Conservationists fight to save animals as mass extinction looms


Animal and plant species are vanishing at an accelerating pace around the world — sometimes even before we know that they exist — but conservationists are pushing back against the juggernaut of mass extinction.

From captive breeding to satellite tracking; restoring habitats to removing predators; shaming multinationals to nursing baby pandas and orangutans — in all these ways, scientists and others have given a second chance to creatures under threat.

Take the Mauritius kestrel, a svelte and dappled falcon reduced to a population of just four, including one breeding female, in 1974 by a perfect storm of human meddling.

The keen-eyed predator lost much of its natural habitat when settlers clear-cut the Indian Ocean island’s forests in the 18th century.

What pushed the bird to the brink, however, was the widespread use of the pesticide DDT in the 1950s, as well as invasive species such as cats, mongooses and crab-eating macaques with a taste for the birds and their eggs.

But a combination of captive breeding, food supplements, nest improvements and predator control has increased the bird’s numbers to about 400, making it one of the most successful bird restoration projects in history.

On nearby Madagascar, the greater bamboo lemur — aka the broad-nosed gentle lemur — has also made a fairy-tale comeback.

Long thought to be extinct, the dark-furred primate — which has tufted, white-tinged ears — was “rediscovered” in 1986 in the island nation’s southeastern Ranomafana region.

True to its name, the lemur is a “bamboo specialist” that feasts almost exclusively on a single species of the fibrous, quick-growing plant. Scientists are still trying to figure out how the brown-eyed tree-dweller metabolises the quantities of cyanide — enough to kill a human adult — found in a day’s diet of bamboo shoots.

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