America's Last Sumatran Rhino Is Relocating to Find a Mate

Harapan, America’s most eligible Sumatran rhino bachelor, is relocating to Indonesia in search of a mate. As the last of his species to survive in the U.S., his love life has been of great interest to conservationists. A few years ago, the Cincinnati Zoo where Harapan was born and raised announced they would be making an effort to breed him with his sister Suci. This was the zoo’s final attempt to prolong their 25-year-old Sumatran rhino breeding program, which had been slowly dying along with the species' dwindling population. But in March 2014, Suci succumbed to Iron Storage Disease without producing any offspring. Harapan, one of just a hundred or so Sumatran rhinos alive today, suddenly became the last of his kind in the western hemisphere. 

At one point in history, the Sumatran rhino population was widespread throughout southeastern Asia. By the early 1980s they had diminished to just a few hundred animals scattered across Malaysia and a few Indonesian islands. A handful of rhinos were brought into captivity as a safeguard against extinction, but sadly, several perished from injury and disease. 

Those who did survive in captivity presented a whole new set of challenges when in came to breeding. It turns out Sumatran rhinos are maddeningly complicated when it comes to sex, which may be contributing to their dire situation in the wild. If a female isn’t getting pregnant on a regular basis, this could lead to issues such as uterine cysts, which can cause infertility. And to further add to this vicious cycle, females will only ovulate if they sense a male is nearby.

It was only after the team at the Cincinnati Zoo made these discoveries that they were able to successfully breed three rhino calves—one of which was Harapan, which means “hope” in Indonesian.

Harapan’s other sibling, Andalas, has since been sent to a breeding facility in Indonesia where he’s successfully fathered one calf. In light of the recent discovery that Sumatran rhinos are now extinct in the wild in Malaysia, eight-year-old Harapan will follow his brother’s path in an effort to rescue the species. 

The breeding facility where he’ll make his new home is located in Way Kambas National Park on the island of Sumatra. Due to all the conservation laws surrounding the species, several permits are required from both the U.S. and Indonesian governments before he can be shipped away. Once he arrives, conservationists are hoping he’ll hit it off with a female named Rosa who has been living in the park since the early 2000s. Terri Roth, the vice president for conservation and science at the Cincinnatti Zoo, has faith in Harapan's charming abilities. According to Roth, “He’s a really fun rhino. He seems like a little bit of a pistol, quite frankly."

[h/t: National Geographic]

Whale Sharks Can Live for More Than a Century, Study Finds

Some whale sharks alive today have been swimming around since the Gilded Age. The animals—the largest fish in the ocean—can live as long as 130 years, according to a new study in the journal Marine and Freshwater Research. To give you an idea of how long that is, in 1888, Grover Cleveland was finishing up his first presidential term, Thomas Edison had just started selling his first light bulbs, and the U.S. only had 38 states.

To determine whale sharks' longevity, researchers from the Nova Southeastern University in Florida and the Maldives Whale Shark Research Program tracked male sharks around South Ari Atoll in the Maldives over the course of 10 years, calculating their sizes as they came back to the area over and over again. The scientists identified sharks that returned to the atoll every few years by their distinctive spot patterns, estimating their body lengths with lasers, tape, and visually to try to get the most accurate idea of their sizes.

Using these measurements and data on whale shark growth patterns, the researchers were able to determine that male whale sharks tend to reach maturity around 25 years old and live until they’re about 130 years old. During those decades, they reach an average length of 61.7 feet—about as long as a bowling lane.

While whale sharks are known as gentle giants, they’re difficult to study, and scientists still don’t know a ton about them. They’re considered endangered, making any information we can gather about them important. And this is the first time scientists have been able to accurately measure live, swimming whale sharks.

“Up to now, such aging and growth research has required obtaining vertebrae from dead whale sharks and counting growth rings, analogous to counting tree rings, to determine age,” first author Cameron Perry said in a press statement. ”Our work shows that we can obtain age and growth information without relying on dead sharks captured in fisheries. That is a big deal.”

Though whale sharks appear to be quite long-lived, their lifespan is short compared to the Greenland shark's—in 2016, researchers reported they may live for 400 years. 

Animal Welfare Groups Are Building a Database of Every Cat in Washington, D.C.

There are a lot of cats in Washington, D.C. They live in parks, backyards, side streets, and people's homes. Exactly how many there are is the question a new conservation project wants to answer. DC Cat Count, a collaboration between Humane Rescue Alliance, the Humane Society, PetSmart Charities, and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, aims to tally every cat in the city—even house pets, The New York Times reports.

Cities tend to support thriving feral cat populations, and that's a problem for animal conservationists. If a feline is born and grows up without human contact, it will never be a suitable house cat. The only options animal control officials have are to euthanize strays or trap and sterilize them, and release them back where they were found. If neither action is taken, it's the smaller animals that belong in the wild who suffer. Cats are invasive predators, and each year they kill billions of birds in the U.S. alone.

Before animal welfare experts and wildlife scientists can tackle this problem, they need to understand how big it is. Over the next three years, DC Cat Count will use various methods to track D.C.'s cats and build a feline database for the city. Sixty outdoor camera traps will capture images of passing cats, relying on infrared technology to sense them most of the time.

Citizens are being asked to help as well. An app is currently being developed that will allow users to snap photos of any cats they see, including their own pets. The team also plans to study the different ways these cats interact with their environments, like how much time pets spend indoors versus outdoors, for example. The initiative has a $1.5 million budget to spend on collecting data.

By the end of the project, the team hopes to have the tools both conservationists and animal welfare groups need to better control the local cat population.

Lisa LaFontaine, president and CEO of the Humane Rescue Alliance, said in a statement, “The reality is that those in the fields of welfare, ecology, conservation, and sheltering have a common long-term goal of fewer free-roaming cats on the landscape. This joint effort will provide scientific management programs to help achieve that goal, locally and nationally."

[h/t The New York Times]


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