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The Closest Living Relative of the Extinct DoDo Bird

Living on the small islands and in the coastal regions of southeast Asia, the nicobar pigeon is the only living member related to the now extinct dodo bird.

This pigeon travels in flocks from island to island eating fruits, seeds and grains. It seeks islets with few predators to roost at night.

This pigeon is hunted for food and is often trapped for the pet market. Since it is a ground dwelling species when eating, it is susceptible to non-native predators such as rats and feral cats. It is now considered “near threatened” and only through conservation efforts, this species can thrive again.

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Asian Black-collared Starling

This southeast Asian species inhabits the grasslands, fields and other open areas in China, Cambodia, Thailand and neighboring areas where they prey on earthworms, grasshoppers, crickets and other meadow insect species. This starling is common throughout its range and is globally secure.

 

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One of the World’s Highest-Flying Birds!

After the nesting season in Central Asia the bar-headed goose migrates south for the winter over the world’s highest peaks into northern India and neighboring countries. There is even an undocumented report of these geese flying over Mount Everest at nearly 30,000 feet.

It is amazing that any bird can fly this high in the thin oxygen poor air given that humans are susceptible to altitude sickness, dizziness and pulmonary edema at these heights. But the bar-headed goose has evolved to survive these high-altitude flights. It has larger proportional lungs than other waterfowl and its hemoglobin is capable of holding greater concentrations of oxygen. It is able to hyperventilate at greater rates than other birds to maximize what little oxygen exists at high altitudes. There are physiological adaptations including greater capillary density to supply oxygen to its muscles.

It is remarkable how the flora (plants) and fauna (animals) adapt to the harshest of conditions given the time of thousands of years of evolution. Unfortunately, due to the rapid changes occurring in today’s environment like climate change, many species will not have the time necessary to adapt to the changes causing them to disappear forever.

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World’s Largest Cat

Hunting in the tropical forests and mangrove swamps of southeast Asia, the powerful tiger is a stealthy predator of deer, antelope and wild boar. This nocturnal animal’s striped pattern enables it to ambush wildlife. These cats are good swimmers and can even catch prey in the water.

Tigers live far apart from each other requiring large territories. Each tiger marks their area with urine and scratch marks on the trunks of trees. Because they require such large areas, their populations are dwindling due to encroachment of farmlands and logging that shrinks the habitat available to these big cats.

Additionally, tigers have been over hunted for their fur and other body parts that are used for medicinal applications. Due to dwindling numbers, this wild cat is endangered. Only through wise conservation efforts will the world’s largest cat survive the challenges it faces.

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Australia’s Only Native Swan

The black swan is native to southwestern and southeastern Australia although it has been introduced in Europe and Indonesia as an ornamental bird. It is about the size of Europe’s white mute swan (also introduced in the U.S.), has sooty-black feathers and a long neck, the longest in all swan species.

It prefers wetlands, lagoons, ponds and lakes with shallow waters where it can reach the algae and aquatic plants, its primary foods.

In the U.S. you can see black swans in some of its zoos. This bird’s population is secure.

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The Bald Eagle Makes a Come Back

Before retiring, I worked as a biologist and environmental educator on Long Island in New York. Stationed at the Connetquot River State Park Preserve, a 3,500 pine barren park, I always became excited when a bald eagle appeared during the winter, a rarity at that time.

One year, an extended cold spell froze lakes and ponds cutting off food supplies for the wintering ducks. Most ducks left, but those too weak to fly further south remained. A bald arrived that winter and preyed on the weakest of the ducks by flying overhead and diving down to the flock to single out the weakest duck that did not keep up with the flock. Gruesome, yes, but it is nature’s way of weeding out the weak.

The bald eagle’s population declined precipitously in the early to mid-1900’s. Tens of thousands of eagle were shot and killed by farmers fearing that eagles ate their livestock. Additionally, the use of the pesticide DDT affected the calcium metabolism of egg production that decreased the birth of eagle chciks.

With the banning of DDT and laws protecting eagles, they have made a come back and are now off the federal endangered species list. Although eagles are impacted by collisions with electric producing windmills in the in our technological age, they are still secure.

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World’s Most Endangered Canid

 

Wolves have been vilified by humans for centuries from children’s fairy tales – “Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down.” – Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf in a sheep’s clothing to the haunting howl of a wolf played in the background of scary shows to werewolf movies.

This stereotyping of wolves has not boded well for the red wolf. They have been the target of predator control measures, shot and killed just because they are wolves. Once common in eastern U.S. forests, the red wolf was declared extinct in the wild in the early 1970’s. The remaining wolves were now confined to zoos and wildlife centers.

A breeding program with the captive wolves saved the species and in the 1980’s red wolves were released in the wild in a North Carolina wildlife refuge. As of 2015 there were over 50 wolves in the refuge.

This species is still in a perilous state. Despite recovery efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service these wolves have not fared well. Many people remain ignorant of the benefits and importance of wolves in the environment and have balked and thwarted the agency’s attempts to re-establish the red wolf population.

Wolves play an important role in the environment in keeping elk, deer and moose in check. This results in a greater biodiversity of plant and animals. In Yellowstone where gray wolves were re-introduced, aspen groves rebounded resulting in increasing habitat for a variety of birds, stabilizing stream banks and providing resources for beavers to build dams. Overall the park now has a healthier natural environment.

Until people overcome their unfounded fears of an animal they know little about, the red wolf will have a difficult road to come back from the brink of extinction.

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