Animal news is a rollercoaster. You're either learning some cool new animal facts or finding out something has been added to the extinction list. Or it's new zoo babies versus the latest in how humans are hurting animal habitats. Good or bad, the biggest animal news of 2019 was a menagerie of information and a balance to a year of space news.
When it comes to the biggest animal news, we're not talking about a weird zoo photo that took over Twitter. This is sciencey-stuff and breaking news about the pals we share this wide world with. New animals spotted, animals thought extinct found again, and a reluctant declaration of extinction dominated the 2019 animal news at the start of the year. Even a really big bee - a really, really big one - doesn't quite balance out the official statement that 2019 is the year we count the first recorded mammalian extinction due to climate change.
California Plans World's Largest Highway Overpass To Provide Safe Passage For Animals
In response to the growing effects of Los Angeles's urban landscape on the neighboring wildlife, the city agreed to build a mostly privately funded highway overpass. The overpass is the second in the state because California generally relies on tunnels to supply safe passage for animals. It will be built along US Highway 101 north of Los Angeles and is projected to stretch 200 feet over 10 lanes.
Beth Pratt of the National Wildlife Federation told The Associated Press that when US Highway 101 went up, it impacted a vast ecosystem, the effects of which first came to light when a mountain lion famously crossed two busy highways into Griffith Park. Apparently, the lion, known as P-22, responded to the "shrinking genetic diversity" in its small habitat. Allowing animals to pass into subsequent habitats without venturing into dangerous Los Angeles freeway traffic provides more opportunity for growth within countless species.
The overpass, which will be the largest in the world, is projected to cost $87 million, with a 2023 targeted completion date. Pratt, who is in charge of fundraising, said that as of August 2019, $13.5 million had been raised for the project. The remaining amount will be provided by public conservation projects. Construction is scheduled to take place at night to avoid lengthy shutdowns.
The First Southern White Rhino In North America Conceived Through Artificial Insemination Is Born
On July 28, 2019, the first successful hormone-induced ovulation and artificial insemination birth for the southern white rhino occurred at the San Diego Zoo. The mother, Victoria, endured 493 days of pregnancy and 30 minutes of labor. Both she and her male calf are in healthy condition.
The birth marks a major step toward preserving the nearly extinct species of the northern white rhinoceros, a close relative of the southern white rhino. As of 2019, only two northern white rhinos are known to exist, and both are female. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo are working to convert 12 individual northern white rhino cells into stem cells that could develop into sperm and eggs. If researchers are successful, they could potentially use hormone-induced ovulation and artificial insemination to impregnate surrogate southern white rhinos with northern white rhino embryos.
This process to preserve the species could take an estimated 10-20 more years.
Two Kittens Are Born In Captivity To A 'Functionally Extinct' Species
The population of thick-coated Scottish wildcats - subjects of the documentary Tigers of Scotland - is less than 400 at the highest estimate. To continue the species, described as "functionally extinct, the Scottish Wildcat Action project involving the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) developed a breeding program in 2011 that has produced its first kittens.
The two female kittens form the hopeful start of returning the Scottish wildcat population to a healthy number.
A New Australian Fly Is Named After A 'Game of Thrones' Character
The Paramonovius nightking, a small bee fly discovered in 2012, is one of hundreds of new wildlife species named in Australia in 2019. The species was named after Game of Thrones villain the Night King for both nerdy and scientific reasons. After Ph.D. student and GoT fan Xuankun Li, of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, confirmed it was a new species, he and entomologist Bryan Lessard thought the bee fly, which thrives in cold weather and has a spiky crown, was a perfect match for the name.
Females of the species even lay their eggs on other insects, which turn them into walking zombies as they consume the hosts from the inside out.