As the old childhood rhyme goes, “April showers bring May flowers,” and luckily it’s almost time for those spring flowers to finally start blooming. Nothing makes spring feel sprung quite like a field of gorgeous wildflowers or budding tree branches. Ah, the pollen; ah, the allergies; ah, it’s spring at long last! As you’re sure to be gallivanting around the countryside now that the warm weather is here (we know we can’t be alone in this desire), keep an eye out for some of these rare flowers.
These “spooky” flowers kind of look like they’re dancing around, right? [Image: http://www.technicianonline.com/]
This spidery flower can be found in Cuba as well as in Florida, as it can only be cultivated in climates that support its growth. This is part of what makes the flower so hard to come by. You’ll be sure to recognize a ghost orchid from other flowers as it doesn’t produce any leaves and has a distinct soap-like smell. Ghost orchids only bloom for three weeks between April and August, so keep your eyes peeled if you happen to visit Cuba or Florida in those months!
Possibly the prettiest corpse you’ll see. [Image: http://www.wpr.org/]
Discovered in 1878 in Sumatra, this amazing flower can be found scattered around the United States, as it has been cultivated in various areas (most notably in the Huntington Botanical Garden in California). This unique flower gets its name from its startling smell, which many have described as the “scent of the dead.” Aside from being the stinkiest flower in the world, it’s also the largest, measuring up to six feet tall in blooming season. Corpse flowers tend to bloom once every 30 to 40 years, so mark your calendars way in the future so you don’t miss out on this marvel!
What a garden to walk through! [Image: http://www.excelsagardens.com/]
Native to tropical rainforests in the Philippines, this woody vine is sure to catch your attention if you happen to come across it. The vines that hang from the hooked flowers can grow up to three meters long! Unfortunately this gorgeous plant is an endangered species as its habitat and natural pollinators continue to get destroyed.
Everything about this flower looks like it belongs in Hawaii. [Image: http://kulamanufarm.com/]
There’s a dramatic story behind this flower, but luckily it ends on a pretty positive note. This Hawaiian flower is incredibly rare and was discovered in 1860 when only three specimens could be found. It was nearly impossible to cultivate in other areas, and in 1950 the last seedling died and it was rendered extinct—that is, until a surviving flower was found in 1970. Which, unfortunately, met its end in a fire in 1978. But alas! As promised, this whirlwind of a tale does have a happy ending! One of the branches on the last remaining tree eaten up in the fire was saved, and it was grafted into 23 trees, all of which exist still today. These implanted seedlings can be seen in various spots of Hawaii—you’ll be sure to recognize them for their astonishing bright red flowers.
Whether you’re intentionally seeking out one of these beauties or you have the rare honor of stumbling across (and hopefully not on) one, you’re sure to be dazzled by their excellence. Make sure you bring our Pocket Ranger® apps with you to make your journeys more enjoyable and full of more of nature’s beauty.
As a nod to the most recent World Wildlife Day, we put our lenses toward four of the most critically endangered species in the United States. So what classifies species as critically endangered, you may ask?
The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) is the organization heralded as the leader for research, data analysis, field projects, advocacy, and lobbying primarily for nature conservation. Established in 1948 in France, the organization has since expanded as a respected key influencer for species and habitat conservation throughout the world. It produced the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which gives the categorization levels of species based on their status within their ecosystem and how they are being affected by internal and external factors.
The IUCN Red List has three main categories: Extinct, Threatened, and Lower Risk. Threatened and Lower Risk have five and three subcategories, respectively. Threatened has Extinct in the Wild (EW), Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN) or Vulnerable (VU), and Near Threatened (NT). On the other hand, Lower Risk has Least Concern (LC), Data Deficient (DD), and Not Evaluated (NE).
Breakdown of IUCN’s Red List. [Image: http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/]
For the purpose of this article, we will focus on Critically Endangered (CR). These animals are at high risk for extinction. There are about 1,500 species that fall under the CR category, and approximately 300 of these alone are in the United States. Below are a few animals who are on the critically endangered list.
A gorgeous red wolf seemingly suspicious of whatever it’s staring at. [Image: www.forechange.com/]
The red wolf is known for its characteristic reddish fur, with some brown and black colors running along its back. It is shorter than its relative, the much more powerful grey wolf, only standing at an average 45–80 pounds, 26 inches at the shoulder, and about four feet from the tip of its nose to its tail.
The red wolf is in danger due to habitat extinction and as a result of poachers and hunters. Unfortunately the red wolf’s closeness to coyotes have made it a growing target of accidental killings due to hunting. The USFWS (United States Fish and Wildlife Service) has been attempting to increase support and conservation of the red wolf as its numbers continue to decrease in the wild.
American Burying Beetle
The American burying beetle as seen under a careful photographic lense. [Image: www.fws.gov/]
The American burying beetle is a large insect characterized by black and orange bands on its body; its antennae, head, and front legs have orange tips, patches, and spots. It suffers from dangers of extinction from a variety of causes: Less habitat range, unavailability of carcasses that these beetles utilize as a crucial part of their breeding habits, a possible reduction of reproduction due to genetic characteristics, and more carcass competition.
The U.S. FWS have been attempting to slowly reintroduce the American burying beetle to the public with a laboratory colony in Massachusetts. They are hoping to pinpoint the cause of the decline of these species.
A beautiful photo of a hawksbill turtle luxuriously swimming in the ocean. [Image: www.worldwildlife.org/]
The hawksbill sea turtle is an old species that primarily resides in the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific areas, with some numbers found in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Hawaii as well. It is characterized by a flat body, beak-like mouth, and protective carapace with black and brown across its back and sides. It can grow up to one meter long and can reach up to 280 pounds.
The hawksbill’s numbers have been decreasing due to human exploitation, loss of habitat, human and animal encroachment on its nesting sites, and the reptile’s slow maturation. Currently the IUCN and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service consider it endangered.
The Mississippi gopher frog averages three inches in length with a dark brown or black dorsal surface covered in warts. [Image: www.onegreenplanet.org/]
From its widely spread numbers, the gopher frog, also known as the Mississippi gopher frog, is now quickly declining to its extinction. It is now one of the rarest amphibians in North America, with only a 100 adults remaining in Harrison County, Mississippi. This population shift is largely due to adult mortality and a large difference in ages at maturity (females mature at 24–36 months while males do so at six to eight months), and the males not returning to mate because of the animals’ predisposition to being highly solitary. Conservation efforts are now in place to preserve the gopher frog’s population, with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service combining forces in order to rehabilitate and create a future breeding site for these amphibians.
The aforementioned species are only four of the more than 100 critically endangered species in the United States. It is unfortunate that the most common denominator for their extinction is human involvement. Currently massive rehabilitation and conservation efforts are in place in order to put a stop to their declining numbers. If you wish to be more involved in the conservation efforts, we suggest visiting USFWS, U.S. Forest Service, and IUCN’s websites to learn how you can join in on the conversation of rehabilitation efforts.
And as always, don’t forget to check out your Pocket Ranger® apps to check out volunteer options in your state parks or viewing options for the other endangered species in the country. The app is available in both the Apple Store and Google Play. Download now, and get involved!
Elephants mean different things to various cultures, ranging from being seen as simply a gorgeous animal that lives in your country to a revered god-like symbol to a token of good luck. Unfortunately they are also often idolized for their thick, leathery hides and gorgeous ivory tusks, which has led them to be listed as an endangered species.
The difference between Asian and African elephants. [Image: http://www.thomsonsafaris.com/]
African elephants are the largest mammals walking the Earth today, growing up to 11-feet tall, between 19 and 24 feet long, and weighing usually around six tons. There are two types of African elephants, the Savanna (bush) elephant and the forest elephant. Savanna elephants are the larger of the two and have tusks that curve outward, while forest elephants are smaller, darker, and have straighter tusks that point downward. Asian elephants, on the other hand, are very different from African elephants. They are noticeably smaller and their ears don’t fan out at the bottom like an African elephant. And while all African elephants, male or female, have tusks, only some male Asian elephants do.
Elephants are social creatures, living in herds made up of mostly females and calves while the males opt for isolation, usually leaving the herd at around 13 years old. The calves live with their mothers for a large portion of their early lives and are cared for by many of the other females in their herd. The females have the longest gestation period of any animal, lasting 22 months from conception. Throughout those 22 months, other females help the laboring mothers up until birth, acting as midwives to ensure that the entire process goes smoothly. Calves weigh about 230 pounds when they’re born, and the females don’t usually have more than four babies.
“Hey, I want to hug, too!” [Image: http://www.buzzfeed.com/]
They’re also incredibly sensitive animals. They have been known to express grief and sometimes cry, like in this heartbreaking video of a baby elephant crying after being rejected by its mother; show compassion, such as having a “greeting ceremony” for elephants they haven’t seen in awhile where they’ll “hug” by intertwining their trunks; and they also mourn the loss of fellow herd members. It’s true what they say—elephants have excellent memories, which is apparent in their varying emotional responses.
When elephants come across the remains of a herd member, they’ll feel the crevices of each bone. [Image: http://scalar.usc.edu/works/]
These large creatures are also very resourceful. Although they’re the only mammal that can’t jump, they’re fantastic swimmers and can move swiftly and quietly, despite their enormity, due to soft pads protecting the bottoms of their feet. Their bodies have natural cooling methods as well, and they can sustain hot temperatures due to the many blood vessels coursing through their ears. On top of all this, elephants also use their tusks for many things, such as digging for water, finding food, defense, and lifting items. Similar to how humans are often left-or right-handed, elephants prefer using one tusk over the other.
Aside from utilizing their physical features in everyday life, both on a conscious and subconscious level, they’re also quite connected to their environment through the use of their senses. Their eyesight isn’t very strong, but their other senses make up for that. They have hearing capabilities that go far beyond a human’s limitations, opening them up to spatial experiences that we can’t quite begin to process. And they don’t just hear from their ears—elephants are able to pick up on sub-sonic sounds through their feet and can be found “listening” by pressing their trunks to the ground and positioning their feet in a certain way. Their trunks are also very fascinating and useful beyond its physical potentiality. Made up of more than 40,000 muscles, trunks can help elephants smell better, especially when waved from side to side, and can also help the creatures sense the size, shape, and temperature of an object.
Now don’t you wish you could get a hug from an elephant? [Image: https://www.pinterest.com/]
Although elephants don’t have any natural predators (aside from lions that sometimes prey on the weak or young), humans have led this amazing creature to become endangered. Asian elephants have been listed as endangered since 1975 and African elephants since 1989. Much of their population decline comes from poaching to support illegal ivory trading. Ivory trading was made illegal in 1989 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), but there is still an unregulated market demanding it. Additionally, loss of habitat is also negatively affecting elephant populations. As humans expand further into their environments and practices like commercial logging continue, elephants end up on the losing side of the battle for more space.
Such a happy little family. [Image: https://iso.500px.com/]
Maintaining the areas that we visit and leaving the wildlife alone are the best ways we can help elephants and many other endangered species continue to thrive. Often we’ll see others partaking in experiences with these amazing creatures, such as viewing them in contained settings or riding on them—this is not the capacity that they were meant for, however, and we should do our best to let them live naturally. Wildlife viewing is an enjoyable part of any outdoor experience, and you can partake in it by using our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps to explore parks that have diverse wildlife populations. And remember: The best approach when interacting with wildlife is to look and not touch.
A curious West Indian manatee. [Image: thedodo.com/]
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced a proposal earlier this month centered on the idea of upgrading the presently endangered West Indian manatee’s (or sea cow) status from endangered to threatened. For background, the designation of “endangered” means that, without management, a species is on the slippery slope toward extinction, while “threatened” means that a species’ habitat and population are sustainable but don’t do a great job of promoting the animal’s collective proliferation (aka the species is in danger of becoming endangered). As such, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife motion is a reflection of the manatee’s “significant improvement” in population sustainability and habitat strength and has many leaping for joy. Though there has been some wariness to temper the excitement and applause as well.
The West Indian manatee has been a gentle, rotund protectee of the Federal Endangered Species Act since the act was signed in 1973, though manatees have been federally recognized as an endangered species since the 1960s. At the time the ESA came about, the manatee’s population had dwindled down to an estimated 700 because of factors like boat-related deaths and destruction of habitat, among other things. Today, with the estimate grown to over 6,000 individuals, the species seems headed in the right direction in terms of its stability. That’s genuine cause for celebration across the board, but some groups concerned with manatee conservation are focused on what might happen if the species doesn’t get the protection that comes with the “endangered” status as well as the looming problems associated with an environmental phenomenon called red tide.
Manatee enjoying a snack. [Image: imgur.com/]
An example of this quandary is playing out at present in Brevard County, Florida, one of the counties where many manatees live, and coincidentally, an area with one of the highest rates of manatee mortality in the state. The county commissioners approved a resolution to ask Florida wildlife leaders to conduct research on how effective boat speed restrictions are at protecting the manatees that inhabit the county’s waterways. Conversely, Katie Tripp, a leader in the Save the Manatee Club, feels that the relatively high number of boat-related injuries and fatalities among manatees in Brevard County will only increase if the speed restrictions vanish. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife proposal is open for public comment until April 7, 2016.
As anthropomorphic as it is round, this manatee is definitely emoting what you think it’s emoting. [Image: wikipedia.com/]
If you want to enjoy the manatee in its element, there are plenty of ways to do so! One especially great way to see some adorable, sea grass-chomping examples of the order Sirenia, is to download the Official Guide for Florida State Parks & Beaches app powered by Pocket Ranger® and to also make your way to any of the state parks on this map!
Wolves once roamed far and wide from Canada to Mexico, until the arrival of Europeans who killed them off to protect livestock and domesticated animals. Large-scale predator control programs continued in the U.S., further dwindling their numbers. To this day, some states allow the hunting of wolves although they’re listed as endangered. By the 20th century, the species had almost disappeared from the eastern U.S., except in some areas of the Appalachians and Northwestern Great Lakes Region. Wolves are natural predators, which makes our fears justified. But there are myths behind the obsession of killing wolves, which continues to exist despite their numbers low numbers. After all, why are wolves so scary?
Wolves Howling at the Moon and Other Myths
It’s widely accepted that wolves howl at the moon, but the function of howling has little to do with this folklore gossip. The Big Bad Wolf tales of Aesop’s fables, Grimms’ Fairy Tales, and the werewolf further add to the gossip. Popular mythology, folklore, and let’s not forget movies, paint the wolf as an evil omen— a bloodthirsty animal who attacks children, cattle or sheep. Sheep are usually connected to a godly goodness, but the wolf is no better than the devil. Unlike the Europeans, Native Americans viewed the wolf as a guide, once being men and now seen as brothers. Some tribes respected their hunting skills and tried to emulate them.
It turns out that long howl, sometimes heard as far as 5 miles is a form of communication used to attract mates, assemble a pack, signal alarm or scare off predators. Wolf howling increases during evening and early dawn, and more so during winter or breeding season. The mythic image of a wolf howling at the moon fits right in since the moon is always hanging around when the wolf is howling!
What are the Benefits of Wolves in the Wild?
To prevent total extinction, wolves have been reintroduced in the wild. One of those efforts is the well-known, gray wolves restoration in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. During 1995 and 1996, 31 gray wolves from western Canada were relocated to Yellowstone where they had been absent since the 1920s. Now 20 years later, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, estimates that there are 1,691 wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountain in areas of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon, and with a few brave ones venturing as far as Utah, California and Colorado.
The reintroduction of wolves in the wild is beneficial for biodiversity. Wolves are apex predators that eat off sick and dead animals, and also control the population of species. For example, elk eat vegetation, such as aspen and willow trees, grazing heavily to an unsustainable level. The presence of the wolves changes these patterns; the elk no longer venture far, instead they limit their grazing. This vegetation then becomes available to smaller species like the beaver, which in the case of Yellowstone National Park had become extinct. Experts say the red fox has recovered as well as small predators, rodents and birds thanks to wolves hunting coyotes. Without predators our ecosystems are out of balance. There are many levels and connections between organisms; by removing a level, this disrupts the balance, created from millions years of evolution.
There’s also an economic benefit as it relates to wildlife tourism. From 2004 to 2006, Yellowstone National Park conducted a survey of visitors, and found that more than 150,000 people a year from different parts of the world came to Yellowstone for one reason alone: wolves.
Should We Continue to Hunt Wolves?
The conventional reasoning for hunting wolves falls within this spectrum: to prevent attack on humans and and livestock. Wolves only occupy about 5 to 8 percent of their former range thanks to human persecution and destruction of habitats. A new study published last year finds that killing wolves to protect livestock is actually counterproductive. When a wolf is killed, livestock are more likely to get killed the following year, by 5 to 6 percent. More livestock die even when only a few wolves get killed off, possibly because wolf packs get broken up into two groups when either the alpha female or male die.
After recent recovery efforts and a praise-worthy rise in wolf population, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dropped federal protections in 2011-2012 from wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Idaho, Montana, parts of Washington, Oregon, and Utah. Since their reintroduction into the wild, 2,000 wolves were killed by 2013. Wisconsin hunters killed more than 150 gray wolves just this past year during a state-sanctioned wolf hunt. Many wildlife advocates argued that it was too early to remove wolves from the Endangered Species list. Last year, the rule was overturned in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan after complaints from conservationists that hunting would ruin recovery efforts in those states. What’s worse is that even when the wolf is federally protected, rules allow shooting wolves when livestock are threatened. Hunting also continues in Alaska and Canada, where the wolf population is steady.
Farmers and ranchers worry about their livestock, and typically oppose the recovery of wolves and support hunting efforts. Defenders of Wildlife has compiled A Guide to Nonlethal Tools and Methods to Reduce Conflictwith useful tips for farmers and cattle owners who want to keep wolves away from their livestock without killing them.
Human and Wolf Interaction
Wolf attacks are considered rare but they do happen especially in the wild areas of Canada and Alaska. Wolf attacks are often in retaliation to the invasion of their habitats, but this is not always the case. They don’t readily attack humans who keep their distance, and not all wolves behave aggressively, but if provoked they will react like any other animal. A wolf’s hunting instincts detect weak animals or injured ones, knowing full well they’ll win in a fight.
Sometimes wolf attacks occur when prey are scarce, and they must resort to scavenging close to human areas. L. David Mech, a wildlife research Biologist with the International Wolf Center explains that wolves lose the fear of humans when there is a chance for reward. Though it’s not always true, this seems to be a necessary condition for an attack.
“This combination of lack of fear, proximity to humans, and the presence of many small children in heavy cover may promote in some bolder wolves the tendency to experiment with this new type of prey,” says Mech.
In some cases, wolves lose fear of humans, but yet they don’t attack. How is this possible? Since humans stand on two legs, they have a slight resemblance to bears and wolves generally avoid bears. None of a wolf’s prey stands on two legs. It’s also true that wolves have learned to avoid humans after all those years of persecution. For example, the wolves on Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior, which haven’t been harassed by humans since their arrival on the island in 1949, retain their extreme shyness of humans. There are a few places, however, where wolves have either lost their shyness of people or perhaps never developed it.
And while no one wants to be Timothy Treadwell, making the grave mistake of setting camp near bear-central in times of food scarcity, the video below illustrates how it’s possible for men to interact with some wild animals.