Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 72 – The Red-ruffed Lemur

Red-ruffed lemur

“The Animals of the planet are in desperate peril.  Without free animal life I believe we will lose the spiritual equivalent of oxygen”
Alice Walker

Following the long-term rape and pillage of its forests, Madagascar’s unique biodiversity is suffering greatly.  Extreme poverty, internal unrest and the illegal activities of insatiable global businesses have all contributed.  And, it is the innocent animals like the red-ruffed lemur who are left to struggle on, potentially homeless and without an adequate supply of food.

Habitat loss is a major threat to these primates, particularly as they are so dependent on large fruit trees in old-growth forests.Red-ruffed lemur

Considered to be the most beautiful of all lemurs, the red-ruffed lemur, as its name suggests, sports a long, soft, thick, rusty-red coat.  It has a black face and a patch of white fur at the back of its head.  Its hands, feet, underside and tail are also black.

It is one of the largest of all Malagasy primates, weighing in at up to eight pounds, with an average body length of twenty-four inches.  At twenty inches, the tail is almost the same length.  The species is equipped with a specialised claw on the second toe of the hind foot which, along with the lower-front teeth, is used for grooming the long, soft fur.

Red-ruffed lemurs have a whole range of sounds.  They bark to ‘chatter’ with each other and have special alarm calls to warn others of approaching predators.  In all, they have twelve different calls.  Most of which can be heard for miles.  They also communicate through scent.

Red-ruffed lemur Red-ruffed lemurs are polygamous.  They live in small, matriarchal groups of anything between two and six animals.  They breed annually between May and July.  There is a gestation period of up to one hundred and three days.  After which, the female will give birth to an average of three offspring.  At birth, infants are not able to cling to the mother.  When the mother moves, she picks the infants up individually in her mouth. Babies are weaned at four months.  Within this period, mothers ‘park’ their babies in core areas, allowing them to go into the forest.  Other members of the group will care for the babies during this time, giving the mother a much-needed break.  The father will also help out.  Red-ruffed lemurs reach maturity at the age of two

Tall primary forests.
Masoala Peninsula in north-eastern Madagascar.
What they eat
Largely frugivorous, but will also eat leaves, seeds, grains and nuts, nectar and flowers. When feeding on the nectar of flowers, red-ruffed lemurs play a vital role in the pollination of hardwood trees.
Human encroachment, deforestation, hunting for meat and live capture for the international pet trade.  Natural predators are the fossa, snakes and eagles.
Status: Endangered
The Red-ruffed lemur  (Varecia rubra)  is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Endangered.  It is also protected under Cites Appendix 1.  It is protected officially only within the Masoala National Park and the Makira Protected Area.  The wild population of the red-ruffed lemur is estimated to be between thirty and fifty thousand. The captive worldwide population of red-ruffed lemurs stands at almost six hundred animals.  Captive populations can be found in the United States and Europe.

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 67 – The California Condor

California condors from mother nature network

“There will be no justice as long as man will stand with a knife or with a gun and destroy those who are weaker than he is”
Isaac Bashevis Singer

Native American tribes see the condor as a symbol of power.  Known to them as the Thunderbird, they believe it creates thunder in the sky by beating its enormous ten foot wings.

In flight, the majestic wings can be seen in all their splendour.  When airborne, the distinctive white patch underneath each wing is highly visible, distinguishing it from other vultures.  These great birds soar as high as fifteen thousand feet across the skies, catching thermals on the way up, rising as the ground below gets hotter.  They can stay up for hours watching, searching for food and other needs.

California condors are vultures.  Like all vultures, they are carrion feeders, not predators. As such, they are a very important part of the ecosystem, acting as  ‘nature’s cleaners’ by recycling dead organic waste.  They pick up all sorts of animal debris that would otherwise be left to rot where it fell.  They come equipped with a very tough immune system which protects then against any harmful bacteria found on decaying animals. They have incredibly keen eyesight, but a poor sense of smell, which is perhaps quite fortunate considering their feeding habits.  Their baldness is one of their many assets.  It allows them to bury into the carcasses they feed on without too much mess.  Meal over, they clean their heads and necks by rubbing them on grass or against rocks or branches.

Condors can travel up to one hundred and fifty miles a day, with a maximum flight speed of fifty-five mph.  These magnificent birds have a wing span of just under ten feet.  Their feathers are essentially black with white patches under the wings.  Their bald heads are white to reddish-purple.  They can reach a height of fifty inches, weigh up to twenty-five pounds and can live up to as much as eighty years, although sixty is more common.

The mating season for the California condor is winter to spring, followed by an incubation period of about fifty-four days.  One chick will hatch, which will receive the parents full attention.  The chick will learn to fly at the age of six months, but may stay with its parents for the next two years.  It will not gain full adult plumage until five or six years of age.

Rocky, forested regions permeated with caves, gorges and ledges for nesting.  Open grassland for hunting.
By reintroduction:  Mexico and the United States of America
What they eat
Carrion:  Condors will tuck into most carcasses they find, but prefer the larger ones, such as deer, cattle and sheep.
Lead poisoning, habitat loss, illegal shootings and human intolerance.
Status: Critically Endangered
The California condor is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Critically Endangered.  It is also under the protection of  CITES Appendix I

By 1982, only twenty-two individuals existed.   The species became extinct in the wild in 1987, when the last free-flying condors were taken into captivity to save the species via a breeding program.  At this point, only nine birds remained on the planet.  The captive breeding program was successful, and, in 1991, action was taken to start releasing the birds back into the wild.  By the spring of 2013, there were over four hundred and thirty California condors in existence, either in captivity or free-flying.
The problem of lead poisoning from  ammunition  has been addressed in California. Where, since 2007, only lead-free ammunition is permitted when hunting.  However, you will see from the link below, the LA Times reports a rise in lead poisoning of condors.  Effective or not, no such laws have been passed elsewhere yet, making the problem widespread.

Some interesting links you may like:
LA Times: Record 21 California condors treated at L.A. Zoo for lead poisoning
Hi Mountain Look Out
Kern County Look to Prevent More Condor Deaths

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 66 – The Yunnan Snub-nosed Monkey

Baby Yunnan

“It is not enough to understand the natural world; the point is to defend and preserve it”
Edward Abbey

Since the only Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys kept in zoos have all been within China’s borders, this primate was virtually unknown to the rest of the world until the 1990s.  And, like so many other species, it had been ruthlessly hunted for meat, fur and the pet trade. Now, to a certain extent, it is protected.  A  lot of support has been drummed up for the species in China, but when it comes to a choice between conservation and feeding a family, the snub-nosed monkey still gets the short straw.

The Yunnan snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus bieti), also known as the black snub-nosed monkey, lives at high altitudes and in extreme temperatures, which can fall below freezing for several months of the year.  To cope with this inhospitable climate, it has a long, soft, dense coat.  Adult coats are mainly black with white on the front and flanks, whereas babies are born all white and change colour as they grow older. Unusually, they all have deep pink human-like lips.  But, it’s their noses which are probably their most distinguishing feature.  There are no nasal bones and the nostrils are turned up, sometimes giving them quite a bizarre appearance.

Due to the remoteness of their habitat and their elusive nature, little is known about the breeding habits in the wild. Like other primates, the snub-nosed monkey births at night, making observation difficult. One study showed mating occurred all year round but peaked in August, and births peaked from February to April with one baby being born at a time.

Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys live in large groups which are made up of lots of smaller family groups;  consisting of one adult male, three to five females and their various offspring.  The whole group travel and rest together.

High-altitude coniferous and evergreen broadleaf forests.  The highest altitude recorded being four thousand seven hundred meters. Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys rarely seem willing to descend below an altitude of three thousand meters, even in extreme weather conditions.
China’s Yunnan Province and the Tibet Autonomous Region.
What they eat
Although folivorous, lichens are now an important part of their diet.
Habitat loss, inbreeding and poaching.  Despite laws being in place, illegal logging and hunting still persist.  There is a very low birth rate for Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys, who will birth only once every three years.  Add that to the infant mortality rate of 50% and the future doesn’t look so hopeful.  Then there are the ‘accidents’.  The little monkey is often trapped in snares intended for other species, such as musk deer. 
Status: Endangered
The Yunnan snub-nosed monkey is listed on the  IUCN Red List Of Threatened Species  as Endangered.  It is also protected under CITES Appendix I.  The Chinese authorities, along with Nature Conservancy and Conservation International, launched the Yunnan Golden Monkey Program, thereby putting some considerable  effort into saving this species.  A national logging ban was brought in on all old-growth forests in China in 1998.   And, hunting of this primate was banned  (with almost all hunting guns confiscated) in 1975, following prolonged targeting for food, fur and pets, which brought the species close to extinction.  Most of these monkeys now live in protected areas.
Due to these concentrated and long-term conservation efforts, individuals have now increased in numbers to almost three thousand, across both locations. That is an increase of  50% on 1990’s numbers.
China does have a captive breeding program, which also seems moderately successful. The species is still not found in any other zoos outside China.
With their penchant for lichen, the monkeys have become an important part of the ecosystem of the ancient forests they inhabit, and their loss would have an adverse effect on such locations.


Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 50 – The Javan Leopard

Javan tiger, caught on camera, resting in the rainforest

Photographer: Age Kridalaksana (The Center for International Forestry Research – CIFOR)

The Javan leopard inhabits one of the most densely populated and richly bio-diverse islands in Indonesia.  Given the amount of attention by visiting biologists and conservationists over time, it is surprising there is so little information available about this and other island species.

Most of scant data written has come from those observed in captivity or those captured in the wild and returned with radio collars, or caught on camera traps.  They are said to be extremely elusive, though someone has clearly been finding them.  If only to export to various zoos.

Driven back deep into the forests by man, having been deprived of more than ninety per cent of its original habitat  (and with that its prey base),  the Javan leopard has been forced to turn to domestic livestock for food supplies.  The irony of this situation seems to be lost on the local population as conflict between the tigers and humans escalates. And, to make matters worse, villagers are turning to poaching.  Plans are being made to address the conflict and to offer alternative economic opportunities to the villagers. Which can only be a good thing.

The Javan Leopard is a beautiful, small leopard endemic to Java.  Its coat is orange with black rosettes.  It has piercing steel-grey eyes. Leopards,in general, are larger and stockier than the cheetah but not as big as the jaguar.  One wildlife photographer suggested the Javan leopard he ‘shot’ was about five feet ten inches in length.

Expert climbers, when not draped over branches fast asleep, they can run up to thirty-five miles per hour, bound over twenty feet forward and leap almost ten feet upwards.

Leopards remain solitary except when mating.  The gestation period involved lasts roughly one hundred days, after which two to four cubs will be born.  Sadly, only half will survive.  As happens so often, the infant mortality rate is high.

Less than two hundred and fifty pure Javans are thought to remain in the wild.  However, this estimate may be on the low side.  The species is prone to melanism, and more may exist as ‘black panthers’.

Dense tropical rainforest, dry deciduous forest and scrubland.
Gunung Gede National Park on the Indonesian island of Java.
What they eat

Deer, various monkeys and small apes, and wild boar. Through diminishing habitat and depletion of their prey base, Javan leopards have been forced towards settlements and have been known to prey on domestic animals in their search for food.
Habitat loss, illegal logging and agricultural expansion, poaching, loss of own prey and human conflict.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Javan leopard (Panthera pardus melas) is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Critically Endangered.  It can also be found listed under  CITES Appendix I.  In Indonesia, the Javan leopard is classified as a protected species, and stringent hunting laws are enforced to prevent this leopard from going down the same road as the Javan tiger.  

There are an estimated two hundred and fifty Javan leopards left in the wild. In 1997 (latest available data), there were fourteen Javan leopards recorded in captivity within world zoos.  From 2007, the Taman Safari zoo in Indonesia kept seventeen Javan leopards, of which four were breeding pairs.  Javan leopards are also kept in the Indonesian zoos of Surabaya and Ragunan.  Captive breeding programmes do exist, but are not widespread. However, there have been zoo births, making the future look a little brighter for the species.

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”
Rachel Carson