Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 42 – The Iranian or Asiatic Cheetah

Iranian or Asiatic cheetah with cubs

Source: Unknown

As opposed to being hunted by man, these magnificent animals were once used as man’s hunting companions.  Known then as the ‘hunting leopard’, Indian princes kept Asiatic cheetah in captivity (in very large numbers) and trained them, as they did birds of prey, to hunt.  With the cheetah, they hunted various antelope. The royal families, and their multitudes of ‘sporting guests’, would wander off with these wonderful creatures in tow and the hunt would begin.  This practise began over five thousand years ago and continued until the first half of the twentieth century.  [1]  Part of the reason for this species being endangered today relates to the mass, ill-managed, live capture of cheetah for the pleasure of those aristocratic folk, so long ago.  Though this was not the sole reason for the decline, it played a huge part.  For example, Akbar the Great, Mogul Emperor of India, had an eye-watering collection of an estimated six thousand cheetah. Not many left in the wild after that sort of extraction.  By 1950 the species had become extinct in India, and most other places as well.

Despite the many wrongs of this, I cannot help but wonder how long it took to train these cheetah to surrender their kill.

These fabulous cats are just built for hunting.  Their bodies are svelte and their legs long and strong.  They have semi-retractable, blunt claws to grip the ground as they travel at speeds of up to eighty miles an hour.  They have a tail which acts as a balancing tool, when cornering sharply; and their eyes, high on their small heads, have a 210-degree field of vision.   Asiatic cheetah  (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus)  are also excellent stalkers and are able to get extremely close to their prey before they are seen.  Once caught, strong jaws can suffocate the prey within minutes.

When fully grown, the Asiatic Cheetah is about four to five feet in length, and weighs up to fifty-four kilos.  As is so with most animals, the male is larger than the female.  Both sexes chirp when they call.  The strange sound is more like a tiny, yapping puppy than a fierce big cat, and can be heard up to a mile away.

Breeding is thought to take place in mid-winter.  Gestation lasts up to ninety-five days, after which one to four cubs are normally produced.  Sadly, many do not make it past twelve weeks.

The name cheetah comes from the Hindi word “chita” meaning spotted.

Semi-desert areas and small plains where prey is available.
Most are in Northern Iran with lesser numbers being found in Sub-Saharan Africa
What they eat
Ungulates such as gazelle, wild sheep and goats.  But, they have also been forced into hunting cattle because of the loss of their primary prey species, due to poaching.
Alteration of the grasslands to farmland, overgrazing of domestic livestock, habitat fragmentation and degradation.  Hunting and poaching of the cheetah’s prey.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Asiatic cheetah is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Critically Endangered.  The total population may only be 50 to 100.  Exact numbers are difficult to obtain.  Three separate bodies, the Iranian Department of Environment , the United Nations Development Programme and the Global Environment Facility, partnered to found the Conservation of the Asiatic Cheetah Project (CACP). The intention being to preserve and rehabilitate the Asiatic cheetah’s remaining habitat in Iran.
“The second phase of CACP was initiated in January 2009 to run as a four-year project, with a budget of $4 million funded by national and international organizations. Recently, it was announced that the project will be extended until 2015”. [2] 

Let us all hope this extremely beautiful animal can be saved by all of this.  I know I am certainly rooting for them, and perhaps you should too.

“The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Partnership to Save the Elephants to dedicate $80mil on ending elephant poaching

This is incredible news.

Teal Environmental

On Thursday, the Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action announced that seven countries in Africa have come together with environmental groups to help save the continent’s majestic animals. The project was committed to by the Wildlife Conservation Society, African Wildlife Foundation, World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, and International Fund for Animal Welfare, along with numerous other partners. The funding will be used to “stop the killing, the trafficking, and the demand.”

The partnership’s website states that 2012 was the worst year for elephant conservation, as 35,000 African elephants were slaughtered. They are determined to end this tragic practice by 2016 through many different means that target each of the three aspects. They will focus on 50 protected areas, enhancing the current anti-poaching methods, through upgraded equipment and technology, and more comprehensive training. In addition, they are looking to hire 3,000 more anit-poaching park guards to…

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Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 41 – The Hainan Gibbon

Hainan gibbon swinging through the trees

Source: Unknown

The Hainan gibbon is one of the rarest monkeys in the world, possibly on the brink of extinction.  There are only twenty-six left in existence;  including three babies born this year.  And, all of these are all living within the confines of the Bawangling National Nature Reserve on the tropical island of Hainan in the South China Sea.

These delightful apes are sexually dimorphic.  Mature males are almost totally black, with occasional pale cheeks, and mature females are a pale golden colour with odd dark patches on the body and a black crest on the head.  Both have long arms and legs and no tail.

They swing through the trees using a movement known as brachiation;  something gibbons seem far more skilled at than any other species.  They swing hand over hand, carrying their long, slender bodies forward.  With their powerful muscles and supple joints, they do the job rather well.  When on the ground, they possess the ability to walk upright.

Moreover, gibbons are extremely well-known for their singing.  A throat sac below the chin allows them to issue a  series of notes in rapid succession.  Their truly enchanting voices not only allow for bonding and mating, but primatologists are able to locate and track these agile monkeys as they travel at speeds of up to fifty-five miles per hour through the branches.

Notwithstanding their numbers have recently been increased with the birth of the three babies, twenty-six is not a big number.  Were the Hainan gibbon to become extinct, it would be the first known ape to do for 12,000 years.  It would be a terrible shame to lose these beautiful primates simply because of man’s greed and neglect.

Tropical rainforest, tropical lowland and hillside rainforest
Bawangling National Nature Reserve, Hainan Island, China.
What they eat
Sugary fruit such as figs, leaves, flowers and insects
Severe loss of habitat due to illegal logging, illegal plantations, illegal and legal pulp paper plantations.  Water levels have been depleted in some areas because of the moisture needed for pulp trees.   As a result, the habitat of the Hainan gibbon has suffered greatly. The rainforests in Hainan have disappeared at an alarming rate over the past decade and reforestation has not been practised in the concerned areas.
Status: Critically Endangered
Listed as Critically Endangered on the  IUCN Red List of Endangered Species,  this species is also listed on CITES Appendix 1.  There are no recorded Hainan gibbons in any other parts of the world, and none are known to be kept in captivity.  Greenpeace has called upon the Hainan government to uphold their laws relating to the protection of the Hainan gibbon  (Nomascus hainanus)  and its habitat.  The species has already lost more than 99% of its original habitat.
This species has had international legal protection since 2003, and been a Class I Nationally Protected Species under the Chinese Wildlife Protection Law since 1989. Bawangling National Nature Reserve was established in 1980 and expanded in 2003. [1]

“Destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal”
Edward O. Wilson

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 40 – The Giant Panda

Giant panda eating bamboo

Photo: Fernando Revilla – Smithsonian National Zoological Park

Large, gentle-looking and seemingly approachable, the giant panda has become one of the most iconic emblems in the world.  The forefront of wildlife preservation, it holds widespread appeal.  Its black and white markings, large white head with black eye-patches and huggable appearance, make it instantly recognisable to all.

Giant pandas spend two-thirds of their day feeding and the other third resting.  Resting being anywhere they happen to be at the time.  They simple lie down on the spot.  They are, however, skilled climbers and will soon shoot up into the trees if they sense predators.  Climbing is aided greatly by the huge fur-lined paws with long retractile claws.  Swimming can also be added to their list of abilities.

The males weigh in at anything up to one hundred and twenty kilos with the females slightly less heavy.  They both have muscular jaws and huge molars which are broader than those of other bears, and perfect for tearing and crunching tough shoots.  They also have an additional molar.  These are their secret bamboo munching weapons. Fascinatingly, they possess a special adaptation for grasping the bamboo as well – an extra ‘thumb’ (a modified sesamoid bone derived from the wrist).  A layer of mucus in their stomachs protects against shards of bamboo.

Pandas do not hibernate in winter as other bears do.  As opposed to ‘digging in’ when the cold weather descends, they sensibly up sticks and march down the mountainside to more clement elevations.

Adults are solitary until the mating season begins (March to May).  Females give birth only once a year, following a gestation period of approximately five months, and usually a single cub is born.  Twins occur, but are rare.  By now the father will be long gone.  These extraordinary babies weigh about 1/900th of the mother’s weight.  They are born pink, almost bald, about seven inches in length and with closed eyes.  They also makes a lot of noise, crying and squealing.  The cub’s eyes will remain shut for up to forty-five days.  The cub will remain in the mother’s care until eighteen months to two years of age.

Although their diet is made up of various species of bamboo, and little else, giant pandas are still classified as carnivores.

Temperate montane forests with altitudes of up to four thousand metres.  In the cold of winter they move to the lower and warmer elevations.
South-central China
What they eat
Nothing but bamboo. The shoots, the leaves and the stems. –  Subsequent to further information received, please note the following adjustment to this statement since the post was first published:

A wild giant panda’s diet is almost exclusively (99 percent) bamboo.  They have been known to eat meat, but it is very rare. They are hopelessly slow when it comes to hunting, and any meat they may have consumed would probably have been carrion.
Restricted and degraded habitat. Forests have been cleared depriving the panda of its food base.  Periodically, die-backs occur in bamboo.  Forest clearance has prevented the panda from migrating from one source to the next when these die-backs befall the plant. Farmers grazing their livestock can also be a problem.  When habitat is used as such, the bamboo cannot always regenerate.
Status:  Endangered
There are now an estimated sixteen hundred mature giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) in the wild.  Due to declining numbers and continual loss of habitat, the giant panda has been listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered.
A great deal has gone into the preservation of this species, including the founding of sixty or so reserves.  There are over three hundred pandas in captivity around the globe. Captive breeding programmes, in most cases, have been successful, and plans are in place to release captive pandas into the wild in the hope of strengthening those populations.  This has not been entirely successful.  There are opposing views relating to the money spent on captive pandas;  and some feel it would be better spent improving their environment instead. [1]

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love.  We will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught”
Baba Dioum

Leopards in Iran, Armenia and Azerbaijan

Dear Kitty. Some blog

This video is called In the Balance: The Caucasus Leopard.

From Wildlife Extra:

Assessing suitable leopard habitat in Iran, Armenia and Azerbaijan

Mapping the Persian leopard habitat connectivity in the Iranian sector of the Caucasus ecoregion

September 2013. Drastic declines in the Persian leopard population in the Middle East and particularly in Caucasus, has attracted attention of researchers and conservationists to the status of this subspecies in the region.

Consequently various countries in the Persian leopard range in the Caucasus have launched an attempt to address the status of leopards in the area. However, the major population of the Persian leopards are known to inhabit in Iran. As a result, leopard status in Iran and particularly in North-west of the country plays an important role in survival of the Persian leopards in the region.

Iran’s Persian leopard project

The three bordering provinces of West Azerbaijan, Ardebil and East…

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