the Associated Press.
Photo: Salamander is first 4-legged animal discovered in U.S. in 50 years
(07/09/2009) Researchers have discovered one of the world's smallest salamanders in a road-side creek in Georgia. The amphibian is so unique that it represents the first new genus of four-legged animal discovered in the United States in 50 years.
Rainforest discovered via Google Earth to be protected
(06/29/2009) Mozambique has agreed to protect a tract of highland forest discovered by scientists using Google Earth, reports The Guardian.
Photos: treasure trove of new species discovered in Ecuador
(06/16/2009) Near the once-contentious border of Ecuador and Peru in the mountainous forests of the Cordillera del Condor, scientists from Conservation International (CI) conducted a Rapid Assessment Program (RAP), uncovering what they believe are several new species, including four amphibians, one lizard, and seven insects. The team focused on the Upper Nanharitza River Basin, which has been geologically isolated from the rest of the Andes, giving it broad potential for new species.
World’s rarest tortoises stolen
(06/08/2009) Four of the world's rarest tortoises have been stolen from a captive breeding program in Madagascar. The critically endangered animals were part of a group of 44 due for release by the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and were being held in pre-release enclosures at a secret location. The Trust fears the stolen ploughshare tortoises are destined for Europe, USA or Asia where collectors will pay thousands of dollars for individuals due to the rarity of the species. It is estimated that only 500 adults remain in the wild and they are only found in Baly Bay national park, where the tortoises were taken from. After extensive investigations in the area arrests have been made but the tortoises are yet to be recovered.
Photos: top 10 species discovered in 2008
(05/22/2009) Scientists documented 18,516 previously unknown species in 2007, report researchers from the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University, who also unveiled the "top 10 new species" described in 2008. The "top 10" species include a pea-sized seahorse, caffeine-free coffee, bacteria that live in hairspray, a tiny snake, a two foot long insect from Malaysia, a fossilized specimen of the oldest known live-bearing vertebrate, a snail whose shell twists around four axes, a ghost slug from Wales, a deep blue damselfish, and a palm that flowers itself to death.
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