Goodbye, black rhino; hello hammerhead shark

A Black Rhinoceros in Tanzania. (Credit: John and Karen Hollingsworth, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

A Black Rhinoceros in Tanzania. (Credit: John and Karen Hollingsworth, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

This past week, media outlets reported one animal moving from an endangered species to an extinct species, but another new species is discovered. While the latter news doesn’t reduce the sadness that many conservationists feel at the loss of the Western black rhinoceros, the introduction of the Carolina hammerhead shark – a much larger new species discovery than is typical – shows that genetically distinct species are still being uncovered by scientists. Looking for good research paper topics for your biology, zoology, or conservation courses? Consider looking at what conservation efforts could do to prevent losses of critically endangered species like the Western black rhino – or take a peek at how scientists are continuing to uncover secrets about distinct new species.

Western black rhino facts

Though the news is just hitting the media in November, 2013, the Western black rhino was declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which manages the Red List of Threatened Species, in 2011. The recommendation to change the species from critically endangered to extinct happened in 2006, according to an article on Save the Rhino, Western black rhino declared extinct in 2011 – journalists reporting news two years later.” The last reported sightings of the Western black rhino were in 2003, and it is believed that poachers killed off the remaining members of the subspecies. The IUCN waits five years after a recommendation to declare an animal extinct before they change its status, just in case new evidence comes to light.

“The black rhino species is Critically Endangered and looks to become more so, as rhinos are being slaughtered across Africa and Asia on the orders of consumers in Asia, particularly Vietnam, where the horn is coveted as a supposed cancer or hangover cure or as a symbol of one’s wealth,” wrote the Save the Rhino contributor. Previously, there were four subspecies of black rhino; all three of the remaining subspecies and the Southern white rhino are critically endangered.

There are fewer than 2,500 black rhinos remaining, which means their population is below the threshold of recovery without human intervention. While captive breeding has, in some cases, been successful, “most captive breeding will never enhance populations enough to make any real difference,” Corey Bradshaw, an environmental science professor at the University of Adelaide, told Rick Docksai in the Futurist article “Animal species find strength in numbers; conservationists are advised to revise their approaches and policies,” published in March—April 2010.

But while the most effective way to help grow animal populations is to increase their habitat, according to Docksai’s article, it doesn’t eliminate the most dangerous threat to rhinos: poachers. “You’ve got to imagine an animal walking around with a gold horn; that’s what you’re looking at, that’s the value and that’s why you need incredibly high security,” Simon Stuart of the IUCN told the BBC in 2011, quoted by Scott Bickard of the University Herald in the November 8, 2013 article “Western black rhinoceros actually declared extinct in 2011; may have died off as early as 2003.” Despite the efforts of conservationists, rhino poaching has increased 5,000 percent since 2007.

Conservationists have noted successes in preserving the Southern white rhino population, which had decreased to just over 100 individuals in the late 1800s; the population in the wild is now over 20,000.

Carolina hammerhead shark facts

On to the good news: scientists in South Carolina have determined that there’s a new species in town, but she looks almost exactly like her scalloped relatives. But though the scalloped hammerhead and the new species, known as the Carolina hammerhead shark after her habitat region, are similar, the Carolina hammerhead has 10 fewer vertebrae, making the new species genetically distinct.

School of Hammerhead Sharks, Wolf Island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. (Credit: Clark Anderson/Aquaimages)

Ichthyologist Joe Quattro of the University of South Carolina and his team collected 80 young sharks and analyzed their DNA to make the discovery. The study found 54 of the 80 specimens belonged to the new species, which is slightly smaller.

Like rhinos, shark populations have plummeted, in part due to sharks being fished for the Chinese delicacy, shark fin soup. The discovery of the new species is scary in that regard: because the Carolina hammerhead is a distinct species, the population of scalloped hammerhead sharks is actually smaller than it had previously been considered. 

What endangered animal are you most concerned about losing? Tell us in the comments. 

Read more about endangered species at Questia.

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