Computer Software to Help Save Endangered Animals


A guest post by Mahesh Basantani, a research scholar in Botany who also writes for Inabitat, a green design blog.

Species extinction is a natural phenomenon with one to five species going extinct each year. But, presently this rate has accelerated, with dozens of species lost each day.

It is believed that primary reasons to blame for this rapid extinction stem from human activities like overhunting, urbanization, over-exploitation, and pollution and disease. These have led to the loss of natural habitats of several organisms.

Climate change is also considered as a threat to many species. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of threatened species, of all the organisms found on earth 40% are estimated to be threatened. Some of the key organisms which face serious risk of extinction include African lions, Siberian tigers, marine turtles, great apes and panda bears. A great number of conservation efforts by several organizations are underway to protect endangered species.

Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis) is one of the world’s rarest mammals, and is listed on the IUCN Red List of threatened species: Only 252 Vancouver Island marmots were found across Canada at last count. It is found only in the high mountainous regions of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. It is herbivorous, lives in small colonies in underground burrows, hibernates for 8 months in a year, mates in early spring (usually May), and is the largest animal in the squirrel family.

Several efforts, which include captive-breeding programmes, are underway to protect this mammal from the risk of extinction. But, recently, Calgary researcher Diane Casimir adopted a unique and ingenious approach to further the endeavor of saving these organisms. She has created a computer program to select for the most potential mates, and that would bear young ones. She has based her software on several factors like the period for which the mates were kept together, the age, previous production of young ones, etc. These factors are combined with the genetics of marmots. The software on the basis of these attributes could predict marmots that are most likely to mate. Truly wonderful!

This greatly helps in planning the future breeding programmes of marmots, which would help increase the population of this endangered animal. This study could further be extended to other animals which are threatened, or endangered. Of course, factors taken into consideration would differ from animal to animal.

Diane Casimir is working with the Centre for Conservation Research and the University of Calgary on the reproductive behavior of the marmot.

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