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Stories by John Platt

Another record year for manatee deaths

Frigid waters off the coast of Florida have killed a record number of endangered manatees this year, according to state wildlife officials. The manatee—full name, the West Indian manatee ( Trichechus manatus )—has been protected by the Endangered Species Act since 1974.As of December 10, 699 manatee deaths had been documented this year in Florida waters, 244 of which were attributed to "cold stress." Most of the year's deaths occurred in January during what the National Weather Service called Florida's coldest 12-day period since 1940.This year's death toll tops last year's record of 429 deaths, 56 of which were caused by unusually cold weather...

December 30, 2010 — John Platt

Victory for sharks: U.S. bans shark finning

It won't get the same press as the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but the U.S. made an important conservation leap this week by banning the deadly practice of shark finning.The Shark Conservation Act, passed Tuesday, bans the controversial yet lucrative fishing practice of catching sharks, cutting off their fins and dumping the still-living creatures back into the water where they slowly and painfully drown.Shark fins are highly prized for their use in shark fin soup...

December 22, 2010 — John Platt

Poaching, habitat loss taking toll on Bornean clouded leopard

When the Bornean clouded leopard ( Neofelis diardi ) was first identified as its own species in 2006, it was almost instantly added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species as "vulnerable" to extinction...

December 21, 2010 — John Platt

More polar bear news than you can shake a rapidly melting icicle at

Polar bears ( Ursus maritimus ) got a long-awaited boost on November 23 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) finally designated more than 485,000 square kilometers of "critical habitat" for the species, which is listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)...

December 9, 2010 — John Platt

Tracking a rare tortoise? There's an app for that

Smart phones have increasingly become valuable tools in the conservation of rare species around the world. The latest example is an iPhone app called Mojave Desert Tortoise, which people can use to help researchers preserve the endangered species it is named after.With the app, visitors to the Mojave Desert (which stretches between California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona) can take photos of any desert tortoises they happen to encounter...

November 30, 2010 — John Platt

SEGA and Sonic step in (briefly) to protect endangered hedgehogs

Britain's beloved hedgehogs are in crisis. Some 50,000 hedgehogs die every year under the wheels of cars and trucks throughout the U.K. That high death rate has had a mighty toll on the cute little creatures: There are now 300,000 fewer hedgehogs in Britain than there were a decade ago...

November 17, 2010 — John Platt

British crayfish now officially endangered, thanks to killer fungus

Scientists and conservationists from around Europe will gather this week at a conference to discuss how to save the U.K.'s white-clawed crayfish ( Austropotamobius pallipes ) from the fungal plague that is rapidly wiping them out.As I wrote last year, around 95 percent of British crayfish have been killed in the past two decades, victims of imported American signal crayfish ( Pacifastacus leniusculus ), which were introduced into the U.K...

November 16, 2010 — John Platt

Mystery virus threatens an already critically endangered Australian parrot species

The orange-bellied parrot ( Neophema chrysogaster ), one of the world's most critically endangered birds, could lose its bid at survival as a virus threatens its vitally important captive breeding program.The unidentified stomach virus that has struck the program causes the birds to lose their feathers and weakens their immune systems, Shane Radial, a veterinary professor with Charles Sturt University, told the Australian Broadcasting Co...

November 11, 2010 — John Platt

Ssssuccessss: World's rarest snake is back from the brink

Fifteen years ago, the future looked bleak for the Antiguan racer ( Alsophis antiguae ), the world's rarest snake. In 1995 just 50 of the creatures survived on the isolated 8.4-hectare Great Bird Island off of Antigua in the Caribbean...

November 5, 2010 — John Platt

Precious: Gollum (the fish) risks extinction in New Zealand

A rare fish named after a J.R.R. Tolkien character is at risk of extinction if a dam is built on the species's one-and-only river habitat in New Zealand, a government report concluded last week.The 15-centimeter fish, Gollum galaxias (full Latin name, Galaxias gollumoides , also known as the "Smeagol galaxiid"), can only be found on New Zealand's Stewart Island...

November 4, 2010 — John Platt

Extinction crisis revealed: One fifth of the world's mammals, birds and amphibians are threatened

One fifth of the world's vertebrates are threatened with extinction. That's the word from the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity this week in Nagoya, Japan, where a team of 174 scientists presented an assessment of the world's at-risk vertebrate species.According to the study, published in the October 28 issue of Science, the number of threatened species has grown dramatically in the past four decades, exceeding the normal "background rate" of extinction by a factor of two or three...

October 27, 2010 — John Platt

Asian coral die-off could be worst ever; Is climate change to blame?

A massive coral bleaching event in Southeast Asian reefs in the Indian and Pacific oceans is the worst coral die-off since 1998, and possibly the worst science has ever observed, says Andrew Baird of the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.Bleaching occurs when environmental factors stress the living organisms residing within coral reefs, causing them to either leave their reef structures or die...

October 22, 2010 — John Platt
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The Essential Guide to the Modern World

The Essential Guide to the Modern World