Good News and Bad
A roundup of good news on endangered species
Roger Di Silvestro
An Endangered Species Roundup
As reported in the February/March 2006 World Edition of National Wildlife, the Iberian lynx is the rarest wild cat in Spain—numbering about 150 animals in two locations in the southern part of the nation. But new research from the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid has found signs of lynx in four of five areas surveyed in central Spain, mostly on private estates used for hunting. How many new lynx live in the surveyed areas is unknown—they probably number in the tens—but nevertheless they offer hope for expanding the gene pool of Iberian lynx being raised in captivity for release into the wild.
A new threat to the survival of the Tasmanian devil was discussed in the June/July 2008 World Edition of National Wildlife. Populations of this increasingly rare marsupial hunter and scavenger have been infected with an invariably fatal cancer that causes the growth of debilitating facial tumors. Scientists comparing breeding behavior in infected and uninfected populations have discovered that female devils in disease-ridden areas are breeding earlier than those in uninfected regions. The females usually breed during their second, third and fourth years—only about 10 percent breed in their first year—and generally do not live longer than five years. But in areas where the disease has ravaged the species, up to 80 percent of female devils are breeding at only a year old. Why they are doing so is unknown; perhaps because of declining competition for food as older animals have died off prematurely. In any event, increased breeding among the young may not counteract the effects of the cancer, which could wipe out the species within the next 25 years: Although producing babies earlier, animals in infected populations also are dying earlier, at only 2 to 3 years old.
A recent study at the University of Paris-South in Orsay, France, asked people at upscale receptions to sample and compare two types of caviar—one from a common species of sturgeon and one from a rare sturgeon species. Seventy percent of participants preferred the rare caviar. The researchers conducted the same taste test at a supermarket, targeting people who were not familiar with caviar, and they, too—by 74 percent—preferred the rare caviar. The punchline is that in both tests the caviar offered was exactly the same, coming from farmed sturgeon. The results bode ill for an ancient fish species already losing the battle for survival (see February/March 2005 National Wildlife) to habitat loss and degradation as well as to commercial egg collection. One hope for sturgeon has been the potential for replacing eggs collected in the wild with farmed eggs, but this test suggests that people’s taste buds respond more to the label on a caviar jar than to the caviar itself, creating a market for the rarer, more expensive forms even if there is no noticeable difference in taste. Caspian Sea sturgeons, which produce some of the most expensive caviar in the world, could become extinct by 2012 at current rates of egg collection.