1. Meet Two Socks, Lil Red, and Markie: 'Extinct' species of wild mountain dog that hasn't been seen for 50 years rediscovered in New Guinea
A rare species of wild dog feared to be extinct for the last 50 years has been rediscovered in the mountains of New Guinea.
After spotting canine paw-prints in the mud during an expedition last fall, researchers launched a rapid assessment survey, setting up trail cameras and bait throughout the region.
And, in just days, they’d captured ‘definitive proof’ of what appears to be a healthy population of New Guinea Highland Wild Dogs.
These dogs are said to be the ‘rarest, most ancient canid’ in the world today, and researchers have now documented the presence of at least 15 individuals – including a pregnant female and pups.
The team has captured more than 140 photographs of the wild dogs, which range in color from cream, ginger, and roan, to black with white markings and darker roan or black with tricolor patterning.
And, the camera traps revealed the presence of adults of both sexes, pregnant females, and pups ranging in age from about 3-5 months.
Researchers have come up with nicknames for the dogs based on their markings, including three 'plump pups' now dubbed Two Socks, Lil Red, and Markie.
In the September 2016 survey, scientists from the University of Papua and the Southwest Pacific Research Foundation, discovered a slew of signs pointing to the existence of the dogs at remote locations 3700-4600m above sea level.
This includes tracks, predations, scat, two dens, and even a trail system they use for travel.
The researchers were even able to observe the dogs first-hand, confirming the existence of the elusive species.
While two ‘potentially credible’ photographs had previously pointed to their existence, this is the first time researchers have been able to confirm a sighting in more than half a century.
And, not only are some of these creatures present in the New Guinea highlands, but the researchers say they appear to be thriving.
The dogs were observed both as solitary individuals and as a part of small social groups, which consisted of two, three, and four members.
During the expedition, the researchers collected fecal samples, which will allow them to conduct DNA sequencing and analysis on the species.
These dogs are similar to the New Guinea Singing Dog and the Australian Dingo, and researchers say the discovery marks and ‘incredible opportunity for science.’
‘It is our best example of a proto-canid and is truly a living fossil,’ according to the New Guinea Highlands Wild Dog Foundation.
‘It is the apex predator of New Guinea and the most important canid in existence.
‘The HWD is the missing link species between the first early canids and the modern domestic dogs.’
2. Extinct creature sightings are piling up in Australia
The last known Tasmanian Tiger was captured in its native Australia in 1933 and lived for a few years in a zoo before dying, and its death has long been thought to be the final nail in the species' coffin. Australians have occasionally claimed to have spotted the dog-like animals over the years, but the sightings were typically rare and attributed to nothing more than misidentification. That's all changed now, as several "plausible sightings" are beginning to give life to the theory that the animal never actually went extinct at all.
Now, scientists in Queensland, Australia, are taking action in the hopes of actually finding evidence that the Tiger is still around. If confirmed, it would be an absolutely monumental discovery, considering the animal's history. The team plans to set up cameras in areas where reported sightings have taken place in the hopes of confirming the claims.
In the late 1800s there were actually bounties on Tasmanian Tigers in Australia, and the creatures were hunted to the brink of extinction before any action was taken. By that point, the species was thought to be doomed, and when the last captive animal died it was assumed that was the end of the road. Now, it appears that might not be the case after all.
3. Nepal's Extinct Bird Spotted After Disappearing for 178 Years
The red-faced liocichla (Liocichla phoenicea) hasn't been spotted for 178 years and was thought to be locally extinct, according to Australian Geographic. A group of ornithologists spotted the bird on a 10-day bird watching tour.
“We were excited when we first spotted a pair of red-faced liocichla in the forest," Hem Sagar Baral, of the Zoological Society London and leader of the tour, told the Kathmandu Post. “The sighting of the bird after more than a century and a half has raised hopes of finding more such species that have not been sighted for a very long time."
The bird-watching group originally saw just two red-faced liocichlas, but when they returned to the spot the next day, they saw eight birds, including a male-female pair, Australian Geographic reported.
“When we confirmed it was the red-faced liocichla we all felt so happy—we were so excited," Tikaram Giri, a senior field ornithologist, said. “We never thought and never expected to see it so easily."
The red-faced liocichla is widely distributed throughout Vietnam, Bhutan, Laos, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Discoveries of species previously thought to be extinct are not uncommon, Australian Geographic said. Several species of birds, mammals, insects, reptiles and plants have been rediscovered after years of no sightings.
Diana Fisher, University of Queensland fellow, said about a third of all mammals ever feared to be extinct have been rediscovered.
“There are large numbers of poorly known species around the world only known from a single museum specimen as well," Fisher told Australia Geographic. “So it is hard to know anything much about them or where they exist."
But there is still reason for the bird-watching group in Nepal to celebrate.
Nepal is home to 878 species of birds, 8 percent of the world's known birds. Even with the abundance, a lot of the species are close to being labeled as threatened.
“Nearly 20 percent of Nepal's birds (167 species) are threatened with extinction in the country including 37 species which are threatened on a global scale," the Zoological Society London wrote.
Another 62 species are closing in on having a threatened status, the Weather Channel reported. Nine species are believed to be extinct in Nepal because they have not been spotted since the 19th century.
4. Spotted tree frogs brought back from extinction in Kosciuszko National Park
The species is one of hundreds of frog species around the world that have been decimated by the amphibian chytrid fungus, regarded as the 'kryptonite of frogs'.
Dr David Hunter from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage led a team that captured the last remaining frogs in Kosciuszko in 2001.
The surviving frogs were then bred in captivity at the Amphibian Research Centre in Melbourne while Dr Hunter sought other habitats in which to re-introduce the frogs to the wild.
The first attempt re-establish them back in Kosciuszko National Park failed when they were again wiped out by the fungus.
So three years ago he chose a new, very remote site that the frogs had never previously inhabited.
Dr Hunter said that so far it is the only site they had found in Kosciuszko that meets the criteria for the best chance of survival.
He said the frogs were a vital element in the ecosystem, providing a food source for reptiles, birds and mammals.
Frogs decimated by fungus
The new site was chosen because it is warmer and drier than the typical habitat for spotted tree frogs.
"This fungus doesn't like temperatures above 28-30 degrees," said Dr Hunter.
The basking behaviour of the frogs in the new, warmer location helps the frogs resist the fungus.
More than 50 per cent of the re-introduced frogs have survived and are breeding in the new location.
"This chytrid fungus is causing all sort of problems for our frogs in Kosciuszko, but it doesn't stop there," Dr Hunter said.
"In Australia, we fear that maybe six species of frogs have become extinct within the last 30 years.
Other than in Kosciuszko, the spotted tree frog is only found in the central highlands of Victoria, where a small, critically endangered population is in serious decline.
"Without our assistance, [that population] will probably be extinct in the relatively near future," he said.
The survival of the re-introduced population on Kosciuszko has enormous significance for global efforts to combat the fungus.
Dr Hunter has been finding evidence of juvenile frogs that are the result of breeding in the new location.
"The frogs that we released have kick-started all life stages," he said.
Apart from a warmer, drier climate, the area is free of exotic fish species.
"That will help ensure that the tadpoles survive through to metamorphosis without getting gobbled up," he said.
5. Salmon spotters glimpse thousands of a species previously thought to be extinct
Groups gathered on a Twizel bridge to spot the southern hemisphere's only population of the fish, who were thought be extinct, scramble up the riverbed in search of the perfect spot to lay their eggs.
It comes after thousands of the fish were spotted for the first time in decades near Lake Pukaki, in the Mackenzie District's alpine rivers.
The fish was though to have become extinct in the 1980s, but reported sightings started filtering in about 2005. This season marked the first time a sighting had been officially confirmed.
Central South Island Fish and Game officer Jayde Couper said there was about 1000 spawning fish in just one of the lake's tributary streams this year. The sockeye's comeback from the verge of extinction was "widespread".
"The fact sockeye appear to have come back from the dead is heartening and a positive sign of the health of the fishery in the Waitaki Lakes," Couper said.
The fish, who live in lakes and were only seen when they returned to rivers to lay eggs, had even turned up in areas they were not known to exist in previously.
Sockeye had also been spotted in almost all of the rivers and streams flowing into Lake Benmore, and in the Lower Ohau River, the Twizel and Fraser Rivers and the Tekapo River.
Couper said the State Highway 8 bridge, near Twizel, was a popular spot because people could watch the fish from the platform without disturbing them.
He warned people not to interrupt the fish, who are protected under the Conservation Act.
"You can't catch, net or spear the fish, or even walk in the river bed and trample their nests."
Fish and Game was developing a method of monitoring the growth of the species it had thought to be extinct.
"There are too many salmon and not enough time and resources to count them all," Couper said.
6. Near-extinct brown bats slowly making a comeback
Over the past handful of years, their winter nap was not restful, for it was in that hibernaculum (Latin for a place where creatures hibernate) where the tiny, flying mammals faced extinction.
And it was a fungus that silently attached itself to the several species of bats, sapping their strength, wounding their wings and causing the mammals to wake from their winter torpor, only to die of starvation, thirst or exhaustion.
The fungus grew around the bats' noses and mouths and on their wings and came to be known as white-nose syndrome.
Discovered in February 2006 in a cave just west of Albany, N.Y., the fungus and the spoors from which it grows have spread to cover the eastern U.S., except for the southeast where bats don't hibernate and caves are few.
The fungus, and its resulting dead and dying bats, were discovered in New Jersey's Hibernia Mine in the late winter/early spring of 2008, one of two major bat hibernacula in the state.
Over the next five years, 90 percent or more of the little brown bats succumbed to white-nose. Also taking a big hit were northern long-eared bats, the eastern small-footed bat and the tri-colored bat. The tri-colored bat was formerly known as the eastern pipistrelle.
Today, less than 10 percent of those bat species' population remains, said MacKenzie Hall, wildlife biologist, who heads the Division of Fish and Wildlife bat program.
"But the good news is, the survival rate is back to normal," she said. "It's still devastatingly low; 90 percent of what it once was; but seems to be coming back."
What has been a surprise, and added considerably to human understanding of white-nose, is that big brown bats apparently weren't affected much, if at all, by white-nose syndrome.
Hall said there appear to be a couple of theories of why, tied in with where and how the big browns sleep, and surprisingly, what they eat.
Big browns are the bats most likely to spend warm weather days in attics of human homes, a climate where white-nose fungus doesn't exist.
Eating and sleeping
In winter, the big browns do hibernate in caves, but tend to sleep near the entrance where more drastic temperature swings occur.
White-nose, which also goes by the scientific name of Pseudogymnoascus destructans, needs a temperature rage of low 40 to mid-50 degrees to thrive. That's the temperature deep inside the cave where the smaller bats sleep.
Big brown bats tend to hang out closer to the cave entrance where the temperature swing is greater.
"They will even come out and fly around on warm winter days," Hall noted, and with a larger body mass, they have the ability to survive below-freezing temperatures for a spell.
Researchers have put on a full court press since the destruction of the bat population became apparent, and Hall said a team at Fordham University has also found the big brown's wings have fatty acids built up in them from the type of insects they eat. Those fatty acids tend to repel the fungus so there is no wing damage.
With fewer "competitors" flying through the night skies, the population of big brown bats has grown even as the population of their smaller cousin species plummeted.
While the big browns' living and eating habits saved them, it is genetic traits in the other species that appear to be key to their recovery, since the surviving parents seem to be passing along their natural immunity to their offspring.
But recovery will not be quick since female bats only have one pup per year.
"It could be 30, 40 years before the population is back to where it was before white-nose," said Hall.
In the meantime, four bat species have been recommended for inclusion on the state's list of endangered species.
Those are the little brown, eastern small-footed, tri-colored and northern long-eared species. The long-eared species was already on the federal threatened list prior to white-nose.
The process for formal listing on New Jersey's list has just begun, Hall said and the ensuing rule-making process could take a year or more.
"The crisis now is there are so few bats," Hall said. "We were close to ground zero but that has eased. Now is the lag time (before full population recovery)."
She said there are some actions the public can take, leading off with public education and "some tolerance of bats."
While the major caves, such as Hibernia Mine in Morris County, and several old mines in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, have been closed to human access, humans still should take precautions to thoroughly clean their clothing and equipment when they visit other caves.
This spring, white-nose was confirmed in a bat in Washington state, more than a thousand miles from the nearest known occurrence. That distance was likely covered by a human carrying spoors of the fungus from one cave to another.
Initially, it was believed humans gave the fungus the transportation boost it needed, but Hall said it appears that most of the spread is by bats themselves carrying the spoors.
There is also concern, based on this past winter's discovery of the fungus in northern Texas, that white-nose could spread quickly to the south into Mexico and skirt around the southern Rockies into California. Hall said the public in New Jersey can help out by not disturbing bat colonies around the house.
"Behind a shutter, they're not going to be a problem," she said. "If they get into your house, contact a professional. They know the best methods to exclude them."
She noted homeowners can also install commercial or home-made bat houses if they have suitable habitat. The bat houses are designed to hold up to 100 bats, the size of maternity colonies.
"Agriculture needs them and even a residential neighborhood needs them," she said. "They are the bug-eaters of the night."
7. China’s 'Extinct' Dolphin Has Reportedly Been Spotted in The Yangtze River
The baiji, or 'goddess of the Yangtze', was a species of white river dolphin that was abundant in the Yangtze for around 20 million years before it was wiped out by hunting and pollution.
But now a group of amateur conservationists claim they spotted the dolphin (Lipotes vexillifer) during an expedition last week, and say it's evidence that the species is still around. The image above shows a baiji before it was classified as extinct.
The sighting occurred near the city of Wuhu in Anhui province, during a seven-day expedition that aimed to look for any remaining trace of the river dolphin.
"No other creature could jump out of the Yangtze like that," Song Qi, the leader of that expedition told government news site Sixth Tone. "All the eyewitnesses - which include fishermen - felt certain that it was a baiji."
To be clear, this sighting hasn't been confirmed by scientists, and the whole thing happened so quickly, the team didn't take photos that could be studied in more detail.
In the past, there have been plenty of false sightings of baijis, which often turned out to be a finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides) - a critically endangered marine mammal in the Yangtze. So a lot more research needs to be done before we can officially say that a baiji has been spotted.
But the claim has reignited interest in the possibility that the white river dolphin could still be around in the murky waters of the Yangtze.
Back in the 1950s, there were estimated to be thousands of baijis living in the Yangtze, Asia's longest river. But there are reports that during the Great Famine of the late 1950s, the millions of starving Chinese people under Mao Zedong's rule resorted to eating the species in order to survive.
"It was the dolphins or it was our children," one Yangtze fisherman is quoted as telling a journalist in zoologist Samuel Turvey's book on the baiji, Witness to Extinction. "Which would you choose?"
By the end of the 1980s, the population had fallen to just 200, thanks to a mix of over-fishing, boat traffic, pollution, and dam-building on the river - more than 400,000 chemical enterprises are now reported as operating on the banks of the Yangtze.
By the turn of the century, one survey concluded there were only 13 baijis left.
In 2006, a six-week scientific expedition set out to study the population of baijis left in the river, and couldn't find a single one, causing scientists to declare the species functionally extinct - which means that even if there were individuals left, they were so few in number that the species couldn't possibly survive.
Which is why, 10 years later, the possible sighting on the baiji is so exciting.
The group of amateur conservationists, who don't have scientific training, set out on September 30 from Anqing to travel down the Yangtze and look for signs of the baiji.
On the morning of October 4, Qi told Tom Phillips from The Guardian that he spotted a "white dot" emerge from the river.
He then saw the creature jump up a second and third time, before it swam towards the river's bank.
Immediately after the sighting, Qi contacted specialists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuhan, who joined them for the rest of their expedition, but they didn't make any more sightings of the mysterious animal.
Qi now plans to run another expedition along the Yangtze early next year to search for more evidence of the baiji's existence - he hopes the potential sighting will invigorate the search for the dolphin, and renew efforts to protect the species. "I want society to realise that the baiji is not extinct," he told The Guardian.
Turvey, who works at the Zoological Society of London and who took part in the 2006 expedition, is doubtful that the sighting was really a baiji - more likely it was a finless propose, he says.
"Extreme claims for the possible survival of probably extinct species require robust proof, and while I would deeply love there to be strong evidence that the baiji is not extinct, this isn’t it," Turvey told Phillips.
"Ecologically, the question is: if this is a baiji, where has the species been hiding for the past decade?"
He also said these reports detract attention from more practical conservation efforts, such as focussing on the plight of the Yangtze finless propose which is critically endangered.
"This animal needs urgent media interest and conservation attention in order to combat its total population collapse, while there is still time to do something about it," added Turvey.
Let's hope that, if nothing else, Qi's possible sighting increases awareness about the ecological challenges facing the Yangtze, and inspires local government to protect whatever species are left living in there. Because you never know when it's too late.
8. Iowa DNR Confirms First ‘Fisher’ Spotted in Iowa Since 1800s
ALLAMAKEE COUNTY, Iowa – An animal not confirmed to have been seen in Iowa since the 1800s has weaseled its way back into the state.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources says a trail camera photo taken in northeast Iowa has confirmed the presence of a fisher. The member of the weasel family was captured on camera in Allamakee County in November.
The Iowa DNR shared the photo of the fisher on its Facebook page. They say though they’ve received reports of sightings of fishers in Iowa, this is the first documented fisher in the state in about 150 years.
The DNR says it’s likely the fisher came from southeast Minnesota.
The fisher is known for being a fierce carnivore and officials say it has few predators, outside of humans. If you come across a fisher, the DNR advises keeping your distance and not disturbing them.
9. Rare Indochinese Tigers Spotted in Thailand, Bolstering Hope for Nearly Extinct Species
According to a report from BBC News, camera traps caught footage of a small population of the sub-species in a national park in eastern Thailand. At least six cubs were included, meaning the group is successfully breeding.
Wild cat conservation group Panthera and counter-trafficking organization Freeland conducted the survey that found the new population.
After poaching and loss of habitat obliterated the Indochinese tigers' population to less than 250 individuals, scientists only know of one other small breeding population before this discovery. This second population is a significant milestone in the sub-species' survival and conservationists credit the country's improved anti-poaching efforts for the achievement.
"The stepping up of anti-poaching patrols and law enforcement efforts in this area have played a pivotal role in conserving the tiger population by ensuring a safe environment for them to breed," Songtam Suksawang, director of Thailand's national parks, explained. "However, we must remain vigilant and continue these efforts, because well-armed poachers still pose a major threat."
Tigers are struggling for a foothold in the wild with a depleted current population of 3,900. A century ago, there were about 100,000 individuals roaming in the wild.
Jonathan Head, BBC's Southeast Asia correspondent, reported that Indochinese tigers are vulnerable as lost forests reduced their population to just a handful in their former habitats in Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. They're now believed to be extinct in Cambodia, while Thailand's well-run national parks emerge as the last stronghold of the beautiful creature.
"Thailand has shown that you can protect tigers and bring them back," Alan Rabinowitz, the chief executive officer of Panthera, told The Guardian. "They can do this now in the eastern forest complex as they have done in the western forest complex."
10. 'Beer slug' that was thought to be extinct 80 YEARS ago makes a surprise return to Hamburg's red light district
After 80 years undercover, a 'beer slug' caused quite a stir when it reappeared in Hamburg's infamous red light district.
The creature was last sighted in 1935 - years before the start of World War Two - and experts believed the species had become extinct.
Historically the slug was a popular feature of Hamburg's city centre - usually found in moist basements where beer was brewed.
For the past eighty years, Hamburg's 'beer slug' has been on the 'red list' of endangered species and was believed to be either extinct or lost.
On Tuesday the University of Hamburg announced that the mysterious slug had been spotted in the St. Pauli and Grindelviertel districts of Hamburg's red light zone.
The creature, which is also known as the 'cellar slug' in English, used to be a common feature of Hamburg's underworld.
The beer slug is about ten centimetres long and is distinguished by its patchy yellow-green colour and blue-grey feelers.
The species prefers moist, dark habitats such as basements and storerooms and was famously found in underground beer cellars.
It was commonly found in the 19th century but then numbers started to decline.
Due to renovations and the destruction of Hamburg's more unhygienic brewing spots the slug was seen less and less until 1935 until it was seen no more.
It was also sighted in 2015 in the courtyard of a hostel off Reeperbahn street in St. Pauli, however it was not officially identified.
Less severe winters will likely lead to fewer of the species dying during the winter months.
'Nevertheless, such a species for Germany as a whole should still be classified as highly endangered because its suitable habitat is becoming scarce in populated areas through renovations', he said.