Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Day: The kokako and the saola

The world's most famous "missing" bird is the ivory-billed woodpecker, but there are many species in the same boat (nest?)  The ivory-bill might be the most poignant story, because we got a last glimpse of it in a breif flurry of great excitement over the spotting of at least one bird before the species finally, sadly (I am afraid) slipped out of existence for good. 
That was a long prelude to a short post, but there is, on this Thanksgiving Day, better news on another bird, the South Island kokako.  Of 11 sightings of the "extinct" bird studied by the New Zealand Ornithological Society's Record Appraisal Committee, has validated one, made by Len Turner and Peter Rudolf near the town of Reefton in 2007.  That's not exactly yesterday, but it's a very big deal for a bird that many authorities thought didn't make it out of the 1960s.  When I wrote my newsletter Exotic Zoology (1994-99),  Dr. Karl Shuker gave me a friendly hard time because in two issues in a row I crossed the name up with another rare type, the flightless parrot called the kakapo.  (There are 62 kakapos in the world at last count.)

When big land animals go missing, it's often for good.  But the Vietnamese population of the Javan rhinoceros was rediscovered after a 40-year absence (and hunted back into extinction) and recently we have the first sighting of the Vu Quang ox, or saola, to be confirmed in many years. The species was only discovered in 1992.  Van Ngoc Thinh, Vietnamese director of the World Wide Fund for Animals (WWF), said, “When our team first looked at the photos we couldn’t believe our eyes. Saola are the holy grail for South East Asian conservationists so there was a lot of excitement.” It's not clear whether there are any confirmed sightings since a capture (and death) in 2010, and before that since this episode in 1999. The animal, which may weigh 100kg, is the largest full species discovered in the wild (discounting reclassifications) since the kouprey in 1937: the latter bovid, alas, may be extinct. 

So we have many losses, but also some reasons for hope.  So Happy Thanksgiving to conservation and all the heroes working all over the world to keep rare species from disappearing. 

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