Red Seabeach: Photo by Jia Mi on Flickr | Copyright.
Contributor: Eric Grundhauser
Looking out across the world’s largest wetland area, the swath of marshy flora growing in the shallow waters of Dawa County, China is an eye-popping crimson, making the whole area look like it has been taken over by the fictional “red weed” popularised in H.G. Wells’ novel War of the Worlds.
Despite its otherworldly appearance, the red grasses of this Chinese marsh have an all too Earthly, if still rare, origin.
The plant is actually a form of Chenopodium (a member of the Amaranthaceae), although this specific species is unique in that it can thrive in alkaline soil.
The unique landscape also is home to a number of endangered migratory birds and is protected, although tourists can walk among the rare reeds by specially installed wooden walkways that extend out over the delicate ecosystem.
It is unlikely that this location was a direct inspiration for Wells’ weeds, but it makes the site no less unearthly.
The area is also home to the world’s largest reed marsh which is harvested to make papyrus like paper products, perfect for writing science fiction stories on.
More than a thousand tigers prowled the Indonesian island of Sumatra when the animals were surveyed in 1978.
Today, fewer than half that number survive here and those cats are under siege by poachers and ceaseless deforestation of their home forests fueled by the pulp, paper, and palm oil industries.
A 2004 report from TRAFFIC, the IUCN/WWF effort to track the illegal wildlife trade, suggested that poachers were killing at least 40 of the critically endangered animals every year.
The Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) is the last of the “island tiger” subspecies.
The neighboring Indonesian islands of Java and Bali were once home to their own distinct tigers, but the Bali tiger (Panthera tigris balica) and the Javan tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica) each died out during the 20th century.
Conservationists are working hard to help their Sumatran relatives avoid the same fate.
If you wanted to see a wild axolotl, you may be out of luck.
The happy-faced amphibian has long been in a tough spot, because its only native habitat is the muddy network of lakes and canals around Mexico City, which has been threatened by pollution, urban sprawl and competition from invasive species.
The animals’ numbers had been declining for years, and in January, Mexican researchers told the Guardian newspaper that after four months of searching, they could find no axolotls in the wild.
The searches will be repeated before the species is declared extinct in the wild—but from now on, you may not be able to smile back at an axolotl unless you find it in a fish tank or aquarium.
Native to the Central Asian mountains, the snow leopard is a rare sight, with only about 6,000 left in the wild. They are hunted for their beautiful, warm fur and for their organs, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Photograph by Michael Nichols.
These rare, beautiful gray leopards live in the mountains of Central Asia. They are insulated by thick hair, and their wide, fur-covered feet act as natural snowshoes.
Snow leopards have powerful legs and are tremendous leapers, able to jump as far as 50 feet (15 meters). They use their long tails for balance and as blankets to cover sensitive body parts against the severe mountain chill.
Snow leopards prey upon the blue sheep (bharal) of Tibet and the Himalaya, as well as the mountain ibex found over most of the rest of their range.
Though these powerful predators can kill animals three times their weight, they also eat smaller fare, such as marmots, hares, and game birds.
One Indian snow leopard, protected and observed in a national park, is reported to have consumed five blue sheep, nine Tibetan woolly hares, twenty-five marmots, five domestic goats, one domestic sheep, and fifteen birds in a single year.
As these numbers indicate, snow leopards sometimes have a taste for domestic animals, which has led to killings of the big cats by herders.
These endangered cats appear to be in dramatic decline because of such killings, and due to poaching driven by illegal trades in pelts and in body parts used for traditional Chinese medicine.
Vanishing habitat and the decline of the cats’ large mammal prey are also contributing factors.