Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Echidnas now ranked as most endangered animals

Weird mammals struggling for survival

November 2010. A bat-eared bushbaby and a scaly anteater are amongst the bizarre species that have been added to a list of the 100 most evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered (EDGE) mammals in the world.

3 species of Echidna ranked most endangered
Conservationists from the Zoological Society of London's (ZSL) EDGE of Existence programme have drawn on the latest research to create a new list of the of the world's most unique and threatened mammal species. Three species of long-beaked echidna - extraordinary egg-laying mammals related to the duck-billed platypus - are ranked equal first on the new list.

Ranging from wide-eyed primates to hose-nosed tapirs, EDGE species exhibit the natural world's most weird and wonderful features, but despite their unique appeal, nature's ‘ugly ducklings' are struggling to compete with the poster boys of conservation and secure the funding needed to save them from extinction.

"EDGE mammals are one-of-a-kind and they represent the true diversity of life on earth. If we let these species disappear, their extraordinary features and unique behaviours will be lost forever," says Carly Waterman, EDGE Programme Manager.

Dolphin already extinct
The original number one EDGE mammal, the Yangtze River dolphin, is already believed to have gone extinct. Conservationists are now racing against time to raise the profile and initiate conservation for the other underrated species on the EDGE list in order to avoid them suffering the same fate.

"There are mammals across the world requiring conservation attention, but EDGE species must be our top priority. Variety is truly the spice of life when it comes to the natural world and if we fail to preserve this variety, we are threatening our very own existence," says Craig Turner, EDGE Conservation Biologist.

The EDGE team are now in the process of recruiting a new cohort of in-country conservationists to fly the flag for EDGE mammals that include the Asian tapir and the Ganges River dolphin.

New entries to the top 100 include:

Attenborough's long-beaked echidna - one of the most primitive mammals on the planet, this species lays eggs like a reptile. Known only from the Cyclops Mountains of Papua (Indonesia), it was presumed extinct until ZSL researchers uncovered evidence of its continued existence in 2007.

Pygmy three-toed sloth - only discovered in 2001, this miniature sloth is the smallest and most threatened of all the sloth species. It is confined to a single tiny island off the coast of Panama.

Asian tapir - the only Old World tapir species, the Asian tapir has a distinct black and white body pattern. Its most distinctive feature is its long, fleshy, prehensile nose which it uses to grab leaves. Although threatened mostly by habitat loss, hunting is becoming an increasing threat to this shy, gentle creature as hunters switch from depleted preferred large prey species to tapir.

Rondo dwarf galago - the smallest and most threatened of the galagos (bushbabies), this species is known from just seven isolated and highly threatened forest patches in Tanzania. It is listed as one of the world's top 25 most endangered primates.

Black and white ruffed lemur - the largest of the true lemurs and Madagascar's answer to the bumblebee, this species is thought to be the word's largest pollinator. It has developed a unique relationship with the traveller's tree, unwittingly collecting pollen on its fur as it sips nectar from the tree's flowers.

Saola - incredibly, this "Asian unicorn" was unknown to western science until 1992. Its discovery is one of the most exciting animal finds of the last 50 years. The population is now critically low - it's possible that only a few tens of individuals survive in the mountainous jungle region that separates Lao and Vietnam

Ganges River dolphin - the last descendant of one of the earliest groups of long-beaked dolphins that used to occur across the world's seas millions of years ago. Extremely unusually looking with a needle thin beak, this freshwater dolphin is virtually blind. It swims on its side and upside down and, being virtually blind, uses finger-like projections on its fins to find food along the bottom of the rivers in which it lives.

Chinese pangolin - unusually for a mammal, pangolins are covered in scales, which are formed from fused hair and contribute to a quarter of the species' total weight. With its powerful claws and long (up to 40cm) tongue, Chinese pangolins are specialised for feeding solely on ants and termites, resulting in them sometimes being given the alternative common name of scaly anteaters. This species is being massively overexploited for its meat - which is considered a delicacy - and for its skin and scales which are used in traditional Chinese medicine.


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