As many of you are already aware, the ethos of The Great Projects is to conserve the precious, yet vulnerable wildlife that roams our planet today. Man has a great obligation to protect the sensational flora and fauna that can be found around the world, as it is mainly due to human activity that so many species are at risk of extinction today. As the most "intelligent" life on earth, our actions ironically seem to contradict our morals, and this should not be ignored just because the wildlife affected cannot communicate the struggles they now face due to human exploitation. We do not believe in preaching at The Great Projects, we simply want to spread awareness of the plight of endangered species and how the world, humans, fauna and flora alike will be affected if action is not taken.
Now, this is a special case because no one can actually say for certain if this bird is extinct. While there have not been any confirmed sightings of the atypical woodpecker since 1944, there was a study released in January by Michael D. Collins, claiming to have video evidence of the rare bird. Its preservation has become a controversial topic as not a soul seems to be able to get a clear photo of the Ivory -Billed Woodpecker, but according to Collins, scientific evidence was recorded that is consistent with this type of woodpecker but opposed the characteristics of any other species in the region at the time the research was conducted.
It could easily be argued that the Ivory Billed Woodpecker is the most endangered species out there – if it’s out there at all… The potential re-emergence of this evasive creature has propelled it into superstardom, as the event has even been deemed the ‘birding equivalent of finding Elvis alive’! The fascinating species is indigenous to southern parts of the US and Cuba, but until more evidence comes to light from these regions, the status of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker remains uncertain.
People may normally associate leopards with a golden and rustic African savannah, but this subspecies resides in the snowy, temperate forests of the Primorye Region of the Russian Far East.
Previously this stunning spotted feline roamed across China and Korea but is now obsolete in those areas. In fact, census data suggests that scarily there are roughly only 20 adult Amur leopards alive today. Their survival is exposed to many threats; prey scarcity is the result of habitat fragmentation and hunting so therefore, large populations of the leopards (and tigers) cannot be sustained without fruitful food sources. It is essential that sustainable forest management is exercised in order to preserve animal habitat and allow the ecosystem to successfully operate.
Another threat they face is of course poaching for their kaleidoscopic spotted fur. Agriculture and villages reside in close proximity to the leopard habitat and it is therefore easily accessible, making poaching of the big cats and their prey species a recurring problem. However, actions have been taken as Russia have declared a segment of protected leopard habitat called, the Land of the Leopard National Park.
There are many techniques involved in leopard conservation, and you can read a blogs we wrote about exactly this! See the leopards caught on camera traps that offered invaluable insight to our Zululand Conservation Project on their movement and hunting habits!
You can also volunteer with Big Cats with The Great Projects!
More than 100 distinctive species of lemur exist today and sadly, all subspecies are endangered. Many of us will know that lemurs are indigenous to the island of Madagascar which is situated off the coast of Africa, due to their hilarious portrayal in the Dreamworks movie, ‘Madagascar’.
The world’s most threatened mammal group may like to ‘move it, move it’ but locals hunting them for bush meat, and destruction of lemur habitat has meant there are now sparse populations of the primates in the world. Scientists believe they have a solution to the depletion of the lemur species by preserving their habitat; they plan to present this to world leaders and explain that $7.6 million would have to be invested in international aid to maintain the areas where lemurs live.
It resides within the waters of the Atlantic coasts of Canada along with the US.
There are approximately 350 Northern Right whales alive today with a long and sad history of human exploitation, despite judicial protection from whaling since the early 20th century. North Atlantic Right Whales are very laid back marine mammals and swim at a leisurely pace of approximately 10 miles per hour. This is actually a major issue for them as their migration patterns drive them through some of the busiest shipping areas in the world which ultimately leads to often fatal collisions. Over fishing has also become a problem for these kind-natured creatures, along with drilling, other human activities and sonar testing that can cause the whales physical damage.
These creatures are very interactive and curious of humans. While an encounter with this elusive creature is extremely rare due to sparse populations, if and when they do occur, humans walk away enchanted by their magical eyes and personalities. Check out this video from National Geographic, when one of their own encountered a right whale for the very first time.
You can even volunteer with whales with The Great Projects!
This fellow is a species of porpoise found in the gulf of California, in the stretch of the pristine waters between Mexico and Baja California. This elusive animal was not discovered by scientists until 1958, and half a century later they are at risk of permanently slipping through our fingers.
They face threats from fisherman as they become entangled and drown in gillnets of illegal marine operations, even within the protected areas of the gulf. It is estimated that this fascinating subspecies of porpoise could be extinct by 2018 if measures are not taken immediately. However, there is a glimmer of hope for the Vaquita as a new agreement has emerged that includes a permanent ban on gillnets and better, less disturbing technology to be used in vaquita habitat. The new agreement certainly looks promising as it has been signed by the Mexican Government, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, The Carlos Slim Foundation and is officially supported by WWF.
With only a few thousand left in the wild, these big and beautiful beasts face threats from climate change and poaching, which has given them a slot on the critically endangered species list. European settlers arrived in Africa in the early 20th century for colonisation and trade reasons and dubbed the species as vermin, eliminating them wherever they could. They would commonly slaughter five or six rhinos a day for food or simply for amusement. In 1961, the front page of the Daily mirror declared rhinos as ‘DOOMED’ due to ‘man’s folly, greed and neglect’ and encouraged readers to support the newly establishing WWF at the time. It is no secret that there are huge price tags on the horns of rhinos due to their apparent ‘medicinal benefits’… now would be a great time to point out, there are NONE. Scientifically, there are no unique benefits from rhino horns in cultivating medicine but nevertheless, they are still brutally slaughtered for traditional beliefs.
You can volunteer with rhinos with The Great Projects!
An adaptation of the mountain gorilla is that they have more of, and thicker fur than most of their relatives as they are designed to live in climates where temperatures drop below freezing on a regular basis. They live high up in the mountains at elevations of around 8,000 to 13,000 feet.
These fascinating primates were discovered in 1902 and have certainly not had an easy ride. Most primates tend to be boisterous in nature, so it is no surprise that the aggressive behaviour of the gorillas during their initial discovery was perceived as threatening by locals. As a result, people thought the only way to ensure their own safety was to hunt these animals, and so the plight of the mountain gorillas began.
Habitat loss is another major threat that the mountain gorillas face as humans have relocated further and further into gorilla territory, pushing their habitat further up into the mountains. Higher elevations than their already considerably tall residency forces them into dangerous and often fatal circumstances.
Years of civil unrest throughout the countries in which mountain gorilla habitat exists has also had a negative impact on mountain gorilla populations. Civil disturbances such as the war in Rwanda in the 1990s, and the refugees that have been sent into the Democratic Republic of Congo have also meant the gorillas are collateral damage of human activity once more. Some parts of the region around the Virunga Mountains Parks that are home to more than half of all mountain gorillas have been taken over by rebels leading to hunting, poaching and habitat loss. While mountain gorillas are not poached in particular, they often get ensnared in other poaching traps. The presence of the rebels have made executing conservation efforts difficult and dangerous, and since 1996 140 Virunga rangers have been killed.
However efforts to preserve the species over the years have proved successful so don’t lose all hope yet, as conservationists have successfully increased mountain gorilla populations from 620 in 1989 to approximately 880 today!
You can volunteer with these beautiful creatures on The Great Gorilla Project!
This intriguing creature is found in the Yangtze River in China and is consequently deemed the Yangtze River Dolphin.
Similarly to the ivory billed woodpecker, these fellows were declared extinct in 2006 after a six-week-long fruitless search across the 3,915 miles of waterway that makes up the Yangtze River. However, conservationists spotted an aquatic mammal the following year claiming that no other species but a Yangtze River Dolphin would behave in the way that this creature did. While the conservationists were not specialists, locals who are extremely familiar with the species said they were 100% certain the animal seen was a baiji.
Resembling an antelope, the saola is renowned as the Asian Unicorn, a name most likely inspired from the long horns on the top of their heads. Only recently discovered in 1992 between Vietnam and Laos, little has been revealed regarding this enigmatic species. Not one saola resides in captivity and in the decades since its discovery scientists have only officially documented a sighting in the wild just 4 times! Its discovery was deemed one of the most spectacular scientific discoveries of the 20th century as it was the first large mammal that was new to science in over 50 years.
These great apes are primarily found along the southern Cameroon- Nigerian border and there are roughly 200 - 300 cross river gorillas left. Rightly so, these enchanting primates are wary of humans which has made determining population numbers difficult. Instead scientists have used indicative measures such as estimated range size and nest counts to calculate how many of these apes exist.
The cross river gorilla habitat is in a region with dense populations of humans, who clear gorilla territory for timber and agricultural purposes. WWF are working with the governments of Cameroon and Nigeria in an attempt to protect the lands upon which the gorillas nest. With just a small cluster of cross river gorillas out there, losing even two or three of the apes has a disastrous impact on their population numbers.
This biggest turtle on earth and can be found all over the globe but is mostly prone to tropical areas. Once upon a time, the leatherback turtle population was around 120,000 but now there are just around 20,000 that remain. Southeast Asia has a culture of legal egg collection which has sadly led to the removal of tens of thousands of eggs; it is this practise along with leatherback turtle hunting, that are the main threats to the species and has caused populations to become obsolete in Malaysia.
Additionally, unfathomable amounts of sea turtles are caught in gillnets, longline hooks and shrimp trawl nets which is all too often fatal for these reptiles as they drown in the nets because they can’t reach the surface to breathe. Unregulated coastal development and other human activities have had a devastating effect on turtle habitat, leaving them with limited areas in which to nest their eggs. If we want to create a sustainable future for these creatures that have inhabited the earth since long before humans, then fishing and development must be controlled and crucial areas of habitat must be protected.
The leatherback turtle is a fundamental joint in the marine ecosystem as they consume jellyfish which helps to moderate population numbers of these marine organisms. They also have economical value as they are a budding attraction for tourists, especially in the Coral Triangle.
You can volunteer with sea turtles with The Great Projects!
The largest cat in the world, the Siberian tiger can be found in Far East China and Korea, and the beautiful birch forest of Russia. They are especially adapted to withstand extreme winter climates where temperatures can drop to as much as -50 degrees F.
Despite it being illegal to hunt the mammals, poaching is still the Siberian Tiger’s biggest threat which dramatically increased with the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the 1940s hunting had driven the Siberian tiger (also known as the Amur tiger) right to the brink of extinction with a population of just 40 individuals resident in the wild. However, Russia became the first country across the entire globe to grant the tiger complete protection. Further conservation initiatives have paid off as population numbers are now reaching around 500 but this is still not enough for future generations to thrive. Experts explain there is a new breed of tiger poachers stalking the big cats in the Russian Far East that have international ties and are much better organised, better armed, better skilled and much more evasive than their predecessors.
Habitat loss caused by illegal logging, urban and agricultural development and much more is the other big threat the tigers are exposed to. Loss of habitat results in prey scarcity as Korean pine and Mongolian oak provide food sources for the prey species preferred by Siberian tigers. Like many other tales of wildlife conservation and campaigns, the eradication of deforestation is vital for the survival of all manner of species.
However, strong conservation efforts are constantly underway, and WWF released a heart warming blog regarding the reintroduction of an Amur tiger back into its natural habitat! You can read this blog here.
You can volunteer with tigers with The Great Projects!
This peculiar creature can grow up to 6 feet in length and is the largest amphibian in the world. Resident in the forested landscapes of China, the country’s natives use this animal as food which has unfortunately led to their endangerment. It is believed the giants are removed from the wild and harvested as a luxury food product, but this has had a catastrophic effect on wild populations which have depleted an unbelievable 80% in the past 50 years.
What the people of China may not be aware of, is that the giant Chinese salamander is a flagship species within China’s freshwater systems: as a tadpole it is efficient aiding the movement of nutrients between biotic and abiotic factors, and as an adult this fascinating species adopts the role of a pest control.
Steps have been taken in attempt to preserve this wonderful animal such as: opening a breeding facility for the animal in China, manageable and sustainable farming, conducting research to understand its current distribution and scientifically understanding the role of the salamander in different river systems and farms.
You can volunteer in China with The Great Projects!
This adorable monkey is found in the region of the Americas and its name was derived from its physical features, like long limbs that help to swing and climb through the trees.
Relentless hunting and the illegal wildlife trade has declined populations to a number of just 60, and these catastrophic acts most commonly occur in Columbia and northwest Venezuela. However, what is even more devastating to the brown spider monkey is deforestation. These primates prefer a habitat of thick, dense and untouched forest where they can freely swing from branch to branch without having to regularly come to the ground. Extensive deforestation in brown spider monkey habitat has not only caused a decrease in population, but has also devastated the primary source of shelter and food for the monkeys.
Unless deforestation can be eradicated, the entire subspecies of the brown spider monkey will become extinct in a very short period of time.
You can volunteer in The Americas with The Great Projects!
This magnificent creature is the rarest and most genetically distinct subspecies of the gray wolf. Humans pose the greatest threat to these stunning mammals and at one point we literally eliminated the entire wild population (surprise, surprise). Thanks to a fantastic and unprecedented breeding program that brought them back from the brink, today, 340 of these beauties reside in 49 research facilities between the US and Mexico. Mexican gray wolves are responsible for less than 1% of livestock killings, but they are still resented and feared by locals that live near to the recovery areas of southern Arizona and New Mexico, thus illegal killings continue to occur and so the population of the wolves continues to decline. This predator which was once present in the thousands has been all but silenced with threats such as the introduction of the livestock industry, a lack of judicial protection and education regarding the animals, and the rifles, traps and poisons that come with it.
The most recent survey conducted revealed there were approximately just 113 Mexican gray wolves that remain, and if this is to be reversed there needs to be stricter laws and more responsible agricultural practises.
Without these predators, herbivore populations will spiral out of control and negatively impact the fertility of the lands,which is something that we have already seen happen before: after the extirpation of wolves in The Rocky Mountains during the early 20th century, food chains were disrupted and set off what was called a ‘trophic cascade’, where the wolves’ natural prey multiplied and consumed unsustainable amounts of food. The return of the wolves to the park saw the populations of these species (such as elk) decrease and therefore the land was more controlled as the prey would avoid areas where they would be hunted. Quickly these areas that were of ecological importance began to regenerate and the important biodiversity including birds, mice and bears returned.
How would you feel if a big scary animal came into your home of thousands of years and took over? Why then, do we feel it is appropriate to do this to hundreds of species of wildlife? Just remember, the only reason we are an apex species is because of guns and thumbs, if we didn’t have these things, we would have been overtaken in evolution years ago. Evolution has made us powerful, and if we eliminate such beautiful and fascinating species, future generations will not evolve and the ecosystems will falter, and so the circle of life on earth will cease to exist.
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Come face to face with one of the world’s most misunderstood predators whilst aiding great white shark conservation. As a volunteer, not only will you get the incredible opportunity to dive with sharks, but you will also assist the team in raising awareness of the great white as you work alongside tourists and local school children to provide them with knowledge of the local environment and the importance of living in harmony with South Africa’s marine life.
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