The lumbering world of the giant tortoise has some good news. A constituent island of the Galapagos is Fernandino, and the Fernandino giant tortoise had not been seen since 1906. Once believed extinct, it has been found again, and a female dubbed ‘Fernanda’ by the scientists has been brought back to the labs. Chelonoidis phantasticus, it turns out, has lived through eruptions of the Fernandina volcano, believed previously to have caused its demise.
Scientists want to prevent what happened to Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta Island tortoise species, Chelonoidis abingdonii. Despite breeding efforts the species ended with his death in June 2012. Thus the need to find more Fernandino tortoises is urgent, and there is optimism as traces of two more tortoises have been seen. The hope is that an expedition being launched in September this year will prove successful in finding a suitable mate for Fernanda.
On the other side of the world lives the snow leopard. Its beautiful soft, thick leopard-spotted fur has been its undoing. Once thriving in the mountains in an area from Tibet in the east to Pakistan in the west and north through China into Mongolia, its numbers have been falling gradually to an estimated total between 4080 and 6500. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) classifies it as ‘vulnerable’, which implies a likelihood of entering a threatened category in the near future.
The problem for the snow leopard is a decline in prey, notably among others the Argali sheep. As a result, the big cat is forced to resort to livestock. Farmers then hunt down the culprit. One cause of the decline in Argali sheep is that farmers hunt them also. It is a classic conflict between expanding human populations and large predators. WWF focuses on educating rural populations to end the cycle which kills snow leopards. It is also attempting to stop mining in fragile snow leopard habitat and above all control the illegal wildlife trade. Finally, climate change is also blamed for it affects grass and vegetation, the food for leopard prey.
Another threat from climate change — and probably with greater impact — is the rise in sea levels. A study published recently reassesses how the sea will be affected by global warming. Researchers at the Niels Bohr Institute of the University of Copenhagen have developed a new method of prediction by monitoring sea levels and comparing them to previous forecasting models. They have also discovered that the old models have underpredicted the rise. One unfortunate consequence is that it does not bode well for coastal communities.
Meanwhile, emissions of nitrous oxide (N20 — two nitrogens, one oxygen) commonly known as ‘laughing gas’ are soaring. Molecule for molecule, it is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) and takes 114 years to disintegrate. The principal villain in producing it is agriculture, which alone is responsible for 16 – 27 percent of anthropogenic climate warming emissions.
In short, there is good news and there is bad news on this little haven we call earth … and mostly take for granted.