We’ve reached the Sweet Sixteen in March Sadness — ClimateProgress’ educational bracket tournament of animals impacted by climate change and other environmental threats. For whichever animal wins, ClimateProgress will write a feature-length article exploring the story behind what’s ailing your chosen critter, and who is working to save them. Read the rules here.
Today, things are getting pretty real. For the first time since this competition began, we’re bringing back the winners from the first rounds to battle against each other — and adding a little more information about the environmental threats they face. The first two to go head-to-head will be the winners of our Paws and Claws division: Polar Bear, Pangolin, Koala, and Wolverine. Pangolin pulled off a tight win against Tasmanian Devil in the first round, while Polar Bear easily sailed by Wombat for the title. But Wolverine was the big upset, beating the second-seeded Panda. Can it do the same to fan-favorite Koala?
Polar Bear vs. Pangolin
Polar Bears: Whether they like it or not, Polar Bears have been the unofficial symbol of climate change for more than a decade. We touched on why a little bit in our last round — as ice coverage in the Arctic Sea declines, mother bears have less time on the ice to hunt seals. Indeed, the number one cause of death for cubs right now is a lack of food, or lack of fat on nursing mothers.
But over the years, the climate story behind these iconic bears has become complicated and controversial. In a small number of cases, polar bears have defied the odds, and in those cases their success story has become fodder for conservatives to support their argument that climate change isn’t real. At the same time, most scientists agree polar bears are in danger of extinction as the planet warms.
Pangolins: Pangolins — the rare animal reminiscent of the Pokemon Sandshrew — is believed to be the most trafficked animal in the world. As we mentioned last time, they are killed because of the widespread belief that they have powerful medical benefits in Traditional Chinese Medicine, though there exists no medical evidence supporting these beliefs.
While trafficking is the pangolin’s biggest threat, the heavily-scaled mammal is also threatened by deforestation and habitat loss. Climate change can impact pangolin habitat by altering rainfall patterns and shifting ecological regions, thus further stressing the creatures. What’s more, pangolins are easily stressed — they don’t do well in captivity, and have rarely been bred successfully, making it unlikely that human intervention can keep them from extinction.
Which would you like to know more about? Vote below.
— Climate Progress (@climateprogress) March 26, 2015
Koala vs. Wolverine
Koalas: As we noted last time, the koala is facing a serious threat from Australian bushfires, which are decimating their habitat. Bushfires — which are becoming worse in a hotter, drier Australia — are particularly dangerous for the slow-moving koala, which were just recently affected by fires roaring through the country. To help, animal welfare groups sent out a call for koala mittens to help ease the pain from burns.
In addition, bushfires cause stress, and stress makes koalas prone to chlamydia. The bacterial infection affects almost all koalas in South East Queensland, according to the Queensland government. Chlamydia can make koalas unable to reproduce — in fact, infertility from chlamydia is partially responsible for the current decline in koala numbers.
Wolverines: The wolverine needs snow for survival, so the idea of global warming is obviously not the best for the large and solitary member of the weasel family. Wolverines rely on deep, consistent snow in the American West — snow that lasts late into the spring for breeding. So as snowpacks across that area of the country diminish, the overall evidence is stacked heavily against them in the coming decades.
What’s more, the wolverine already neared extinction early last century after hunting and trapping dwindled its numbers even lower than they are today. Now, climate change exacerbates that threat — according to the Center for Biological Diversity, snow melt in the Rockies is occurring about two weeks earlier now than it did in the 1960s and over the next 75 years climate change is projected to wipe out 63 percent of the snowy habitat wolverines they need to survive.
Who will advance for a chance at a feature story?
— Climate Progress (@climateprogress) March 26, 2015
***TOURNAMENT UPDATES:Day 1–3/19: Paws and Claws pt. 1 — Polar Bear vs. Wombat; Tasmanian Devil vs. Pangolin; (voting closed) WINNERS: Polar Bear and Pangolin.Day 2–3/20: Paws and Claws pt. 2 — Lemur vs. Koala; Panda vs. Wolverine (voting closed) WINNERS: Koala and Wolverine.Day 3–3/23: Fins and Flippers — Sea Lion vs. Sea Horse; Penguin vs. Manatee; Walrus vs. Sea Otter; Whale vs. Salmon (voting closed) WINNERS: Sea Horse, Sea Otter, Whale, and PenguinDay 4–3/24: Horns and Hooves — Elephant vs. Horned Lizard; Rhino vs. Narwhal; Saola vs. Moose; Mountain Goat vs. Reindeer (voting closed) WINNERS: Elephant, Narwhal, Moose, and Mountain Goat.Day 5–3/25: Shells and Wings — Sea Turtle vs. Pelican; Sage Grouse vs. Peregrine Falcon; Oyster vs. Butterfly; Lobster vs. Red Knot (voting closed)Day 6–3/26: Polar Bear vs. Pangolin; Koala vs. Wolverine (voting closed)Day 7–3/27: Sea Horse vs. Whale; Sea Otter vs. Penguin (voting NOW OPEN)Day 8–3/30: Elephant vs. Mountain Goat; Moose vs. NarwhalDay 9–3/31: Sea Turtle vs. Red Knot; Butterfly vs. Peregrine FalconDay 10–4/1: TBDDay 11–4/2: TBDDay 12–4/3: THE FINAL FOUR: TBD Day 13–4/6: THE CHAMPIONSHIP: TBD