Extinct Plant Not So Extinct After All

Some happy endangered species news this week. A California plant thought to be extinct in the wild was recently upgraded to “endangered” after being accidentally uncovered by construction workers. Apparently, they were clearing brush for road construction near the Golden Gate Bridge and a botanist driving by saw the shrub and did a double take. The Franciscan Manzanita, a pretty red-wooded shrub with dark green leaves and white clusters of flowers, was thought to have gone extinct in the 1940s when its last known habitat, a San Francisco cemetery, was moved to make way for residential development. Because the rediscovery was so unexpected, and because the little plant was right in the middle of an active construction site, its fate is uncertain as local agencies discuss how to best handle the situation. Local conservationists are hoping the federal government can protect it under the Endangered Species Act, and according to the Center for Biological Diversity, they’ll need all the help they can get. The CBD yesterday filed an intent to sue the Obama administration for dragging its feet and failing to make the “required findings to determine whether 144 species warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act…”

In tangentially related news, the koala may not have much time as a non-endangered species. Besides eating only eucalyptus and battling global warming, the fuzzy little guys have another, less expected threat: chlamydia. Yes, it’s true, those cute cuddly marsupials have STDs. The koala population has fallen by nearly half (to around 50,000) since 2003, and many of them died from chlamydia. The koala version of HIV is also becoming more prevalent. Research to develop vaccines for both diseases is underway, but it’s uncertain how scientists are exactly going to administer them to koalas in the wild.


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