Some animals are moving towards a certain extinction. A new habitat might be their last chance

  •  Monday, September 11th, 2023  Animalsforkids

    Some of the most endangered animals might not be able to survive in their current habitat because of climate change. Researchers are pondering on a controversial strategy to relocate them before it’s too late — beginning with Australia’s rarest reptile.

    A lone radio tower in a remote national park of Australia stands above a quiet wetland. It collects signals every five seconds from a few dozen young tortoises hiding out beneath the glassy waters. The tiny tortoises don’t travel far, but researchers are meticulously tracking their every move. The fate of this species (one of the most endangered in the world) might be dependent on these data. In August last year, scientists chose 41 adolescent tortoises from a captive-breeding programme in a zoo and released them into this national park on Australia’s most southwestern tip, some 330 kilometres south of natural habitat of the tortoises. The goal is to observe whether the animals can tolerate cooler climates, and whether this new habitat is fit enough to secure the species’ future as the planet warms. This experimentation is part of a series of meticulously monitored field trials testing one of the most contentious strategies for saving a species — a concept termed assisted migration.

    This project attempting to save the tortoise is led by a herpetologist at the University of Western Australia in Perth, Nicki Mitchell. “It is a demonstration project for the world, and we particularly want to make sure there are no perverse outcomes,” Mitchell says. Her team is now conducting their fourth trial of releasing captive-bred tortoises into chosen wetlands to assess the potential of assisted migration or assisted colonization.

    Assisted migration has faced stiff resistance from conservation biologists and land managers mainly because of the threat that introduced species may become invasive pests, carry diseases or upset existing ecosystems. Few places have faced such risks more than Australia, which has fought against rabbits, cane toads and other invasive species that people purposefully introduced to the continent under disastrous schemes. But opinions about assisted migration are gradually changing as conservationists feel compelled to rethink as the have realised just how fast the climate is changing. Several other projects are in the works apart from swamp tortoise experiments. Researchers in Hawaii are relocating seabirds to higher ground while in eastern Australia scientists are testing plans to move critically endangered pygmy possums. Increasing temperatures and droughts have become a threat for pygmy possums while seabirds need to be protected from rising seas that are destroying their nesting habitat rapidly.