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News articles on megafauna
Mongabay.com news articles on megafauna in blog format. Updated regularly.
The triumph of the bison: Europe's biggest animal bounces back a century after vanishing
(05/12/2015) On a path flanked by thick woods, I first spied our quarry. When she appeared, far away between the long verticals of bare trees, I could hardly believe she was there. She was a ghost, a specter haunting this winter forest. Her horns were prettily curved, her face slender, her whole 400 kilogram (880 pound) mass framed by the trees.
Ongoing overkill: loss of big herbivores leading to 'empty landscapes'
(05/01/2015) Ten thousand years from now, human historians—or alien ones—may view the current wave of biodiversity loss and extinctions as concurrent with the Pleistocene extinction. At that time, peaking around 11,000 years ago, many scientists argue that human hunters killed off the majority of the world's big species. According to a paper today in history may be repeating itself.
Elephant poaching rate unchanged – and still devastating
(03/25/2015) New figures show essentially no change in the number of elephants killed in Africa by poachers last year, despite a high-profile meeting on the crisis which was attended by 46 countries and a number of commitments. Data from CITES' Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) estimated that around 20,000 elephants were killed in 2014, the same as in 2013.
Arctic upheaval: new book outlines challenges at the top of the world
(02/16/2015) For most of us, the Arctic is not at the front of our minds. We view it as cold, stark, and, most importantly, distant. Yet, even in an age of vast ecological upheaval, one could argue that no biome in the world is changing so rapidly or so irrevocably. Two hundred plus years of burning fossil fuels has warmed up the top of our planet more quickly than anywhere else.
Sabah shocked by banteng poaching
(02/16/2015) Malaysia's Daily Express recently published graphic photos of poachers in the Malaysian state of Sabah posing proudly with a number of illegally slaughtered large animals, including the incredibly rare and cryptic banteng. Wild, forest cattle, banteng are scattered across parts of Southeast Asia, but Borneo is home to a distinct subspecies: Bos javanicus lowi.
Videos: new film series highlights bringing Gorongosa back to life
(01/29/2015) Tracking lions, photographing bats, collecting insects, bringing elephants home: it's all part of a day's work in Gorongosa National Park. This vast wilderness in Mozambique was ravaged by civil war. However, a unique and ambitious 20-year-effort spearheaded by Greg Carr through the Gorongosa Restoration Project is working to restore this rich and little-studied African wilderness.
1,215 rhinos butchered in South Africa in 2014
(01/22/2015) 1,215: that's the total number of rhinos butchered last year in South Africa for their horns. The number represents another annual record—the seventh in a row—topping last year's total by 195 rhinos. South Africa houses the bulk of the world's rhinos (around 80 percent), but has also become the center of the illegal poaching trade.
California introduces bill to close ivory loophole
(01/08/2015) California congresswoman, Toni G. Atkins, introduced a bill yesterday (AB 96) that would close a major loophole allowing ivory to be sold all over the state. Thousands of miles away, across Africa, poachers are decimating elephants for their ivory tusks. A recent study estimated that one fifth of the continent's elephants have been slaughtered in just three years.
How black rhinos and local communities help each other in Namibia
(01/07/2015) Africa's rhinos are in a state of crisis. Poaching for their horn has resulted in the deaths of thousands of animals and pushed the continent's two species—the white and black rhino—against the wall. Yet, despite the crisis, there are pockets of rhino territory where poaching remains rare and rhinos live comparatively unmolested. Indeed, one of the brightest spots for rhinos is in Namibia.
Man plants forest, becomes film star
(11/14/2014) Jadav “Molai” Payeng is a 51-year-old man who lives in India’s north-eastern state of Assam in the village of Aruna Chapori. A member of Assam’s indigenous Mising tribe, Payeng is better known as the “Forest Man" for spending the last 35 years planting a forest bigger than New York City's Central Park.
One man plants forest larger than Central Park
(11/13/2014) Jadav “Molai” Payeng resides in northeast Assam’s Jorhat district in the village of Aruna Chapori. Here, for the past 35 years, he has worked to plant trees on a sandbar island in the river near his home—and in the process, single-handedly established a forest larger than New York City’s Central Park.
It only took 2,500 people to kill off the world's biggest birds
(11/10/2014) The first settlers of New Zealand killed off nine species of giant birds, known as moas, with a population no bigger than a few thousand people, according to new research published in Nature Communications. The biggest moas stood up to 3.6 meters (12 feet) tall, making these mega-birds the largest animals in the country and contenders for the biggest birds ever.
The only solution for polar bears: 'stop the rise in CO2 and other greenhouse gases'
(10/08/2014) Steven Amstrup, Chief Scientist for Polar Bears International, has worked diligently on polar bears for over 30 years. He radio-collared some of the first bears and discovered that annual activity areas for 75 tracked females averaged at a stunning 149,000 square kilometers. His recent work highlighted the cost of global warming to these incredible animals and the sea ice they so closely depend on.
Photos: Czech Republic publicly burns confiscated rhino horns
(10/06/2014) Late last month, armed guards escorted officials marching 60 kilograms (132 pounds) of rhino horns to a pyre for burning. The event, at the Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic, was the first public burning of rhino horns in Europe. The Czech Republic burned the horns, which came from a government stockpile as well as from past rhinos held at the zoo, in a bid to help conserve rhinos.
What makes the jaguar the ultimate survivor? New books highlights mega-predator's remarkable past and precarious future
(10/02/2014) For thousands of years the jaguar was a God, then it was vermin to be destroyed, and today it is the inspiration for arguably the most ambitious conservation effort on the planet. A new book by renowned big cat conservationist, Alan Rabinowitz, tells this remarkable story from the jaguar's evolutionary origins in Asia to its re-emergence today as a cultural and ecological symbol.
20 percent of Africa's elephants killed in three years
(08/19/2014) Around 100,000 elephants were killed by poachers for their ivory on the African continent in just three years, according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Between 2010 and 2012 an average of 6.8 percent of the elephant population was killed annually, equaling just over 20 percent of the continent's population in that time.
Want to save Africa's elephants? Close all ivory markets
(08/07/2014) The only way to save the long-suffering elephants of Africa is to close every ivory market on the planet and destroy all ivory stockpiles, according to a bold new essay in Conservation Biology. Written by Elizabeth Bennett, the Vice President for Species Conservation at the Wildlife Conservation Society, the paper is likely to prove controversial.
Desperate measures: researchers say radical approaches needed to beat extinctions
(07/24/2014) Today, in the midst of what has been termed the “Sixth Great Extinction” by many in the scientific community, humans are contributing to dizzying rates of species loss and ecosystem changes. A new analysis suggests the time may have come to start widely applying intensive, controversial methods currently used only as “last resort” strategies to save the word’s most imperiled species.
On babies and motherhood: how giant armadillos are surprising scientists (photos)
(07/01/2014) Until ten years ago scientist's knowledge of the reproductive habits of the giant armadillo— the world's biggest— were basically regulated to speculation. But a long-term research project in the Brazilian Pantanal is changing that: last year researchers announced the first ever photos of a baby giant armadillo and have since recorded a second birth from another female.
Grenades, helicopters, and scooping out brains: poachers decimate elephant population in park
(06/15/2014) Over the last two months, poachers have killed 68 African elephants in Garamba National Park representing around four percent of the population. Poachers have used helicopters, grenades, and chainsaws to undertake their gruesome trade, and, for the first time, the park has recorded that the criminals are removing the elephant's brains in addition to tusks and genitals.
Despite poaching, Indian rhino population jumps by 27 percent in eight years
(06/10/2014) The world's stronghold for Indian rhinos—the state of Assam—has seen its population leap by 27 percent since 2006, despite a worsening epidemic of poaching that has also seen 156 rhinos killed during the same period. According to a new white paper, the population of Indian rhinos in Assam hit 2,544 this year.
Featured video: elephant advocates ask Antiques Roadshow to stop appraising ivory
(04/30/2014) The 96 Elephants campaign has asked the television program, Antiques Roadshow, to stop airing appraisals of ivory, even if it is antique. To help convince the PBS program, the campaign produced a satiric video capturing not the worth of ivory, but its cost.
Death of young Sumatran rhino shouldn't discourage captive breeding efforts say conservationists
(04/01/2014) Just over two weeks ago, conservationists in the Malaysian state of Sabah managed to finally catch a wild Sumatran rhino female after months of failed attempts. But following such hopeful events, comes bad news thousands of miles away: a young female rhino, named Suci, died over the weekend at the Cincinnati Zoo.
Kala: the face of tigers in peril
(03/27/2014) In 1864, Walter Campbell was an officer in the British Army, stationed in India when he penned these words in his journal: "Never attack a tiger on foot—if you can help it. There are cases in which you must do so. Then face him like a Briton, and kill him if you can; for if you fail to kill him, he will certainly kill you." In a stroke of good fortune for the tiger, perceptions in India have changed drastically since Campbell's time. Tiger hunting is now banned and conservationists are usually able to rescue the big cats if they become stranded while navigating increasingly human-occupied areas. But is this enough to save the tiger?
Meet Iman: the Sumatran rhino's newest hope for survival
(03/24/2014) Hopes for one of the world's most imperiled megafauna rose this month when wildlife conservationists succeeded in catching a female Sumatran rhino named Iman in the Malaysian state of Sabah. The female, which experts believe to be fertile, has since been successfully transferred via helicopter to the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary where experts plan to mate her with the local male, Tam. Located in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary is an uncompleted semi-wild enclosure and home to one of several last-ditch efforts to save the vanishing species from extinction.
Blame humans: new research proves people killed off New Zealand's giant birds
(03/17/2014) Moas were a diverse group of flightless birds that ruled over New Zealand up to the arrival of humans, the biggest of these mega-birds stood around 3.5 meters (12 feet) with outstretched neck. While the whole moa family—comprised of nine species—vanished shortly after the arrival of people on New Zealand in the 13th Century, scientists have long debated why the big birds went extinct. Some theories contend that the birds were already in decline due to environmental changes or volcanic activity before humans first stepped on New Zealand's beaches. But a study released today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) finds no evidence of said decline, instead pointing the finger squarely at us.
Conservationists catch wild Sumatran rhino, raising hope for world's most endangered rhinoceros
(03/12/2014) Conservationists have succeeded in catching a wild Sumatran rhino in the Malaysia state of Sabah in Borneo, according to local media reports. Officials are currently transferring the rhino, an unnamed female, to a rhino sanctuary in Tabin National Park where experts will attempt to mate it with the resident male, Tam. The Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is one of the world's most imperiled species with less than 100 individuals left.
Palm oil plantations allegedly poison seven Critically Endangered elephants in Sumatra
(02/28/2014) Wildlife officials suspect foul play in the deaths of seven Sumatran elephants on the outskirts of Tesso Nilo National Park. Officials stumbled on the corpses of one female elephant, five young males, and one male calf in mid-February. Although the males had their tusks hacked off, the officials suspect the elephant were poisoned in revenge for disturbing illegal palm oil plantations inside the park.
Ivory trade's shocking toll: 65% of world's forest elephants killed in 12 years (warning: graphic image)
(02/12/2014) Forest elephants have suffered unprecedented butchery for their ivory tusks over the past decade, according to new numbers released by conservationists today in London. Sixty-five percent of the world's forest elephants have been slaughtered by poachers over the last dozen years, with poachers killing an astounding nine percent of the population annually. Lesser-known than their savannah cousins, a genetics study in 2010 found that forest elephants are in fact a distinct species, as far removed from savannah elephants as Asian elephants are from mammoths. These findings make the forest elephant crisis even more urgent.
Over 75 percent of large predators declining
(01/09/2014) The world's top carnivores are in big trouble: this is the take-away message from a new review paper published today in Science. Looking at 31 large-bodied carnivore species (i.e those over 15 kilograms or 33 pounds), the researchers found that 77 percent are in decline and more than half have seen their historical ranges decline by over 50 percent. In fact, the major study comes just days after new research found that the genetically-unique West African lion is down to just 250 breeding adults.
Scientists make one of the biggest animal discoveries of the century: a new tapir
(12/16/2013) In what will likely be considered one of the biggest (literally) zoological discoveries of the Twenty-First Century, scientists today announced they have discovered a new species of tapir in Brazil and Colombia. The new mammal, hidden from science but known to local indigenous tribes, is actually one of the biggest animals on the continent, although it's still the smallest living tapir. Described in the Journal of Mammology, the scientists have named the new tapir Tapirus kabomani after the name for 'tapir' in the local Paumari language: Arabo kabomani.
86 percent of big animals in the Sahara Desert are extinct or endangered
(12/03/2013) Bigger than all of Brazil, among the harshest ecosystems on Earth, and largely undeveloped, one would expect that the Sahara desert would be a haven for desert wildlife. One would anticipate that big African animals—which are facing poaching and habitat loss in other parts of the world—would thrive in this vast wilderness. But a new landmark study in Diversity and Distributions finds that the megafauna of the Sahara desert are on the verge of total collapse.
Elusive giraffe-relative - the okapi - now listed as Endangered
(11/26/2013) The discovery of the okapi shocked the world in 1901. African explorer, Henry Stanley, called it 'donkey-like,' while others thought it a new species of zebra, given the stripes. However, this notoriously-secretive rainforest ungulate proved to be the world's only living relative of the giraffe, making it one of most incredible taxonomic discoveries of the Twentieth Century as well as one of the last large-bodied mammals to be uncovered by scientists. But the future of the okapi (Okapia johnstoni) is increasingly in doubt: a new update of the IUCN Red List released today has raised the threatened level for the okapi from Vulnerable to Endangered.
Armored giant turns out to be vital ecosystem engineer
(10/24/2013) The giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus) is not called a giant for nothing: it weighs as much as a large dog and grows longer than the world's biggest tortoise. However, despite its gigantism, many people in its range—from the Amazon to the Pantanal—don't even know it exists or believe it to be more mythology than reality. This is a rare megafauna that has long eluded not only scientific study, but even basic human attention. However, undertaking the world's first long-term study of giant armadillos has allowed intrepid biologist, Arnaud Desbiez, to uncovered a wealth of new information about these cryptic creatures. Not only has Desbiez documented giant armadillo reproduction for the first time, but has also discovered that these gentle giants create vital habitats for a variety of other species.
Tapirs, drug-trafficking, and eco-police: practicing conservation amidst chaos in Nicaragua
(10/10/2013) Nicaragua is a nation still suffering from deep poverty, a free-flowing drug trade, and festering war-wounds after decades of internecine fighting. However, like any country that has been largely defined by its conflicts, Nicaragua possesses surprises that overturn conventional wisdom. Not the least of which is that the Central American country is still home to big, stunning species, including jaguars, giant anteaters, pumas, and the nation's heaviest animal, the Baird's tapir (Tapirus bairdii). Still, not surprisingly given the nation's instability, most conservationists have avoided Nicaragua. But tapir-expert Christopher Jordan, who has worked in the country for over four years, says he wouldn't have it any other way.
Nutrient deficiency in Amazon rainforest linked to megafauna extinction
(08/12/2013) Around twelve thousand of years ago, the Amazon was home to a menagerie of giant creatures: the heavily armored glyptodons, the elephant-sized ground sloth, and the rhino-like toxodons among others. But by 10,000 B.C. these monsters were largely gone, possibly due to overhunting by humans or climatic changes. There's no question that the rapid extinction of these megafauna changed the environment, but a new study in Nature Geoscience posits a novel theory: did the mass extinction of big mammals lead to nutrient deficiency, especially of nitrogen, in parts of the Amazon rainforest?
Connecting kids through elephants: innovative zoo program links children in the UK and India
(05/30/2013) You may think children in urban, northern UK have little in common with those in rural Assam, India, but educational connections are possible you just have to know where to look. In this case, an innovative education initiative at Chester Zoo has employed its five ton stars—the Asian elephants—to teach British children about life in faraway India.
Kenya getting tough on poachers, set to increase fines and jail time
(05/29/2013) The Kenyan parliament has approved emergency measures to tackle the on-going poaching crisis: last week Kenyan MPs approved legislation that should lead to higher penalties for paochers. The emergency measure passed just as Kenya Wildlife Service's (KWS) is pursuing a gang of poachers that slaughtered four rhinos over the weekend. Both rhinos and elephants have suffered heavily as poaching has escalated in Kenya and beyond.
Malaysia may be home to more Asian tapirs than previously thought (photos)
(04/23/2013) You can't mistake an Asian tapir for anything else: for one thing, it's the only tapir on the continent; for another, it's distinct black-and-white blocky markings distinguishes it from any other tapir (or large mammal) on Earth. But still little is known about the Asian tapir (Tapirus indicus), including the number surviving. However, researchers in Malaysia are working to change that: a new study for the first time estimates population density for the neglected megafauna, while another predicts where populations may still be hiding in peninsular Malaysia, including selectively-logged areas.
Bison return to Germany after 300 year absence
(04/18/2013) Earlier this month, officials took down a fence allowing the first herd of European bison (Bison bonasus) to enter the forests freely in Germany in over 300 years, reports Wildlife Extra. The small herd, consisting of just eight animals (one male, five females and two calves) will now be allowed to roam unhindered in the Rothaar Mountains as their ancestors did long ago.
Seeing the forest through the elephants: slaughtered elephants taking rainforest trees with them
(03/11/2013) Elephants are vanishing. The booming illegal ivory trade is decimating the world's largest land animal, but no place has been harder hit than the Congo basin and its forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis). The numbers are staggering: a single park in Gabon, Minkebe National Park, has seen 11,100 forest elephants killed in the last eight years; Okapi Faunal Reserve in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has lost 75 percent of its elephants in fifteen years; and a new study in PLoS ONE estimates that in total 60 percent of the world's forest elephants have been killed in the last decade alone. But what does that mean for the Congo forest?
Scientists document baby giant armadillo for first time (photos)
(02/19/2013) Despite weighing as much as full-grown human, almost nothing is known about the giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus) including its breeding and reproductive behaviors. How does mating occur? How long does pregnancy last? How many babes are typically born? Scientists are simply in the dark, but a ground-breaking study employing camera traps is beginning to change this. For the first time, scientists in the Brazilian Pantanal have documented giant armadillo breeding and the happy outcome: a baby giant armadillo.
Photos: Scientists discover tapir bonanza in the Amazon
(01/22/2013) Over 14,000 lowland tapirs (Tapirus terrestris), also known as Brazilian tapirs, roam an Amazonian landscape across Bolivia and Peru, according to new research by scientists with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Using remote camera trapping, thousands of distribution records, and interviews, the researchers estimated the abundance of lowland tapirs in the Greater Madidi-Tambopata Landscape Conservation Program made up of three national parks in Bolivia (Madidi, Pilón Lajas and Apolobamba) and two in Peru (Tambopata and Bahuaja Sonene).
Three developing nations move to ban hunting to protect vanishing wildlife
(01/21/2013) Three developing countries have recently toughened hunting regulations believing the changes will better protect vanishing species. Botswana has announced it will ban trophy hunting on public lands beginning in 2014, while Zambia has recently banned any hunting of leopards or lions, both of which are disappearing across Africa. However, the most stringent ban comes from another continent: Costa Rica—often considered one of the "greenest" countries on Earth—has recently passed a law that bans all sport hunting and trapping both inside and outside protected areas. The controversial new law is considered the toughest in the Western Hemisphere.
Asia's third largest animal may be on the rebound
(01/17/2013) Unlike Asia's largest animal (the elephant) and its second largest (the rhino), the wild yak—the third largest animal on the world's biggest continent—rarely makes headlines and is never paraded by conservation groups to garner donations. Surviving on the top of the world, in the Tibetan-Qinghai Plateau, the wild yak (Bos mutus) lives it life out in such obscurity that even scientists know almost nothing about it.
Key mammals dying off in rainforest fragments
(08/15/2012) When the Portuguese first arrived on the shores of what is now Brazil, a massive forest waited for them. Not the Amazon, but the Atlantic Forest, stretching for over 1.2 million kilometers. Here jaguars, the continent's apex predator, stalked peccaries, while tapirs waded in rivers and giant anteaters unearthed termites mounds. Here, also, the Tupi people numbered around a million people. Now, almost all of this gone: 93 percent of the Atlantic Forest has been converted to agriculture, pasture, and cities, the bulk of it lost since the 1940s. The Tupi people are largely vanished due to slavery and disease, and, according to a new study in the open access journal PLoS ONE, so are many of the forest's megafauna, from jaguars to giant anteaters.
Humans killed off magnificent Australian megafauna, flipping rainforest into savannah
(03/27/2012) The theory that humans, and not climate change, was primarily responsible for the extinction of giant marsupials in prehistoric Australia takes another step forward with a new study in Science. Exploring sediment cores for past evidence of big herbivores, researchers found that the arrival of humans coincided with the loss of a menagerie of magnificent beasts, from giant kangaroos to fearsome marsupial lions and monster birds to Komodo dragon-like reptiles. The decline of this megafauna ultimately led to ecological changes that may have caused Australia's rainforest to become savannah.
When giant coyotes roamed the Earth
(02/27/2012) Not long ago, geologically speaking, coyotes (Canis latrans) were bigger and more robust than today's animals. In the late Pleistocene, over 10,000 years ago, coyotes rivaled grey wolves (Canis lupus) in size. But, according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), coyotes shrunk significantly following the megafaunal extinction—including the disappearance of big herbivores like giant sloths and mastodons and predators like the smilodon—due to changes in prey and predator competition.
Vietnamese rhino goes extinct
(10/25/2011) In 2009 poachers shot and killed the world's last Vietnamese rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus), a subspecies of the Javan rhino, confirms a report from International Rhino Foundation (IRF) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The Vietnamese rhino was the last Javan rhino to survive on the Asian mainland and the second subspecies to vanish, following the extinction of the Indian Javan rhino (rhinoceros sondaicus inermis). The Javan rhino is the world's most imperiled rhino species with now only around 50 individuals surviving in a single park on its namesake island in Indonesia.
Loving the tapir: pioneering conservation for South America's biggest animal
(09/11/2011) Compared to some of South America's megafauna stand-out species—the jaguar, the anaconda, and the harpy eagle come to mind—the tapir doesn't get a lot of love. This is a shame. For one thing, they're the largest terrestrial animal on the South American continent: pound-for-pound they beat both the jaguar and the llama. For another they play a very significant role in their ecosystem: they disperse seeds, modify habitats, and are periodic prey to big predators. For another, modern tapirs are some of the last survivors of a megafauna family that roamed much of the northern hemisphere, including North America, and only declined during the Pleistocene extinction. Finally, for anyone fortunate enough to have witnessed the often-shy tapir in the wild, one knows there is something mystical and ancient about these admittedly strange-looking beasts.
Eastern cougar officially declared extinct
(03/02/2011) The Eastern cougar, a likely subspecies of the mountain lion, was officially declared extinct today by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, ending 38 years on the Endangered Species List (ESA). The cougar, which once roamed the Eastern US, had not been confirmed since 1930s, although sightings have been consistently reported up to the present-day.
Monster turtle killed off by man
(08/17/2010) Researchers have linked another extinction to human beings: this time of a massive prehistoric horned turtle. Prehistoric turtles in the Meiolania genus were thought to have vanished some 50,000 years ago. However, scientists have found a new species that was likely wiped out by human hunters much more recently.