Thursday, March 29, 2007

New species.

First came the news that Conservationists working in Peru got their first natural glimpse of a rare and unusual bird called the long-whiskered owlet last month while working in a private mountain reserve. With their diminutive size, bright orange eyes, and wild, wispy facial feathers, the dainty birds belong to their own genus, dubbed Xenoglaux, or "strange owl."

Next came the announcement that a monster ‘toxic’ toad has been caught in Darwin, Australia. Nearly 15 inches (38 centimeters) long and weighing about 2 pounds (0.9 kilogram), the croaker is one of the largest specimens ever caught in Australia. The toads were imported from South America to eradicate scarab beetles that were feasting on sugar cane crops. But soon it was the toxic toads that were the pests, causing the deaths of countless native animals that eat them, from snakes to crocodiles.

Finally, there is this report that the clouded leopard of the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra is its own unique species, according to genetic test results announced by WWF, the international conservation organization. Until now the cat was believed to be of the same species as the mainland clouded leopard.

In the case of the diminutive owl, I will give credit to the conservationists for tracking the rare creature in the wilderness. In the case of the toxic toad, I will give full marks to the scientists for wading deep into the waters and catching the giant creature. But, my prize for the most ingenious claim goes to the WWF for declaring the widely found clouded leopard as a different species and claiming brownie points for it. Next they will claim that the animal we always thought was an elephant wasn’t an elephant at all, but an identical animal.

Incidentally, what happens if the toxic toads take a liking for the whiskered owl and eat them all up? And then the clouded leopards swallow all the giant toads and die of toxicity? All three species will be wiped out. Too bad.

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