Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 92 – The Asiatic Golden Cat

Asiatic golden cat via Wikimedia Commons.

Photograph: Karen Stout

“What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of the spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected”
Chief Seattle

Known as the ‘fire tiger’ (Seua fai) in certain parts of Thailand, this enigmatic forest dweller is surrounded by legend. Thai people Asiatic golden cat believe that burning the Asiatic golden cat’s pelage will drive tigers away and that cooking and eating the whole cat will protect against tiger attacks. Those of the peaceful and nature-loving Karen tribe, the largest of the major tribes of northern Thailand, maintain a single hair will do the same job, but how they come by this one hair is not disclosed. The Asiatic cat is also believed, by most indigenous peoples, to be ferocious. Though few signs of this have been demonstrated in captivity.

The range of the golden cat covers parts of some of the most rapidly developing countries in the world. Their habitat is being destroyed at a terrifying rate to accomodate man, who is also managing to destroy the cat’s prey at the same time. Added to that, Asiatic golden cat caught in a trapthey are hunted for their beautiful pelts and body parts – no surprise there then! Evidence of this appeared in four separate markets in Myanmar between 1991 and 2006. Parts and skins from one hundred and ten individual cats were reported. These markets can still be found on the borders of China and Thailand, and are still trading in this very rare creature and other animals. The markets are well-attended by international buyers. The fact that the golden cat is fully protected in Myanmar does not seem to be helping it at all here.

The Asiatic golden cat is also known as the Asian golden cat and Temminck’s golden cat (named after the Dutch naturalist Coenraad Jacob Temminck. Temminck first described the related African golden cat in 1827). There are three subspecies of golden cat: C.t.dominicanorum – South China, C.t.temminck – Himalayas to Sumatra and C.t.tristis – Southwest China Highlands.

Asiatic golden cat at Edinburgh Zoo 2010Asiatic golden cats are quite solid creatures and tend to resemble the domestic cat in all but size. They typically weigh about twenty-five to thirty-five pounds and can reach up to forty-one inches in body length. Males are usually larger than females.
They have a dense, coarse coat ranging in colour from dark-orange to brown, dark-brown to cinnamon, and dark-grey to black. Melanistic, panther-like morphs also exist. Coats are sometimes spotted or have rosettes, or have vague stripes. Black and white lines run along the side of the face.

These elusive Asiatic golden cats were once thought to be mainly nocturnal, but studies now reveal they are diurnal and crepuscular. They can climb trees if needs be, though they do prefer to be at ground level. Their vocalisations, like their appearance, again resemble the domestic cat, with purring, meowing, growling, spitting and hissing.

Asian golden kittenMost of the information on reproduction in golden cats is derived from observations of the species in captivity. There is apparently no specific breeding season for the golden cat, and if one litter is lost another will be produced within four months. After a gestation period of up to eighty days, the female will give birth to one to three kittens, each weighing about eight and a half ounces. The kittens will grow very quickly and have tripled their size by the age of eight weeks. Their coats are already patterned at birth, but their eyes will be closed for the first six to twelve days. Males play an active role in rearing their young. The kittens will be fully weaned at six months and fully mature at eighteen to twenty-four months, depending whether male or female.

Natural Habitat
Subtropical and tropical forest with rocky areas, bamboo forest, grasslands and shrub.
From the Himalayan foothills of Tibet into China, across to India and down through to Sumatra.
What they eat
Mainly rodents with some birds and reptiles. They are capable of bringing down much larger prey such as small deer and buffalo calves.
Deforestation, loss of prey species, indiscriminate snaring, poaching for its fur and bones, poaching for the illegal wildlife trade, and human conflict.
Status: Near Threatened
The Asiatic golden cat (Pardofelis temminckii) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Near Threatened (likely to become endangered in the near future). It is also listed under CITES Appendix 1 (as Catopuma temminckii).
The species is fully protected over most of its range with the exception of Lao People’s Democratic Republic where hunting is regulated, and Bhutan where it is only protected in certain areas.
In Myanmar, pelts have been found in various markets catering for international buyers. The general consensus is that CITES laws are not adequately enforced here.
It is not known how many Asiatic golden cats still exist in the wild, but it is thought their numbers are declining rapidly. A limited number of individuals are kept in zoos around the world. Captive breeding programs exist in some.

Related Articles
Malaysia rescues rare golden cat from pot (2010)
Sensational offspring of Asiatic golden cats, Allwetter Zoo – Germany (May 2013)
Six cat species found in Eastern Plains Landscape  (WWF February 2013)


Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 88 – The Red Panda

Two young red pandas in a tree

Photographer: Aconcagua

“The earth we abuse and the living things we kill will, in the end, take their revenge;  for in exploiting their presence we are diminishing our future”
Marya Mannes

Native to the Himalayan foothills, and arguably one of the most heart-melting little bears on the planet, the red panda has seen a big rise in popularity lately, and ‘awwws’ and ‘ahhhs’ galore follow wherever it is seen. But, just like its namesake, the giant panda, man is robbing the red panda of its basic needs in the wild – food and shelter. Throughout most of the red pandas range, theRed panda sleeping in a tree by Aconcagua trees it nests in and the bamboo it eats have disappeared. With over ninety per cent of its diet made up of something which is now in very short supply, hunger now looms.

The red panda’s striking red fur has made it a much sought after clothing item in some parts of China and Myanmar. And, red panda fur hats are still very popular in Bhutan. The killing of red pandas is highly illegal across its range, but the poaching continues, often unchecked.

But… at least what is left of the population can sleep easy in their nests tonight – the International Fur Trade Federation doesn’t do red panda any more!! Lucky red pandas!! Red panda

To veer slightly off topic for a moment – anything else, of course, is fair game to these self-serving, greedy and ruthless fur traders, who somehow seem to be missing the point.
To quote from the International Fur Trade Federation website:  

“Wild fur is only taken from abundant species”
“Over 85% of fur sold today is farmed”
“The legitimate fur trade does not trade in endangered species”
These are not principles. These are hoodwinking statements attempting to justify their egregious activities.  Surprisingly, they have the full approval of the IUCN.

Advocating, and profiting from, the breeding of animals solely for the purpose of killing them for their coats, or snatching animals from the wild simply because there are more than enough to go round, and then wallowing in the ill-claimed  glory of  avoiding using endangered species, does not make this barbaric trade any more acceptable. It simply serves to illustrate  how wide a range of species are targeted,  and how there is such a total lack of any form of moral compass involved.

baby red panda sleeping in treeBut, back to the red panda itself.  Also known as the lesser panda or red cat-bear, these little bears are not much bigger than the average domestic cat.  They have rust-coloured fur on top with black legs and undersides, long bushy ringed-tails and cream-coloured markings on the face, and cream to white ears.  Their fur is thick and covers their entire bodies including the soles of their feet.  In winter they wrap their long, fluffy tails around themselves maintain heat.  They have a low metabolic rate to further ensure their survival in extreme temperatures.  A red panda can lose up to fifteen per cent of its body weight during the winter months.

Red pandas have semi-retractable claws and a thumb-like wrist projection for gripping bamboo. Their wrap-round tails also act as a balancing tool when moving through the trees.  And, sweetly, red pandas dip their paws into water to drink.

Red pandas spend most of their waking time looking for and eating bamboo.  They nibble away at it one leaf at a time.  They have flattened teeth and well-developed chewing muscles.  They are excellent tree climbers, and are most active during the day.  If called upon to defend itself, the red panda will stand upright on its hind legs and show its sharp, ready to strike claws.

Red Panda mother and baby huggingRed pandas are shy and solitary except when mating.  Females (sows or she-bears) birth once a year. They build nests in hollow tree trunks or small caves.  There is a gestation period of about one hundred and thirty-five days followed by the birth of one to four cubs.  Baby red pandas weigh an average of one hundred and ten grams when born.  They have fluffy cream and grey fur and their eyes and ears tightly closed.  They remain in their protective nests for roughly ninety days.  Only their mothers care for them.  Male red pandas (boars or he-bears) take little or no interest in the babies.  At six months old, the babies are weaned from their mother. Red panda friends Young red pandas grow relatively slowly, reaching adult size after one year.  They reach full maturity at eighteen months.  This pattern of growth results in an inability to recover efficiently from the devastating declines in population.  There is also a fairly high infant mortality rate.

Contrary to popular belief, the red panda is not closely related to the giant panda.  They are very distant cousins, sharing only the panda name and a penchant for bamboo.  Nor is the red panda related to the raccoon, with which it shares a ringed tail. Red pandas are considered members of their own unique family—the Ailuridae

The red panda is the state animal of the Indian state of Sikkim.

Natural Habitat
Subtropical and temperate bamboo forests at sites above four thousand feet.
Bhutan, China, Myanmar, India and Nepal.
What they eat
Almost all of their diet consists of bamboo shoots and leaves, but, they will also eat fruit, grasses, acorns, roots, bird eggs and some insects.
Habitat destruction is the greatest threat across the red panda’s range.  In India, this threat is particularly significant.  Loss of habitat has been caused by the medicinal plant trade, grazing, logging, livestock competition and agricultural cropping. In Nepal ,in the Dhorpatan Hunting reserve (the only area in Nepal where licensed hunting is allowed) deforestation has occurred, red pandas are caught using snares, overgrazing of domestic cattle has impacted ringal bamboo growth, and herders and their dogs are damaging the population further. In China and Myanmar, the threat of poaching looms large. Pelts are commonly found in local markets.  In Bhutan, the pelts of the red panda are made into caps and hats.
Status: Endangered
The red panda (Ailurus fulgens) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable (high risk of endangerment in the wild). The red panda is also listed under CITES Appendix 1  and Schedule I of the Indian Wild Life Protection Act 1972.   The exact numbers of red pandas left in the wild are not known, but, are said to be declining rapidly. Red pandas have been kept and bred successfully in captivity across the world. Management programs have been created in North America, Japan, Europe, Australia, and China.

Related Articles

Stop Illegal Poaching of Red Pandas  (Petition)
Red Panda Cubs Debut at Wildlife Conservation Society Zoos

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”

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.

Tropical evergreen rainforest including swamps and limestone/karst hills, and lower montane forest.
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.
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. 74 – The Asiatic Black Bear

Asiatic Black Bear, Himalayan Black Bear

“Deliberate cruelty to our defenceless and beautiful little cousins is surely one of the meanest and most detestable vices of which a human being can be guilty”
William Ralph Inge

Adherents of Traditional Asian Medicine believe bile milked from the gall bladder of the Asiatic black bear will bring untold health benefits.  Whereas there is some foundation in this, bear bile does indeed have some medicinal value, there are many more legal alternatives, both natural and synthetic.

These abhorrent practises are no longer necessary.  And, quite frankly, the process of bear farming should never have been allowed Asiatic black bear in crush cage 3to flourish in the first place.

Bears are kept on farms in Asia in small ‘crush cages’ for, in most cases, the duration of their lifetime.  These crush cages measure between two and a half to four and a half feet by six and a half feet (coincidentally, just about the same size as the bear).  They are designed to restrict as much of the bear’s movement as possible, in order to make bile extraction easy.

A permanent hole is drilled into the abdomens and gall bladders of the bears and a crude catheter inserted to extract the bile.  Most are forced to wear ‘metal jackets’, to further restrict mobility and to hold in place a box place containing the catheter and a plastic bag to collect the bile.  These jackets are never removed.  The sheer brutality of this beggars belief.

This is the beginning of a long, drawn-out and painful death.  Before reaching the point of death, bears suffer loss of muscular control from the inability to move their arms and legs, they often chew off their own limbs in an attempt to ease the pain and escape their tormentors and cramped housing.  They develop arthritis and lose their teeth.  The gall bladders and open wounds become infected, adding to the already drawn-out, excruciating pain and physical and emotional suffering.  Many are already injured when they arrive at the farms having been severely harmed by the traps laid to capture them. Little or no medical help is given.

The United States black market works with the Asian Bear Bile Market, to sell gall bladders from American black, brown, grizzly, and polar bear populations. [1] 

Asiatic Black Bear, Himalayan Black Bear 2Asian black bears have shaggy black coats with a pale crescent-shaped mark on the chest.  They are stocky with round heads and large ears. They have a collar of longer hair around the neck.  Females can weigh up to two hundred and seventy-five pounds and males four hundred and forty pounds.  Head to tail, they measure between four and six feet.

Asiatic black bears are nocturnal in most, but not all, regions.  Some spend their days asleep in caves and trees hollows and look for food at night.  In a few areas, there are others known to be active during the day.  In the northern regions, the species hibernates, whereas further south, where it is much warmer, this in not thought to be the case, and they are presumed active all the year round.

They live in family groups, which may contain two litters of different ages at the same time.  Comically, when walking, the family will process, with the largest leading and the smallest bringing up the rear.

They are good tree and rock climbers.  They also have a curious habitat of building open nests of twigs and leaves in nut-bearing trees, to sit on whilst feeding.

Sadly, these bears are also known to be aggressive towards humans and many unprovoked attacks have been reported.  Who knows!  Perhaps word is out in the bear community about the way in which some of the human species behave around bears.

Not much is known about the breeding habits of this species in the wild.  However, it is thought the breeding season takes placeAsiatic black bear cub between June and July.  Cubs are usually born in December or January.  Litters consist of either one or two cubs. These are weaned at six months and will remain with the mother until they are two or three years old.

This is the first time I have truly struggled to write a post about any vulnerable or endangered species. Though most stories are heart-breaking, this one is almost unbearable.  Man’s callousness and cruelty to animals is far from acceptable at any time, but the treatment of these poor bears is possibly the most inhumane I have ever come across.  Prolonged and sustained torture, often lasting decades, without a single drop of compassion or remorse on the part of the captors or financial beneficiaries. And, certainly not from those who keep the demand going by mindlessly purchasing the end products in the name of better health.  There is no possible explanation for any of this abhorrent behaviour.  These people clearly lack the basic criteria required to qualify as decent human beings.  Their actions are morally degenerate.  To continue to do this year after year without any consideration for these poor innocent creatures and the unforgivable pain and suffering they are causing to them, is simply not acceptable.  There are no viable excuses.  These are living, breathing, feeling animals.  Their exploiters are wired to understand suffering, therefore cannot fail to know this is wrong.  The International community needs to give a much louder voice to this atrocious practise.  Please find it in your hearts to sign this petition, or one of the many others available on the web.
Stop Torturing Bears: End Bear Bile Farming In China

Forested hill and mountain areas and tropical forests below alpine levels.
Widespread throughout southern Asia;  including Myanmar and Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the  Russian Federation, north-eastern China, Thailand and the Japanese islands of Honshu and Shikoku. 

What they eat
Vegetation: shoots, forbs and leaves.  Berries, insects and shrub-borne fruits. They will also eat meat, either killed or scavenged.

Habitat loss due to illegal logging, encroachment of human settlements, road networks, and hydro-power stations are all significant threats.  But, the most inhumane threats to the Asiatic black bear are those of bile extraction, trade in gall bladders, paws and skins (Traditional Asian Medicine), and capture and resale for bear-baiting.  Bear baiting was declared illegal in 2001, but it still continues.  In most counties the bear inhabits, bear bile farming is also illegal. However, the bulk of officials turn a blind eye to these atrocities.  In Cambodia, bear-paw soup is relished as a delicacy.
Status: Vulnerable
The Asiatic black bear  (Ursus thibetanus)  is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Vulnerable.  This means high risk of endangerment in the wild.
Chinese officials had first pledged to reduce the number of captive bears to 1,500 from 7,000.  This pledge was not honoured and currently there are thought to be at least twenty thousand bears held captive on almost one hundred domestic bear farms.  This excessively cruel practise needs to be stopped and pressure brought to bear upon the appropriate morally bankrupt authorities to uphold their pledges.  The full force of International law needs to be enacted to its limits, lest this vile treatment of these poor animals continues indefinitely.

Warning:  The articles listed below all contain graphic and upsetting material.  There is, however, a very heart-warming and moving video on the first link – very well worth watching.

Related Articles
Oliver The Broken Bear, Free After 30 Years in a Bear Bile Farm in China 
Asian bear farming: breaking the cycle of exploitation
Folk Remedy Extracted From Captive Bears Stirs Furore in China
Mother Bear Kills Cub and Herself on Chinese Bile Farm
A Day in the Life of a Farmed Bear in China Through a Bear’s Eyes
Bear bile extraction techniques

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 56 – The Cat Ba Langur

New image for FFA 56 Cat Langur

Image courtesy of the Cat Ba Langur Conservation Project. This image is taken from their poster currently being displayed throughout Vietnam – Photographer Jörg Adler

Animals lose their habitat for a variety of reasons.  Slash and burn agriculture is one of the biggest culprits, followed closely by illegal logging and illegal plantation building. But Bonsai trees!  Who would have thought a species would succumb to someone stealing the trees from their protected park to make little potted things.  But, it is big business at the moment.  With hunting  (the main reason for the decline of the Cat Ba langur) no longer a worthwhile pastime, the locals are finding other ways to plunder the forests for profit.  And yet again, it is at the expense of the wildlife.

The common Ficus benjamica  ( fig – Cat Ba langur love figs)  can sell for more than one thousand US dollars as a Bonsai item.  But, that is absolute peanuts compared to some rewards.  One particular ‘harvester’ was reported to have said ‘some of his trees, which were about one hundred and fifty years old, sold for as much as three hundred and fifty thousand US dollars each’.  Wow!  Quite an incentive there for the unscrupulous!

Unfortunately, they are pillaging more than anyone’s fair share and the forest park is suffering.  Some of the trees are decades old, and are gone in hours.  Furthermore, it has become increasingly difficult to catch the perpetrators.

And, to make things a little worse;  in 2012, two lonely female Cat Ba were transferred from the limestone cliffs of Dong Cong  (where they had been stranded since the year 2000)  to the safety of Cat Ba Island.  Whilst high on the cliffs, locals cleared part of the mangrove forests below to create shrimp farms.  The trees had been used as a bridge by the langur.  The two females were unable to leave the cliffs for the next twelve years.  At times, the odds seem to be quite stacked against this species.

The Cat Ba langur is now one of the rarest primates on the planet.   And, it is one of the most endearing.  Its coat is dark brown, with bright to pale yellow on the head, shoulders and rump.  The long hair at the back falls across the shoulders like a cape.  Babies are born with bright orange hair, which will start to change at about four months of age.  Males and females are similar in appearance.  They have very long tails which well exceed the length of  body.  Their bodies grow to twenty four inches in length  (tails thirty-three inches)  and they can weigh up to twenty kilos.  They have long thin hands and feet, and reduced thumbs.  They have large salivary glands and complex sacculated stomachs, helping to break down plant material.

Known to be sociable, they live in groups of up to five to nine animals.  They are diurnal and sleep together in caves, tending to have many different caves at a time.  Every few nights, they leave one and move to another.  Groups establish their own territory and are defended by the dominant male.  Groups usually consist of one dominant male, some females and their offspring.  They are known to live up to twenty-five years.
Births normally occur in April.  Females birth every two to three years.  One single baby will be born.  Sadly, little else is known of the reproductive biology of the Cat Ba langur.

Karst limestone forest.
Cat Ba Island, Vietnam.
What they eat
Mainly folivorous, but they also eat flowers, fresh shoots, bark, and sometimes fruit.
Habitat loss is currently the greatest contributor to their declining numbers.  Hunting for sport and poaching for traditional medicine (monkey-balm) has been very popular in the past, but has now all but ceased.  They have not been hunted often for food either,  as their meat is said to smell very bad.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Cat Ba langur is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Critically Endangered.   A dramatic decline in numbers occurred, taking the population from two thousand eight hundred individuals in the 1960s to an alarming fifty-three individuals in the year 2000.  At this point, and at the behest of the Vietnamese authorities, an exceptional programme  (the Cat Ba Langur Conservation Project)  was put together by the Münster Zoo and the Zoological Society for the Conservation of Species and Populations to protect these langur and their habitat.   [1]   And the good news is,  it is now finally working.   The Cat Ba Langur population is stabilised at around the sixty mark, and educational programmes, amongst other provisions, have led to local villages and schools helping to protect and save a species they once were responsible for pushing towards the brink of extinction. A further program, the Forest Protection Clubs, was established in 2007.  The species still remains critical, but there is now hope for its survival.

“When the Earth is sick, the animals will begin to disappear, when that happens, The Warriors of the Rainbow will come to save them.”
Chief Seattle

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 41 – The Hainan Gibbon

Hainan gibbon swinging through the trees

Source: Unknown

The Hainan gibbon is one of the rarest monkeys in the world, possibly on the brink of extinction.  There are only twenty-six left in existence;  including three babies born this year.  And, all of these are all living within the confines of the Bawangling National Nature Reserve on the tropical island of Hainan in the South China Sea.

These delightful apes are sexually dimorphic.  Mature males are almost totally black, with occasional pale cheeks, and mature females are a pale golden colour with odd dark patches on the body and a black crest on the head.  Both have long arms and legs and no tail.

They swing through the trees using a movement known as brachiation;  something gibbons seem far more skilled at than any other species.  They swing hand over hand, carrying their long, slender bodies forward.  With their powerful muscles and supple joints, they do the job rather well.  When on the ground, they possess the ability to walk upright.

Moreover, gibbons are extremely well-known for their singing.  A throat sac below the chin allows them to issue a  series of notes in rapid succession.  Their truly enchanting voices not only allow for bonding and mating, but primatologists are able to locate and track these agile monkeys as they travel at speeds of up to fifty-five miles per hour through the branches.

Notwithstanding their numbers have recently been increased with the birth of the three babies, twenty-six is not a big number.  Were the Hainan gibbon to become extinct, it would be the first known ape to do for 12,000 years.  It would be a terrible shame to lose these beautiful primates simply because of man’s greed and neglect.

Tropical rainforest, tropical lowland and hillside rainforest
Bawangling National Nature Reserve, Hainan Island, China.
What they eat
Sugary fruit such as figs, leaves, flowers and insects
Severe loss of habitat due to illegal logging, illegal plantations, illegal and legal pulp paper plantations.  Water levels have been depleted in some areas because of the moisture needed for pulp trees.   As a result, the habitat of the Hainan gibbon has suffered greatly. The rainforests in Hainan have disappeared at an alarming rate over the past decade and reforestation has not been practised in the concerned areas.
Status: Critically Endangered
Listed as Critically Endangered on the  IUCN Red List of Endangered Species,  this species is also listed on CITES Appendix 1.  There are no recorded Hainan gibbons in any other parts of the world, and none are known to be kept in captivity.  Greenpeace has called upon the Hainan government to uphold their laws relating to the protection of the Hainan gibbon  (Nomascus hainanus)  and its habitat.  The species has already lost more than 99% of its original habitat.
This species has had international legal protection since 2003, and been a Class I Nationally Protected Species under the Chinese Wildlife Protection Law since 1989. Bawangling National Nature Reserve was established in 1980 and expanded in 2003. [1]

“Destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal”
Edward O. Wilson

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 38 – The Bengal Tiger

Bengal tiger

Photography by Nikolay Tonev

One of the most persecuted creatures on the planet,  the Bengal tiger is also one of the most beautiful.  But greed and misguided myths are pushing the species to the brink of extinction.  Notwithstanding, it is still the most numerous tiger sub-species.

The Bengal tiger is a powerful killing machine.  One reported kill demonstrated this power when a Bengal took down, killed and dragged away a gaur  –  the largest living bovine.  These beasts weigh over a ton, so that’s quite some feat.  Bengals, like other tigers, hunt at night, killing their prey by severing the spinal cord, via a bite to the nape of the neck, or suffocating the prey by a bite to the throat.  Death is usually quick and painless.  Once dead, the prey is dragged to cover for consumption.  Tigers can gorge their way through sixty pounds of meat in one go.  If any is left, they cover the kill and save it for later.  Not known for their efficiency in hunting, they need to get as much down as possible before the next meal, which may elude them for several days.  They also have the longest canine teeth of any extant big cat, three to four inches.

They are swift runners, excellent swimmers, hugely successful climbers and can leap great distances of over thirty feet.  Like domestic cats, they purr.  Purring can either denote happiness or pain.  Their almighty roar can be heard over a distance of two miles, allowing for communication with other tigers.

The largest of all living cats, there is no doubt these animals are a considerable size.  The male of the species can grow to ten feet in length and weigh up to six hundred and fifty pounds.  The females are slightly smaller and less heavy.  The unique appearance makes the tiger instantly recognisable. It has an orange coat with black stripes (no two have exactly the same stripes) and white patches on the face and neck with a white underside.

There is no specific mating season for tigers, it’s an all year round event, but November to April seems quite popular. The gestation period is one hundred and three days, after which a litter of up to six cubs are born.  Sadly, there is a very high mortality rate within the first year of their lives.  Those that do make it will stay with their mothers until they are about eighteen months old.

Both tropical and subtropical rainforests, deciduous forests and scrub forests, alluvial grasslands and mangroves.
Most are found in India with lesser populations in Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, China and Myanmar.
What they eat
Larger prey such as deer and wild cattle, and smaller hoofed prey including antelope, wild pigs and boar.  Though not strictly part of their natural diet, they have also been known to eat humans.
Poaching:  The tiger has been slaughtered for centuries because, according to the tenets of Chinese medicine, their bones and other parts have extensive healing properties.  As a result they are in high demand.  Skins are traded on the black market and fetch a considerable amount, as do the body parts.   Habitat loss due to illegal logging and plantations building is also playing a large part in their dwindling numbers.  Human/tiger conflict arises frequently.
Status: Endangered

The Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered, and on  Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora  (CITES).   In the 1970s game reserves were created.  These worked well for a short period of time and numbers became more stable. But, the potential profit involved in poaching is so great, it took hold once more, putting the Bengal at risk again.  Unless extensive and robust support is put in place, this species will no longer survive in the wild.   The World Bank is currently, amongst others, addressing this and making a significant contribution to the future of tigers in general.

“The first law of ecology is that everything is related to everything else”
Barry Commoner

Recommended reading:   As Tigers Near Extinction, a Last-ditch Strategy Emerges

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 27 – The Chinese Pangolin

Chinese Pangolin

Photo: Jason Chin

Conservationists fear these endearing,  armour-plated little  ‘scaly anteaters’  may be overlooked because they are not quite as cute as some of the animals on the list.  But,  I think they are adorable  –  Just my opinion, of course!  

I also love the way they curl up into a ball when asleep or threatened.  In fact,  their name, pangolin,  comes from the Malay word, pen gguling,  meaning “something that rolls up”.

Their bodies are covered in scales;  only the underside,  face and throat are left exposed. Once a means of protection,  these scales are now causing the rapid decline in numbers of this amazing animal.

Another great feature is their prehensile tails which they can wrap around branches and hang upside-down with,  like monkeys.  They have thin,  sticky tongues,  longer than their bodies,  which they use to gouge out termites.  In fact,  these wonderful animals are highly adapted to their environment.

On the down side,  they are slow movers,  short-sighted,  hard of hearing,  have small heads and narrow mouths.  And,  to cap it all,  they have no teeth.  But,  they do have a great sense of smell.  In the absence of teeth,  the food is ground up in their stomachs with the help of the grit,  sand and tiny stones the pangolin eats.   Because of the very long claws on their front feet, they are often seen walking upright.   They can even swim and climb trees.  Aren’t they phenomenal!

Subtropical, tropical, deciduous, evergreen and bamboo forests; grasslands and agricultural land.
Provinces of China south of the Yangtze river, Taiwan, Hong Kong, northern India, Vietnam, Nepal, Bangladesh and the Lao PDR.
What they eat
Ants and termites
The major threat to these animals is human consumption.  The facts are truly shocking.  They are being hunted and killed  in astonishing numbers.  Somewhere between 90 and 180 thousand have been slaughtered for the Chinese market in the past four years.   Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in most parts of China  –  unbelievably,  even the foetus is consumed.  The scales,  which are made of keratin,  are sold for medicinal purposes.  The supposed cures they bring about beggar belief (cancer, weight loss and enhanced lactation in breast-feeding, are just a few).  Large cats,  such as tigers and leopards,  have also been known to prey upon them,  but,  somehow,  this seems to pale into insignificance compared to the devastation being wreaked upon the species by humans.
Status: Endangered

The Chinese Pangolin  (Manis pentadactyla)  is being eaten into extinction.  These incredible creatures now need all the help they can get from us  (ironic considering we are their greatest predator!).  The species has now been listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Endangered.  In 2012 the IUCN created the Pangolin Specialist Group to  “collaborate researchers and conservationists in developing techniques of conserving pangolin and directly combating the illegal trade”.  This seems to be the only way forward.

“We should remember in our dealings with animals that they are a sacred trust to us…they cannot speak for themselves.”
Harriet Beecher Stowe

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species 14 – The Amur Leopard

Amur leopard 3

Taken by photographer Ben Williams,

The nocturnal and solitary Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) is one of the most beautiful creatures on the planet – well…perhaps that’s just my opinion – but this magnificent, ecologically important predator has been on the IUCN Red List as critically endangered since 1996. Shockingly, there are only 35 Amur leopards left in the wild.
They are fast and very nimble. They can reach speeds of up to 37 miles per hour and leap more than 19 feet horizontally and 10 feet vertically. And, not ones to share, they are very deft at hiding their prey up in the tress, away from other predators.
They breed in spring and early summer and produce litters of up to four cubs which are weaned at three months. They stay with their mothers until they are approaching two years of age.

Temperate forests
20-25 remain in  Russian and 7-12 in China
What they eat
Deer, wild boar, badger, raccoon dogs and hare.
Desultory logging, land conversion , forest fires and poaching. 
Status: Critically endangered
If these forest areas can be protected from unsustainable logging, rampant forest fires can be controlled and poaching brought under control, there is a chance the Amur leopard could be saved from extinction.

“Each species on our planet plays a role in the healthy functioning of natural ecosystems, on which humans depend”   William H. Schlesinger