Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 110 – Przewalski’s Horse


Przewalski's horses - Credit Patricia D Moehlman - IUCN

“A horse is a thing of such beauty. . .none will tire of looking at him as long as he displays himself in his splendor”
Xenophon

Przewalski's Horse By the early part of the twentieth century, huge numbers of Przewalski’s foals had been captured by exotic animal traders, the most going to a German merchant named Carl Hagenbeck. They were shipped to Asian and European zoos and private collectors. The horse had been described by Colonel Nikolai Mikhaylovich Przewalski,  a Russian geographer, only twenty years earlier. Once word was out, they all wanted one.

Carl Hagenbeck, almost single-handedly, managed to decimate most of the herds of the world’s only extant species of truly wild horse.  Although Przewalski’s horse had been over-hunted for centuries, the species had never before experienced this sort of devastation. Very few foals survived capture and the arduous journeys they were forced to make. And the methods for capture and transportation were truly heart-breaking.

Mongolian tribesman on horseback catching foal

Mongolian tribesmen were employed to capture the horses. Upon realisation that the adult horses were too fast for them, the tribal horsemen were instructed to target the foals. These foals needed to be very young for the plan to succeed. Fast horses were used to chase the herds. The chase soon became too much for the foals, who then failed to keep up with their elders. If resistance was shown by any adult horses who turned back to defend the foals, they would be killed or dispersed. Fresh horses would then be used to round up the exhausted foals, most of which were not yet weaned. The foals were then hog-tied and put in sacks over camels for the first stage of transportation.

Przewalski's Horse by John KukOnce captive, the young foals were fed sheep’s milk, which resulted in a high rate of mortality. The captors then rethought their plan and used domestic mares, whose own foals had been taken from them, to feed the next batch of foals they captured. This appeared to be effective and the foals are mares were made ready for further transportation.

The prolonged trip the young foals faced was horrendous. Moved to Kobdo on foot they would then, after a short rest, be tied to their newly-adopted mothers and forced to travel over three hundred miles on foot to Bysk. From there they travelled by train across Siberia to Europe. Depending on their destination, some were then placed on boats and kept in the hold with the cargo. From initial capture to final destination, these trips lasted eight or nine months. Most of the foals died en route.

Przewalski horse family

The scattered remaining herds left roaming the steppes of Asia and Europe fell victim to human settlement, cultivation and competition for grazing and water with domestic livestock. Further deprived of both food and water by nomadic tribesmen, they were gradually driven further away from their natural habitat. Then conflict between Russia and China in the 1950s saw militia groups slaughtering herds, en masse, for meat for their troops. Added to that atrocity, during World War II, German soldiers obliterated an entire Ukrainian herd – the most viable of all the remaining herds. By now the animals were desperately struggling for survival.

Przewalski horses in the snow by Dr Petra Kaczensky

Furthermore, climatic change brought about some harsh winters in the mid-twentieth century and many horses were simply unable to survive such severe weather conditions. In 1967, an expedition from the Mongolian University found five living animals in the Altai Mountains. The following year a mare with a foal, a single stallion and two young horses were discovered in different locations within the same area. No further Przewalski’s horses were ever seen in the wild again. After over twenty thousand years, an entire species had been eradicated.

Przewalski's Horse - Hustai National Park - Author Chinneeb wiki

Unconfirmed reports suggest a few individuals were roaming in isolated areas, but they too soon disappeared. A further unconfirmed report suggests the last wild Przewalski’s horses were seen drinking from a spring in the Dzungarian Gobi Desert in 1980. These reports were thought too improbable to be credible and dismissed, and Przewalski’s horse was considered, by most authorities, to be extinct in the wild.

At this point in time, approximately two hundred and fifty Przewalski’s horses could be found in fifty zoos and private collections across the world.

Although the species has continued to survive in zoos, conditions have been far from ideal. Apart from the obvious lack of vast spaces, as the The Foundation for the Preservation and Protection of the Przewalski Horse so rightly points out, enclosures were often too small and adequately grassed areas were not provided. Lack of regulation involved in keeping wild animals in captivity abounded in the 1980’s, which, quite frankly, was not that long ago. These and other animals were swopped haphazardly between zoos and other establishments without any regard to inbreeding and genetic diseases. This species, and others, suffered considerably because of lack of policy.

But the story of Przewalski’s horse is no longer one of gloom and despair.

Przewalski's horses with foalThough not all captive breeding programmes are what they seem, and many are simply a cover for commercially orientated, profit-making organisations, The Foundation for the Preservation and Protection of the Przewalski Horse provides a heart-warming story of success. This genuine organisation was founded with only the interests of the species at heart. Moved by the animal’s demise in the wild, the founders, the late Jan Bouman and Inge Bouman, were determined to assist the recovery of these majestic wild creatures. The Foundation also established a computerised stud book to halt inbreeding by committing to increased exchanges of stock between zoos throughout the world. The Foundation even started advising zoos on breeding Przewalski horses. At that point, the stock offered by many zoos was far too diluted to be useful; through necessity, selection needed to be approached with extreme care and zoo policies changed dramatically.

Przewalski's horse (E)

With the financial support of the Netherlands’ branch of the WWF, the Foundation was later able to buy non-related stock from a number of zoos. The descendants of animals originally taken as exhibits were now unknowingly participating in a programme to bring their own species back to its natural environment. The Foundation’s own breeding programme was set up, with care being taken to ensure maximum genetic diversity. Nature reserves (semi-reserves) were established, which provided semi-wild living conditions. A sort of halfway house for horses. After having lived in zoos for many years, Przewalski horses needed to learn to find their own food and to live in natural groups, acclimatising them before shipment. Foals were born within the semi-reserves adding to the stock. Small herds were put together, each consisting of one stallion and a small harem of mares.

herd going down the steppe

Fifteen years after the Foundation was born, the first Przewalski’s horses were carefully and lovingly flown home to Mongolia. Here they were further acclimatised, within specific holding areas, to the weather conditions, new vegetation and natural herd living; learning how to live as wild horses before being set completely free in the park.

An appropriate part of Mongolia had already been chosen in which to release them – the Hustai (Khustain Nuruu) National Park, a beautiful steppe area rich in flora and fauna and having natural water springs. Two years later the horses were finally set free into the steppe. Sixteen horses were transported and released thus every two years from 1992 to 2002. Thirteen groups eventually roamed the steppe.

Przewalski's horses

A remarkable and inspiring achievement born of the dedication and perseverance of two individual people who cared enough to travel a road fraught with problems and obstacles, but who refused to give up, making them alone responsible for saving this species.  Since then, various other organisations and zoos have helped to return other captive Przewalski’s horses to their natural habitat.

Though numbers are still not large enough to remove it from endangered status, the species is thriving once more in the wild. And, because of the Foundation’s dedicated efforts, Przewalski’s horse numbers across the world have risen significantly.

Mongolian tribesman with pony

Sadly, Przewalski’s horse still faces threats in the wild. The greatest being hybridisation with domestic stock and infectious diseases transmitted by domestic horses. Much care is, of course, being taken to prevent this within the protected areas, but things do happen. Wolves are known to prey on foals and have contributed to a notable number of deaths. Competition for food and water continues to remain a problem as do the more recently established illegal mining activities in the Hustai National Park. But, despite all that, the future for these now firmly re-established, magnificent, wild herds looks extremely promising.

Przewalski’s horses are stocky animals with stallions weighing up to six hundred and sixty pounds and reaching a height, at the withers, of just under fourteen hands (four feet eight inches) and a length of seven feet. Mares are just slightly smaller.

Horse showing coloursBoth sexes have short, thick necks topped with a mane consisting of short stand-up hairs, making them looked as though they have been hogged. An unusual trait is the annual shedding of this mane; and further, the absence of a forelock. Dense coats vary in colour from a yellowish-russet to a pale greyish-beige. All Przewalski’s horses have a light underside with a darker back, head and neck, and dark legs. A long, dark, stripe runs down the back from the withers to the base of the tail. Heads sport white muzzles with black markings around the nostrils and dark rings around the ears. Eyes can be blue or brown.

Przewalski horse population in the exclusion zone of the Chernobyl power plant

In the wild, Przewalski’s horses live in two kinds of social groups: harem groups and bachelor groups. Bachelor groups consist of young horses, as yet without a harem of their own, but old enough to be a threat to the leader of their natal group, and older horses past their prime who have acquiesced to the stronger male and gone it alone. Harem groups are small, family groups led by one dominant stallion, and usually consist of ten mares at most and their offspring. When young stallions are mature enough, they will form harems of their own. Once relationships are established, the mares will stay with the stallion indefinitely. He, in turn, will assume the role of family/harem defender at all times.

Takhi mare with foal, Equus caballus przewalskii, Hustain Nuruu National Park, Mongolia by Frans LantingFemales are capable of reproducing until they are twenty years of age and males to thirty years. Mares are old enough to reproduce at between two and four years of age. There is an eleven-month ( 320-343 days) gestation period. Mares ready to foal will leave the group to seek a quiet place to give birth to a single foal (twins are highly unusual) weighing almost seventy pounds. On its first day on earth the foal will stand, within thirty minutes, walk, trot a little and play. Little neighing sounds can also be heard. Within a week it will be eating grass. The foal will stay within the natal group until it is old enough itself to breed. Contact between the horses is maintained visually, and communication includes a range of vocalisations and tactile movements, such as grooming, nibbling and kicking.

A few extra thoughts…
Przewalski’s horse is the only living wild horse. Other “wild” horses such as the Brumby or Mustang are feral animals descended from domestic stock which has reverted to the wild.
Przewalski’s horse once roamed freely across central Asia, China, and western Europe. Prehistoric cave paintings can be seen in France and Spain depicting the horse.
Although there have been attempts, Przewalski’s horse, pronounced “shuh-vaal-skee’, has never been successfully domesticated.
All Przewalski’s horses alive today are descended from thirteen horses captured at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Przewalski’s horse is also known as the Asian wild horse or Mongolian wild horse. The native Mongolians call it “takh” or Takhi” – the spirit horse.

Natural Habitat
Steppe, semi-desert shrubland and plains.
Where
Originally re-introduced into Mongolia, herds can now be found in protected areas in southern Russia, Hungary and the Gobi Desert in China. An independent herd also exists within the Chernobyl exclusion zone.  
What they eat
Grass and seasonal vegetation.
Threats
Hybridisation and competition for natural resources with domestic horses. Illegal mining within Hustai National Park. Disease. Foal predation by wolves.

Status: Endangered
Przewalski’s horse (Equus ferus ssp. przewalskii) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered. It is also safeguarded under CITES Appendix I (as Equus przewalskii). It is legally protected in Mongolia where hunting has been prohibited since 1930.
Having been declared extinct in the wild by most authorities in the late 1960’s, the species was later re-introduced into Mongolia, within the confines of Hustai (Khustain Nuruu) National Park, in 1992.  It was classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN in 2008 and subsequently  re-classified as Endangered in 2011.  
Over time,  populations have reached other reserves and numbers have increased. Przewalski’s horse has been the subject of various successful captive breeding programmes, specifically that of The Foundation for the Preservation and Protection of the Przewalski Horse, whose mission focused entirely on the eventual re-introduction of the species to the wild.

Related Articles
Domesticated horses’ origin research
Przewalski’s horse born by artificial insemination 
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Dare to Hope


Just what is needed!

Fight for Rhinos

Stop the presses!

MAN DONATES $24 MILLION (R255m) TO FIGHT RHINO POACHING IN SOUTH AFRICA!

Rub your eyes, read it again. Yes, this is for real. American philanthropist, Howard Buffett donated this phenomenal amount to SANParks (South Africa National Parks) on Monday.

Buffet is no stranger to charitable contributions in Africa, having made previous donations toward alleviating poverty, with particular concentration on areas of conflict.  He sees this as a link in the chain, stating

“When you see what conflict does to people, you cannot turn away. That conflict is fuelled by rhino horns, elephant ivory.” 

Howard Buffet in Cameroon Howard Buffett in Cameroon.

Long-term plan

Over the next 30 months, there is a campaign in place throughout Kruger National Park to stomp out poaching through improved intelligence.  It will provide

the rangers with badly needed technology and equipment. Some of the equipment will include:
*aerostat balloons
*helicopters
*land vehicles equipped with electronic sensors to…

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Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 109 – The Philippine Eagle


Philippine Eagle Center (PEC) on the outskirts of Davao City

“To cherish what remains of the Earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope of survival”
Wendell Berry

Philippine eagleI always think of the mythical Phoenix when I see this beautiful and critically endangered bird. Not in as much as its story has any real bearing on the bird of the mythologies of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, et cetera – though it would be marvellous if numbers could rise anew from the kaingin ashes – but because its stunning, elongated crest feathers, resembling a war-like headdress, its huge wings and its long tail more-or-less fulfil my visual expectations of the legendary, sacred firebird.

But the majestic Philippine eagle is far from mythical, although in some parts it may seem so. Formerly known as the monkey-eating eagle, it was once abundant in the Philippines. Now it exists on only four of the Philippine islands: Luzon in the north, Mindanao in the south (where most of the birds are found) and Leyte in the Eastern Visayas. A recent rare sighting has also been made on Samar, again in the Eastern Visayas, bringing fresh hope to the islanders who had thought the species to be all but extirpated in their locality.

Philippine eagle, Mount Apo, Mindanao by Andre HoffmannIt is easy to see why the Filipinos are so proud of the eagle. This impressive raptor is one of the world’s largest birds of prey. Its seven-foot wingspan and long tail serve it well as a skilful hunter; swooping low with great agility and speed, and manoeuvring gracefully through the dense, tangled foliage of the rainforest. Civets and flying lemurs (which are not true lemurs, incidentally – those are only found in Madagascar) are its first choice of prey, and they are able to catch these with consummate ease. Unfortunately, such skills are no longer used as much as they were, since their prey, along with their habitat, is fast disappearing and they are struggling to survive. Vast tracts of tropical forest on the islands have been cleared and any further forest loss within their range must be prevented if the species is to have any future.

deforestationIncessant, needless deforestation by commercial logging, agriculture, settlement and open-pit mining has hastened the Philippine eagle along the path of extinction. Over ninety percent of its forest habitat has already been destroyed, hampering its chances of survival and making it the most exploited and most endangered avian species on earth.

The Philippine eagle has been aggressively hunted for food, shot as trophies and persecuted by local farmers in the belief their chickens are vulnerable to capture. Juveniles have been poached for zoos and other illegal wildlife trade markets, catering for private and public greed and display. Precious eggs have been stolen and sold for a high price on the black market. And to add to all that, the uncontrolled and widespread use of pesticides has brought about further fatalities amongst the populations and may have had an effect on reproductive output, which, at best, is extremely slow.

Flash flood caused partly by illegal logging near Iligan CityAnd let’s not forget the series of cataclysmic floods and mud slides which have occurred over the past few decades, and which have affected both human and non-human species. Whether or not such ‘natural’ disasters can be totally attributed to deforestation and mining in the islands is debatable. But clearly such actions have contributed enormously to the catastrophic effect, and the environment and its biodiversity has been irretrievably altered by them.

That is not to say, help is not being given. A great many Filipinos are working hard to prevent the loss of their eagle. These birds are endemic to the Philippines and are part of the nation’s cultural heritage.

Phillippine Eagle by Nigel VoadenConservation plans to protect the eagles are already in place and laws have been passed prohibiting hunting and protecting nests. Awareness is being raised and educational lectures are being given by the Philippine Eagle Foundation, in the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao City, Mindanao, to all visitors.

Whereas killing a Philippine eagle carries a relatively severe punishment, deaths are still occurring. Several captive eagles, which had been released back into the wild, have regrettably been found dead. Some had been shot, and, in one case, the cause of death unknown, only the feet were found buried in the ground.

Sadly, the magnificent Philippine eagle is a very easy target for malefactors. Weighing anything up to eighteen pounds, being well over three feet long and having a wingspan of between six and seven feet, this is one very large and conspicuous bird.

Philippine eagle The crown and crest of the bird is a pale caramelly-brown with black flashes. The large bill is blue to grey. The top of the body is covered with long, deep-brown feathers with pale tips and the undersides and chest are creamy-white. The tail is brown with darker bars and a white edge, and the feet are heavy and noticeably yellow. Needless to say, it has extremely powerful talons, perfectly adapted to its own hunting techniques.

Hunting in pairs, they operate as a duo. One bird will act as a decoy, while the other swoops in to attack. They are, in fact, opportunists and will often prey upon whatever they see first, although they do prefer prey living high in the trees, and the double-act can work well when spotting a group of monkeys.

Phillippine eagles on nestPairs seem to be a bit of thing for these birds. They are monogamous and will pair for life. Unless one dies, in which case the surviving eagle will find another mate. These pairs will nest once every two years. The breeding season is very much dependent on the location. When the time for egg laying approaches, the female becomes sickly and refuses food. This can last for up to ten days. At the same time she will drink a lot of water and make a lot of loud calls. Her wings become droopy and she begins to look altogether rather seedy. The name for this condition is “egg lethargy”.

Philippine eagle At this point nest-building begins. A single egg will be laid in the finished nest. There is an incubation period of up to sixty-eight days. Both parents will help with the incubation of the egg, but the female will take most of the day-time shift. Following successful incubation, the newly hatched chick will remain in the nest for up to five and a half months before taking its first flight. It will not leave its parents at this point, and will remain in their care for a further twelve months.

From the time the pair first come together to the time the juveniles leave the parental territory, a period of two years will have lapsed. This illustrates further the Philippine juvenile eagle leaving the nest by Mark Wilsonproblems these eagles are facing in trying to replenish their numbers in the wild.

Sadly, there is also a very high mortality rate amongst young chicks, but for those who do survive, a long life can be expected. Philippine eagles have been recorded as living up to forty-one years in captivity, though, as with other species, their life expectancy in the wild will be less.

A few extra thoughts…
John Whitehead, a British naturalist and explorer, was the first person to collect a specimen of the bird whilst visiting the island of Samar in 1896. After being told by the locals of Samar its diet consisted exclusively of monkeys, he named it first “Pithecophaga”, derived from the Greek “pithecus” meaning ape or monkey and “phagus” meaning eater of. The second name he chose, “jefferyi”, was in honour of his father who had backed all his expeditions.

For decades Pithecophaga jefferyi continued to be commonly known as the monkey-eating eagle. In 1978, during the “Marcos Dynasty”, a presidential proclamation declared by President Ferdinand E. Marcos renamed it the Philippine eagle. In 1995, a further proclamation was issued by President Fidel V. Ramos declaring the Philippine eagle the national bird, automatically replacing its predecessor, the maya.

Current distribution of Philippine eaglesNatural Habitat
Remnant patches of mountainous and lowland forest.
Where
The islands of Luzon, Samar, Leyte and Mindanao. The majority can be found on the island of Mindanao.
What they eat
Flying lemurs, palm civets, flying squirrels, snakes, rats, monkeys and other such small to medium mammals.
Threats

Forest destruction and fragmentation, through commercial logging. Mining, more specifically, open-pit mining. Uncontrolled hunting for subsistence food. Capture for zoos and wildlife trade, and accidental capture. Pollution by pesticides is also playing a large role in the decline of the species, and occasionally, electrocution. A slow reproductive cycle is hindering any thoughts of rapid re-population.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered. It is also listed on CITES Appendices I and II.  In the Philippines, the species is protected by law. Killing a Philippine eagle carries a twelve year prison sentence. There are thought to be less than five hundred individuals left in the wild.
A major captive breeding programme conducted by the Philippine Eagle Foundation exists at the Philippine Eagle Center in Malagos, where currently thirty-six Philippine eagles are housed, half of which have been bred in the centre. In this centre, positive efforts are made to return the eagles to the wild.

Various protected areas exist throughout the species’ restricted range.

Related Articles
Pagasa: Philippine Eagle bred in captivity turns 22
New protection areas set out for Philippine Eagle
4th Philippine Eagle hatched in Zamboanga del Norte’s forests 
Getting to know the Philippine Eagle through the people
Foreign hunters kill endangered birds in the Philippines
Groups call for Samar forest protection

US Comprehensive Ivory Ban Now In Place


Ann Novek( Luure)--With the Sky as the Ceiling and the Heart Outdoors

US Comprehensive Ivory Ban Now in Place
Press Release: The Jewelers Vigilance Committee (JVC) has received information from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) that the comprehensive ivory ban announced by the White House as part of their new National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking goes into effect immediately. The White House has stated that this ban is the best way to help ens…ure that U.S. markets do not contribute to the further decline of African elephants in the wild.
The comprehensive strategy includes: 1. All commercial imports of African elephant ivory, including antiques, are prohibited. 2. All commercial exports are prohibited, except for bona fide antiques, certain noncommercial items, and in exceptional circumstances permitted under the Endangered Species Act. 3. All sales of ivory across state lines are banned, except for bona fide antiques. Sales within a state are also banned, unless the seller can…

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Rock star launches badger vaccination appeal


Green Living London

v3-pg-14-badgers Pic: The Independent

Brian May has launched a badger vaccination funding appeal  to bolster support for alternatives to the cull.

The Queen guitarist hopes to recruit donors and volunteers for a drive to prove that vaccines are a viable alternative and persuade farmers to adopt the method. He hopes to tap into public disquiet about the cull which saw more than 300,000 sign his Downing Street website petition urging a halt.

More than £200,000 has already been pledged by the guitarist and sponsors such as the Lush cosmetics, and the band Hawkwind –who played a charity concert in aid of animal charities last month – have pledged £10,000.

The aim is to generate enough financial backing and volunteers for large-scale five-year programmes across five of the areas worst hit by TB, which are Somerset and Gloucestershire, where pilot culls have been taking place, as well as Dorset, Devon and Cornwall.

Vaccination costs around £120…

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Hippopotamus Attacks Crocodile and Saves Gnu


My thanks to the wonderful Cindy Knoke for telling me about this rescue. It is truly astonishing!

The gnu, in the jaws of a crocodile, is struggling to cross the river. Death seems almost certain until a bloat of huge (usually aggressive) hippopotami circle the duo and take action. One hippo, whose maternal instinct must have taken over (assuming it’s female), lunges, mouth agape, for the crocodile. It chases it away and escorts the injured gnu safely to the opposite bank.

Amazingly, the hippo then waits by the bank, guarding the gnu against further attacks, and actually tries pushing it up the bank out of the water. 

The incredible event took place on the Maasai Mara game reserve in Kenya. It took place three years ago, but has only just gone viral, giving everyone a chance to see it.

FROM GRIEVING TO SNEAKING: : Elephants can guess human’s age and even ethnicity by listening to a voice


boldcorsicanflame's Blog

elephant_intelligence_africa0

  • Elephants can distinguish a warlike tribe from a more peaceable people by listening to their voices
  • African elephants in the Amboseli National Park in Kenya can tell the difference between two languages used by the Massai and Kamba tribes
  • They use voice and language to help them work out which humans pose a threat to them so they can choose whether to attack or not

An elephant never forgets…a voice.

A study found the gentle giants can distinguish a warlike tribe from a more peaceable people, simply by listening to recordings of their voices.

Not only could the African elephants tell the two languages apart, they could also work out if the speaker was a man or a woman and an adult or a child.

elephant_intelligence_africa

FROM GRIEVING TO SNEAKING: THE INTELLIGENCE OF ELEPHANTS

Elephants grieve like humans and are believed to suffer from post traumatic stress
 


Elephants grieve like humans and are believed to suffer from post traumatic stress

Grieving: Elephants grieve like…

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