Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 80 – The Malayan Sun Bear


Sun Bear in captivity at the Columbus Zoo, Powell Ohio - Ryan E. Poplin

“It should not be believed that all beings exist for the sake of the existence of man. On the contrary, all the other beings too have been intended for their own sakes and not for the sake of anything else”
Maimonides

What is it about bears!  You would think they would be revered on account of their size alone.  And, in the case of this bear, its name.  After all, Inti or Apu-punchau, the Inca Sun God was worshipped by so many for so long.  But, these bears have not been afforded the same courtesy.  Instead these poor creatures are persecuted beyond belief.  Just like their cousins, the Asiatic black bears, they are trapped and incarcerated for their fur, bile and gall bladders.  Traditional Chinese Medicine is claiming their body parts and the paws of the bear are sold as a delicacy in restaurants.  Their habitat is being destroyed at an alarming rate and, on top of all that, the ill-informed seem to think bear cubs make good pets (after killing the mother, that is).  All-in-all, a sad indictment of man’s behaviour toward animals.

Although considered a large animal, Malayan sun bears are the smallest of all bear species, with, incidentally, the largest canines. Reaching a maximum length (males) of almost four and a half feet, they can weigh up to one hundred and forty-four pounds. Males tend to be a lot larger than females.

Sun bear in tree. Photographer credit - UcumariMalayan sun bears (or honey bears as they are sometimes known) have short, smooth, water-repellent, dark-brown to black fur, with an orangey/yellow bow-shaped mark on their chests.  The same colour of fur surrounds the muzzle and the eyes.  The skin around the neck is loose, allowing the bear to twist and bite its attacker when necessary. They have strong paws with hairless soles and long curved claws.  Their snouts are flexible and they have extraordinarily long tongues – an adaptation for gathering termites from the nests and mounds.  Sun bears have very poor eyesight, but a keen sense of smell, which helps them to detect food.  They are good climbers and can often be found resting in trees. 

Despite being the smallest of the species, sun bears can be quite aggressive, and there have been recorded unprovoked attacks.  Sun bears have been observed living together whilst raising cubs, but, usually they are solitary and the mother and cubs are the only ones to stay together. 

Living in a tropical climate, with an all-year-round supply of food, the need to hibernate does not arise.

Baby sun bear Wellington ZooThere is no specific breeding season.  The gestation period following mating is roughly ninety-six days.  One to three tiny, altricial (furless, eyes closed and  dependent upon the parent) cubs will be born.  The cubs will continue to nurse for about eighteen months. Cubs remain with their mothers until  fully grown and are able to fend for themselves.  Female bears use holes inside large, old hollow trees to birth the babies.

Habitat
Tropical evergreen rainforest including swamps and limestone/karst hills, and lower montane forest.
Where
Bangladesh, Brunei, Darussalam, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam.
What they eat
Fruit (especially figs) and berries, insects, small vertebrates, eggs, honey and termites. They use their very long tongues to access the mounds and nests of termites, the hives of bees and tree holes with insects.
Threats
In most countries:  Habitat loss due to plantation development, unsustainable logging practices, illegal logging both within and outside protected areas.  Commercial poaching of bears for the wildlife trade is a huge threat.  Other reasons for killing bears include: Crop damage, capture of cubs for pets (the mother being killed in the process) and commercial hunting.
On the islands of Sumatra and Borneo:  Large-scale conversion of forest to oil palm plantations.
In Myanmar, Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia and Viet Nam:  Sun bears are commonly poached for their gall bladders and paws; the former is used as a Traditional Chinese Medicine, and the latter as an expensive delicacy.
In China and Viet Nam:  Bile is milked from commercially farmed bears;  however, although sun bears can be found on these farms, the majority of bears used in this practise are Asiatic black bears.  Bears are routinely removed from the wild to replenish stock on these small farms.
The Malayan sun bear has few natural predators.
Status: Vulnerable
The Malayan Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable (considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild).  It has been listed on CITES Appendix I since 1979.
Killing bears is illegal in all range countries.  However, little enforcement of these laws occurs.  It has to be said, the areas which need patrolling are vast, making this an overwhelming task for rangers.  But, given exploitation for body parts is expected to continue, these bears will be gone if something effective is not done soon. .
In Thailand alone, it is estimated that commercial poaching of sun bears has reduced their numbers by 50% over the last twenty years.


Related Articles

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre – Hope at Last For Borneo
Baby bear found strapped to pole in northern Ontario
This article is not about sun bears, it is about a baby bear tormented by children in Canada.  It happened in 2012.  What is noteworthy is the appalling stance the comments took towards the bears, and the unacceptable  ‘kids will be kids’  attitude conveyed by those who clearly thought this behaviour was acceptable.  No wonder so many abuse animals if this is the sort of message children are receiving in a supposedly civilised western country. Though, I very much doubt this article reflects the good Canadian people in general.

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 70 – The Asian Elephant


Asian elephant

Image: World Wide Fund for Nature

“Compassion for animals is intimately connected with goodness of character; and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man”
Arthur Schopenhauer

Asian elephant pulling log uphill  Photo by Zafer KizilkayaEveryday, more elephants are captured for illegal logging operations.  Forced to aid the destruction of their own natural habitat, they move around in chains hauling away huge trees, clearing the way for more palm oil plantations.  With their habitat gone, the free herds are compelled to move towards human settlements in search of food and shelter. They have nowhere else to go.  They have no choice other than to leave behind the remnants of their forests and head towards the villages.  Those that do flee are often on the point of starvation. Unfortunately, on the move, they are inclined to do a great deal of damage.  This has brought humans and elephants to the point of war in Asia.

Villagers are laying traps for elephants, tormenting and torturing them, and even killing them.  But, it is hard to blame them sometimes.  A moving elephant can, and does, trample crops, demolish homes and kill people.  And it is happening a lot.  But, that doesn’t mean the fault lies with the elephant either.

The blame for this appalling situation falls squarely on the shoulders of the greedy, callous and criminal plantation owners.  Those who see littleDeforestationin Sumatra other than a cash crop.  The West cannot get enough of palm oil, and there are few products that do not contain it.  And, these insatiable pillagers of the forests intend to meet the demand regardless of the absolute devastation they are causing to the irreplaceable and magnificent rainforests and the dependent inhabitants.

As most of us are aware, elephants are not small.  The average Asian adult male comes in at about five and a half tons.  They grow up to nine feet at the shoulder and can be as long as twenty-one feet from trunk to tail  (the tail being just under five feet long).  Females tend to be smaller.  The ears of the Asian elephant are much smaller than those of the African elephant and coincidentally resemble the shape of the India subcontinent.

Asian elephants at mud-holeIn Asian elephants, unlike their African cousins, only the males have tusks.  If any are found in females, they  (the ‘tushes’)  are barely visible.  Tusks are, in fact, elongated incisors which continue to grow throughout the elephant’s life. They are used for eating, digging for water, debarking trees, social interactions and as weapons.

Elephants usually mate during the rainy season.  After a gestation period of twenty-two months, a single calf will be born (twins are very rare).  The calf will weigh about two hundred and fifty pounds at birth.   When born, calves suckle through the mouth.  At this point the trunk does not have enough developed muscle to be of any use.  Several months will need to pass before it is able to gain full use of it.  The bond between mother and calf is known to be strong, but others in the herd will help out with the infant’s care.   Once males have reached adolescence, they will be pushed away from the group.   Most will become part of bachelor groups until they reach full maturity and go it alone.

Habitat
A wide variety of forests, grasslands and scrublands.
Where
Asian elephants occur in isolated populations in thirteen range States in parts of India and South-east Asia, including Sumatra and Borneo.
What they eat
Grasses, roots, fruit, and bark – and in enormous quantities.  One adult alone can get through up to 300 pounds of food in a day. They are also known to eat cultivated crops such as sugar cane and bananas.
Threats
Capture for domestic use;  this has become a major problem for some populations and numbers have been reduced significantly.  Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation are also huge threats.  Poaching and conflict with humans is on the rise. 
Status: Endangered
The Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered.  It is also protected under Cites Appendix 1. Estimates put the population, across all range States, as being between thirty-nine and fifty thousand in the wild, with a further thirteen thousand kept as working or former-working elephants. There are obvious difficulties in collecting this sort of data, so exact figures have never been published. What is certain, is that over half the elephants occur in India.
Various agencies and organisations are working towards reducing conflict between local communities and the elephants. This includes approaches to crop protection, community-based guarding methods to safely repel the onslaught of elephants and education and promotion of elephant conservation throughout Asia.

Related links
Deforestation is Killing the Asian Elephant

Asian Elephants Are Being Smuggled Into Thailand To Tightrope Walk For Tourists
A tusk-less future for the Asian elephant

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 55 – The Sumatran Rhinoceros


Sumatran Rhinoceros in close-up

Photograph courtesy: World Wildlife Fund

Description
The only surviving member of the Dicerorhinini, a primitive group of rhinos from the Miocene epoch – which existed almost twenty million years ago, the Sumatran rhino is now close to extinction itself.  It is also closely related to the woolly rhinoceros, which roamed throughout Europe and Asia until a mere ten thousand years ago.  The Sumatran rhino was widespread across Asia as recently as the early twentieth century. Now it seems doomed to go the way of its ancestors.

The Sumatran rhino is the smallest of all the rhino.  But, as you would expect, these animals are not lightweights.  They weigh in at anything up to two thousand pounds, can grow to a length of nine and a half feet and stand up to five feet at the shoulder.  They have grey leathery-looking skin, which, contrary to belief, is quite thin and pliable.  They are not smooth-skinned either, as you would perhaps expect.  They are covered in coarse hair which has earned them the nickname of ‘hairy rhino’ in some circles.  Another notable characteristic is the prehensile upper lip, used for tearing food.  Add to that its short, stocky body and stumpy legs and its whole appearance is that of a small furry tank.

But, it is the horns which are most interesting.  For starters, they have two of them; the only Asian rhino to do so. Although, the posterior horn is very small and often absent altogether in females.  The horns are made of keratin, as fingernails are, and will grow back in the same way if broken off or torn.  The most obvious use of the horn would be self-defence, but this is not its true purpose.  Sumatran rhino use their horns for reaching vegetation (of which they eat over fifty kilos a day), fashioning wallows and protecting their heads when travelling through dense vegetation.

Rhino are nocturnal, feeding very early in the morning and late at night.  Their days are spent wallowing in mud. The mud protects them from the sun’s rays and keeps them cool. It also helps to stave off insects.  They are found near water, and the mudholes they wallow in are made by themselves.  They will only use a hole a few times and then move on.

Sumatran rhino only come together to breed.  Otherwise, they are solitary animals. Calves are usually born during the rainy season, from October to May. Females birth every three to four years.  After a long gestation period of fifteen to sixteen months, a single calf will be born with a dense coat of hair.  The calf will stay with its mother for the next two or three years.

I recently read an article where rhino horns, on the living rhino, were being poisoned.  It seems South Africa has taken the dramatic, and brilliant , step of injecting the horns of living rhino with chemicals which, although will not harm the rhino, will definitely make anyone who uses it in crushed form, very ill.  Hopefully, this idea will spread across the globe and eventually render rhino horn worthless on the black market.  Read more…

Habitat
Tropical rainforests and montane moss forests.
Where
Sumatra, western Indonesia and Sabah, Malaysia.   It is not known whether a small population still exists in Borneo, but the species is generally thought to be now extinct in that location.
What they eat
Leaves, fruits, twigs and bark.
Threats
The main threat to the Sumatran rhino is hunting.  Like all rhino, it is callously slaughtered for its horns and other body parts, believed to have medicinal properties. Yet again, the folly of Chinese traditional medicine prevails.  The horns alone can fetch up to thirty thousand US dollars per kilo on the black market, making the horns extremely valuable and the rhino extremely vulnerable.
Another major threat is loss of habitat resulting from illegal logging and land conversion. The Sumatran rhino is left to inhabit small fragmented pockets of forest, and as such is left exposed to disease, fire and possible inbreeding.

Status: Critically Endangered
Although hunting is now illegal, poachers are not deterred.  And, the destruction of their natural habitat continues.  Both these factors have led to the status of this species becoming critical.

From the 31 March to the 4 April, 2013, the Sumatran Rhino Crisis Summit took place.  On the 4th of April, 2013, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) issued a press release.

“With population estimates of Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) reduced to less than 100 individuals, a ground-breaking agreement to save the Critically Endangered species was reached today between representatives of the Indonesian and Malaysian governments. The agreement was formed at a summit convened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC), involving a wide range of international and national organisations.” Read more…

“Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man”
Stewart Udall

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 32 – Proboscis Monkey


Proboscis monkey 3

Photo: Frank Wouters

Description
With its huge fleshy nose and its World War II flying jacket, this endearing primate is bound to raise a smile on most faces.  A native of Borneo, it emits sounds eminently suited to its nasal abnormalities – it honks.  From a special honk for reassuring infants to its alarm honk when sensing danger, it manages a whole range of honk tones.  And, its nose stands out straight when doing this.  The male’s is so large it gets in the way of eating, hanging down over its mouth.  Only the male of the species has this nose.  Another bizarre distinction of the proboscis monkey is the large pot belly.

But, that’s not all.  They’ve managed to dispel any ideas that monkeys do not like water. They are incredible swimmers.  They have partially webbed feet and a penchant for leaping from high branches into the water.  They swim on or under the surface.  They can swim submerged for up to twenty metres at a time.  They appear to do the breast stroke as they move swiftly through the water – amazing!   If they have the misfortune to encounter a crocodile, they have a plan.  They slide quietly into the water and glide silently past it, taking care not to splash.

They are the largest of Asia’s monkeys, with males reaching up to fifty pounds in weight; the females being more or less half of that.  Their coats of fur are light brown on the bulk of the body becoming red near the shoulders and head.  They have grey arms, legs and tails.  Their chambered stomach harbours symbiotic bacteria to aid digestion.

Groups of proboscis monkeys (troops) typically consist of one male to six females – something on the lines of a harem.   The breeding season is from February until November.   Females give birth to just one baby at a time.  The gestation period lasts about 166 days.  Babies are usually born during the night.  All the females in the troop pitch in to help with the new babies, who stay with their mothers for about a year, or until she gives birth again – whichever comes first.

Habitat
Riparian-riverine forests, coastal lowland forests (including mangroves) where tidal flooding occurs,  peat swamps and freshwater swamp forests.
Where
Borneo: Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia
What they eat

Leaves, seeds,  fruits and occasionally insects.  The proboscis monkeys will only eat unripe fruit.
The sugars in ripe fruits can ferment in their stomachs and cause fatal bloating. [1]
Threats

Habitat destruction through land clearance and conversion, logging and settlement.  Oil palm plantations have depleted huge tracts of their habitat.  Forest fires have also had a massive impact.  In 1997 to 1998, fires decimated a huge proportion of what remained at the time.
Its natural predators include crocodiles and the clouded leopard.  In some parts, proboscis monkey-meat is considered a delicacy.  And, here we go again, they are hunted for traditional Chinese medicine.  In their case,  for their intestinal bezoar stones.   
It really is time these people stopped eating and grinding up everything with a heartbeat – BEFORE they are entirely bereft of wildlife.

Status: Endangered
The proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus) was listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature on its IUCN Red List as Endangered in the year 2000, with an estimated 50% reduction in the population in the following ten years.  In 2008, numbers were thought to be less than 6,000.  The conversion of land to palm oil plantations is an alarming and escalating problem, which can only be addressed by the consumer choosing not to buy palm oil based products.

“The more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man”
Mahatma Gandhi

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 30 – The Flat-headed Cat


Flat-headed cat

Image via iltaw.com

Description
With partially webbed feet, eyes that act as underwater binoculars and a flattened skull, this adorable little felid is perfectly adapted to its environment.  Its streamlined, elongated and flat head houses small rounded ears and huge close-set eyes.  Its snout is long and sloping.

It has backward facing teeth, just to stop the slippery ones from getting away, and claws which are not completely retractile.  And, it can immerse its head fully in water.  Narrow pads occur beneath the partially webbed feet.  Together, these inherent characteristics make the flat-headed cat a very efficient ‘fishercat’.  Perhaps even more so that its cousin the fishing cat.

Its coat is reddish-brown with traces of grey.  The top of its head is of a deeper rust colour.  Its reddish-brown tail, with its yellow underside, is short, thick and furry.  Overall, it is small, about the size of a domestic cat, growing to only 20 inches in length and weighing 6 pounds at most.

Little is known of the reproductive behaviour of these seldom-encountered cats.  Few have been seen in the wild and only three litters have ever been born in captivity.  A kitten was once found in the wild, alongside its dead mother who had been killed, but its fate seems unknown.  In fact, very little at all is documented about this enigmatic species.

Following limited observations, it is thought gestation lasts about 56 days.  Thereafter, one to four kittens may be born.  Lifespan in the wild is not known.  Although, one flat-headed cat kept in captivity did live up to age of 14 years.

Habitat
Lakes, streams and swamped lowlands.  Secondary forest, riverine forests and peat-swamp forests.
Where
Sumatra, the Malayan peninsular, Borneo and southern Thailand.
What they eat
Fish, crustaceans, birds, small rodents and frogs.
Threats
Habitat destruction and degradation, pollution leading to poisoning, human settlement, drainage for agriculture and hunting.
Status:  Endangered
It is thought there may be less than 2,500 mature flat-headed cats (Prionailurus planiceps) left in existence. They are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature on the IUCN Red List,  as Endangered.   Hunting and trading are prohibited in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Habitat protection in the lowland and wetland forests is being addressed.

“Wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will”
Theodore Roosevelt