Happy International Polar Bear Day!

Science reporter Deborah Netburn talked to the chief scientist for Polar Bears International, the conservation group that founded International Polar Bear Day, about ways people can help polar bears. Number one on the group’s list: turn your thermostat down a few degrees.

Video: A polar bear cub experiences snow for the first time. Credit: Toronto Zoo

In the small, rural community of Reserve, children waiting for the school bus gather inside wooden and mesh cages provided as protection from wolves. Parents consider the “kid cages” a reasonable precaution.

'A last testament' to Africa's wildlife

Times photographer Barbara Davidson sat down recently with renowned photographer Nick Brandt, whose current focus is on the dwindling wildlife of Africa.

Brandt said of his focused choice of subjects:

There is something profoundly iconic, mythological even, about the animals and landscapes of East Africa. There is also something deeply, emotionally stirring and affecting about those vast green rolling plains under the huge skies.

It just affects me, as I think it almost inevitably does many people, in a very fundamental, possibly primordial way.

See more of Brandt’s work over at Framework.

Photos: Nick Brandt

Cheer up, gloppy blobfish
You may have been voted the world’s ugliest endangered animal. Fine. You may look like a saggy old man who just dropped his ice cream cone. But you’re a winner! And maybe all of that publicity will help save your species.
Photo: Kerryn Parkinson / Australian Museum

Cheer up, gloppy blobfish

You may have been voted the world’s ugliest endangered animal. Fine. You may look like a saggy old man who just dropped his ice cream cone. But you’re a winner! And maybe all of that publicity will help save your species.

Photo: Kerryn Parkinson / Australian Museum

Can anything save endangered rhino populations?

A startling 90% of Africa’s rhinos live in South Africa, where a new report comissioned by the government finds that anti-poaching efforts have largely failed. Last year, 668 rhinos were killed. So far this year, more than 500 have been poached.

Mavuso Msimang, the country’s resident rhino expert, paints a grim picture for the rhino’s future:

"The data suggest that the banning of legal open trade in rhino horn has not resulted in reduced demand for the horn and has thus not helped the objective of saving the rhino from imminent extinction. Escalation in the slaughter of rhino is proof of this. Consumers simply do not believe that rhino horn has no medicinal value."

So what can be done? The rhino horn trade is banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, and the South African let loose its own stockpile of horns obtained by rhinos that passed away from natural causes in hopes of sending the price of horns in a freefall.

But that’s not to say that loosening restrictions on the rhino trade will work either, as Msimang’s critics point to South Africa’s rampant corruption as a cause for concern.

Read more over at World Now.

Photos: Stephane de Sakutin / AFP/Getty Images, Los Angeles Times

How can the Colorado River be saved?

The giant river, which stretches across seven states, has long been endangered by droughts and rapidly-increasing demand for water supplies. Now, states are weighing a widespread partnership, led by the federal government, to find a solution before the problem blows up into a crisis.

For a sense of the current status of the river:

On one point, there appears to be no disagreement: The hour is late and shortages loom as demand threatens to outstrip supply. Last year was the fifth driest on record; this year is headed to be the fourth driest.

By Oct. 1, the river’s two reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, could be at less than half of their capacity, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

But a solution won’t be easy to come by, with the need for drinking water, agricultural sustainability, economic interests and environmental concerns all in conflict with each other.

Read more on the growing problem here.

Photos: Matt York, Julie Jacobson / Associated Press, Rebecca Flowers / Los Angeles Times

Top 10 new species of 2012

A human-faced monkey, a glow-in-the-dark cockroach an tiny frog and more. They’re a strange, varied bunch, these newly-honored creatures, but what they all have in common is a shared place on  International Institute for Species Exploration’s top 10 new species list.

The list, released annually by Arizona State University and culled from a list of 140 nominees discovered last year, is part of a larger effort to identify more of the estimated 8.7 million species on Earth - with just 1.2-2 million officially identified.

Said Quentin Wheeler, an entomologist at ASU:

“Knowing that millions of species may not survive the 21st century, it is time to pick up the pace.”

Read more over at Science Now.

Photos: Maurice Emetshu, Peter Vrsansky & Dusan Chorvat, Christopher C. Austin, Sevastian Lotzkat / ASU

Polar bears remain a threatened species

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided to keep polar bears protected by broad federal measures Friday,

The court rejected the argument that the 25,000 remaining polar bears, most of which live in relatively stable populations, were perfectly fine without “threatened species” status. But many scientists worry that the effects of climate change on the Arctic climate could prove dangerous for the remaining bears.

And it looks like polar bears may remain on that list for the foreseeable future, according to Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity.

"So for practical purposes, the listing of the polar bear is final, and really no longer under any serious threat from these challenges."

Read more about the court’s decision here, via Nation Now.

Photos: Jeon Heon-Kyun, Koen Van Weel / EPA, Sven Hoppe / Associated Press

Little-known fact: The Marines are working to protect the Agassiz’s desert tortoise, a species vulnerable to extinction. The base in Twentynine Palms, Calif., includes five acres dedicated to a Desert Tortoise Head-Start Facility, where 500 hatchlings are being cared and protected from predators (namely ravens, which feed on juvenile tortoises whose shells are still soft).

More than 90% of Marines who deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan came to Twentynine Palms for several weeks of grueling training known as Mojave Viper. And every one of them received a video lecture about the tortoise’s threatened status under the federal Endangered Species Act. Troops were warned to halt all training and notify the range master the moment a tortoise is spotted.
Marines are also ordered to make the base less hospitable to ravens by picking up food litter and making sure trash cans have lids that are “raven-proof.” Anti-raven pamphlets titled “Invasion of the Tortoise Snatchers” are handed out.

More tortoise photos for your viewing pleasure here.
Photo: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

Little-known fact: The Marines are working to protect the Agassiz’s desert tortoise, a species vulnerable to extinction. The base in Twentynine Palms, Calif., includes five acres dedicated to a Desert Tortoise Head-Start Facility, where 500 hatchlings are being cared and protected from predators (namely ravens, which feed on juvenile tortoises whose shells are still soft).

More than 90% of Marines who deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan came to Twentynine Palms for several weeks of grueling training known as Mojave Viper. And every one of them received a video lecture about the tortoise’s threatened status under the federal Endangered Species Act. Troops were warned to halt all training and notify the range master the moment a tortoise is spotted.

Marines are also ordered to make the base less hospitable to ravens by picking up food litter and making sure trash cans have lids that are “raven-proof.” Anti-raven pamphlets titled “Invasion of the Tortoise Snatchers” are handed out.

More tortoise photos for your viewing pleasure here.

Photo: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

A secret oasis for the world’s most endangered turtles, the Turtle Conservancy, tucked in the foothills of Ventura County, cares for species ravaged by habitat loss, wildfires, hunting and black markets. Its latest project: breeding the rare ploughshare tortoise.
Photo: Eric Goode and his team hope to mate two ploughshare tortoises, one of the rarest species in the world. Fewer than 300 remain in the wilds of Madagascar, and previous efforts to breed them in captivity have gone awry. View more photos at the gallery. Credit: Stefano Paltera / For The Times

A secret oasis for the world’s most endangered turtles, the Turtle Conservancy, tucked in the foothills of Ventura County, cares for species ravaged by habitat loss, wildfires, hunting and black markets. Its latest project: breeding the rare ploughshare tortoise.

Photo: Eric Goode and his team hope to mate two ploughshare tortoises, one of the rarest species in the world. Fewer than 300 remain in the wilds of Madagascar, and previous efforts to breed them in captivity have gone awry. View more photos at the gallery. Credit: Stefano Paltera / For The Times