These beautiful digital collages of wildlife are made out of old maps by artist Jason LaFerrera. Archival prints are for sale on his Etsy shop. These are really striking, and would make a great, unique gift for lovers of wildlife and/or maps!
[via]

Via Matthew Cobb’s fantastic z-letter mailing list, I came across this video of an epic showdown between sloth and jaguar. No spoilers, but it’s well worth watching the clip. If you don’t believe me, here’s a tantalizing screenshot (sloth above, jaguar below):

sloth versus jaguar

Sloths are one of my favorite animals. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of feeding apple slices to a baby two-toed sloth. On my recent trip to Peru, I searched in vain for a sloth among the canopy, but they’re excellent at hiding and are seldom seen by tourists. That’s why, when I saw this BBC slideshow of 12 images from sloth researcher Bryson Voirin, I was completely smitten.

Sloths can swim much better than they can walk, and apparently, they also like to ride on boats. For more amazing swimming-sloth photos, visit the slideshow.

Voirin and other researchers recently were startled to discover that one of their research subjects had been killed by a spectacled owl. Spectacled owls are quite small in relation to a sloth, so this was a surprising discovery, emphasizing how vulnerable sloths are to predation when they venture down to the forest floor. The full analysis [PDF]was published in Edentata, the journal and newsletter of the IUCN/SSC Anteater, Sloth and Armadillo Specialist Group.

The Center for Biological Diversity is distributing free “endangered species” condoms, to raise awareness of the effects of human overpopulation on endangered species. Six different package designs are available, highlighting endangered species such as the polar bear, spotted owl, and jaguar. If you’d like to help distribute condoms (and probably keep some for yourself), they’re still looking for volunteers. You can even enter to win a lifetime supply of free condoms!

[via]

Have you heard of the Kihansi spray toad? I’ve got a trip to New York planned this summer, and seeing these cute little guys is now at the top of my list of things to do.

…And New York is pretty much the only place in the world you can see them now, sadly. They’re extinct in the wild, which is unsurprising considering their native habitat is made up of just two hectares along the Kihansi Gorge in Tanzania. When a dam blocked 90% of the water flow to their waterfall habitat, the Kihansi toad population crashed. An outbreak of the amphibian dread-disease chytrid fungus cut the remaining population down to critical numbers, prompting the Wildlife Conservation Society to swoop in and rescue 499 of the tiny toads and whisk them back to the Bronx.

Although some of the toads were sent to five different zoos in the US, only the Bronx Zoo and the Toledo Zoo managed to keep them alive. As it turns out, evolving in such a specific area left the toads with very specialized needs, and the zoo has set up pure mist sprayers from filtered water, halogen lamps, and disease-free specially-bred insects for food. Now that they’re able to keep the toads alive and breed them successfully in captivity, WCS is working towards a re-introduction plan that involves an artificial mist system and the eradication of invasive plant species.

For now though, you can see them at the new World of Reptiles exhibit at the Bronx Zoo. Kihansi spray toads are unusual, charismatic amphibians — mustard yellow in color, and tiny enough to sit on the face of a dime. Unlike most amphibians, they also give birth to tiny, purple-ish live young, small enough to sit on the head of a pin.

If that’s not a poster child of cuteness for conservation, I don’t know what is.

Late last month, the Telegraph reported that 2009’s Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year was under investigation, after allegations that he violated the rules of the contest. Specifically, contest co-organizer The Natural History Museum (NHM) received a complaint that winning photographer Jose Luis Rodriguez had used an animal model in his remarkable photo of a wolf in mid-air.

Rodriguez vehemently denies the claim, but in a press release issued by the NHM today, Louise Emerson stated:

It saddens us to confirm that after a careful and thorough investigation into the image, the storybook wolf, the co-owners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, the Natural History Museum and BBC Worldwide Magazine have disqualified the winning entry of the photographer José Luis Rodríguez. The judging panel was reconvened and concluded that it was likely that the wolf featured in the image was an animal model that can be hired for photographic purposes and, as a result, that the image had been entered in breach of Rule 10 of the Competition. The judging panel looked at a range of evidence and took specialist advice from panel judges who have extensive experience of photographing wildlife including wolves. They also considered the responses to specific questions put to the photographer José Luis Rodriguez.

The competition rules clearly state that photographs of animal models may not be entered into the competition and that images will be disqualified if they are entered in breach of Rule 10. Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition rules are available to all entrants including versions translated into several languages.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year is the world’s most prestigious photography competition of its kind. Any transgression of the competition rules is taken very seriously and if entries are suspected of breaching the rules they are disqualified. José Luis Rodríguez’s image will be removed from the exhibition and tour.

Mr Rodriguez strongly denies that the wolf in the image is a model wolf.

The £10,000, first place prize will not be re-awarded, and Rodriguez will his £500 category winner’s check in lieu of royalty payments.

Four of the world’s remaining eight Northern white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) are settling in to their new home in the Ol Pejeta reserve in Kenya. They were shipped to the reserve from Dvůr Králové zoo in the Czech Republic, where they’ve been for the past 30 years. The two remaining Czech Northern white rhinos and two Northern white rhinos at the Wild Animal Park, in San Diego, aren’t reproductively viable, so the four now in Kenya are the last hope of continuing the genetic line.

The Northern white rhino has a sad history. From the 1970s to the 1980s, their population was reduced to 15 due to poaching. Earlier in this decade, that population had doubled and seemed to be on the slow road to recovery. Since 2003, though, the last remaining Northern whites were killed and the species has been extinct in the wild until this week’s transfer. At this point, the goal is merely to pass on as much of the subspecies’ lineage as possible. Rob Brett, director of Flora and Fauna International, acknowledges that inter-breeding with Southern white rhinos in Kenya is “inevitable”.

Northern white rhino

Whether or not they will even be able to breed is still up for debate. San Diego Wild Animal Park mammal curator Randy Rieches contends that there is no chance of breeding in the herd, due to reproductive pathologies that set in after a period of reproductive dormancy. On the other hand, Dana Holeckova, director of the Dvůr Králové zoo, said at the time of the transfer, “I feel so happy. It’s my birthday today and this is like a gift to Africa. There is a 90 percent chance they will reproduce and I hope that we will start a new group of Northern White rhinos in Africa.” Clearly, the jury is still out on the rhinos’ fate, and only time will tell.

Northern white rhino

The money for the transfer was supplied by Alastair Lucas, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs in Australia, explicitly for the purpose of relocating these rhinos.

I’m leaving for a few weeks on vacation tomorrow night. I couldn’t be happier about this, and I’ll post all about my trip when I get back (at least, the science-y and library-related parts of it), but for now, I need to prepare. I anticipate being very busy playing catch-up when I return, and I’ve been posting here less than I’d like to. Therefore, I present to you a huge list of things I’ve been meaning to post about but never got around to. I might post in more detail on some of these topics later as I get a chance, but I encourage you to check out these links in my absence. In no particular order:

  • HOME is a stunningly beautiful 90-minute film from director Yann Arthus-Bertrand. It was released on June 5th simultaneously in over 50 different countries, and is freely available to watch on YouTube in HD. It covers the history of life on Earth, focusing heavily on human changes to the environment that have resulted in ecological collapses across the planet and global warming. The last 20 minutes or so provide a summary, but I highly recommend setting aside some time to watch the whole thing.
  • Another possibly global-warming related news item: The New York Times reports on the PNAS study about disappearing ice caps atop Mt. Kilimanjaro.
  • Toxic waste from a shipwreck off the coast of Madagascar is wreaking ecological havoc, according to the WWF.
  • Two female spectacled bears at the Leipzig Zoo are suffering from hair-loss. The Telegraph article isn’t very informative, but spectacled bears have a history of this problem in captivity. It’s limited to female bears and is thought to be stress-related. Incidentally, cross your fingers that I see a fully-furred spectacled bear while on vacation… they’re native to the Andean forests!
  • This collection of photographs of pollution in China has been heavily making the internet rounds. You’ve probably already seen it, but if not, you’ll be shocked. The photographs are so well-done they’re almost beautiful, but the content will make you cry.
  • Here’s some happy news, albeit a bit old: decades-long efforts by the French to clean up pollution in the Seine is finally paying off! After high levels of pollution in the middle of last century killed off all but four fish species in the river, France instituted large-scale efforts to clean up the waters, including a purification plant. Now, Atlantic salmon have returned to their historic breeding grounds up-river without any human interference. One of these was caught by an angler outside of Paris. There are now 32 species present in the river!
  • Have you heard about the Genome 10K project? “The Genome 10K project aims to assemble a genomic zoo—a collection of DNA sequences representing the genomes of 10,000 vertebrate species, approximately one for every vertebrate genus.” Thanks to the drastic reduction over the years of the cost to sequence a genome, this project is finally feasible, and collaborators are coming from all corners of the globe.
  • DNA is also going to ensure that we have delicious heritage apples for years to come, I hope.
  • The Bronx Zoo’s Wildlife Conservation Society recently opened a new LEED gold-certified Center for Global Conservation that looks to be very impressive.
  • Attention parents: Black bears in Yosemite prefer minivans.
  • The winners of the British Wildlife Photography Awards were announced last month. Here’s the Coast & Marine winner:

  • New York is seeing “coywolves”, coyote-wolf hybrids that are smaller than wolves and larger than coyotes. These are fertile hybrids, stronger than coyotes, but appearing in areas where wolves can’t cope with the human development.

  • There are more article I have bookmarked, but I’ll save those for another vacation. See you next month!