According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) has completely disappeared from 40 percent of its known range, and the organization’s models predict that if nothing changes, their population will collapse and become extinct in roughly 45 years. The Turtle Survival Alliance estimates that the wild population has declined more than 80 percent since the late 1980s.
Madagascar is known as a biodiversity hotspot since more than 90 percent of the plants and animals that live there are native to the island. It is also one of the poorest countries on Earth. The average Malagasy – or resident of Madagascar – earns roughly one US dollar per day. Intense political unrest, years of drought and famine, and severe environmental degradation, make every-day life difficult for people and animals. Researchers at the University of Maryland found that the island nation has been stripped of more than 90 percent of its original forests. Species like the radiated tortoise and its neighbor in the trees, the ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta), depend on the forest for their survival.
Both radiated tortoises and ring-tailed lemurs fall prey to poachers – or people who kill animals illegally. In extreme cases, impoverished Malagasy resort to eating radiated tortoises, lemurs, and other forms of bushmeat to stave off starvation. Less extreme, but equally dangerous, are the groups of wealthy Malagasy that treat tortoise and lemur meat as a delicacy. Because of their striking appearance, radiated tortoises are considered to be one of the most beautiful tortoises alive. This leaves them vulnerable to smugglers of the exotic pet trade.
The radiated tortoises living at the Museum are a part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for radiated tortoises, a cooperative collection of zoos and nature centers working together to ensure the survival of the species. Should the lemur and tortoise design win, 50 percent of the proceeds will be donated to the Turtle Survival Alliance through our AZA SAFE partnership. The other 50 percent goes directly to supporting the animals here at our institution!
Once a top predator throughout the southeastern United States, the red wolf (Canis rufus) is now categorized as critically endangered. Historically, the red wolf ranged from southeastern Texas to central Pennsylvania. To protect the remaining red wolf population, a managed breeding program was established in 1973 at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. The success of this breeding program led to the reintroduction of red wolves to North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in 1987. Red wolves now inhabit a five-county area in northeastern North Carolina, and it’s the only remaining wild habitat for red wolves.
There are serious problems facing the wild and captive red wolf populations. Many counties in North Carolina allow for night hunting of coyotes (Canis latrans) in red wolf habitats, which can lead to gunshot deaths for wolves who are mistaken for other canids. Misinformation about the species abounds, and many hunters believe the reintroduction of an apex predator onto their land will reduce the amount of wild game they can hunt. With the continued development in once rural areas, red wolves are increasingly threatened by vehicle strikes. The loss of habitat from a mix of human and environmental forces continues to impact wild packs of red wolves. Even the captive population faces questions about whether their place on the Endangered Species List is guaranteed. The Southeastern division Fish and Wildlife Service has halted the introduction of new red wolves in to the wild, while politicians and citizens alike protest the wolves’ existence, and even some wildlife officials believe it’s time to let the Red Wolf disappear.
With fewer than 300 wolves left in total, the red wolf is one of our planet’s most endangered species. The red wolves living at the Museum are a part of the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan (SSP), a collection of zoos and nature centers around the United States that are committed to the conservation of red wolves. The SSPs make breeding and non-breeding recommendations to ensure genetic diversity and work on projects that involve education, veterinary care, and field research. For the past two years, the Museum of Life and Science has been lucky enough to welcome two litters of red wolf pups into our habitat, providing valuable genetic diversity to the program. Should the red wolf design win, 50 percent of the proceeds will go to the Red Wolf Coalition. The other 50 percent goes directly to supporting the animals here at our institution!