Extinct & Almost Extinct: Greater Sage Grouse

The following is the FINAL painting with notesextinct - sage grouse - 2015-12-05 at 11-58-59 in my Extinct & Almost Extinct project:

Greater Sage Grouse –
species of concern –

Male Greater Sage Grouse weigh up to seven pounds making them the largest grouse in North America. Males are known for their spectacular courtship displays sometimes involving up to 200 birds. Adults eat insects and survive on sagebrush in winter. Their range before the 19th century was nearly all the American West into the Midwest and three Canadian provinces with a population estimated as high as 16 million. In 2000 estimates had their numbers as low as 100,000.

Greater Sage Grouse are dependent on large areas of of continuous sage brush habitat for their survival. Overhunting and degradation and fragmentation of their habitat caused their historic decline. Today habitat loss is escalated by invasive species such as cheatgrass, wildfires, energy development, urbanization, agricultural development, intensive grazing, and infrastructure development.

In 2010 it was determined that the Greater Sage Grouse warranted being protected by the Endangered Species Act, but other species in greater need came first. Still federal and state wildlife agencies were already working together to develop a comprehensive strategy to conserve sage grouse habitat, leading to many years of work for these agencies in collaboration with ranchers, industry, and conservation groups to save the bird from extinction. Commercial interests joined the efforts in order to to keep the sage grouse from being listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act which would create actions they found too restricting.

In 2015 these efforts climaxed with the Greater Sage Grouse being determined to not merit being listed as threatened. This outcome was due to the agreement between a myriad of private interests and government agencies to protect and restore millions of acres for the continued existence of not only the grouse but the 350 other species that call the remarkable sagebrush lands their home.

Extinct & Almost Extinct: Oregon Silverspot Butterfly

-The following painting with notes is from my Extinct & Almost Extinct project –

extinct - oregon silverspot butterfly - 2015-12-12 at 11-13-16

Oregon Silverspot Butterfly-

saved from extinction-

The Oregon Silverspot Butterfly historically ranged from Washington to northern California. Their habitat is along the coast in salt-spray meadows. This beautiful medium-size butterfly is dependent on its only host plant, the early blue violet. A female lays about 200 eggs in vegetation near the blue violet and the larvae feed on the early blue violet leaves, no other plant will suffice. The adults normally move out of the meadows into fringe brush for heat conservation and nectar feeding.

Only a few places in Oregon and northern California now host populations. Habitat destruction led to listing the butterfly as a threatened species in 1990. The reduction of suitable habitat has been caused by multiple factors: residential and business expansion with their parking areas and lawns, public parkland development and traffic, overgrazing, and the use of off-road vehicles. In the past wildfires and wild animal grazing helped to keep the meadows open.

Today efforts are being made to actively maintain and nurture the salt-land meadows that support the Oregon Silverspot Butterfly. These include mowing, burning, and planting native plants in the meadows. A captive breeding program was begun in 1999 by several Northwest zoos. These breeding programs involve raising the butterfly to the pupae stage and then releasing them into areas with declining populations. Up to 2000 pupae have been released each year, augmenting the butterfly population and increasing the possibility of survival for this lovely creature.


Extinct & Almost Extinct – Key Deer

The following is a painting and text from my ongoing project Extinct & Almost Extinct —extinct - key deer - 2015-11-17 at 10-30-52

Key Deer –
saved from extinction –

This diminutive sub-species of the white-tailed deer, sometimes called the “Toy Deer,” stands 24” to 32” at the shoulder and weighs 50-75 pounds. It once lived throughout the Florida Keys but is now found primarily on Big Pine Key. The Key Deer inhabit pine forests, mangroves, and freshwater wetlands. Males live about three years while females can live to six years. Occasionally they swim between islands in search of freshwater. Their favorite foods includes mangrove tree leaves and thatch palm berries. By the 1950’s only around 50 of the little deer survived. The National Key Deer Refuge was formed in 1953 and when the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1966 the deer became one the first species protected. Now around 600-700 deer inhabit the area.

The future of the deer is far from certain and they are still listed as an endangered species. There is a continuing loss of habitat due to increased human development in the area and road traffic kills an average of 45 deer a year. They have a lack of fear of humans that draws them into communities and dangers such as free-roaming dogs. The destruction of hurricanes and the diminishment of habitat by global warming also threaten their survival. Hope lies in people being able to coexist with the little deer and there are signs of that with increased land-use regulation and habitat protection.

Extinct & Almost Extinct: Woodland Caribou

–The following is a paintingextinct - woodland caribou - 2015-11-24 at 11-49-49 and text for my ongoing project Extinct & Almost Extinct —

Woodland Caribou —

Woodland caribou differ from the northern tundra dwelling caribou in not only habitat but also diet and body structure. The woodland caribou are larger, darker, and are not migratory but move to different elevations in the mountain during different seasons. They live in the temperate mountainous forests that extends from Eastern British Columbia to Northeastern Washington and Northwestern Idaho. Caribou are the only species of the deer family in which both sexes grow antlers, although the males are much larger. Woodland caribou graze on the spring and summer vegetation and in the winter mostly eat tree lichen. Caribou are the only large mammals that can eat lichen due to specialized bacteria and protozoa in their stomachs. Their large feet give them support on the snow and shovels for digging in the snow. Surprisingly caribou are also excellent swimmers, using their large feet as paddles and gain extra buoyancy from their hollow hairs. Females do not breed until two years of age and often only have one calf every two years.

Estimates have the number of woodland caribou in Canada at about 1900. The Southern Selkirk mountains herd in Northeastern Washington and Northwestern Idaho has dwindled to around 20 caribou and is listed as endangered. Efforts in the 1980’s and 1990’s to reintroduced more woodland caribou to the area failed. Challenges to the woodland caribou include logging and fire reduction of habitat, mortality due to predators and highway collisions, and human development including roads, pipeline construction and motorized recreation such as snowmobiling. Recovery programs have been instituted to protect the habitat of the woodland caribou and to decrease the number of predators.

Extinct & Almost Extinct: Bull Trout

The following is a painting and notes from by ongoing project Extinct & Almost Extinct:extinct - bull trout - 2015-11-24 at 11-47-57

  • Bull Trout

Bull trout are a member of the family know as char. Their name originates from their large head and mouth. They are distinguished from trout and salmon by their absence of teeth in the roof of the mouth and the presence of light spots on a dark background on their body. Once native throughout the Pacific Northwest they are now found primarily in upper tributary streams and a few lakes and reservoirs. They spawn in the Fall in cool water that is below 48 degrees Fahrenheit and need steams with cold, unpolluted water, and clean gravel to spawn. Lake bull trout have been known to weigh more than 20 pounds.

The factors that have led to the plight of the bull trout are many. Around the turn of the 20th century game manager began introducing brook trout and other non-native fish to Northwest steams. The predatory nature of the bull trout took a toll on the introduced fish and it was decided to eradicate the bull trout. Commercial net fishing, bounties, and even poisoning campaigns were initiated and some continued up to 1990. Dams and irrigation systems placed on rivers and streams greatly hindering the migratory bull trout. Mining and agriculture silted up streams eliminating clean spawning gravel. Some isolated populations are not large enough for adequate genetic diversity. Problems with climate change warming stream water and causing reduced snow melt are worsening conditions for the bull trout.

Now federal and state programs are trying to conserve and propagate the bull trout population. Their efforts include stream and habitat protection and restoration, reduction of siltation, and modifying land use to improve stream quality. Strong commitment by private citizens, industry, and federal, state, and tribal agencies are all needed to protect the bull trout.

Extinct & Almost Extinct: Purple Paphiopedilum

The following is #30 in my ongoing project Extinct & Almost Extinct.

extinct - asian orchid - 2015-11-17 at 10-32-40

Purple Paphiopedilum
critically endangered

The Purple Paphiopedilum is an Asian Lady Slipper orchid and is representative of 84 Asian Lady Slipper species most of which are threatened with extinction. Purple Paphiopedilum is a rare species with few growing sites. Three are found in Vietnam and a few in China. It grows in humid, well drained rocky soils and steep limestone slopes. It flourishes in shaded tropical mountains and flowers between June and September. The life of individual plants is up to eight years.

The population of this orchid has plummeted by 90% over the past decade. The total number of individual plants is estimated at less than 250. The reasons for this drastic decline in numbers include destruction of habitat, logging, fires, deforestation, climate change, and the ruthless collection of the plant in the wild for regional and international commerce. The collection of this and many other species of orchids has become rampant with wild cuttings of rare orchids bringing up to $7,500 each. While international law bans the trade of endangered plants, a recent study showed dozens of threatened species of orchids on public sale at Thai markets.

Proposals have been made of ways to protect the Purple Paphiopedilum and other plants in danger of extinction. They include the propagation and repatriation of plants back to native habitats, cultivating specimens specifically for trade in hope lessening wild plant harvest, protecting habitats with surveillance and fencing of wild populations, and raised public awareness of the plight of these plants.







Extinct & Almost Extinct: Sumatran Orangutan

— This is a painting and text is from my ongoing project Extinct & Almost Extinct: 50 Paintings — extinct - sumatran organutan - 2015-06-10 at 09-45-35

Sumatran Orangutan

critically endangered

The Sumatran orangutans are found on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Most of the surviving 7,000 orangutans are found in the north of the island and most of them in the remarkable Leuser Ecosystem. This ecosystem is the home to a large number of threatened Asian rainforest species but is gradually being diminished by agricultural development.

Orangutans are the only great ape of Asia. Their diet consists primarily of fruits, but also leaves, termites and ants. Females, weighing around 100 pounds, rarely if ever leave the trees. Males, weighing up to 200 pounds, occasionally leave the trees but spend most of the time where their food and safety is — in the trees. Their evolution in the trees has led to them have “four hands” rather than two hands and two feet. The length of their lives can range from 40 to 58 years. Females give birth first at the age of 15 and have offspring every eight or nine years producing about four babies in their lifetimes. Males are solitary unless breeding.

The Malayan name “orangutan” means “person of the forest.” This is apt as they share 96.7% of our DNA. Their intelligence is on par with all the great apes. They can learn sign language, they can control computer touch screens, they are skilled tool makers and fine escape artists. But their true intelligence is in natural harmony with their environment.

The capture of orangutans for the pet trade continues continues despite its illegality, but the elimination of their habitat through logging and establishment of vast palm oil plantations is driving the Sumatran orangutan closer and closer to extinction.

Extinct & Almost Extinct: Elkhorn Coral

Below is the painting and text of one of the creatures in my ongoing project, Extinct & Almost Extinct: 50 Paintings.

Elkhorn Coral, 12" X12", acrylic on paper, 2015, Mark W. McGinnis
Elkhorn Coral, 12″ X12″, acrylic on paper, 2015, Mark W. McGinnis

Elkhorn Coral
critically endangered

Coral organisms or polyps are tiny soft-bodied sea creatures related to jellyfish. At their base the creatures build a hard, protective limestone skeleton of by secreting calcium carbonate. They divide into many thousands of clones forming coral reefs. These colonies grow over hundreds, even thousands of years. Some of todays coral reefs may have begun growing 50 million years ago. The vivid color of many corals come not from the coral polyps themselves but from the colorful algae that the corals host on their surface.

Elkhorn coral are found in the Caribbean Sea and gained their name from their large antler-like branches. They primarily reproduce when branches break off and reattach to the substrate. Sexual reproduction does take place annually but few larvae survive. Elkhorn coral are fast growing with branching increasing 2-4 inches a year gaining maximum size and up to twelve feet in diameter in 10-12 years. Most colonies are found in reefs of less than 20 feet deep but some have been found in depths over 60 feet.

Elkhorn coral were once the most common coral in the Caribbean Sea, sometimes called the “redwoods of the reef.” Since the 1980’s the population of these corals has been reduced by 80-98%. The cause of the drastic reduction has been disease, climate change, and other human factors that has brought the species to near extinction. The warming of the waters has made the species more susceptible to a disease called white pox where the warm temperatures cause the coral to expel their algae symbionts and the coral polyps often die.

While coral reefs cover only 1% of the ocean floor they support nearly 25% of the ocean’s creatures. It is feared that a combination of climate change, pollution and sedimentation could kill 30% of the world’s existing reefs in the next 30 years.



Extinct & Almost Extinct: Black-footed Ferret

Below is the painting and text of one of the animals in my ongoing project, Extinct & Almost Extinct: 50 Paintings.

Black-footed Ferret, 12" X 12", acrylic on paper, 2015, Mark W.McGinnis
Black-footed Ferret, 12″ X 12″, acrylic on paper, 2015, Mark W.McGinnis

Black-footed Ferret
This member of the weasel family is the only ferret native to North America. They are 18 to 24 inches in length with short legs and large front paws for digging. They have a large head with strong jaws and teeth to consume their prey, which is almost exclusively prairie dogs. These nocturnal hunters may consume as many as 100 prairie dogs a year. They live in vacant prairie dog burrows and are solitary animals except in breeding season. The raising of their young is done exclusively by the females.

The ferret’s food supply diminished rapidly as settlers moved into the 500,000 square miles of American prairies where the prairie dogs lived. The prairie dogs were considered pests and in the beginning of the 20th century they were poisoned to the point where only small, scattered populations were left. The population of the ferrets decreased proportionately. In addition to the loss of their food source the ferrets also suffered from the spread of sylvatic (bubonic) plague and canine distemper.

The last known wild population of black-footed ferrets was in Wyoming. Some were captured to start a breeding program in 1987 which saved the animal from complete extinction. Extensive efforts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, state agencies and zoos have led to the ferret being reintroduced in selected surviving prairie dog sites with some success. Goals have been set and strenuous efforts continue to further establish the black-footed ferret in the wild.

Extinct & Almost Extinct: Takhi

Below is the painting and text of one of the animals in my ongoing project, Extinct & Almost Extinct: 50 Paintings.

Takhi, 12" X12", acrylic on paper, 2014, Mark W. McGinnis
Takhi, 12″ X12″, acrylic on paper, 2014, Mark W. McGinnis

saved from extinction

Today, the Takhis breed is the only surviving wild horse and is a genetically separate species from all other horses. Takhis means “spirit” in Mongolian and the horse is a symbol of Mongolian national heritage. They are a compact horse with strong necks and heavy limbs. Twenty thousand years ago people painted Takhis on the walls of Lascaux cave in France. For nearly 10,000 years they ranged over much of the plains of northern Asia, living in harem groups with a dominate stallion. However, by 1800, their range was reduced by humans grazing domesticated animals and hunting Takhis for meat. Before 1878, when a Polish explorer discovered Takhis in a remote area of Mongolia, these horses were thought to be extinct by the western world. Between 1880 and 1909, 52 foals were brought to the west and put in zoos. In 1968 the last wild Takhi was seen in Gun Tamga, Great Gobi B area and the horse was declared extinct in the wild.

Records show that surviving Takhis are all descended from twelve animals brought to western zoos before 1909. From this group, successful breeding programs were developed in North America, Europe, China and Australia. By trading animals the widest diversity was achieved. In 1992, an enclosure was set-up in Gun Tamga, Great Gobi B to reacclimate zoo-bred Takis to the harsh Mongolian climate and to teach them to live independently. By 1997, this program was successful enough to open the enclosures and allow the Takhis to roam freely. A few zoo-bred Takhis were added to this group to expand genetic diversity, but most of the herd growth has been through new foals born in the wild. Of the approximately 2,000 Takhis living today, about ninety live in the 4,600 square mile preserve in the Gun Tamga, Great Gobi B. Another eighty live in preserves in Le Villaret, France and Khomyn Tal, Mongolia. The rest are in zoos around the world.