Top Ten Wildlife Stories Of 2009

Polarbear In the incredibly diverse world of wildlife and endangered species, anyone would be hard pressed to pick the top stories for 2009. But here are ten stories that certainly rose to the top of the media attention and public concern during the year.

1. Polar Bear Habitat Melting

With the loss and thinning of north polar ice, the common hunting method of polar bears is becoming more challenging. Ice is a platform from which they can capture seals for food and can wander long distances in their hunting. Less polar ice has meant less opportunity for seal hunting and longer swims in arctic water. Media coverage in 2009 focused on emerging threats to these bears as a result of climate change and their placement on the U.S. endangered species list. The news was mostly gloomy but a recent article looked at a recent article looked at how Arctic char may be a partial food replacement for the bears.

2. Giant Invasive Snakes in Florida

Pythons and boa constrictors have been introduced to the Florida Everglades in recent years and their numbers have increased by tens of thousands in a relatively short period. They are effective predators and now severely threaten the ecological balance of this great Florida wilderness. This has federal and state legislators and even local law enforcement officials worried about how to get them under control.

3. Bat Die-Offs

A dangerous fungal infection that appears to give bats a white nose has infiltrated many of America's bat colonies. It causes a 90% die off when it strikes and has resulted in some major bat caves being closed to outsiders as a way to control the spread of the problem. A recent article looks at this problem from the viewpoint of bats being needed for agriculture and ecological balance.

4. Northern Rockies Wolves Removed From Endangered Species List

A decade and a half ago gray wolves were introduced to the Yellowstone ecosystem after having been extirpated in previous decades. Returning these creatures to the Northern Rockies has been a triumph for wildlife conservation. But wolves hunting in packs is also seen by livestock owners as a threat to their operations. The increased wolf populations in the states of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana recently prompted federal officials to remove them from federal Endangered Species Act protection. Many wildlife officials feel that having controlled hunting seasons on these animals poses no threat to their continued viability but others disagree

5. Illegal Wildlife Trade Threatening Species Survival

Smuggling and selling rare and exotic wildlife has been an issue for many decades, but the scale of this problem has been increasing of late. It is now threatening species survival in some regions such as southeast Asia. A recent assessment found that 35 million seahorses, butterflies, reptiles, mammals and fish were illegally exported between 1998 and 2007. There were a number of dramatic arrests in 2009 but the problem persists. 

6. Asian Carp Threatening Great Lakes

The large and voracious Asian carp is known for ability to reach four feet in length and to eat 40% of its body weight each day. After a long journey up the Mississippi River, the fish is now threatening to enter the Great Lakes system via a canal in Illinois. This would threaten the Lake’s $7 billion per year fish industry. The states in the Great Lakes basin have gone to court to urge Illinois to take more assertive steps to keep the carp out of the lakes.

7. Depletion of the Bluefin Tuna

The once abundant bluefin tuna is being fished to extinction to feed the world’s appetite for sushi and tuna entrees. International efforts to lower fishing quotas have been declared to be too little too late by most ocean conservationists. They would like to see an outright ban on fishing imposed until the species can recover and they want the U.S. to take the lead. 

8. Wildlife's Struggle to Keep Up With Global Warming

There was increasing media coverage throughout 2009 of examples of how global warming is having adverse effects on wildlife and plant species. These stories touched on pollinators, predators, and more. Late in 2009 a report was released that found plants and animals must "move" about a mile per year to adjust to a warming climate

9. Species Poaching Increases

The year 2009 was also a year of heartbreaking stories about wild animal poaching. On a positive side, progress was made on curtailing gorilla poaching during the year but rhino poaching was severe and tragic. In Madagascar, rare lemurs were found to have been a major contribution to "bush meat" and Zimbabwe was labeled as world epicenter of endangered species poaching.

10. New Species Discoveries

Throughout 2009 there were a remarkable number of “new” or not previously cataloged species found on land and in the sea. There were giant plants, new songbirds, new insects, previously unknown corals, deep sea species and more. Scientists attribute part of this surge in discoveries to new technologies that help them reach into the dark of the night time jungle and the deep ocean such as the recent Census of the Deep. Other technology helps scientists listen more carefully. But as new species are discovered there continues to be concern that we lose species at a faster rate.


And while it may not have risen to the top of the news stories about wildlife in 2009, scientists discovered something quite interesting about birds. Some, it seems, live much longer than anyone thought. Witness the identification of a 34 year-old godwit and 15 other species found to live longer than previously thought.

Published: December 30, 2009