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Mustached Bird Photographed for First Time, Then Killed

A beautiful endangered bird was photographed for the first time ever, only to be killed later by researchers who hope to study it more.

The first ever photographs of the elusive male moustached kingfisher were recently released by the American Museum of Natural History. They show a vibrant blue adult bird in apparent good health.

There is a sad footnote to the images, however, because researchers elected to kill the endangered bird in order to further study it.

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Paul Sweet, collection manager for the museum's Department of Ornithology, told Audubon that he and his colleagues assessed the state of the bird's population and habitat, and concluded it was substantial and healthy enough to withstand the loss.

The suspenseful moments before the bird's discovery and subsequent death are recorded in a field journal written by Chris Filardi, who is director of Pacific Programs at the museum's Center for Biodiversity and Conservation.

He and his colleagues were in the remote moss jungle highlands of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands when they heard a distinctive call: "ko-ko-kokokokokokokokoko-kiew!"

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They paused and scanned the forest. After time passed, "There in plain sight pumping its tail, crest alert, in full colors, was the moustached kingfisher," Filardi wrote. "And then, like a ghost, it was gone."

For days the researchers looked for the bird. They set fine nets into the forest canopy, hoping to capture the individual. After a blustery morning of cold winds and rain showers, they managed to capture the male moustached kingfisher.

"When I came upon the netted bird in the cool shadowy light of the forest I gasped aloud, ‘Oh my god, the kingfisher,'" Filardi recounted. "One of the most poorly known birds in the world was there, in front of me, like a creature of myth come to life."

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Photographs were taken of the bird. Frank Lambert, another member of the research team, also managed to record the bird's distinctive call. The recording has not yet been released.

The moustached kingfisher is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. It is estimated that there are only 250–1000 mature individuals left, but the bird's elusiveness puts even those figures into question.

Its entry on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reads, "This spectacular species is judged to be endangered on the basis of a very small estimated population, which is suspected to be declining, at least in part of its range. However, further research may reveal it to be more common."

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Nevertheless, the decision to kill the bird has led to heavy criticism.

In a blog post for the Huffington Post, Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, wrote: "Killing ‘in the name of conservation' or ‘in the name of education' or ‘in the name of whatever' simply needs to stop. It is wrong and sets a horrific precedent for future research and for children. Imagine what a youngster would think if he or she heard something like, ‘I met a rare and gorgeous bird today...and I killed him.'"

"Even if this handsome male were a member of a common species, there was no reason to kill him. It sickens me that this practice continues and I hope more people will work hard to put an end to it right now, before more fascinating animals are killed."

Male moustached kingfisher.

Seabirds, such as this albatross, along with some amphibians, mammals and other birds are among the 15 species that are at greatest risk of becoming extinct very soon, a new study finds. The study, published in the journal Current Biology, found that these animals have a low chance of survival now in both the wild and in captivity, despite conservation measures. "Conservation opportunity evaluations like ours show the urgency of implementing management actions before it is too late," lead author Dalia Conde of the University of Southern Denmark said.

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Six amphibians, including the Perereca, shown here, made the list of 15. The researchers determined that the animals' low chances for survival are due to several factors: * High probability of its habitat becoming urbanized * Political instability at the site * High cost of habitat protection and management * A low opportunity of establishing an insurance population in zoos due to high costs or lack of breeding expertise.

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Because many of the animals on the list of 15 have such low populations, in many cases, not much is known about the species. Some are only documented in written accounts. Birgitte Svennevig of the University of Southern Denmark told Discovery News, "The 15 species are extremely rare, so we do not have photos of all of them. I am not even sure if photos of all of them exist." So some animals on the list, such as the Mount Lefo brush-furred mouse, are represented here by photos of closely related species. This photo shows the endangered mouse's close kin,

Lophuromys ansorgei.

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For the study, Conde and her team computed the cost of conserving 841 species of mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians listed by the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) as restricted to single sites and categorized as "endangered" or "critically endangered" on the IUCN Red List. "AZE sites are arguably the more irreplaceable category of important biodiversity conservation sites," Conde said. Ash's lark is one of the 15 most endangered animals on the planet. This photo shows the closely related species,

Mirafra africana.

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The estimated total cost to conserve the 841 animals included in the study was calculated to be over $1 billion total per year. That is if the animals are to be saved in their natural habitats. The estimated annual cost for management in zoos was $160 million. Costs, however, seem less daunting when each species is looked at individually. Hopefully efforts can still be boosted to support the conservation of animals like the Bay Lycian salamander, which is from Turkey and could go extinct during our lifetimes. Shown is the closely related Eastern newt.

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The tropical pocket gopher is one of three mammals among the total list of 15 at-risk species. The researchers created a "conservation opportunity index," based on their study, with this small gopher winding up at the bottom of the list. It would take substantial funds and work to try and save it. "Although the cost seems high, safeguarding these species is essential if we want to reduce the extinction rate by 2020," co-author Hugh Possingham from the University of Queensland said.

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Zino's petrel, a small bird native to the island of Madeira, is among the most endangered European seabirds.

Amphibians, such as the Zorro bubble-nest frog, are widely believed to be the most endangered class of animals on the planet. Nearly one-third of all the world's amphibians are close to extinction. The declines are among the most critical threats to global biodiversity. While researchers continue to study why so many amphibians have been dying out since the 1980s, possible causes include disease, habitat destruction and modification, exploitation, pollution, pesticide use, introduced non-native species, and ultraviolet-B radiation.

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The Mascarene petrel from Reunion Island is threatened by pollution and predation by non-native animals.

While the report provides a realistic view on certain species' chances for survival and the probable cost to try and save them, the researchers hope that conservation efforts will improve. "Our exercise gives us hope for saving many highly endangered species from extinction, but actions need to be taken immediately and, for species restricted to one location (such as the frog

Allobates juanii

from Colombia), an integrative conservation approach is needed," said co-author John Fa.

The name Tahiti monarch might sound like a butterfly, but it's actually the common name for a very uncommon bird from French Polynesia. It's believed that there are fewer than 50 individuals remaining of this small bird, whose call has been likened to a beautiful melody played on a flute.

Native to Brazil, the Campo Grande tree frog's primary threat to survival is habitat loss.

Native to Mexico, the Chiapan climbing rat is now known only from one location in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas. Its habitat is being converted to agricultural and urban use. While rodents aren't viewed with much affection, the Chiapan climbing rat and all of the other animals on the list of 15 play critical roles in their ecosystems. When their numbers decrease or when a species dies out, the loss will ripple throughout the food chain, causing eventual adverse impacts to all of the other ecosystem members as well as to the habitat itself. Shown is a related species (right)

Nyctomys sumichrasti

with an Alston's brown mouse.

The Santa Cruz dwarf frog is native to Brazil. More funding is needed to attempt to save it, but Possingham points out that costs are all relative. "When compared to global government spending on other sectors -- for example, U.S. defense spending, which is more than 500 times greater (than the estimated coast to conserve the 841 animals in the study) -- an investment in protecting high biodiversity value sites is minor," he said.

Wilkin's finch is now restricted to Inaccessible Island and Nightingale Island in the South Atlantic Ocean. The small bird was named after Australian polar explorer and ornithologist Captain Sir George Hubert Wilkins. Chances for future survival are very low. As co-author Markus Gusset of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums concludes, "Actions that range from habitat protection to the establishment of insurance populations in zoos will be needed if we want to increase the chances of species' survival."