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The Endangered Unknown – Chinese Desert Cat

By Peter Kleinhenz
December 14, 2011
File under: Animal Stories, Conservation, Species Profiles, Wildlife

This series routinely discusses species of animals and plants that are poorly known in the international community. Perhaps no species mentioned so far fits as well into the category of “endangered unknown” as the Chinese Desert Cat, Felis bieti. There are various reasons for its anonymity, including its secretive nature, lack of presence in captivity, and the areas it inhabits.

The species is very discernible from other small cat species, however, due to its large size (twice the size of a domestic cat) and physical appearance. This cat’s yellow-gray fur allows it to blend in perfectly with its surroundings while its broad skull and enlarged ears serve to enhance its prey detection. Finally, the cat has a y-shaped mark on its face and a black-tipped tail that distinguishes it from other cats that share its habitat, such as the Asian Wildcat and Eurasian Lynx.

Native to China and Mongolia, the Chinese Desert Cat lives in mountainous habitats ranging from semidesert and steppe to bamboo forest and alpine meadows. …read more of The Endangered Unknown – Chinese Desert Cat here

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The Endangered Unknown: Anegada Island Iguana

By Peter Kleinhenz
December 8, 2011
File under: Animal Protection, Species Profiles, Wildlife

When most people think of the British Virgin Islands, they probably think about white sand beaches, clear blue seas, and complete relaxation. With sprawling resorts, luxurious vacation homes, and yachts cruising around the shore, it’s hard to imagine anyone worrying about anything on the islands. However, for those who cherish the natural history of these islands there is plenty to be worried about.

The second-largest island in the British Virgin Island Archipelago, Anegada, is home to a fantastically-cool lizard species: the Anegada Island Iguana (Cyclura pinguis). This large lizard inhabits dry, rocky areas of Anegada Island where it lives out its days feeding on fruits and leaves. Both sexes have large home ranges, characterized by limestone crevices and burrow structures that allow these lizards to find shelter during the hottest parts of the day.

Males, distinguishable by the turquoise on various parts of their bodies, compete readily for females, …read more of The Endangered Unknown: Anegada Island Iguana here

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The Endangered Unknown: Vaquita

By Peter Kleinhenz
November 28, 2011
File under: Animal Protection, Endangered Species, Habitat Loss, Species Profiles, Wildlife

In 2006, one of the most remarkable creatures on the planet ceased to exist for the rest of eternity. The Yangtze River Dolphin holds the distinction of being the first cetacean (think whales and dolphins) species to be driven to extinction in recent years. Sadly, that distinction may soon be held by another species, the Vaquita.

The Vaquita, Phocoena sinus, is a porpoise native only to a small area in the northern part of the Gulf of California. This species typically lives close to shore in water that is less than 120 feet deep where it hunts fish, squid, and crabs. The Vaquita is the smallest cetacean in the world, reaching a maximum size of about five feet long.

Vaquitas don’t have beaks like many porpoises and dolphins and can be distinguished by the black rings around their eyes and black-lipped mouth. Little is known about the daily lives of this species given their secretive nature, but researchers believe …read more of The Endangered Unknown: Vaquita here

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The Endangered Unknown: Green Salamander

By Peter Kleinhenz
October 7, 2011
File under: Amphibians, Conservation, Habitat Loss, Species Profiles, Wildlife

In isolated rock outcrops, scattered across a wide area of the eastern and southeastern United States, lives one of the most beautiful amphibians in the world. Dark-coloured with splotches of green speckled all over it, the Green Salamander (Aneides aeneus) blends in perfectly with its lichen-covered, rocky habitat.

This species has a very narrow, elongated body and a flattened head that helps it fit into deep crevices in rock faces, where it spends much of its time. Long toes help the Green Salamander cling to vertical, and often-wet, surfaces which it must climb on when it hunts for food. Green Salamanders are nocturnal, hunting for cave crickets, springtails, and beetles out on the rock faces they call home. …read more of The Endangered Unknown: Green Salamander here

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The Endangered Unknown: The Orange-bellied Parrot

By Peter Kleinhenz
September 26, 2011
File under: Birds, Endangered Species, Species Profiles

Some animals, it seems, got the wrong end of the deal when it comes to having a simple life. Twice every year, a bird that isn’t a great deal larger than your hand flies all the way from southwest Tasmania to the southern coast of Victoria.

The brilliantly-plumaged Orange-bellied Parrot, Neophema chryogaster, is just one example from a group of animals that is known for its awe-inspiring global trips. Most birds, however, are not in the perilous state that Orange-bellied Parrots are in.

One hundred years ago, Orange-bellied Parrots were far more common than they are today. …read more of The Endangered Unknown: The Orange-bellied Parrot here

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The Endangered Unknown – The Babirusa

By Peter Kleinhenz
August 22, 2011
File under: Species Profiles, Wildlife
Many animals inhabiting this world are noted for their beauty, intelligence, or some other redeeming quality that sets them apart from hundreds of other similar species. On the contrary, some animals are noted for their grotesque appearances. Of these, the North Sulawesi Babirusa, Babyrousa celebensis, probably deserves the title of the ugliest mammal on the planet.

The North Sulawesi Babirusa is a primitive species of pig that lives only on the island of Sulawesi, a part of Indonesia. The species is notable due to the large, curved tusks that protrude abruptly from the faces of males. These tusks are modified canines and their purpose is still largely unknown.

Many other aspects of Babirusa life are also unknown. In fact, until recently, all Babirusas were lumped under one species. Now, scientists know that …read more of The Endangered Unknown – The Babirusa here

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The Endangered Unknown – The Kirtland’s snake

By Peter Kleinhenz
August 3, 2011
File under: Animal Stories, Species Profiles, Wildlife


Snakes occupy a very special place in my heart. For as long as I can remember, they’ve been my favorite group of animals.

My first experience with a snake was at the age of six when I mistook a garter snake for a rattlesnake, ran away crying, then returned thirty minutes later only to cry again due to my inability to find it a second time.

From that point forward, I have searched for many different kinds of snakes in many different places. No snake find, however, elicits quite the response from me that a Kirtland’s snake, Clonophis kirtlandii, does. …read more of The Endangered Unknown – The Kirtland’s snake here

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Why Red Spotted Newts Are Super Cool

By Valorie Titus
July 22, 2011
File under: Amphibians, Species Profiles, Wildlife


Most everyone in the eastern United States at one point of their life or another spent time as a child flipping rocks in the woods only to find bright orange little salamanders.  These pretty little dudes are what we herpetologists call Notophthalmus viridescens, or the Red Spotted Newt.  They are still reasonably common throughout their range and are a joy to find due to their brilliant coloration.

Why would a tiny little salamander want to have bright colors so easy to see?  The bright coloration is basically saying “don’t eat me, I’ll make you sick!”, as they have toxic skin secretions that can harm even the largest of predators.  Once a predator tries to eat one, they are likely not going to try to eat another.  If something makes me sick, I certainly won’t want to eat it again.  What’s really cool is that you only see this coloration during what we call the newt’s “eft”, or juvenile stage.

Amphibians generally have several life stages as they develop.  What’s so neat about the red spotted newt is their juvenile stage is on land; they are born in the water and they return to the water when they reach adulthood! …read more of Why Red Spotted Newts Are Super Cool here

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Meet the Species: Sumatran Rhino

By Rhishja Larson
July 8, 2011
File under: Endangered Species, Species Profiles, Wildlife

Photo credit: Yayasan Badak Indonesia, photographer Dedi Candra (courtesy of Susie Ellis, IRF)

The Sumatran rhino has suffered a 50% decline in numbers over the last 15 years. Sadly, it is now believed there are only around 200 Sumatran rhinos surviving in fragmented populations in Southeast Asia.

Like the other four rhino species, the Sumatran rhino population has been decimated because of the alleged medicinal properties of rhino horn. However, rhino horn has been scientifically tested and does not actually provide any curative benefits.

Besides being killed for their horns, the Sumatran rhinos’ habitat is being destroyed by development and agriculture. Conservation groups, such as the International Rhino Foundation and Yayasan Badak Idonesia, are working to save the increasingly rare Sumatran rhino by implementing habitat programs, strengthening anti-poaching efforts, monitoring trade of rhino horns, managing protected areas, and raising public awareness. …read more of Meet the Species: Sumatran Rhino here

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The Endangered Unknown: Eastern Quoll

By Peter Kleinhenz
July 5, 2011
File under: Animal Stories, Interviews, Species Profiles


When most people think of carnivorous marsupials, known as Dasyurids, the Tasmanian Tiger is the first animal that comes to mind.

Sadly, this magnificent creature became officially extinct in 1936 but it does have a living relative. The Eastern Quoll, now restricted to Tasmania, occupies many habitats where the Tasmanian Tiger once roamed and today it can be found particularly in areas where bush meets pasture.

Eastern Quolls serve an important role by disposing dead animals through scavenging and they also eat grubs that can be harmful to crops, proving their value to the Tasmanian ecosystem. The Eastern Quoll is small, not exactly “tipping the scales” at less than two kilograms. …read more of The Endangered Unknown: Eastern Quoll here

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