This week at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, one of the new additions to the rhino family, Wallis, a Southern White Rhino from South Africa, revealed a harsh reality of what is happening to her species throughout Africa. Wallis has been at the Park for just over a year and since her arrival has been exhibiting a wound that just wouldn’t heal. This week keepers noticed something sticking out of her skin at the site of the wound. Vets were called in and removed a bullet casing! Discovery of the bullet suggests a botched poaching attempt. Based on the angle of the wound, vets speculate that the rhino turned toward her shooter before being shot saving her life but leaving her with a stark reminder of the current plight of her species.
Park staff tried to determine the extent of the wound and find the lead from the bullet but traditional equipment wasn’t strong enough to penetrate the rhino’s thick skin. The San Diego Fire-Rescue Bomb Squad was called in and using a device used to conduct investigations of explosive devices, they confirmed the presence of a metal fragment (likely the bullet). The next step will be removing the bullet but, in the meantime, the casing will be sent to a forensic lab to be included in investigations to aid in the fight against poaching in Africa.
Wallis is a very special addition to the Park’s rhino family. She is as part of the Park's White Rhino breeding program planned to be a surrogate for the critically endangered Northern White Rhino whose only remaining females are all too old to breed.
The innovative part of this analysis was the addition of a comparison to other species who are recognized to have subspecies and show similar Sub-Saharan population distribution. The study identified 46 animals that show a distinction between West/Central African and East/Southern Africa populations. While some animals are recognized as being more than one species – known as a complex – such as Baboon (5), Rock hyrax (5) and Oryx (3), others are species separated into subspecies, such as Giraffe (9; below), Black (4) and White (2) Rhino, and Caracal (8). Only 13 of the 46 animals aren’t separated between West/Central and East/Southern, including the lion, according to CITES.
The ESA classification is a little closer to demonstrating the Sub-Saharan distribution taxonomically by clumping the West/Central population with the Asiatic population. However, based on these results, lions may be able to be classified even more specifically. Hopefully my research will be able to shed a little more light on this. The help Laura is giving me to continue this investigation is immeasurable.
In case you forgot, today is also National S'more Day and I just bought this....
from San Diego based online marshmallow shop Mallow Mallow.
And they can be blonde, cheerleaders too! (shocking)
It’s happening again. Animal rights activists are putting up a stink about a female hunter posting photos of her trophies on social media. Last year it was Melissa Bachman posting a photo on Twitter and now it’s Kendall Jones and her Facebook page. Men post photos of themselves with their trophies all the time but, apparently, it’s only worthy of making an uproar and creating ridiculous petitions when an attractive female does it. As soon as I heard this was happening again, I had to investigate. What is the real issue here? That she’s hunting? That she’s a she? Or is it that she’s an attractive she who is about to be the host of her own TV show and, therefore, was deemed as an adequate target by some conniving activist to be used as an example for their agenda?
So here’s what I have to say to the people who are thinking of signing these petitions: Leave this poor girl alone. Hunting may not be something you like and you may not be able to identify with the hunter’s motivation but, like it or not, hunting is an integral part of conservation when it comes to things like wildlife management and funding research. And by signing that petition, you’re not aiding in conservation, you’re just taking a 19-year-old’s photo off Facebook. #SupportKendall
I have hinted in a couple of past posts about a big adventure I will be having this year. And, now that all the plans are officially finalized and everything is paid for, I can share the big news.
Three weeks from today I will be arriving in Africa for a three week adventure throughout South Africa and Namibia.
I will be spending two weeks in Nelspruit, South Africa with Wildlife Vets learning about wildlife conservation medicine, then, post course, I will be spending an extra week traveling South Africa and Namibia with Dr. Derr meeting with professional hunter organizations to discuss some ongoing research projects. I might even have the chance to go hunting myself (eek!).
Also, check out their official website: conservationdrones.org
In honor of Jurassic Park opening in 3D today, I thought I would share with everyone the new developments in science which could make this science fiction, science fact. While it will be a LONG time (if ever) until we will be able to clone a T-rex, it is a very real possibility that we will be able to clone more recently extinct animals to create an “insert time period here” park.
Natural decay rates make it impossible to retrieve the whole genome of animals that went extinct tens of millions of years ago but animals that have gone extinct within the past 50,000 years or less could contain enough viable DNA to piece together a fully sequenced genome. The ability to bring back extinct animals is so within reach there was a TEDx conference held in Washington D.C. on March 15th of this year where they discussed the ethics of “De-Extinction.”
After the successful, yet very short lived, cloning of an extinct Ibex in 2003, scientists have been improving and perfecting the process. Now, cloning the megafauna which went extinct during the last ice age is no longer just conjecture. After finding well-preserved mammoths in the Siberian tundra, scientists at the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation in Seoul teamed up with mammoth experts from a university in Siberia to find mammoth tissue buried in the cliffs of the Permafrost. From the bone marrow, hair, skin and fat they found, the scientists are looking for a live cell they can reprogram to grow into an embryo cell then clone. If they can’t find a live, viable cell, their next plan of action is going to be to transfer a mammoth nucleus into an emptied elephant egg cell. But, even if they found a viable cell today, we are still a number of years away from a mammoth being born. After implantation into an elephant surrogate, it would still be 2+ years before any offspring would grace us with its presence (elephant gestation is 645 days).
But, even though the ten year old inside of me thinks this is the COOLEST idea ever, however amazing it would be to see a real, live mammoth, saber-toothed cat or Jefferson’s sloth, what’s the real purpose other than pure entertainment value? There was a reason these species went extinct 10,000 years ago and, while humans may have been a factor and some people may feel “responsible”, we have to remember, it’s been 10,000 years. The ecosystem has had a chance to adapt, change and evolve. Adding those megafauna back into the mix could end up causing more problems than solving. The list of objections and potential conflicts far outweighs the perceived benefits, and this is without adding de-extinction into the equation. But, just because I don’t think a mammoth should be brought back to life, doesn’t mean this research is for not. While I believe it is more important for us as intellectual beings to focus our efforts on pre-extinction than de-extinction, I CAN see the benefits of being able to bring back a species which has recently been wiped off the earth because of human thoughtlessness. Would this research make it possible to see a western black rhino, which was declared extinct only a year and a half ago, on the plains of Africa again? It will be interesting to see where this research takes us in the next decade whether its to a Pleistocene Park or a new population of rhinos in Africa.
A recent study published in the 'Biotropica' journal has revealed that megaherbivores, such as elephants and rhinoceroses, are essential in maintaining the biodiversity of the tropical rainforests of South-East Asia, suggesting they be protected and even reintroduced into areas where have disappeared due to illegal human activity. The megaherbivores’ ability to disperse seeds from the flora they consume far exceeds the abilities of smaller seed-dispersing herbivores, making them an important factor contributing to the structural integrity of the rainforest and the variety found within that type of environment. The tight quarters due to the density of plant species within the rainforest make it difficult for the plants to disperse their seeds themselves so they rely on animals to aide in their dispersal. But plants, such as the mango tree, whose seeds are very large cannot rely on smaller animals to distribute their seeds. Elephants and rhinos are special in that they ingest the whole fruit, seeds and all, and digest them slowly and inefficiently. So, when they poop (it always comes back to poop!), most of the seeds come out and they come out virtually unharmed. This allows them to disperse the seeds across the forests, helping to solve the forest’s own density issue.
The underlying message of the study is to stop illegal hunting. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says that the elephants of South-East Asia are in “danger of extinction” and the two rhinoceros species are “critically endangered”. Elephant and rhino populations world-wide, not just in Asia, are drastically decreasing. The Western Black Rhino of Africa was officially declared extinct on November 10, 2011 with the Northern White Rhino of central Africa “possibly extinct” in the wild and the Javan Rhino in Vietnam “probably extinct” (MSNBC). It is heart wrenching that within the last year we have seen three species of Megafauna go extinct. Every animal has a profound effect on the environment in which they live; otherwise, they wouldn’t have adapted to be there. It’s a shame we have to “discover” why they are important to find it necessary to preserve them.
I am a biologist and my life is crap!