DOGS HAVE THEIR PROBLEMS
January 13, 2002
The statements that "never before have so many tapir experts and
conservationists assembled in one place" and that foxes are running
for their lives from eagles might at first sound like something out of
Alice in Wonderland. But the two events have a lot in common with each
other and with anyone concerned about the world's declining levels of
biodiversity. Both are related to the Species Survival Commission (SSC)
of IUCN--the World Conservation Union.
IUCN has approximately 7,000 volunteer members, mostly scientists, who
offer leadership and technical counsel for conservation efforts to all
nations. The more than 120 IUCN specialist groups are made up of scientific
advisers who examine the conservation status of particular plants or animals
on a global scale. With its mission "to influence, encourage and
assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity
of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable
and ecologically sustainable" IUCN represents a highly respected
Unfortunately, the news from specialist groups is not always what people
who care about the world's wild plants and animals want to hear. However,
only by hearing about environmental problems can we begin to correct them.
The IUCN Web site (www.iucn.org) and
their newsletter, Species, provide excellent updates on the status of
wildlife problems and proposed conservation solutions around the world.
The Tapir Specialist Group of the SSC was established in 1980 and consists
of more than 30 members from Latin American countries, Indonesia, Malaysia,
Thailand, and the United States. Closely related to rhinoceroses and horses,
tapirs are not familiar to most of us by name, but most people have seen
pictures of them-likable-looking, piglike creatures with long flexible
snouts. Some are brown and others are black and white.
Tapirs get big, commonly reaching body weights of more than 300 and sometimes
up to 800 pounds and are the largest mammals native to South America.
One species is found from Mexico to South America, another in the Andes,
and another in the Amazon basin. A fourth species is native to Sumatra,
Malaysia, and Thailand. The challenges faced by tapirs are pretty straightforward--all
are threatened by habitat destruction and hunting. Excellent details of
the problems and possible solutions are given on the IUCN Web site.
The foxes mentioned above, known as island grey foxes, live on the Channel
Islands off the coast of California. As members of the dog family (Canidae),
they are of interest to the Canid Specialist Group. Fortunately, most
of the 35 species of foxes, wolves, jackals, and wild dogs distributed
across the major continents and under the purview of the IUCN are not
endangered. Unfortunately, some are.
Primary threats to island grey foxes are habitat destruction and threats
resulting from feral animals, including possible competition with feral
cats and introductions of diseases carried by domestic dogs. But the most
unusual threat to the tiny foxes has been caused in some areas by feral
pigs. Golden eagles, attracted to the pig sites to prey upon piglets,
have subsequently found that little foxes are good eating, too.
The Ethiopian wolf is the rarest species in the dog family, with an estimated
500 individuals remaining. Habitat destruction by unregulated agriculture
is a continuing threat, as is rabies transmission from domestic dogs,
often a part of an expanding human population. Direct persecution by farmers
causes further declines in the species, a practice Americans need to be
concerned about at home for the gray wolf.
Another severely endangered species in the dog family and victim of human
persecution is the African wild dog, now extinct in 16 African countries.
A major loss to the species occurred in the 1990s in the Serengeti National
Park due to a rabies epidemic.
Although most of the dog and tapir conservation lessons are from other
continents, the same rules apply here. We must promote a conservation
ethic and attitude that wildlife is something to respect and preserve.
If we diminish and degrade natural habitats, overhunt or overharvest,
U.S. wildlife could become a focus for IUCN, too.
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