“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom”
In many parts of Madagascar, ancient Malagasy legend has it that if an aye-aye points its extremely long finger in your direction, you are marked for death. Locals believe the aye-aye will sneak into the village houses, under cover of darkness, and, using its long middle finger, pierce the hearts of those sleeping. The only way to avoid this terrible fate is to kill the tiny, defenceless creature and hang it upside down by the roadside, so that the malignant spirits will be carried away by passing travellers. As a result, aye-ayes are killed on sight, a practice resulting in the species being accorded Near Threatened status by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Aye-ayes are nocturnal and arboreal creatures who hide away in nests during the day, curled up at the top of the canopy and safe from natural predators. However, when they do descend, they seem to know no fear of humans. Reports suggest they stroll calmly into villages and approach people in the forest, making them very easy targets. But, having been perceived as an harbingers of death for so long, the fate of the little aye-ayes has been more-or-less sealed, and these friendly little primates are rapidly diminishing in numbers. The legend may or may not have been based on the fact that they look rather like demented demons, but whatever its origins, a call for education is an obvious must here, before all populations are obliterated because of this ludicrous superstition.
In a few areas, where the legend does not induce trepidation, aye-ayes are revered by the Malagasy. It is said they embody ancestral spirits and are a good omen.
The plight of the aye-ayes is in no way helped by ever-increasing deforestation, either. Growing human settlements are increasingly encroaching on the aye-aye’s natural habitat. Agriculture is gobbling up the forests where tavy (slash-and-burn agriculture) is widely used. The aye-ayes, along with most of Madagascar’s other lemurs, are rapidly becoming homeless and hungry because of this. This has lead to them moving towards cultivated land and being shot as crop pests.
Aye-ayes, also hunted as bushmeat incidentally, are the largest nocturnal primates. They are also one of the few solitary primates. These demonic-looking little lemurs may not be the prettiest animals on earth, but they are certainly very endearing in their own way. Unfortunately, because of their strange looks, rather derogatory remarks are made about them, and they have been awarded the dubious accolade of ‘one the ugliest animals on earth’. Though, it has to be said, the aye-aye is a bit of a mish-mash.
The ears of the aye-aye resemble those of a bat, the teeth those of a beaver, the tail that of a squirrel and the large, orange eyes bring gremlins to mind. The large, wickedly responsive, bat-like ears rotate independently, and can detect the slightest sounds, and the incisor teeth never stop growing throughout the aye-ayes life. The most extraordinary feature, however, is the elongated, almost skeletal, middle finger. Contrary to superstition, this digit is not designed to kill humans, but is, in fact, an evolutionary marvel and a highly adapted tool of the species.
Witness aye-ayes eating and it’s clear good forest table manners are not their forte, but their motor skills, using this incredible digit, are superb. Rather like a woodpecker using its beak, the aye-ayes tap on bark to locate pockets of wood-boring insect larvae hidden inside. This is known as percussive foraging. Once the presence of larvae has been confirmed, the sharp, rat-like teeth gnaw away at the wood and in goes the long, thin middle finger to retrieve the grubs through the newly made hole. All perfectly executed.
Aye-ayes spend the largest part of their day sleeping in well-made, woven nests. They site these in tree forks and construct them with leaves and twigs. Time is taken building each nest, usually a whole day, and a single aye-aye may build up to twenty of these within its home range. The spherical nests are quite intricate and consist of a closed top, a side entrance and a base of shredded leaves. They tend to measure about twenty inches in diameter. The aye-ayes may switch nests from time to time and others may occupy the nests left vacant.
There is no fixed breeding season for aye-ayes, this seems to be an all-year-round event. Following suitable pairing, there is a gestation period of about one hundred and sixty days, after which a single infant will be born in the nest ‘box’. The baby, born with floppy ears, will depend on its mother’s milk for the first seven to twelve months of its life, and remain with its mother until it is two years old. This, in effect, means females are only able to care for one infant every two to three years, making re-population of the species a slow process. The baby will remain in the nest for about two months before emerging into the canopy. It will start on solids at about fourteen weeks of age. Both parents will remain near the nest after the birth and the male parent has also been known to share food with the infant.
Assuming infants survive the rigours of the wild, it is generally thought they will not live as long as they would in captivity, where records show aye-ayes living up to twenty-six years. Unfortunately, little is known about their actual lifespan in the wild.
Dense, tropical and coastal rainforest, dry scrub forest, secondary growth forests, bamboo thickets, coconut groves and mangroves.
What they eat
Mainly the inside of Ramy nuts. Plus other fruits, seeds, insect larvae and nectar.
Killed on sight by locals believing it to be a harbinger of death. Killed as a crop pest. Hunted for subsistence food. Poaching for the bush-meat trade. Habitat loss due to deforestation by way of human settlement and agriculture. Natural predators include the fossa, birds of prey and snakes.
Status: Near Threatened
The Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Near Threatened (likely to become endangered in the near future). The species occurs in national parks and special reserves throughout Madagascar, though it is not adequately protected. Captive breeding programmes exist involving various worldwide institutions. There is also an introduced population on the island of Nosy Mangabe and Aye-Aye island. The species is listed on Appendix I of CITES.
The global captive population of aye-ayes stands at about forty-five individuals. Those involved include the Duke Lemur Center, Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust, London Zoo, Paris Zoo and Tokyo Zoo.
Madagascar aye-ayes in danger
Aye-ayes: Endangered lemurs’ complete genomes are sequenced and analyzed for conservation efforts
Aye-aye lemur ‘heats up’ its special foraging finger
Secrets of a Strange Lemur: An Aye-Aye Gallery
Legends of Madagascar
A HORRIFIC CREATURE
Weird Animal Hands: Demon Primate, Flappy-Armed Frog, More
Who gave them the right to take a free-living creature from its natural environment, ASSUME OWNERSHIP and sell it!
In Japan, some 50 aquariums keep around 600 dolphins and take many of the Taiji dolphins, with business also coming from many aquariums abroad. And with growing demand for dolphins from China, which already has 35 aquariums displaying dolphins, the sale of live dolphins from the Taiji drive hunt is lucrative business.—National Geographic
From Wildlife Extra:
Andean condors protected by land purchase
January 2014: More than 270,000 acres of critical wildlife habitat in Ecuador has been purchased by the Rainforest Trust. The mammoth property acquisition, which includes the 18,714-foot Antisana Volcano, will create a permanent refuge for the largest population of Andean Condor in the Northern Andes.
The final 6,100 acre property, called Hacienda Antisanilla, was acquired today to complete a project by Rainforest Trust with Fundación Jocotoco, the Municipality of Quito, and the Quito Water Authority in a coordinated effort that will both protect endangered species and secure an important source of drinking water for Ecuador’s capital city.
“The purchase of multiple properties around Volcan Antisana represents one of the greatest conservation victories ever in the Andes of South America,” said Dr. Robert Ridgely, President of…
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This just about sums up the disgraceful tactics of David Cameron and his cronies. The British Government has yet again put corporate greed before environmental concerns.
David Cameron to rip up green regulations
Prime minister says plans to scrap or amend more than 3,000 regulations will save businesses £850m a year
David Cameron will on Monday boast of tearing up 80,000 pages of environmental protections and building guidelines as part of a new push to build more houses and cut costs for businesses.
In a speech to small firms, the prime minister will claim that he is leading the first government in decades to have slashed more needless regulation than it introduced.
Among the regulations to be watered down will be protections for hedgerows and rules about how businesses dispose of waste, despite Cameron’s claims to lead the greenest government ever.
Addressing the Federation of Small Businesses conference, Cameron will argue that the new rules will make it “vastly cheaper” for businesses to comply with their environmental obligations.
Read the full article here at The Guardian
“I have a feeling that these organisations would raise more money if they spent more on equipping rangers and less on the glitz and glamour of royalty and celebrity.”—Wildlife News
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, as vital to our lives as water and good bread”
This Antipodean yellow-eyed penguin may well be the rarest penguin on earth, and if conservation efforts fail, it could be lost altogether. The arrival of man in the New World has done untold damage to the species. Its coastal habitat has been given over to development and agriculture. Along with the loss of habitat, sheep and cattle not only graze the land, they are also capable of treading on nests, destroying eggs and often killing young chicks. A further introduction of cats, dogs, rats and ferrets has seen adults penguins killed, eggs stolen and chicks eaten.
Rats were the first introduced predators. Although this was not deliberate, you can imagine the rate at which they multiplied. Cats were then needed to control the rats. In they came. Most of these became feral. Ferrets and other mustelids were brought in during the 1880s to control the burgeoning rabbit population (yet another unwise introduction to the islands).
Adult birds can escape the smaller predators, but they cannot escape from, nor defend themselves against the dogs. They are particularly vulnerable during the moulting season when they cannot run to the sea and immerse themselves. Needless to say, chicks and juveniles do not stand a chance against any of these predators. There is also a high recorded rate of chick mortality through starvation and disease.
Then, there are the commercial fishing practices. Every year, yellow-eyed penguins die from entanglement in fishing nets. According to the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, numbers of by-catch of yellow-eyed penguins by commercial fisheries may be considerable.
The Trust, which relies upon donations and volunteers, has instigated various measures to try and ensure the continuation of the species. It is doubtful the colonies could survive without the ongoing predator control and maintenance which is now in action. The Department of Conservation is also strongly involved in monitoring and maintaining breeding sites over the yellow-eyed penguin’s range, and the local community is actively involved in conservation plans. Fishing practices are being addressed.
This is the good news. The bad news is, no-one has any control over the unexplained outbreaks of disease which have occurred over the past three decades. The causes of these catastrophic events still remain a mystery.
Adult yellow-eyed penguins have bluish-grey backs and flippers, with a white underside and pink feet. In the water, this combination of light and dark colouring (known as counter-shading) provides camouflage from both above and below. A diving penguin becomes totally dark when seen from above and totally light when seen from below.
A distinctive yellow eye and a bright yellow stripe, which runs from the eyes to the back of the head, sets them apart from other species of penguin. Under water, all penguins have optimum vision and are able to spot prey in the murkiest of waters. Their eyesight is said to be better in the water than on land.
The average adult yellow-eyed penguin can reach a height of two feet and weigh around thirteen pounds. Males tend to be slightly taller and heavier than females.
These penguins make a lot of noise when calling to each other. This unique call prompted the Māori name, Hoiho, meaning ‘noise shouter’. The call is used as a general form of communication within the colonies.
Penguins are very accomplished swimmers and spend up to seventy-five per cent of their lives at sea. Having lost the ability to fly millions of years ago, they now have well-developed, powerful flippers and streamlined bodies. They can achieve speeds of up to twenty miles per hour in the water, where they practice ‘porpoising’; the art of leaping in low arcs in and out of the water. This reduces friction by coating the feathers with tiny bubbles, and, at the same time, the movement allows them to breathe more evenly. It is thought the penguins porpoise as a means of evading predators, though some say it is simply out of pure joy. I would prefer to believe the latter. There is no doubt they are joy to behold to the onlooker.
Primarily a benthic forager, the yellow-eyed penguin is known to dive up to depths of five hundred feet and travel along the bottom for up to one hundred and sixty feet. Maximum dive time is thought to be three and a half minutes.
The breeding season begins in mid-August. Penguins are ready to breed when they are three or four years old, at which time life-long relationships are formed. Nest sites are chosen together and normally two eggs will be laid in September. For the next forty-three days, both parents will share the incubation. After hatching, one parent will guard the chicks while the other is at sea foraging. The forager will return daily to feed the chicks and relieve the partner. Chicks are fed by regurgitating stomach contents. When the chicks are about six weeks of age, both parents go to sea to gather food for their rapidly growing young.
Chicks are covered in thick, brown, fluffy feathers when first hatched. They shed these and develop their adult plumage when they fledge in February, and off they go to sea. This can be an extremely hazardous time with less than twenty per cent of juveniles returning and reaching maturity. The ones that do survive may live for up to twenty-four years.
Seventeen species of penguin exist in the world, of which seventy-five per cent suffer from declining populations. Only five of the species are not considered vulnerable, threatened or endangered. The endangered yellow-eyed penguins tend to return to the small colonies where they were born; consistently low survival rates from any given colony could eventually end in its extinction.
Both marine and land habitat are important to the yellow-eyed penguin, and it depends heavily on each of them. Crucial land habitat includes forest , scrubland and pasture. These spaces are used for resting and building nests. Their indispensable marine habitat provides food and a means of travel between locations.
New Zealand – South Island, Stewart Island and the sub-Antarctic islands of Auckland and Campbell.
What they eat
Arrow squid forms the most part of the diet, followed by such as blue cod, red cod, opal fish and blueback sprat.
Coastal habitat destruction and habitat loss due to human activities. Introduction of domestic mammalian predators such as cats, dogs, rats and ferrets. By-catch by commercial fisheries. Outbreaks of disease. Natural predators include sharks, barracouta, Hooker’s sea lions, skua and giant petrel.
The yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered. The species is also listed by the New Zealand Department of Conservation as being Threatened. In 2010 the yellow-eyed penguin was granted protection under the United States Endangered Species Act.
It is fully protected by law under New Zealand’s Wildlife Act 1953.
The Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust is engaged with the MPI and the fishing industry to attempt to resolve the threat of by-catch. Predator control programmes are in place, barriers have been created preventing humans from disturbing nests and a habitat restoration plan is in action.
Six hundred to eight hundred breeding pairs are thought to inhabit the New Zealand mainland, including Stewart Island. There are no captive populations of yellow-eyed penguins.
Yellow-eyed penguin nest numbers down (October 2013)
Penguin deaths ‘devastating’ (February 2013)
Tagging yellow-eyed penguins on the Otago Peninsula (February 2013)
Climate change is killing baby penguins
The Galapagos Penguin