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Finding mates for species facing extinction can pose major challenge

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Extinction is forever once the last of a species dies, but functional extinction usually predicates such an eventuality when so few members of a type are left that viable reproduction becomes a challenge.

One of the most notable examples was the case of a Galapagos Pinta tortoise known as Lonesome George, who was the last of his species.

Biologists managed to find suitable subspecies mates for him, but mating attempts didn’t succeed beyond a nest full of unfertilized eggs.

George died unexpectedly in July of 2012 at the relatively young age of 100 years-old.

George’s handlers were stunned to witness the extinction of a species first hand, which is different than knowledge of massive dinosaur extinctions millions of years in the past.

“It is a very sad story for all of us,” said Christian Saa, a national park ranger, guide and naturalist at the research center where George lived. “We were expecting to have George another 50 years. It feels kind of empty.”

Scientists estimate that over 99 percent of all species that developed on Earth have gone extinct, including those present before the evolution of Homo sapiens, although it is impossible to know what they all were, because keeping records of species-extinction is relatively new.

Captive breeding programs have been successful in advancing the species of many critters like the giant panda, black-footed ferrets and California condors, but suitable mates must be found, when there’s next to nothing left of any one thing.

Researchers are equally passionate about saving species, whether it is a plant, insect, reptile, amphibian, fish or mammal.

Recent news reported by tells of the successful search for a female Mangarahara cichlid native to Madagascar. Scientists, fish collectors and many aquarium hobbyists celebrated, because the only remaining two in captivity at ZSL London Zoo were males.

An exploratory research team found the female in a stream near a small village in a tributary disconnected by habitat destruction from the Mangarahara River.

“We weren’t holding out much hope of finding any fish in the wild, as so much of the Mangarahara River now resembles the desert because of deforestation and intensive agricultural use,” said Zimmerman, the Zoo’s Aquarium Curator. “These cichlids have shown remarkable survival skills, and managed to find one of the very last remaining water sources to live in, but their numbers are tiny and the non-flowing water is not an ideal habitat for them. We’re now doing all we can to protect these remaining fish.”

Extinction is, indeed, forever, and to witness the death of the last member of its kind may best be described in the words of Theodore Roosevelt:

“When I hear of the destruction of a species, I feel just as if all the works of some great writer have perished."



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