From saving the world’s most threatened species of sea turtle to bringing unusual amphibians back from the brink of extinction, no conservation challenge is a lost cause if knowledge, dedication and strong partnerships are put into play. This is the important message we are championing to celebrate our tenth anniversary.
To mark a decade of highlighting conservation issues, we have worked closely with the IUCN Species Survival Commission Specialist Groups to select and feature ten very different species, one for each year of ARKive’s existence, to be ambassadors for conservation.
All of the chosen species have the unfortunate distinction of being at risk of extinction should their plight be ignored. However, a further factor linking these ten species is that each one has been put on the road to recovery thanks to targeted conservation efforts led by dedicated scientific experts, and all are expected to improve in status over the next ten years should this extremely important work continue.
Join us on our journey of discovery, as we uncover the true importance of conservation and celebrate its successes.
Considered to be the most endangered of all sea turtles, the Kemp’s ridley turtle is also one of the smallest, weighing less than 45 kilograms as an adult and only growing up to about 70 centimetres in length. This fascinating marine reptile has a rather parrot-like beak and its relatively flat, almost completely round shell is greenish-grey on the upper surface. Kemp’s ridley turtles have an extremely restricted range, being found mainly in the Gulf of Mexico and up the eastern coast of the United States. This species generally inhabits shallow, inshore waters where it can dive to the bottom to feed on crabs and other shellfish. Interestingly, the Kemp’s ridley and the olive ridley are the only marine turtle species known to nest during the day. Historically, both species were known for carrying out spectacular mass synchronised nesting events known as ‘arribadas’, which means ‘arrivals’ in Spanish.
Once numbering tens of thousands of individuals, with up to 40,000 females being recorded nesting on one beach in a single day, Kemp’s ridley turtles are now classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. This species suffered a dramatic decline during the 1950s and 1960s, mainly as a result of over-exploitation of eggs, the slaughter of adult turtles, and mortality caused by shrimp trawl fisheries, and between 1978 and 1991, only about 200 females nested each year. Kemp’s ridley nests are easily located and exploited by human collectors and natural predators alike, as the females nest in such large concentrations and dig shallow, poorly disguised nests. Although exploitation of turtle eggs has decreased somewhat as a result of conservation efforts, shrimp trawlers and oil spills remain a major threat to the survival of Kemp’s ridley turtle, with hundreds or thousands of individuals getting caught accidentally in the nets and drowning each year.
Since the implementation of targeted conservation measures, Kemp’s ridley turtles have begun to show signs of recovery, with the nesting population currently estimated at more than 1,000 individuals. The Mexican government set up armed patrols in the 1960s to protect nesting sites during the breeding season, and Rancho Nuevo, the main nesting beach, was declared a National Reserve in 1977. These actions, in addition to other legal protections for the species, have contributed to a huge reduction in illegal trade in Kemp’s ridley turtles. A huge drive to encourage shrimp trawl fisheries worldwide to use turtle excluder devices (TEDs), which help reduce the number of turtles accidentally caught in nets, is currently playing a big role in minimising sea turtle mortality. Thanks to researchers obtaining a wealth of new information about Kemp’s ridley turtle, including its biology, distribution and potential threats, a special recovery plan has been developed by NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and it is hoped that it will enable this remarkable species to continue on its path to recovery in the years to come.
"If there were one thing that the general public could individually do to help save sea turtles and ensure their recovery over the next ten years, I would advise them to learn all they can about sea turtles and their ocean homes, and have a first-hand, face-to-face sea turtle experience at a nesting beach or while snorkelling or diving. Once you know sea turtles, you will love them and you will want to take all the many actions in your daily life needed to assure their survival, from wiser seafood choices and limiting your plastic consumption, to supporting groups like MTSG and SWOT that represent hundreds of expert scientists and conservationists whose lives are devoted to preventing turtle extinctions."
– Nick Pilcher and Brian Hutchinson (IUCN SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group)
After receiving full protection, the humpback whale has increased its population from just a few thousand individuals back in the 1960s to over 60,000.
The scimitar-horned oryx is a North African antelope named for its long, sharp, backward-curving horns. It is a large, robustly built antelope and has a striking cream or whitish coat with reddish brown on the neck, chest and upper legs. Scimitar-horned oryx inhabit Sahelian sub-Saharan steppes, moving seasonally in search of fresh forage that appears following unpredictable rains. Although well adapted to arid areas, and sometimes reaching the edge of the Sahara in the cooler winter months, it is rarely found in true desert. The scimitar-horned oryx grazes on a wide variety of grasses and leguminous plants, selecting those with a high water content, including the wild desert melon.
The scimitar-horned oryx formerly ranged north and South of the Sahara, from Mauritania and Morocco in the west to Egypt and Sudan in the east. It was abundant in the Sahel, where herds containing hundreds, sometimes thousands, of animals were seen on migration or grazing together. Overhunting for meat and hides drastically reduced numbers, especially once modern weapons and motor vehicles became available, and the species declined rapidly throughout the 20th century. Drought, desertification and the subsequent loss of suitable habitat, and competition with domestic livestock have also been major factors in the decline. By the mid-1980s, the scimitar-horned oryx had disappeared from most of its former range, and was only known from Chad and Niger. In 1988 it was estimated that only a few dozen wild oryx survived. No scimitar-horned oryx have been seen since then, and this species is now classified as Extinct in the Wild.
Fortunately, a wildlife trader captured some fifty scimitar-horned oryx in the mid-1960s from central Chad and sold them to zoos in Europe and the United States. These animals, along with captive individuals from other countries including the United Arab Emirates and Texas, formed the basis of a captive breeding programme that has become a lifeline for this impressive species. Efforts to return the scimitar-horned oryx to the wild have been ongoing since the mid-1980s, with promising initiatives in several countries, including Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia, where semi-wild managed populations have been established in large fenced enclosures. The biggest challenge in re-establishing this species in the wild is finding large enough areas of suitable habitat, and the Sahara Conservation Fund is currently leading a ground-breaking initiative to return the scimitar-horned oryx to Ouadi Rimé-Ouadi Achim Game Reserve in central Chad, one of the largest protected areas in Africa. Studies have identified this reserve as having enormous potential for supporting the species and it is hoped that, with scientific expertise and government support, a global strategy can be developed to restore this iconic species to the wild.
"We would ask for the public’s support in dispelling the myth that deserts are lifeless wastelands, and in understanding that these habitats in fact harbour some of the most endangered and exquisitely adapted animals that inhabit our planet."
– David Mallon (Co-Chair, IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group) and John Newby (CEO, Sahara Conservation Fund)
Once classified as Extinct in the Wild on the IUCN Red List, the Arabian oryx has since been reintroduced to its natural habitat thanks to a successful captive breeding programme.
Found across the Indian subcontinent, including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, as well as parts of Southeast Asia, the Asian white-backed vulture is a highly social bird, forming flocks year-round and often associating with other similar species. Although the Asian white-backed vulture is known to occur on open plains and in cultivated fields with scattered trees, this species is generally found close to human habitation, in cities, towns and villages. By feeding on carcasses at rubbish dumps and slaughterhouses, the vultures provide an important ecosystem service to the local population by helping to dispose of rotting remains, therefore reducing the health risks posed to humans.
Previously described as possibly being the most abundant bird of prey in the world, the Asian white-backed vulture has since undergone a catastrophic population crash, and is now classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Having all but disappeared from Southeast Asia by the mid-20th century as a result of live capture and other factors, the Asian white-backed vulture has suffered further devastating declines since the mid-1990s, this time throughout the Indian subcontinent. These unprecedented vulture deaths have been mostly attributed to the use of diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug used to treat cattle. The Asian white-backed vultures were ingesting diclofenac when feeding on the carcasses of livestock that had been treated with the drug, causing kidney failure in the scavengers and leading to a worrying 99.9% decline in vulture numbers in just over a decade. Once numbering several million individuals, the global population of the Asian white-backed vulture is now estimated to be between 3,500 and 15,000.
Fortunately, work is already underway to bring the Asian white-backed vulture back from the brink of extinction, with the first major step being the governments of India, Nepal and Pakistan banning the manufacture and importation of veterinary diclofenac in 2006. Vulture Conservation Breeding Centres were initiated in India, Nepal and Pakistan, and in 2008 India successfully bred its first two Asian white-backed vultures. Since then, more than 40 individuals of this species have fledged within the Indian centres. In order to guarantee the future survival of this species in the wild, conservationists are keen to ensure that diclofenac is entirely removed from the environment. With such action and plans for release back to the wild once diclofenac has been clearly removed, comes the hope that this species will thrive in years to come, once again taking its place as one of nature’s most important waste disposal specialists. In 2012, there were encouraging first indications that diclofenac levels have been significantly reduced by 50% and that the rate of decline has already slowed or even stopped for the remaining few birds.
In addition to a Regional Steering Committee, a consortium of 11 partners has been formed under the banner of ‘Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction’ (SAVE) to identify and address the priority actions required to conserve this species.
“If there’s one thing vets and livestock owners can individually do to save vultures, then it is to ensure they are using vulture-safe drugs. They can also lobby the authorities to do far more to prevent diclofenac and other unsafe drugs, such as ketoprofen, from being used or licensed for veterinary purposes.”
– Chris Bowden (Co-Chair, IUCN SSC Vulture Specialist Group)
In 2005, Kirtland’s warbler was moved from being ‘Vulnerable’ to ‘Near Threatened’ on the IUCN Red List as a result of conservation action which has doubled the area of suitable habitat available for this species.
Also known as the ‘land lobster’, the Lord Howe Island stick insect is a large, flightless invertebrate found only on Ball’s Pyramid, a tiny Pacific Ocean island administered in Australia. This heavy-bodied species is dark brown in colour, and a conspicuous cream stripe runs along the abdomen. Female Lord Howe Island stick insects can grow up to an impressive 13 centimetres in length, and although males tend to be a bit smaller, they generally have longer antennae, and sport greatly enlarged, spiny hind legs. The adults of this species are mainly nocturnal, whereas the bright green or brown juveniles are sometimes active by day.
As its name suggests, the Lord Howe Island stick insect was once common on Lord Howe Island, located about 600 kilometres east of the Australian mainland. However, after the SS Makambo ran aground in 1918, rats from the cargo ship were accidentally introduced to the island, and these mammalian predators feasted on the stick insects and decimated the population. By 1920, the Lord Howe Island stick insect was no longer present on the island, and was thought to have gone extinct. However, a 2001 expedition to Ball’s Pyramid unexpectedly uncovered a single population of 20 or so Lord Howe Island stick insects. Worryingly, these individuals lived in an area of just 180 square metres, feeding on Lord Howe Island Melaleuca leaves.
Following the species’ rediscovery, it was listed as Critically Endangered under Australian environmental legislation and on the IUCN Red List, and a recovery plan was prepared. Part of this plan involved setting up a captive breeding colony. In 2003, Melbourne Zoo took charge of a breeding pair of Lord Howe Island stick insects, and the first captive-bred individual successfully hatched there in September of that year. Since then, this particular population has thrived, with more than 700 adult individuals and 14,000 eggs now secure in captivity. The next step is to execute a rodent eradication programme, which will involve using poisoned bait to rid Lord Howe Island of invasive rats and mice, before reintroducing the Lord Howe Island stick insect to its natural home, hopefully in 2017. Thanks to these intensive conservation efforts it is believed that this fascinating invertebrate will see substantial improvement during the next ten years, and will act as a flagship species for the major ecological restoration work taking place on Lord Howe Island.
Volunteering for a local conservation organisation can make a real difference. Many charities are run by volunteers and are looking for a wide range of skills, from admin to web development - it all helps!
Habitat restoration and protection, in combination with the removal of introduced plants and animals, has helped to boost the population of the Mauritius parakeet, once considered to be the most endangered bird in the world.
One of Africa’s oldest and most enigmatic mammals, Juliana’s golden-mole has a somewhat misleading name. This burrow dweller is actually more closely related to African elephants, hyraxes, manatees, aardvark and Madagascan tenrecs than to mole-rats (rodents). Juliana’s golden-mole is highly specialised for life underground, but despite having forelimbs armed with powerful, pick-like claws, it is a weak digger and lives only in soft sandy soils. This compact, streamlined mammal sports a hardened, leathery nose pad, which helps it to push through the soil in search of insects, earthworms and snails. These prey items are detected by sound, as the eyes of Juliana’s golden-mole are non-functional.
Found only in three small and geographically separated areas of South Africa, Juliana’s golden-mole is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, as development, urbanisation, mining and agriculture have jointly contributed to extensive degradation, fragmentation or destruction of its habitat. Individuals present in fragments of remaining habitat are often isolated from other individuals within the subpopulations, which leads to inbreeding that can be detrimental to the genetic health and the future survival of this species. Given their subterranean lifestyle and limited dispersal abilities, such isolated populations are unable to move to new, suitable areas if threatened further.
Fortunately, the IUCN SSC Afrotheria Specialist Group is leading the way on raising awareness of the importance of conserving Juliana’s golden-mole. They are working closely with a range of people, from policy makers to the general public, to ensure the future survival of this fascinating species. Specialists are involved with development projects to help minimise the impacts such activities might have on Juliana’s golden-mole, and local farmers and land owners are being encouraged to shy away from agricultural practices that may cause further destruction of the limited habitat that remains for this species. Through continued positive efforts such as these, and ongoing scientific research to improve our knowledge on the biology of this species, the conservation status of Juliana’s golden-mole is bound to improve over the next ten years.
With an ever-expanding human population, an increase in development, urbanisation and agriculture is unavoidable, but through concerted efforts to encourage community engagement and ramp up local conservation education, the impacts of these factors on wildlife can be minimised. By embracing ecologically viable practices, farmers and land owners can help to protect vital habitat for threatened species.
After suffering a dramatic decline due to habitat loss and disease, the black-footed ferret has benefited from a captive breeding programme, which has enabled this species to move from being Extinct in the Wild to Endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Holokea, the Hawaiian name for this species of haha, is an extremely rare, palm-like tree endemic to the eastern part of Maui, Hawaii. This species can be found in the island’s rainforest and on the edges of subalpine forest at elevations between 1,520 and 2,000 metres. Its leaves are covered in small, sharp prickles, which are thought to have evolved as a defence against flightless birds that used to inhabit the Hawaiian Islands before going extinct more than 1,000 years ago. Holokea’s attractive blackish-purple or purple-tinged greenish flowers stand out beautifully amongst the green leaves, and at certain times of the year holokea produces orange berries.
Holokea is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and is thought to have declined as a result of several factors, including habitat degradation and a decline in the bird species which help to pollinate this incredibly rare plant. Feral pigs, slugs and rats often fed on and destroyed various parts of the plant, including the bark and the seeds, and reproduction in holokea was limited due to small populations being isolated from others. In early 2013, it was reported that only 75 mature individuals of this species had been seen during the past 7 years, and there is a strong possibility that a single devastating event such as a hurricane could drive holokea to extinction.
However, over the last couple of decades much effort has been put into actively managing holokea’s habitat, which is currently in excellent condition. In addition, bird species which pollinate holokea flowers and disperse its seeds are now present in increasing numbers, and feral pigs are being kept away from the plants by specially constructed fences. Following seed collection and propagation, 300 seedlings have been planted in almost twenty carefully selected reintroduction sites, and are showing an extremely high survival rate. By planting nursery-grown individuals of a certain size, it is hoped that they will be able to cope with the threat of introduced slugs, and ensure the future of holokea in Hawaii’s flora.
Introduced species have been the cause of many conservation crises over the years, and while the natural dispersal of invasive plants and animals is difficult to control, the public can play an enormous role in helping to prevent the active spread of potentially harmful species by respecting and observing import regulations when travelling.
Habitat degradation, hunting and competition with domestic livestock all drove Przewalski’s horse to extinction in the wild in the 1960s, but since then conservationists have worked to successfully reintroduce small herds to central Mongolia.
The Kihansi spray toad is a tiny amphibian and is classified as a dwarf toad, rarely growing to more than two centimetres in length. This unusual species has a golden-yellow back speckled with yellow and brown or lined with dark bands and lighter, adjacent stripes, while its underside is translucent, meaning that some organs, as well as eggs in gravid females, are visible through the skin. The Kihansi spray toad is known from just one location in the whole world, being found only in a two-hectare region of the Kihansi River Gorge in the Udzungwa Mountains, eastern Tanzania. It has been found at hillside wetland sites within the spray zone of the upper waterfalls, generally in rocky meadow areas which are shrouded with mist from the falls. Interestingly, the Kihansi spray toad has flaps over its nostrils, which are thought to be a special adaptation for living in the spray zone.
Unfortunately, the Kihansi spray toad is classified as Extinct in the Wild on the IUCN Red List, which means that, at least until very recently, it was only known to survive in captivity. Habitat loss played a major part in the catastrophic decline of this species, following the construction of a dam on the Kihansi River in 2000 which cut off 90 percent of the original water flow to the gorge, greatly reducing the amount of spray being created. This, in turn, impacted the mist-loving wetland vegetation in the Kihansi spray toad’s habitat, making it unsuitable for the tiny amphibian to live in. Subsequently, a devastating amphibian disease caused by a fungus, known as chytridiomycosis, contributed to the species’ final extirpation.
However, in 2001 an artificial sprinkler system was installed in Kihansi River Gorge to recreate the spray from the waterfalls - this sprinkler system is quite a feat of engineering feat. In the year prior to this, the Tanzanian Government invited the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to collect some of the remaining toads from the wild to be bred in captivity in the USA. Thanks to the hard work of both the Bronx Zoo and Toledo Zoo in tackling the challenges associated with rearing and breeding such a rare species about which very little was known, the initial captive population of 499 Kihansi spray toads has since thrived, and now numbers more than 6,000 individuals. Two in-country facilities also maintain captive toads.
By 2010 the sprinkler system had helped to restore the Kihansi spray toad’s habitat, and an international team of conservation experts, including scientists from the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Amphibian and Re-introduction Specialist Groups, came together to develop a plan to reintroduce the toad back into the wild. The first release of Kihansi spray toads back into their natural habitat took place in October 2012, and by December of that year 2,000 toads had returned to Kihansi. This marks an incredible achievement - an amphibian classified as Extinct in the Wild has now returned to its native habitat. Tanzanian biologists now need to continue monitoring the population for stability and growth, and additional introductions of toads are planned. The long-term commitment and creative approaches employed by the many conservation organisations involved in this project prove that, by working in close partnership and applying the best science, even the most daunting of obstacles can be overcome.
Habitat loss is a major driver of species decline, particularly for species such as the Kihansi spray toad which have extremely restricted ranges and specialised ecological requirements. However, important habitat restoration projects are being carried out across the globe to help counteract this issue, many of which rely on the help of the local community. By getting involved, members of the public can make a positive contribution towards the survival of their local wildlife.
Since the 1980s, the Mallorcan midwife toad has suffered losses as a result of the introduction of competitors and predators to its island home, but several reintroductions of this unusual amphibian have already taken place thanks to captive breeding programmes.
A species endemic to New Zealand, the brown teal or ‘pateke’ is a nocturnal dabbling duck that hides among grasses in coastal streams and wetlands during the day, only emerging at night to forage for food. Out of the breeding season, both the male and female brown teal have rather non-descript mottled brown plumage. However, during the breeding season the male bird develops a more conspicuous colouration, including a green head and a thin white collar stripe. This water bird generally finds its worm and insect prey within fields, but also forages for small shellfish in estuaries and has even been reported to sieve through cow dung for other invertebrates.
Once found throughout the freshwater wetlands of lowland New Zealand, as well as on several offshore islands, the brown teal now has a far more limited range, and is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. When European settlers arrived in New Zealand around 1840, the brown teal was the most abundant waterfowl species in the country. Even with the pressure of excessive hunting by the settlers, the brown teal fared surprisingly well until the introduction of mammalian predators such as stoats, ferrets, cats and dogs. These species preyed on the brown teal and its eggs, causing a major decline in population numbers, and in 1921 the brown teal was declared a protected species. Unfortunately, this did not stop predators from killing birds, and numbers continued to fall. This situation was compounded by a massive loss of wetland habitat which was converted to farmland. By 2004, the population had fallen to about 1,000 birds.
New Zealand’s Department of Conservation and many community groups are working hard to help save this species, mainly by excluding, trapping or poisoning introduced predators, raising public awareness of the threats the brown teal faces, carrying out habitat restoration, and working on captive breeding for release. Ducks Unlimited has had great success in breeding the brown teal in captivity, and this has resulted in some successful release programmes where birds have been put into predator-free sanctuaries or into areas with good predator control programmes. These successful releases have contributed to a recent increase in the total population of the species to about 2,000 birds, but the full recovery of the brown teal remains heavily dependent on ongoing conservation management work.
Having detailed knowledge of the ecology and behaviour of a species is a major part of any successful conservation initiative, and the information-gathering process is something which members of the public can get involved with. By joining local conservation groups, or simply reporting any sightings of threatened or invasive species to the relevant authorities, people can help safeguard the future of their local wildlife.
Translocations have been a useful tool in the conservation of the Seychelles magpie robin, which was once classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List but is now Endangered.
A relative of sharks and rays which can grow up to six metres in length, the largetooth sawfish is an unusual-looking species named for its long, saw-like rostrum. This appendage usually accounts for about 20% of the total length of the species, and is adorned with 15 to 20 jutting pairs of narrow, triangular teeth. The largetooth sawfish feeds on bottom-dwelling invertebrates and fish, and is thought to use its remarkable ‘saw’ to stun or disable prey. The largetooth sawfish is found in tropical and subtropical seas, spanning a wide geographical range which is split into four distinct subpopulations covering the Western Atlantic, Eastern Atlantic, Indo-West Pacific and Eastern Pacific. It generally inhabits the shallow waters of inshore, coastal habitats such as bays, estuaries and lagoons, and is also found in freshwater areas including large, muddy rivers. Largetooth sawfishes have been found up to 1,000 km inland in the Amazon basin.
In recent years, the largetooth sawfish population has been severely depleted as a result of excessive coastal fishing pressure, and this species is now classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Once specifically targeted by fisheries, the largetooth sawfish is now most often caught incidentally in longlines, gillnets and bottom trawl nets, with its long, toothed ‘saw’ making it particularly vulnerable to becoming entangled in fishing nets. This situation is further compounded by many areas having unregulated fisheries. As a species which relies on the presence of a variety of specific habitat types throughout its life cycle, the largetooth sawfish is also adversely affected by human activities such as agricultural and urban development, mining and boating, which lead to pollution and habitat alteration, degradation and loss.
All species of sawfish are listed on Appendix I of CITES, which means that commercial international trade in these fish and their parts is strictly prohibited. The largetooth sawfish is protected in certain areas of its range, including through its listing as ‘Endangered’ under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, a ban on all take of the species in Mexico, and its occurrence within Marine Protected Areas in Mauritania and Guinea-Bissau. While these and other countries such as Australia have taken a proactive approach to conserving the largetooth sawfish, for instance by banning this species from being taken in Australian waters and implementing a range of fisheries management plans, urgent action is required in other parts of its range, particularly in the Pacific. Increased awareness of the largetooth sawfish and its plight, in combination with more effective fisheries regulations and legislation enforcement, will go someway to protecting this rare species and ensuring its recovery and future survival. The IUCN Shark Specialist Group has recently completed a global Conservation Strategy for this and all five sawfish species. This strategy lays out a summary of the status of each species and provides a foundation for regional, on-the-ground sawfish conservation.
“The general public can help by persuading online auction sites to police the sale of sawfish blades and body parts of other threatened animals.”
– Lucy Harrison and Nick Dulvy (IUCN SSC Shark Specialist Group)
Through strict protection in India and Nepal, the impressive Indian rhinoceros has made a remarkable recovery from just 20 remaining individuals to an impressive 2,800.
A strikingly coloured species, the Mangshan pit viper is a large, yellow-green to dark green snake marked with large brown blotches thinly outlined in black, with variable white markings on the lower jaw and sides of body. This large but cryptic species was first described by science as recently as 1989. As its name suggests, the Mangshan pit viper is known only from Mangshan Mountain and the surrounding areas in China’s Hunan Province, where it is generally found in steep, wet areas of undisturbed subtropical forest. This species can grow up to two metres in length, and is thought to be one of the heaviest venomous snakes in the world. An ambush predator which feeds on birds and mammals, the Mangshan pit viper can often be found along trails used by rodents, where it will strike its victims and inject potent venom from its long, tube-like fangs. The Mangshan pit viper’s tail tip is light yellow to white, and is used as a lure by wiggling it in a worm-like motion to attract prey.
Unfortunately for this stunning snake, the combination of over-exploitation, illegal trade and habitat destruction within its range has led to a dramatic decline in its population size. With a population estimated to be less than 500 individuals, the Mangshan pit viper is now classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Deforestation has considerably reduced this species’ range in recent decades, and although this has been halted in nature reserves, illegal bamboo harvesting still occurs within the Mangshan pit viper’s habitat. Illegal hunting or collection of the Mangshan pit viper for food, trade or medicinal purposes is currently considered to be the major threat to this species. Its unique beauty combined with its size, colouration and rarity demands a high value on the black market, primarily within China. Given its small population size, the Mangshan pit viper is also highly vulnerable to extreme weather events such as exceptionally cold spells which can lead to mortality.
To ensure a positive future for the Mangshan pit viper, conservationists are calling for enhanced patrolling and stricter law enforcement in the two nature reserves in which the species occurs. Since 2013, the Mangshan pit viper has been listed under CITES Appendix II which should help control international commercial trade in this beautiful and unique reptile. Such measures will go some way to reducing habitat destruction and illegal harvesting activities, and in so doing will also benefit other rare species in the region, such as the horned pit viper (Protobothrops cornutus) and the big-headed turtle (Platysternon megacephalum). Studies into the Mangshan pit viper’s ecology and biology, in addition to population monitoring, will be vital in designing and implementing effective conservation measures, including those aimed at minimising the impact of poaching and tourism on this threatened species. Captive breeding of the Mangshan pit viper began in 1994, and since then has produced over 100 young, most of which have been released into the wild. This species lays a clutch of up to 27 eggs and has the potential for producing high numbers in captivity to augment a dwindling wild population. With the help of zoos in the future, further captive-bred individuals could be reintroduced to their native habitat, boosting wild populations and ensuring the future survival of the Mangshan pit viper.
A fascination with the weird and wonderful is something which should be encouraged, but it’s important for people to have a solid understanding of the strong link between the international pet trade and the continued decline of threatened species. High consumer demand for exotic pets, such as pit vipers and slow lorises, can drive a species to extinction, so it’s vital that members of the public make informed decisions when it comes to buying animals, or even curios derived from wild species.
A combination of habitat protection and captive breeding has brought the Cayman Island blue iguana back from the brink of extinction, and it is now found in the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park and Salina Reserve.