Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 111 – Dorcas Gazelle


 

Dorcas gazelle in the desert

“We cannot have peace among men whose hearts delight in killing any living creature. By every act that glorifies or even tolerates such moronic delight in killing we set back the progress of humanity”
Rachel Carson

Dorcas gazelle The small and graceful Dorcas gazelle continuously falls prey to what is left of the indigenous four-legged occupants of North Africa and the Middle East. Natural hunters such as lion, caracal, Arabian wolves, cheetah and leopard. But, the efforts of all these predators combined are no match for humans and the havoc they have wreaked upon the species. Little surprise to most, of course, since this seems to be the prevailing cause of decline in ninety-eight per cent of all wildlife today.

Although the Dorcas gazelle has long been, and still is, subjected to traditional hunting for meat, hides and horns, the killers have now upped the ante.

Current, uncontrolled pursuance of the species in high-performance, four-wheel-drive vehicles, carrying trigger-happy assassins armed with powerful modern weaponry, is something which patently needs to be addressed by the hosting countries. Who, shamefully in some cases, issue permits for this barbaric enterprise.

Hunting Dorcas gazelle in LibyaIn most parts of its range, however, hunting the gazelle is deemed illegal, but it continues regardless and a blind eye is often turned by the authorities. And, just as often, groups of militia are among the bands of slayers.

For those who see killing as an enjoyable past-time, the opportunity is but a phone call and a credit card away. There are plenty of blood-thirsty safaris, for the right price, where you will find everything laid on for you, right down to the freely available permits which can be bought at the airport upon landing.

Horrendous mental images leap to mind of ruthless, like-minded men and women standing up in the back of open-topped, fast-moving, specially adapted motor vehicles. Their weapons (often automatic) loaded and ready to discharge as they rapidly gain on the animals, preparing to pick them off at will. The faces of the executioners aglow with anticipation – rather like those of innocent children waking up on Christmas morning. But the outcome here is far more sinister.

Dorcas gazelle runningDorcas gazelle can travel up to sixty mph when threatened, and like all other gazelle, speed is this gentle ungulate’s only asset when defending itself. But in this case, the advantage of being fleet of foot is lost to the superior vehicles and their cold-blooded hunting parties. Within a short time whole herds are found, overtaken and massacred – the unfortunate victims of large scale slaughter for the entertainment of the few, in their eternal quest for amusement.

Atop of that, the gazelle’s habitat is rapidly shrinking in the face of human invasion. In recent times, the development of wells and boreholes has seen an influx of humanity pouring into the desert, along with their livestock. 

Dorcas gazelle herdThat the clean water supplies have saved lives, there is no doubt. Both human and non-human animals have benefited greatly. But now, converted to farmland; cattle, goats and sheep graze the arid landscape where abundant Dorcas gazelle once roamed freely, slowly squeezing it out of its habitat.

These activities have all influenced the decline of the Dorcas gazelle and have led to these delightful, placid creatures becoming extinct in several parts of Africa. Now is perhaps the time to ensure no further vulnerable populations are lost to human greed, callousness and oversight. The irony being, they are now marginally safer from their natural predators as most of them, too, have been aggressively hunted down and killed for meat, hides, body parts and recreation.

Dorcas gazelle Al Wabra Wildlife PreservationThese diminutive, perfectly assembled creatures are little more than two feet in height and weigh, at most, forty-five pounds. They sport ringed horns which curl backwards and inwards, and grow up to fifteen inches in length. The female horns tend to be thinner, paler and not quite as curved.

Their coats are a palish sandy colour on top with a deeper colouring of two differing brown strips along the edge of the underside where the coat becomes white. Heads are darker than bodies with well-defined facial markings. They have short, almost black tails used constantly for flicking away insects in the intense heat of the desert.

And, they absolutely thrive in the desert. They are able to withstand extreme temperatures in their far from hospitable, parched environment, and manage to derive all the moisture they need from the plants they consume. But survival is not just about food and water. The Dorcas gazelle still has a few natural predators left, like the caracal and hyena, and the Arabian wolf, and perfect eyesight allows them to efficiently watch out for such dangers and call to each other when anything fearful is spotted. “Stotting” takes place, which involves taking bouncing leaps with heads held high, along with shivering and tail twitching, which are all are used to warn the rest of the herd when something is amiss.

Dorcas gazelle - newborn hiding in the shadeAt such times, calves are kept well-hidden from potential harm. Newborns, arriving after a gestation period of six months, are usually well-developed and able to stand within the first hour, but not able to defend themselves or run with the herd, so a secure hiding place is a must. The females, having separated from the group to give birth to the new calf, will stash the little one in the bushes or long grass for the first few weeks of its life, which also leaves her free to graze. The calf will be strong enough at two weeks to follow its mother in short bouts, and by three months it will be fully weaned. Those who survive the rigours of life in the wild can expect to live for a further twelve years.

A few extra thoughts…
The Dorcas gazelle, along with a few other ungulates, is extremely important as a seed disperser for a variety of Acacia plants in the areas between Israel and the Red Sea.
The Dorcas gazelle once roamed the entire Sahelo-Saharan region in great numbers.
The species is now extinct in Senegal, possibly Nigeria and, it is thought, Burkina Faso as well.
Dorcas is the Greek translation of the Aramaic name Tabitha, meaning “gazelle”.

Dorcas gazelle are also known as the Ariel gazelle.

Dorcas gazelle distribution Natural Habitat
Savannah, low hilly outcrops, semi-desert, absolute desert, steppe and wadis (dry gullies).
Where
North and North East Africa and parts of the Middle East (Israel, Jordan, Syrian Arab Republic and the Yemen)
What they eat
Leaves, grasses, flowers, young shoots, fruits and acacia pods.
Threats
Excessive recreational hunting with powerful modern weaponry.  Habitat degradation due to land conversion and overgrazing by livestock, and drought.
Status: Vulnerable
The Dorcas gazelle (Gazella dorcas) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable (at high risk of endangerment in the wild). It is also listed in CITES Appendix III (Algeria, Tunisia) and included in the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) Sahelo-Saharan Antelopes Action plan for the conservation and restoration of the species, on CMS Appendix I.
All told, the species is either legally or partially protected in most if its range countries. Some of these include designated reserves. Unfortunately, these laws are often ignored. Captive breeding programmes also exist.
There are only some 35,000 – 40,000 Dorcas gazelle living in fragmented populations in the wild today, whose numbers are declining rapidly. Further animals can be found in zoos and private collections around the world.

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Crimes of Humans and Nature

Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 108 – Grévy’s Zebra


Grevy's zebra

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself”
William Blake

Grevy's zebra running with giraffeHow sad it would be to lose the unique Grévy’s zebra from the plains of Africa. It is the rarest and most endangered of all species of zebra, and no other African mammal has seen such dramatic reductions in range as Grévy’s zebra has in recent decades. Being driven from its home by pastoral farmers after being forced to compete with cattle and goats for food and water has been one of the major problems the animals have had to face. Over-grazing has left the land severely degraded.

Furthermore, irrigation schemes surrounding the Ewaso Ng’iro River have seriously depleted water supplies in the past thirty years, “reducing dry season river flow by Grevy's zebra at the watering hole90%” (Williams 2002). This and natural droughts have been significant contributory factors in, not only the deaths of adults, but also the high rate of juvenile mortality (fifty per cent), posing a huge threat to the species. Human disturbance at crucial watering holes is also hastening their decline. Grévy’s zebra are able to live without water for up to five days, but this is their limit and access is then necessary. The distances they are compelled to travel between food and accessible water often prove too much for the foals and many die en route.

Diseases occur, and an outbreak of anthrax between December 2005 and March 2006 killed more than fifty Grévy’s zebra in the Wamba area of Rift Valley Province in central Kenya. Considering their low numbers, this constituted quite a high percentage of the population.

Grevy's zebra grazing In the late 1970s, zebra were extensively hunted for their highly prized skins, medicinal value and subsistence food, which markedly added to the initial reduction in numbers. Since then, hunting has been outlawed, but still persists in some areas; notably in Ethiopia where the laws are not always adhered to. Here the isolated populations are still sought primarily for their hides, occasionally for food and sporadically in connection with traditional healing.

But now much has changed for Grévy’s zebra, and the outlook is beginning to look a little more promising. But their numbers are still few and they may well become extinct in the wild if conservation plans are not successful.  So what is being done!

Grevy's zebra and foal Currently, there are some amazing ongoing projects in existence run by various NGO, including the Grévy’s Zebra Trust, which are doing their utmost to save the species within its own or similar habitat.

This includes involving the local tribes of Kenya. Fourteen years ago, Grévy’s zebra became a conservation flagship species among the pastoral communities of northern Kenya. At this point, indigenous tribes began to take a pride in their wildlife and ceased to be huntsmen and became guardians instead. This was an extraordinary turning point, beneficial to both wildlife and local farmers.

Lioness chasing Hartmann's zebraNot forgetting, the zebra has its fair share of natural predators, too. The Kenya Wildlife Service, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and the Ol Pejeta Wildlife Conservancy initiated a plan in 2012 to translocate the Grévy’s zebras, currently distributed thinly across the Ol Pejeta Conservancy,to a predator-free fenced area of seven thousand and four hundred acres. Several are now living safely in this area.  Since lion, leopard, cheetah, etc, take a fairly substantial share of beasts, this too is a heartening step towards enhancing the populations. And, of course, these predators will still have plenty of other natural prey left on their own home ground to choose from. Separating the Grévy’s zebra from the plains zebra, will also eliminate any further problems of hybridisation which have already occurred.

Gevy's rumpsGrévy’s zebra are ridiculously easy to spot out on the plains. They have huge furry ears, large heads and long legs. They are the largest of all wild equids and their stripes are as unique as the human fingerprint. Unlike the plains zebra, who is closely related to the horse, Grévy’s zebra,between its habits and distribution, falls somewhere between the wild asses and other zebras.

Although they have the classic black zebra stripes which form a concentric pattern, in Grévy’s zebra these are notably narrower than those of other species. Foals are born with reddish-brown stripes which Grevy's zebra foal at Whipsnade Zoodarken with maturity. Each adult animal has a characteristic dorsal stripe, black with white either side, and a very discernible brown muzzle. The hogged-like mane and forelock hairs have brown tips, as does the tail, and the underside is gleaming white. 

As far as build goes, Grévy’s zebra are fairly solid animals weighing up to nine hundred pounds. They can be as much as nine feet long and stand almost five and a half feet at the shoulder. Generally speaking, males tend to be about ten per cent larger than females.

They are herd animals, but where there is dominance over breeding females by the leading males, there is rarely aggression. Some males are highly territorial where others are not. Those who are claim prime watering and grazing rights. They are also Grevy's herd solitary, except for mating, and will often remain in their territories during the dry season, whilst other migrate to lusher pastures. The non-territorial males travel together in small bachelor groups of up to eight individuals.  

Socially, Grévy’s zebra do not form stable social units, or harems, such as other species of zebra do. Their social structure consists mainly of females attached to their young and joining large herds of other females and their offspring, and males being attached to their territory or forming bachelor groups. Females are polyandrous and, during the breeding season (they breed once every two years), are capable of visiting up to four territories a day in search of partners.

Grevy's foal Great Plains Zoo, South DakotaThe breeding season takes place in August and September, with births coinciding with the early rains. There is an exceptionally long gestation period of three hundred and ninety days, after which a single foal, weighing eighty to ninety pounds, will be born.

Newborn foals are like newborn ducklings; they will attach themselves to the first thing they see. New mothers instantly protect their young from other approaching mares until they have imprinted their own stripes, scent and sounds on the newborns. The new foal will be able to stand after just six minutes, and run after forty only minutes. It will not be weaned until six to eight months of age and may continue to travel with its mother for the next three years. 

Unfortunately, when very young and left alone in the open whilst their mothers forage for food, foals have a tendency to stand still rather than run away from predators. This is, of course, fatal.

A few extra thoughts…
In 1882, the Emperor of Abyssinia (Ethiopia), Menelik II, thought these zebras were rather regal-looking, and as such he gifted one of them to Jules Grévy, the then President of France. The zebra was subsequently accorded its own species and named after him.

Over six hundred Grévy’s zebra are recorded as living in zoos across the world, many in captive breeding programmes where they have bred very successfully, but I have been unable to find any evidence of any of these institutions taking steps to return the animals to the wild. Most seem to be simply kept as tourist attractions. As usual, comments are most welcome.

Grevy's zebra distributionNatural Habitat
Arid and semi-arid grass and shrubland, and dry acacia savannah; all within range of permanent water.
Where
Northern Kenya and southern and eastern Ethiopia.
What they eat
Grasses and forbs, and leaves in the dry season.
Threats
Habitat loss through over-grazing, competition for food and water, drought, hybridisation, disease and illegal hunting for meat, hides and Traditional medicine. Natural predators include lion, hyena, leopard and cheetah.
Status: Endangered
Grévy’s zebra (Equus grevyi) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered. It is also listed on CITES Appendix I.  Although the population is thought to be stable, only two and a half thousand or so remain with over six hundred of the species being kept in captivity.
The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya holds three hundred and seventy individuals constituting fifteen per cent of the entire population.
The species is protected by law in Ethiopia.  In Kenya, where ninety per cent of the populations live, hunting has been banned since 1977 and Grévy’s zebra is being elevated from ‘Game Animal’ to ‘Protected Animal’.
Conservation projects exist in both countries focusing on better management of protected areas, protection of water supplies, community involvement and monitoring of wild population numbers.

Here are just a few worthwhile and informative articles about the current status and conservation efforts on behalf of Grévy’s zebra.
Novel Strategies Save Both Endangered Grévy’s Zebras and Cattle Ranchers 
Grévy’s Zebra Trust
Grévy’s zebra – Fragile flagship of community conservation 
Our solutions to protecting the Grévy’s zebra 

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Children’s Book of the Week and Other Book Reviews


Mungai and the Goa Constrictor banner

Welcome to another week of children’s book reviews.  As ever, I hope you will enjoy my varied choice of books and the reviews of them. Please don’t forget to scroll down the page and read them all.

Children’s Book of the Week: The Adventures of Keeno and Ernest “The Banana Tree” by Maggie van Galen – Illustrated by Joanna Lundeen
Available on Amazon: Hardcopy $19.95

Take one adorable, daring and disobedient little monkey, a very cautious, clever and ne’er do wrong elephant, throw in some rule breaking and mix with a hint of peril, and you have all the right ingredients for an utterly delightful children’s story. Please read my review below.

The Adventures of Keeno and Ernest -"The Banana Tree" - Review by Amelia CurzonMy Review

Best friends Keeno and Ernest spend much of their time together eating bananas. Day after day they go back to the same old tree.  Until one day, Keeno sees “a huge banana tree with hundreds – maybe thousands – of super yummy bananas” across the swirling river. He must have those yummy bananas at any cost, even if it means disobeying his parent’s rules to get them. He pleads with Ernest to cross the river with him, and when Ernest refuses on the premise his parents have told him not to do so without  supervision, Keeno decides to build a raft and go it alone. As you would expect with an adventurous young monkey like Keeno, terrible danger lurks around the next bend in the river. Way out of his depth, Keeno becomes very frightened. Fortunately, a mutual friend, Toucan Tom, flies by and Keeno gets him to whiz off and find Ernest – because “He always knows what to do!”

With The Adventures of Keeno and Ernest, Maggie van Galen has given us a book which is perfect for reading aloud, beautifully written and easy to understand.  And, it is not difficult to remember the object of Keeno’s desire as every page has the coveted banana tree in it. The animals are well-chosen for this particular story. Characteristically, Keeno is an impulsive and mischievous little monkey, Ernest is a sensible elephant able to heed and remember quite clearly whatever has been said to him, and Toucan Tom, the only other character in the tale, is a loud, loud bird. All perfect! I particularly liked the very vivid hand-painted illustrations by Joanna Lundeen. In fact, there is really nothing here not to like. Moreover, this is a story of friendship, and of learning that when your parents tell you not to do something, it is probably in your best interests not to do it. This is an ideal book for any young child. Highly recommended! (5 stars)

(The Adventures of Keeno and Ernest “The Banana Tree” would be best suited to 4 years and upwards)

Other Books I Have Reviewed 

We All Went on Safari by Laurie Krebs and Julia Cairns
Available on Amazon: Paperback $6.90 and Hardback $13.75

We All Went on Safari Review by Amelia CurzonI absolutely loved this book. We All Went on Safari is a counting picture book for young children, which also teaches them how to count to ten in another language – Swahili! It is tremendous fun, and after all, since the Maasai people are globally known; what better way of introducing young children to them and their culture than with a beautifully produced book such as this.
A group of Maasai women and children, accompanied by a Maasai warrior, take themselves on a short safari across the Serengeti where they encounter various wild animals, counting them in rhyme as they go; “We all went on safari, Among herds that intermix, We followed woolly wildebeests, Watende counted six”. The illustrations are simply gorgeous with their vibrant colours and wonderful depictions of the Maasai and their lands and wildlife.
Having learnt to count to ten (the numbers are depicted on each page thus: 1 – moja, 2 – mbili), the learning process continues at the back of the book with pictures and short facts about the animals of the Serengeti and their names in Swahili, the character’s names in Swahili with their meanings, facts about Tanzania (including a useful map) and numbers one to ten again in Swahili with an illustrated guide. Completely irresistible from beginning to end, this is a real must for any child’s bookshelf! (5 stars)
(We All Went on Safari is best suited to children ages 2 years upwards)

Little Music Lessons for Kids: Lesson 1 – A Fascinating Story about the Staff and Treble Clef by Tatiana Bandurina
Available on Amazon: eBook $4.11

Little Music Lessons for Kids Review by Amelia CurzonThis is a short and very clever introduction to sheet music for small children. And it’s fun. It begins with an unnamed musical family, all of whom play different instruments, being introduced by their puppy, the musical puppy. The puppy goes on to explain very carefully and in simple words, the basics behind the staff and the treble clef.  It counts the floors in the musical house (the staff) and compares them to the fingers on the hands.  It shows us on which floor of the house the treble clef lives. As the title suggests, the staff and the clef are the only subject matter in this lesson and are dealt with methodically using repetitive text, making the facts easy for a child to remember. At the end of the lesson there are some very helpful and concise step-by-step instructions for parents.  Even if, as a parent, you do not have any sort of background in music, but want to encourage your child, this is where to start. This is the first lesson in a series of ten. Refreshing, thoughtful, educational and very appealing! (5 stars)
(Little Music Lessons for Kids is best suited to 3 to 9 years old)

The Awkward Owl by Shawnda Blake                                                                                                             Available on Amazon: eBook $2.96 and Paperback $9.99

The Awkward Owl  Review by Amelia CurzonThis is a very sweet book about a clumsy little owl that couldn’t fly.  Hard as he tried, he always seemed to end the wrong way up and the wrong way round.  One day he crashed into the trunk of tree and fell to the ground. A small girl picked him up, took him home and loved him. She gave him some much-needed encouragement to try again, by telling him he could do it. And do it he did.
The text is well-written and enjoyable, and I loved the book cover at the beginning of the story promoting ‘Flying Basics: For the Beginner Bird’ – both funny and clever. Regrettably, the illustrations, hand-drawn in crayon, didn’t really grab me, though young children may well identify with the style and simplicity.
There is also a message here: If you try hard enough you can do anything – so always believe in yourself.
A great little book for the very young!  (4 stars)
(The Awkward Owl would be best suited to 2 years upwards)

***

All my reviews can be found on Amazon and, where possible, Goodreads.

Please note: Authors frequently offer their books at lower prices and often they are free.  These prices were correct at the time of publishing, but it is worth checking for price changes.