Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 91 – The Maned Wolf


Maned wolf by Tambako the Jaguar

Maned wolf by Tambako the Jaguar

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

Called a wolf and looking remarkably like a long-legged fox only adds to the mystique of this unique canid.  Invariably described as a ‘fox on stilts’, the maned wolf (genus Chrysocyon – the only species in this genus) is not closely related to either fox or wolf. Its closest extant relative is the bush dog (genus Speothos).  It is also very distantly related to a few others with bizarre names, such as the crab-eating fox and the short-eared dog.

Maned wolf walking with two pupsBut being one of a kind has not protected this species from the onslaught of encroaching agriculture and road building.  A great many maned wolves are killed on the roads every year. A problem which has been addressed with introduced speed limits and local awareness, but as usual, not everyone takes note and fatalities on the roads are still high.

The maned wolf has been greatly misjudged in the past.  Under the false label of chicken, cattle and sheep killer, it was once hunted mercilessly by farmers.  It is now known these shy, retiring creatures will not approach human settlements for any reason, and will run away in fear if they see humans approaching elsewhere.  Consequently, with the exception of a few very remote areas, the reputation of the maned wolf has altered in its favour.

Maned wolf pupLet’s not forget, of course, the now-to-be-expected threat of folk medicine.  The eyes of the maned wolf are purported to bring good fortune and as a result are made into amulets.  This is very local, not big business, and certainly not a serious threat to the species, but a change would be helpful.

The most remarkable feature of the maned wolf are the legs.  Extraordinarily long, they are thought to be an adaptation enabling the species to see its prey in the tall grass. The legs have a pacing gait which allows each side of the body to move together, helping it to travel quickly across large areas of its territory.

Maned wolf pup curled upManed wolves weigh up to seventy-five pounds, can reach over three feet at the shoulder and be as long as five and a half feet from head to tip of tail.  The ears are large, and can be rotated when listening for prey moving through the high grass. 

Maned wolves have reddish-brown fur with black legs, a black muzzle, white markings on the throat and a white tip on the tail.  They have a distinctive black ‘mane’ which, when erect, signals displays of aggression or potential threats, rather like a domestic dog’s hackles going up.

The species does not come together in packs, which is quite unusual in the canid world. They are mainly solitary animals and nocturnal hunters.  In order to flush out its prey, the maned wolf will tap its foot on the ground, pounce and kill.  It will kill the prey by biting the neck or back, or simply by shaking it to death.

Maned wolf carrying pupManed wolves are monogamous, coming together only during the breeding season.  There is  a gestation period of up to sixty-five days.   After which a litter of anything between one and six pups, each weighing about one pound, will be born.  Both eyes and ears are closed until the pups are nine days old.  The mother will provide regurgitated food when they reach four weeks.  By ten weeks, their black fur will change to red, and by fifteen weeks they will be fully weaned.  They will still be reliant upon their parents for provision of food for their first year, at the end of which they will be fully grown.  Originally, it was thought the female alone cared for the young. Now it is believed the male also takes part in this process.

Natural Habitat
Semi-open tall grasslands, wet grassland, woodlands and scrub forest.
Where
Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Peru.  Possibly Uruguay – but it is generally thought they have been extirpated.
What they eat
Fruits and vegetable matter, insects, small reptiles, birds and small mammals such as cuis, rabbits and viscachas.
Threats
Habitat reduction due to agricultural conversion (mainly to soy bean plantations) and road building.  Maned wolves are often killed on the roads, too.  Competition with, and the transmission of diseases from, domestic dogs has also played a part in their decline. “The maned wolf is particularly susceptible to infection by the giant kidney worm, a potentially fatal parasite that may also infect domestic dogs.” (Wikipedia)  Body parts are sometimes used in local folk medicine.  The species do not have any natural predators.
Status:  Near Threatened 
The Maned Wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Near Threatened (likely to become endangered in the near future).  The species is also listed under  CITES Appendix 11.  It is protected in Argentina as an endangered species and included on the list of threatened animals in Brazil.  It is also included in the  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species List.  Hunting is prohibited in Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia.  Law enforcement is lax.

There are thought to be little more than twenty thousand maned wolves left in the wild today.  Most of these are found in Brazil.

There are over four hundred maned wolves reportedly kept in captivity.  Less than one hundred of these are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan.  Mane wolves breed don’t well in captivity and there is a high recorded mortality rate of pups. There are various other conservation plans in progress initiated by a wide variety of non-profit organisations.  One of which is the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) – forest conversion plans have been put in place in the hope of restoring some of the maned wolf’s habitat.

Related Articles
Dying Wolf Given Stem Cells Stuns Vets With Recovery (2011)
The Maned Wolves of Caraca Natural Park
In Brazil, tracking the Big Five: maned wolf

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 84 – The Long-tailed Chinchilla


Long-tailed chinchilla (CR) Chinchilla lanigera

Today is Worldwide Fur Free Friday

When celebrating Worldwide Fur Free Friday, I felt I could not possibly ignore the plight of the long-tailed chinchilla. This little animal has become critically endangered because of man’s actions; a sordid story which can only serve to illustrate, once more, how man’s narcissism and greed has allowed him to put himself before the needs, and, even the most basic rights of, innocent, defenceless beings.

Today there are multitudes of chinchillas kept in captivity, either for the pet trade, for research (specifically the auditory system), or for the fur trade. And, all three are prospering. The fur trade, undoubtedly, being the most despicable of these.

Chinchilla coat for sale on eBay- Farm Raised Genuine (Empress Breeders Cooperative) Chinchilla LanigeraAll wild chinchilla species are listed in  Appendix 1 of CITES.  But, since these captive animals are considered domesticated, they are not protected by CITES provisions (a fact pointed out with tedious regularity by those selling furs on eBay). Furriers and farmers can, therefore, keep breeding, butchering and promoting the wearing of chinchilla as much as they wish. Many, with more money than conscience and compassion, can’t wait to adorn themselves in the poor creatures’ fur; so there is a very willing market waiting in the wings. A market which would far rather wear the chinchilla’s coat as a status symbol or fashion statement than see the rightful owner wearing it as a natural layer (or, one hundred and fifty rightful owners to be precise – that’s how many tiny chinchillas it takes to make a full-length coat). A coat can cost anything between ten thousand and one hundred thousand dollars, so it’s highly profitable.

Apart from depriving these little creatures of a normal life, what desperately needs to be remembered is that there is no easy, pain-free way to skin an animal alive! They are not shearing sheep here!

To quote the obviously caring Natalie Imbruglia, “There is no kind way to rip the skin off animals’ backs. Anyone who wears any fur chinchilla - adultshares the blame for the torture and gruesome deaths of millions of animals each year.”

But, these particular animals have not all been taken from the wild. At least not directly. They are farmed from stock stolen from their natural habitat, mostly in times past. The international trade in chinchilla fur began in the 16th century. However, the chinchillas we see today are almost all descended from chinchillas taken from Chile in the 1800s and early 1900s. This was the cause of depletion, and, sadly, despite efforts, this depletion was so severe, the species has been unable to recover. In two centuries, of vanity and greed, over twenty-one million chinchillas have been taken from their homes; over seven million of these were exported between 1828 and 1916. At one stage they were being shipped from Chile at a rate five hundred thousand per annum. The devastation to the species was unimaginable.

Very young chinchillaIn 1918, the government of Chile, (along with those of Peru and Bolivia) declared the trapping of animals and exportation of pelts illegal; ­ but, it was all too little, too late. Needless to say, this activity did not cease then, and has still not ceased today. Poaching in Chile persists. But, possibly due to much smaller populations now, they are not being taken in such large numbers.

Originally, chinchilla populations flourished within their range.  Now, it is the trade in the animals which thrives, as their pelts continue to be found amongst the most valuable in the world. As a result, these endearing little rodents are now facing extinction in the wild.

Chinchillas are small, just slightly larger than ground squirrels. They have strong legs and can leap around in a very agile manner. They have bushy tails, and soft, silky dense fur. As many as sixty hairs grow from one follicle. The fur was designed by nature to insulate the species against the cold of the barren mountain regions it inhabits.Baby chinchilla Lanigera

Chinchillas sit upright on their hind legs to eat, grasping their food in their front paws. They are social animals living in colonies of up to one hundred individuals (you can see by this how easy it must have been to capture them in large numbers). These colonies are properly referred to as herds, so named by the first fur farmers who treated them as livestock. And, just to add to that trivia; a female is called a velvet or sow, and a male is called either a bull or a boar.

Chinchillas are crepuscular and nocturnal, though they have been seen in broad daylight foraging for food. They sleep or rest in rock crevices and holes. They are expected to live up to ten years in the wild, but, can live to as much as twenty years in captivity.

Breeding takes place during May and November. The female will give birth to two litters a year.   The average gestation period lasts one hundred and eleven days,  after which, a litter of between one to three babies (known as kits) will be born. Kits are precocial at birth (fully furred and with eyes open) and weigh about thirty-five grams. They are usually weaned by sixty days.

From beasts we scorn as soulless,
In forest, field and den,
The cry goes up to witness
The soullessness of men.

M. Frida Hartley
(Animal Rights Activist)

Habitat
Barren, arid, rocky or sandy mountainous areas.
Where
Chile
What they eat
Plant leaves (mostly of the cactus family), fruits, seeds, and small insects.
Threats
Human activities; mainly poaching, followed by grazing of livestock, mining and firewood extraction. Their natural predators include birds of prey, skunks, cats, snakes and dogs.
Status: Critically Endangered
The long-tailed chinchilla (Chinchilla lanigera) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered.
The Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) lists all chinchilla species in Appendix 1, making international trade in the animals or their skins illegal among participating nations. Frighteningly, there are only 10,000 individuals thought to be left in the wild. There have been attempts to reintroduce chinchillas to the wild, but these have been markedly unsuccessful.
A great deal more could be done to monitor hunting in the remote mountain ranges of the Andes. However, this has proven to be a difficult place to patrol leaving the chinchillas vulnerable.

Related Articles
Black friday is Fur Free friday…Fur Hurts—Art and Activism Collide
The Chinese Fur Industry
Chinchilla Farm Investigation
Fur Farms
The real cost of Madonna’s fur coat (2006 but nothing’s changed!)

Fur Free Friday

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 51 – The Hyacinth Macaw


Ringed hyacinth macaw on branch

Photographer: Douglas Janson 2008

Description
The largest of all the macaws, the ‘hyacinth’ is highly sought after by the illegal wild bird trade. Live birds can change hands for as much as $12,000. Headdresses, made from feathers, can fetch up to $2,650 on the open market, and loose feathers are freely available  from around $25 a lot.

Between the demands for pets, hunting for food and needless ornamentation, the hyacinth macaw and its beautiful, vibrant, glossy, cobalt-blue feathers are being dragged towards extinction.  There could not be a better time to enforce and educate, before we say goodbye to yet another much needed species.

Hyacinth macaws are usually found in pairs or in small groups of up to ten birds.  They are intelligent, affectionate, highly sociable and incredibly vociferous.  They are mostly active in the morning and in late afternoon.

They are large birds, growing up to forty inches in length with a wing span of over sixty inches.  They weigh in at about three and a half pounds.  The glossy feathers are a striking shade of blue.   They have bright yellow rings around the eyes and a visible stripe, of equally bright yellow skin, coming down either side from the lower part of the beak. They are, incidentally, the largest flying parrot species in the world.

The hyacinth’s beak is huge and powerful.  Hooked and black, it is designed to break open extremely hard shells.  It is also utilised as a third foot, for rasping and scaling branches. The toes are zygodactylous (meaning there are two in front and two behind).  The combination of these two attributes makes them excellent climbers.

Both sexes look remarkably alike, save the female tends to be slightly smaller.  They are monogamous and mate for life.

When the mating season comes round  (there seems to be a great many conflicting opinions as to the dates of this – so I will not speculate here),  nests are made in tree hollows and cliff faces; normally between four and fourteen metres above ground level.

Usually, two eggs are laid, but, historically, only one ever fledges.  Incubation lasts up to twenty-eight days.  Most of the mother’s time will be spent with her eggs whilst her mate undertakes the duty of feeding her.  Once hatched, the youngsters will stay with their parents for a further six months.  They will not be mature enough to breed themselves until they reach seven years of age.

Habitat
Areas abundant in nut-bearing trees and shrubs.  Seasonal floodplain forests, tropical forests and adjacent savannah, deciduous woodland, palm groves, palm savannah and palm swamps.
Where
South America: southern Brazil, eastern Bolivia and north-eastern Paraguay.
What they eat
Nuts, fruit and vegetation. (They are especially fond of palm nuts) The hard acuri palm nut is eaten, but only after it has passed through the digestive system of cattle.
Threats
Massive illegal wild bird trade and local hunting. Brazil’s Native Indian Kayapo tribe hunt them for food and feathers. There is also an online market for genuine  headdresses of the Kayapo tribe ($2,450 USD is the price on one of those I found) – no surprises there!  As with most endangered species, they have suffered loss of habitat.  In their case, due to hydroelectric dams, cattle-ranching and agriculture. The toco toucan is known to prey upon the eggs of the hyacinth macaw, taking more than half the total eggs predated. Other known natural predators are skunks, coatis and crows.
Status: Endangered
The hyacinth macaw  (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus)  is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered. It is also listed on CITES Appendix I. Only six thousand or so hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) are known to still exist in the wild. The hyacinth macaw is protected by law in Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia, and has been since the 1960s and 1970s. However, the illegal trade continues.  The laws are not properly enforced and the profit margins are high.  In the 1980s, at least ten thousand birds were thought to have been taken from the wild.

Related links
PACIFIC GUARDIANS – Niue launches coins on endangered animal species

 

“Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and it’s beauty”
Albert Einstein

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 37 – The Andean Cat


Andean cat

Source: The Andean Cat Alliance

Description
There are those who are eaten to the brink of extinction and those who are hunted for profit to the brink of extinction.  Then there is the rare Andian cat;  hunted and killed to the edge for religious ceremonies and beliefs.  Like the pampas cat, they are considered sacred and offered up accordingly. The Andean cat, whom I daresay far from appreciates this, is also considered to be one of the most endangered felids on the planet.  Despite this;  they are still killed, stuffed and skinned.

These animals occupy a very inhospitable environment.  They blend in well with the terrain, are not much bigger than a domestic cat and are sparsely distributed. Consequently, sightings have been as rare as the creature itself, and knowledge is limited.

Small, sturdy and furry, the coat is silver-grey with brown stripes and orange blotches. The pale underside is strewn with dark spots.  The tail is long, thick and fluffy with dark rings.  The Andean cat is possibly solitary, although adults have been recorded in pairs. Birth is thought to occur between October and April. Only two litters have ever been observed, both with two young.

Originally, the major prey species of the Andian cat was mountain chinchilla.  Then a huge demand arose for the fur of these sweet little animals.  This led to the chinchilla being almost hunted to extinction as well, and the Andian cat being deprived of its food base. Through necessity, mountain vizcacha became its major prey.  The Andean’s nocturnal habits are now thought to be related to this change and the feeding habits of mountain vizcachas.  This was a classic case of having to adapt rapidly or perish.

Habitat
Rocky, arid and semi-arid, and sparsely vegetated zones of the high Andes above the tree-line.
Where
The Andes mountains, through Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru.
What they eat
Mountain viscachas and mountain chinchillas, when they can get them.
Threats
Hunting for traditional practises (stuffed cats and skins are used in religious ceremonies in the belief they will bring good fortune).  Loss of natural prey.  Hunting for food, and for traditional medicine in central Peru, and hunting for pelts.  They are also often killed in retaliation for loss of small livestock.  Destruction of habitat by extensive mining, resource extraction for fuel and cattle grazing.  Disease from domestic animals. 
Status: Endangered
The Andean cat (Leopardus jacobita) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered.   Only 2,500 are believed to be still alive, and there are no known Andean cats in captivity.   Significant efforts are being made by various non-profit making organisations to help protect and preserve this species, and laws in all four South American countries, where the Andean cat is present, have been passed  accordingly.   Each country now has protected areas where hunting is banned.

To update this post, I would like to add a link to another post about the Andean cat.  This is a wonderful article by Carmen Mandel. I can highly recommend taking a look, especially at the updated images and videos.  The Elusive Gato Andino

“Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to a man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures”
The Dalai Lama