L.A. Unleashed

All things animal in Southern
California and beyond

Category: Endangered Species

Rare Pacific gray whale tracked on migration from Russia had previously been in North American waters

Flex the western Pacific gray whale

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Marine researchers say a rare whale tracked across the Pacific Ocean into North American waters this year had been there before.

Photo analysis has confirmed that the highly endangered western Pacific gray whale dubbed Flex -- one of only 130 remaining -- was photographed in 2008 off Canada's Vancouver Island and was assumed to be part of the eastern gray whale population.

U.S and Russian researchers started tracking the male whale Oct. 4 when they tagged him with a satellite tracker off Sakhalin Island, Russia, as part of research into where the animals spend winters.

The whale left Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula on Jan. 3 and began swimming east. It swam halfway across the Bering Sea, turned southand swam between Aleutian Islands into the Gulf of Alaska. It continued southeast to shallow coastal waters off Washington and Oregon. Its last confirmed location was Feb. 4 off Siletz Bay, Ore., where researchers believe the satellite tag fell off. The whale had traveled 5,335 miles over 124 days.

The project stirred the interest of other whale researchers, said Dave Weller, a marine mammal ecologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla.

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Rare Javan rhinoceroses caught on video in Indonesia

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Four of the world's rarest rhinoceroses were captured by camera traps in an Indonesian national park, an environmental group said Monday.

The footage from movement-triggered hidden cameras showed two mother Javan rhinos and two calves in Ujung Kulon National Park in November and December last year, said a release from the WWF-Indonesia.

Javan rhinos are one of the world's most endangered species, with an estimated population of no more than 50 in Ujung Kulon. A few others live in Vietnam's Cat Tien National Park.

"This is good news to ensure that the population is viable," said Adhi Hariyadi, WWF project leader in the park.

The first "video trap" footage recorded in November showed a mother and calf, identified later as a male, walking steadily toward the camera. Several more videos of the family were obtained later.

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Your morning adorable: Giraffe calf sticks out his tongue at German zoo

Giraffe calf

At the Opel Zoo in Kronberg, Germany, 2011 has already been a big year for giraffe calves. Two Rothschild giraffes -- a male named Karl, born Feb. 10 to mother Catherine, and a male named Luke, born just three days later to mother Lucy -- have been born so far this year, joining a female Rothschild calf named Mary who was born on Christmas.

Karl, Luke and Mary are all half-siblings, sharing the same father, a bull (the term for a male giraffe) named Gregory.

The Opel Zoo is part of a conservation breeding program designed to help the Rothschild giraffes, which were recently classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, bounce back from the brink of extinction in the wild. Rothschild giraffes (also known as Ugandan giraffes or Baringo giraffes) are native to parts of Uganda and Kenya.

See more photos of Karl and Luke after the jump!

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Indonesian officials arrest Jakarta man on suspicion of sale of exotic wildlife parts over the Internet

Wildlife Parts

JAKARTA, Indonesia — An Indonesian man has been arrested on suspicion of using the Internet to sell hundreds of illegal wildlife parts -- including ivory, tiger skins and the teeth of the world's smallest bears.

The parts were allegedly destined for domestic and international markets, and several other suspects were being pursued, said Darori, director general of the Forestry Ministry, on Thursday.

The suspect was arrested in his art shop during a Feb. 9 raid carried out by police and forestry officials in the capital, Jakarta, he said, adding that the U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society helped tip off authorities.

They found 26 items at the scene and hundreds more waiting to be shipped by courier service, including teeth from sun bears, native to Southeast Asia.

"This is just the first case," said Darori. "If you are trying to sell wildlife online, beware. We will catch you and you will be prosecuted."

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Your morning adorable: The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute's two cheetah cubs are better than one


Staff at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Virginia have found a creative way to make sure two cheetah cubs born there in December have an upbringing that's as close as possible to what they would have in the wild.

The institute, which is associated with the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is a participant in a conservation breeding program to help the cheetah species survive. Two different cheetah mothers, Amani and Zazi, gave birth to cubs about a week and a half apart.

But there was one problem: Each mother gave birth to only one cub. Cheetah mothers typically have litters of three or four cubs; "singletons" are a rarity. For reasons not entirely clear, mothers are unable to properly care for only one cub. "The theory is that one cub does not stimulate the mother enough to keep producing milk," head cheetah keeper Lacey Braun wrote on the National Zoo's website.

Keepers decided to take Amani's cub, a male, from her in order to hand-raise him. When Zazi's single female cub was born later in the month, an idea was hatched: Why not let Zazi raise the two cubs together as siblings? Zazi took to being the mother of "twins" just fine, and the cubs are energetic and healthy. They had their first trip outside last week, and the institute recently launched a live webcam to allow cheetah fans to watch the cubs' antics online.

See more photos of the cubs after the jump!

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Montana's governor encourages ranchers to kill wolves

Gray wolf howling

BILLINGS, Mont. — Defying federal authority over gray wolves, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer on Wednesday encouraged ranchers to kill wolves that prey on their livestock -- even in areas where that is not currently allowed -- and said the state would start shooting packs that hurt elk herds.

Schweitzer told the Associated Press he no longer would wait for federal officials to resolve the tangle of lawsuits over wolves, which has kept the animals on the endangered species list for a decade since recovery goals were first met.

"We will take action in Montana on our own," he said. "We've had it with Washington, D.C., with Congress just yipping about it, with [the Department of the] Interior just vacillating about it."

State wildlife agents and ranchers already kill wolves regularly across much of the Northern Rockies, where 1,700 of the animals roam parts of five states. Rules against killing wolves have been relaxed significantly by federal officials over the past decade but hunting remains prohibited.

Livestock owners in southern Montana and Idaho have authority to defend their property by shooting wolves that attack their cattle, sheep or other domestic animals. And federal agents regularly kill problem wolves, with more than 1,000 shot over the past decade.

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Conservationists, animal activists worry about effects of the Year of the Rabbit

Year Of The Rabbit

BANGKOK — Many Asians believe the Year of the Rabbit means good luck for those born under that zodiac sign, but conservationists warn that the furry creatures themselves are being loved to death in Asia and some species are dying away altogether.

As the Lunar New Year approaches, rabbits are being snapped up from pet stores and farms but some are warning that the animals will be dumped once the novelty wears off and the cost and trouble of keeping them kicks in.

"It's believed that feeding rabbits in their zodiac will bring luck in love and everything else, so especially young people are looking for little, cute bunnies," says Piyalak Sariya, owner of the Bunny Delight rabbit farm in Thailand.

Predicting many will eventually be cast off in Buddhist temples and parks, she recommends buying rabbit dolls instead "because these fluffy animals need more care than dogs or cats."

"People think they are small and cute, [but] they are a lot of work. They just can't be stuffed into a cage," says Ashley Fruno, Asia representative for the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.

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Zimbabwe's rhinos are the targets of poachers with advanced technology


HARARE, Zimbabwe — Poachers are using aircraft to hunt and kill rhinoceros, Zimbabwe's wildlife chief said Tuesday, as demand in Asia for their horns' supposed medicinal benefits grows.

Seven endangered rhinos were killed in southern Zimbabwe from early December to Jan. 19, representing about one-third of all 22 rhinos poached throughout 2010, Parks and Wildlife director general Vitalis Chidenga said.

He said the poachers, including local recruits, were well-equipped with sophisticated weapons. Five of the rhinos were shot in one park in the southwestern Matabeleland province, he said.

Rhino horn is prized in Asia as a traditional cure for everything from colds to impotence and it is used to fashion ceremonial dagger handles in oil-rich countries in the Middle East.

Chidenga said the southern African nation has about 1,000 surviving rhinoceros, and that extra rangers and soldiers are being sent into their habitats to protect them.

Evidence from sites of the recent killings in Zimbabwe showed poachers were "well-organized and well-funded." Some "big money" syndicates even used light aircraft for poaching missions and reconnaissance.

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Scientists track rare western Pacific gray whale's migratory path to the Gulf of Alaska

Gray Whale ANCHORAGE -- A highly endangered whale that spends summers in Russian waters has crossed from the Bering Sea into the Gulf of Alaska.

American and Russian researchers have tracked the 13-year-old male western Pacific gray whale, dubbed "Flex," from Russia across the Bering Sea, through the Aleutian Islands into the Gulf of Alaska about 400 miles south of the Alaskan fishing community of Cordova.

Bruce Mate, head of Oregon State University's Marine Mammal Institute, called the whale's location "pretty darn amazing." No one has documented winter habits of western gray whales, he said. Others of the species may spend winters elsewhere, but a route over deep water in the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska is "something of a paradigm shift" given that eastern gray whales are considered near-shore animals.

"Flex is writing a new chapter for western gray whales, but there may be several chapters to be written yet," he said.

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Scientists hold out hope that Galapagos tortoise Lonesome George will reproduce

Lonesome George the Galapagos tortoise

Will Lonesome George ever become a dad?

Scientists are still hoping to mate the near century-old giant tortoise from the Galapagos -- even though efforts over the last two decades have failed.

The Galapagos National Park said in a statement Thursday that they are providing two new female partners for George, who is believed to be the last living member of the Geochelone abigdoni species.

George is estimated to be between 90 and 100 years old -- and could have at least 50 more years ahead of him. For the last 20 years, he has lived with two previous female partners, of the similar but different Geochelone becki species. The females laid eggs in 2008, 2009 and last year, but none resulted in viable offspring.

Scientists believe George may have a better chance of reproducing with his two new partners, of the Geochelone hoodensis species.

The two potential mates arrived on Santa Cruz island, where George lives, on Thursday from the archipelago's Spanish Island.

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