Unusual Visitor Recorded by Earthwatch Team in Mongolia
Unusual Visitor Recorded by Earthwatch Team in Mongolia
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Unusual Visitor Recorded by Earthwatch Team in Mongolia

Scientists and volunteers on the Earthwatch project Wildlife of the Mongolian Steppe were surprised to observe an unusual visitor to the study site at Ikh Nart Nature Reserve in eastern Mongolia, in the shape of the striking rufous-bellied woodpecker (Dendrocopos hyperythrus). Dr. Rich Reading of the Denver Zoological Foundation, who leads the project, said, “Mongolia is outside what we understand to be the normal range of the rufous-bellied woodpecker, although a second sighting of the bird has since been recorded here, so it is likely that animals periodically wander outside their normal range and into Mongolia.”

The rufous-bellied woodpecker is typically resident in Pakistan and northern India to western China and south to Bangladesh, central Myanmar, northwest Thailand, and parts of Indochina.

The likelihood of a full-scale local extinction of the brown hyena in South Africa has been “substantially reduced,” as its range has been found to be larger than previous estimates indicated, according to a study published in November this year. The study was carried out in the country’s Northwest Province between 2006 and 2008 by scientists and volunteers on the Earthwatch project South Africa’s Scavenger Species. The team collected distribution data on several key predator species, including the black-backed jackal, caracal, and leopard. The brown hyena, currently listed as “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), was found to have the largest increase in “extent of occurrence”—the geographic area containing all the sites where a species is known or believed to be. Accurate knowledge of distribution patterns is essential to species management and conservation, as well as for understanding an animal’s risk of extinction. This kind of information is often lacking for terrestrial carnivores because they are notoriously difficult to detect.

Full details of the study can be found in Oryx: The International Journal of Conservation, Volume 45, Issue 4, pages 579–586.
In Costa Rica, not even the damage caused by a fishhook has stopped one leatherback turtle from returning to Earthwatch research site Playa Grande beach to nest. “Lucy,” as the research team named her,  was first tagged in the 2000 field season. When she came to the beach during the 2005 field season, she had a fishhook and line attached to her right shoulder. Earthwatch volunteers watched anxiously as research staff attempted to remove the hook. Biologist Pilar “Bibi” Santidrián Tomillo notes that “It was an intense experience and I’m sure all the people that were there that night still remember it.” The rescue was successful. However, the injury left a deep scar, which the team treated with antibiotics each of the following nine times that the turtle revisited that year. Lucy returned to nest again in the 2007 field season and was not seen again until October 8, 2011, when she laid her first clutch of the season. Bibi had recognized Lucy by her scar. “Lucy is a big turtle: 150 centimeters long and very productive,” says Bibi. “She nests around 10 times every season she comes, and she picks good productive seasons. We are happy she is back.”

Leatherback turtles are listed as “critically endangered” by IUCN. The numerous threats to the species include accidental capture in fishing lines and nets. You can help these amazing creatures in their struggle for survival by joining the Earthwatch project Costa Rican Sea Turtles.

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