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Kakapos: The Tubbiest, (Not-so) Little Bird You’ve Ever Seen

Howdy again! Today we’re going to talk about the world’s largest, flightless parrot. I’m sure many of you didn’t even know there was such a thing, because I sure as hell didn’t. The kakapo or the Strigops habroptila [1] is also known as the Owl parrot and is indigenous to New Zealand. Currently, this fancy parrot is on the IUCN’s red list, which means it is “Critically Endangered”. This is an improvement from before, as in 1996 the bird was officially labeled as “Extinct in the Wild”.

The Kakapo – which is oddly also nocturnal – is primarily a vegetarian who breeds every 2-5 years. The mating season lasts for 3 months from January to March, with male birds calling to the females each night. Interestingly, the male’s call is a low frequency boom, that can travel several kilometers! [2] (If you’d like the hear it: you can do so here [3]). Once the eggs are laid, in batches of 1-4 eggs, the female attends to the eggs and eventually chicks. Shockingly, though the females take 6-11 years to mature, the birds can live up to 90 years! [1]

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Nest containing 2 eggs and a new-born chick

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This is Manu! In this picture, he’s 18 days old. 

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Look at Manu growing up! He’s 75 days old.

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This is Alice. She’s feeding her 12-day old chick!

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Alice’s baby is growing fast! He’s 45 days old now. 

There is some speculation that the Owl Parrot is the longest-living species of bird, and originally used to be the size of a present day parrot (and used to be able to fly). However, New Zealand, the bird’s natural habitat – did not have mammals for thousands of years and thus the bird evolved to gain significant weight, lose its ability to fly, and actually became and avid hiker! [2] The Kakapo thus, used to be abundant throughout all of New Zealand without any real predators around, but after human colonization in the area, the population dropped to 18 male birds in 1976. By some small miracle, 150 additional birds were found in 1977 on a different island, which by 1988 had dropped to 61 birds. These remaining birds were transferred to different islands and in 1999, a recovery breeding program began with 50 individuals out of a population of 26 females and 36 males. From 2005 to 2009, the population increased from 86 to 114. Population numbers have been on a slow rise since then under heavy micromanagement. [1]

If you’d like to get involved and help out this (not-so) little guy, or just learn more about him, you can go to the Kakapo Recovery Program here [4].

I also highly recommend this video by “Mission Kakapo Copulation” available here [5] or here [6].

Remember, if you haven comments or questions, you can reach us at OpinionsOfANewAgeStudent@gmail.com, or at our twitter and tumblr @newagestudent.

Otherwise, I hope everyone enjoyed this adorable article and look forward to more!

Sources:

  1. http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22685245/0
  2. http://kakaporecovery.org.nz/about-kakapo/
  3. http://kakaporecovery.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/bill-boom-1.mp3
  4. http://kakaporecovery.org.nz/get-involved/
  5. http://channel.tepapa.govt.nz/video/mission-kakapo-copulation/
  6. https://youtu.be/RRSH6XeT5co
  7. http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/kakapo    ALL PHOTOS ARE FROM HERE
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Elephant Seals – Worse Than Your Akita’s Shedding

As aforementioned, I’ve currently become deeply invested in podcasts. One such podcast is “Science Friday” hosted by Ira Flatow on Public Radio International. On a recent jam-packed episode, an exciting topic came up – Elephant Seals [1]! These (not-so) little guys have been causing lots of problems for the last couple of decades; and we’re only finding out now!

First, a little bit about Elephant Seals. There are two breeds of Elephant Seals – Northern and Southern [2]. In this study, we focused on the Northern breed or Mirounga angustirostris. The Southern species is not only significantly larger, but also lives longer than its Northern counterpart. The Northern species lives only along the Pacific coast of Northern America. In terms of IUCN status, the Mirounga angustirostris is a success story! Once thought to be extinct due to over-hunting, this guy has made a comeback and is back up at around 120,000+ [3].

In case anyone was wondering why they're called

In case anyone was wondering why they’re called “Elephant” Seals… (Mirounga angustirostris)

Mirounga leonine (Southern Elephant Seal)

Mirounga leonine (Southern Elephant Seal)

Elephant Seal shedding

Elephant Seal shedding

Elephant Seal puppy

Elephant Seal puppy

For several decades, scientists have been noticing severe mercury spikes in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. The case was unknown for years until an exciting development came along in science – using DNA mapping technology to map the DNA of the ocean! What was the result? This mercury was coming from the coast? Lo and behold, we find shedding Elephant Seals on the shoreline!

During a recent study (which can be found here [4]) at UC Santa Cruz, it was discovered that during the molting season, levels of methyl-mercury – one of the most toxic forms of mercury – was 17 times higher than normal (as if it wasn’t dangerous enough in the body already). And it’s in fact precisely because of the mercury’s poisonous levels that Elephant Seals try to shed their hair. The Seals will cumulate the mercury in the hair on their bodies, and then shed the hair to rid the body of the toxin [5], in a process called Catastrophic Molting [6]!

One might ask how we know that the mercury is coming from the Elephant Seals fur and not from their feces or other fauna altogether. The answer lies in newborn Seals. Because mercury is so easily absorbed into the system of living creatures, it stands to reason that pregnant mothers would “infect” their unborn children as well. In fact, pups born to contaminated mothers showed high levels of methyl-mercury in their “natal coal” or the hair that they are born with [7]. So, we can extrapolate that the seals coat is to blame for increased ocean methyl-mercury levels.

Now you might not think that this is a problem, but the mercury in the hair gets washed up back into the oceans, digested by microbes in the water, and moves its way back up the food chain, until it may have serious consequences for humans, Elephant Seals, and the ecosystem overall. The levels found around Seal molting grounds are higher than those found in highly urbanized, contaminated coastal towns. This problem is further accentuated by the fact that industrial pollutants in the water have already significantly increased mercury levels in the oceans.

What makes the situation worse is that mercury doesn’t degrade either, which means that overtime, it’s going to concentrate itself more heavily at the top of the food chain, with unknown consequences. This process is known as biomagnification.

So, do we know anything? Well, yes. We know the harmful effects that methyl-mercury has on the human body. According to the EPA, methyl-mercury has significant effects on humans, including but not limited to: neurological development in infants, “impairment of the peripheral vision; disturbances in sensations (“pins and needles” feelings, usually in the hands, feet, and around the mouth); lack of coordination of movements; impairment of speech, hearing, walking; and muscle weakness” [8] and even potentially death. One such extreme case of mercury poisoning was in Japan, from 1932 to 1968 [9]. A factory that produced acetic acid discharged its waste into Minamata Bay, where nearby residents consumed contaminated shellfish for years. What was eventually known as Minamata disease caused “brain damage, paralysis, incoherent speech and delirium” in over 50,000 local residents.

So, how do we stop all of this? Scientists aren’t quite sure, but one thing is for sure: we need to reduce our pollutant footprint if we want to keep these cute guys around, and other apex predators; especially if we want a chance of surviving a healthy human life, for us and generations to come.

Sources:

  1. http://www.sciencefriday.com/segment/09/11/2015/testing-ocean-dna-americans-pass-a-science-quiz-and-polar-bear-diets.html
  2. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/elephant-seal/
  3. http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/pinnipeds/northernelephantseal.htm
  4. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2015/09/02/1506520112
  5. http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/environment-and-nature/20150917/molting-elephant-seals-recycle-mercury-back-into-seawater
  6. http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/wilderness-resources/stories/elephant-seals-are-raising-mercury-levels-california-beach
  7. http://www.theverge.com/2015/9/12/9313363/mercury-molting-seals-fur-California
  8. http://www.epa.gov/mercury/effects.htm#meth
  9. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs361/en/

Update! Lonesome George isn’t so lonesome anymore!

Hi everyone! I know its been a long time since i’ve posted anything at all, but theres exciting news! First I’d like to give a tribute to our favorite tortoise, Lonesome George, who passed away last year from old age. With his death in June of 2012, the species was thought to be extinct. BUT THERES SOME GOOD NEWS! Just a few months later, a Yale researcher found 17 hybrid tortoises that may share several parts of George’s DNA. Through a serious conservation efforts and a potential captive breeding program, conservationists hope to bring back the now twice thought extinct amphibian.

Here’s the best part. When researchers found these tortoises (named Pinta tortoises), they would these 17 (in a population of 1,667) with high levels of comparative DNA to George. Although 12 where adults, 5 were just babies, which means that although they are hybrids, their parents could still be alive AND purebreds!! Here’s the catch though. These tortoises where found 30 miles away from the island where they should originate from! So although the original species on the Galapagos Islands are gone, these new found tortoises on Volcano Wolf (cool name, right?) could revive the species for the second time around!

Here’s a National Geographic article that explains further!: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/11/121116-lonesome-george-not-extinct-galapagos-tortoise-science/

Galapagos Islands

Seals – I don’t have an interesting title on this one…

Hi everyone! Its been a while since I’ve written anything, sorry about that. Busy with college and what not. But I’m on break now, and i’d like to take a moment to discuss something no one most likely thought i would discuss – Seals. Specifically, animals that ARE NOT endangered! I know! Crazy stuff!!
At any rate, the specific category of seal i’ll be discussing is the California Sea Lion, or Zalophus californianus. So to clear up the confusion, what’s the difference between a seal and a sea lion? A sea lion is a seal but a seal is not a sea lion. Yup, nice and simple haha.

These little guys are rated as “Least Concern” by the IUCN, and if anything, theres actually an overpopulation problem. They live along the Western coast of North America, most abundantly found in – you guessed it – California! Although they are considered a tourist attraction by some cities, they’re generally considered pests, which breaks my heart considering the new found obsession i have with them. Recently, seal hunting has actually started up again. A huge reason for this, other than their inconvenience to fisherman and what not, is that part of their diet is actually an endangered salmon. And because their population levels are so high, there is a serious threat to these salmon. An interesting fact though: this breed of seal is one of the only few mammals whose milk does not contain lactose! Isn’t that fascinating?! Probably the bio-major in me coming out again. Furthermore, this species of sea lion is what is typically associated with “circus” seals.

So, i really just wanted to rant about my love of seals and there really isn’t a final message here. Obviously, they’re not endangered…but don’t go around shooting them either, ok? 🙂

Female Sea Lion Balancing a Ball

California Sea Lion pup

Sea Lion Swimming

Tortoises and Dolphins and Pandas, oh my!

Ok, so not as many articles as i thought there might be, but here’s another one before i start school tomorrow!!! This one is a THREE-FOR-ONE special! We have an article on the Seychelles Giant Tortoise, the Amazon River Dolphin AND the Red Panda!

First of is the Seychelles Giant Turquoise! This not-so-little critter has been extinct in the wild since 1840. Originally, they were thought to be completely extinct until 12 individuals were accidentally found! Almost every single other species of Giant Tortoise is now extinct except the Aldabra giant tortoise, due to its isolated location. The Seychelles Giant Tortoise is actually unique in its shape compared to other giant tortoises! Today, the oldest living tortoise is a 181-year-old Seychelles Giant Tortoise who lives on Saint Helena named Jonathan!!!

Seychelles Giant Tortoise

Jonathan the Tortoise

Next is the Amazon River Dolphin. This species is the largest species of river dolphins and due to an unfused vertebrae are amazingly able to turn their necks 180 degrees!!!! These dolphins are the last left in their lineage and are mainly found in the floodplains of the Amazon river, but due to overfishing and pollution are seriously endangered today. Due to these dolphins influence on the native populations of humans in the area, there are some very interesting legends about them! One of them is very similar to the white woman of Mexico. In the Brazilian version, however, there is a dolphin who turns into a young man and seduces women in the area, impregnates them, and leaves to return to the river again. This creature is called an encantado, which roughly means enchanted in English. They apparently, will even kidnap people who get too close to the water and take them to the land of the Encantado.

Amazon River Dolphins

Rare Pink Amazon River Dolphins

Finally, we have the amazing Red Panda! Sadly, this animal is also the last of its lineage. Interestingly enough, however, the Red Panda is more closely related to raccoons than it is to any kind of bear. Due to its low numbers, even though it is illegal to kill these creatures now, the population continues to decrease due to deforestation and inbreeding depression, or in other words, Red Pandas that participate in inbreeding due to the unavailability of other mates, produce defective offspring, that either do not live to maturation or are sterile. These little guys are found today in China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan, all of which have claimed the Red Panda a protected species. Conservation efforts today seem to be going quite well as over 300 red pandas have been born in captivity, increasing their population substantially.

Red Panda

Red Panda Sleeping

You can see how it looks like a raccoon, right?

Red Panda

You’ve all heard of the browser Mozilla Firefox right? Well interestingly enough, the Firefox logo is actually based on the red panda! That’s right!! In China, the Red Panda is called “火狐” or “fire-fox”. Even Master Shifu, in Kung-Fu Panda is a Red Panda!


At any rate, I hope to write more articles soon, but i hope this article tides you over until then!!

Lonely Turtles

Soooo…i lied. My next post isn’t history related! I thought i would give you guys a break and give you another Bio article! This time we are talking about Lonesome George! “What?! Lonesome George? What kind of a genus is that??” WRONG! Lonesome George is the sole survivor of an entire sub-species of turtles!

How can you NOT love him???

Lonesome George is actually part of Geochelone nigra abingdoni, and the rest of his species is extinct in the wild! In fact, in another few years, the entire species might be extinct. Because of this, George is considered the symbol for conservation efforts worldwide. Interestingly enough, scientists seem to have found a partial solution. Since George’s entire species isn’t extinct yet, scientists are hoping to breed the 90-year-old turtle with a female of a different sub-species. Although efforts are so far unsuccessful, IF you by some miracle of God happen to find ANOTHER Geochelone nigra abingdoni, there is a REWARD! If you can find a female to mate George with, there is a $10,000 reward!!! Of course, you would have to go down to the Galapagos Islands…but hey! It’s $10,000!!!

Either ways, George is a reminder to us all that we need to care for our environment and make sure that no species anywhere reaches this point! If you want to help poor species like George, be sure to visit http://iucn.org/about/work/programmes/species/donate_now_and_help_us_save_species/ and donate today! Thanks everyone!!!

The Tasmanian Wolf: Dead or Living?

Hey guys! Sorry i haven’t written anything in a while; the life of a bio major is very overwhelming. But, just to get an article to you guys, i’m procrastinating on studying for my midterms and giving you another animals article! On a side note, by the way, I’d like to thank everyone who have sent our site counter rocketing upwards, even while we were inactive! Somehow, we have over 1,300 hits! So thank you! 😀
So I’m sure everyone remembers the Tasmanian Devil character on Looney Tunes from out childhood. What i bet you didn’t know was that this guy was based on the real life Tasmanian Devil and that is relative is the Tasmanian Wolf, that unfortunately became extinct in 1936. You would think that the term “wolf” implies that this not-so-little guy is a mammal right? This guy is actually a marsupial (yes, like kangaroos), and the largest carnivorous marsupial in its time. Also known as the Tasmanian Tiger, this animal was the last surviving member of its genus, Thylacinus. You might be wondering, “Australia is such a removed place, why would it even be extinct?” Well let me tell you, everything wrong in this world can be blamed on humans, and this issue is no exception. However, unlike most extinction cases, this extinction was not caused in major part by modern humans. That’s right, our ancestors from 2,000 years ago, when they first traveled to Australia spiraled the Tasmanian Wolf into near extinction. However, these creatures survived until the early 1900s, when handsome bounties were placed on these creatures heads. The last record of a native Tasmanian tiger was killed in 1930 by a farmer. The Australian government (in it’s infinite wisdom) placed an official protection on the species, 59 days before the last of the species died in 1936. What the point is in declaring a protection on a species when there is only ONE left, can never make sense to me, but none-the-less, the species no longer exists.

Interestingly enough, random sightings have been recorded in Tasmania over the last few decades of the Tasmanian Tiger. However, no definitive proof has been brought forward, though several handsome rewards going up to a million dollars have been brought forward for proof of its existence. Although officially declared extinct by every major conservation group, we can only hope that in some remote area of Tasmania, this creature lives in secrecy, protecting the last of its species.

For your viewing pleasure, i have put up the last surviving footage of the Tasmanian Wolf as well as some images of this creature.

LINK TO VIDEO:All known Australian footage of live thylacines, shot in Hobart Zoo, Tasmania, in 1911, 1928, and 1933. Two other films are known, shot in London Zoo

 

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