Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species 23 – The Cebu Flowerpecker

Cebu flowerpecker

Painting by Tomasz Cofta, from his portfolio of “The World’s Rarest Birds”

The image I have used here is a painting by the very talented artist  Tomasz Cofta  from his portfolio of  ”The World’s Rarest Birds”  which covers  ”all the species for which publishable photos could not be obtained”.   So rare is the Cebu flowerpecker,  there are no known photographs in circulation,  and it has been said that none exist.

In 2009,  the Cebu flowerpecker became the world’s icon for biodiversity,  chosen before countries such as Indonesia and Brazil,  due its IUCN listing and the fact that Cebu had practically lost all its biodiversity.

Early in the 20th century,  it was thought to be extinct  until it was surprisingly spotted again in 1992.  This discovery brought out the world’s twitchers,  none of which managed to obtain a photograph.  Since then,  no more than four have ever been seen together.

As its scientific name  (Dicaeum quadricolor)  suggests,  it is a bird of four colours.  Its head and wings are bluish black,  its underside is white,  it has a red patch on its back and a green rump.  The species is thought to breed between February and August.   After that,  very little else is known about this elusive little passerine.

Native forests and selectively logged forests which occur close to patches of native vegetation.
The island of Cebu in the Philippines.
What they eat
Mistletoe-like plants,  small ripe figs,  insects,  flower nectar,  berries and  spiders.
The notorious deforestation of Cebu since the 1890s has led to catastrophic forest clearance  (including habitat clearance for mining),  human settlement,  illegal logging, charcoal making and road construction.   It is also thought to fall prey to the bullying red-striped flowerpecker  (Dicaeum australe)  due to competition over available habitat.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Cebu flowerpecker is listed on the  IUCN Red List   as critically endangered.  Their numbers are thought to be fewer than 100.   Much is being done to try and alter this fact and conservation initiatives have been put into action.    These include; controlling encroachment by appointing rangers to patrol the appropriate areas,   expanded tree planting to increase forest acreage and  awareness being raised within the local community.   Various research projects into the ecology of the species have also being undertaken.

“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another”
Mahatma Gandhi


Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species 21 – Silky Sifaka

Safika family

Photo: Jeff Gibbs

Unlike other primates on the island, the silky sifaka is not afforded the protection of a taboo forbidding it from being hunted for meat.   Many Malagasy view wild lemur meat as a delicacy.  Ironic really, considering this particular lemur is one of the rarest and most critically endangered of all.

The name sifaka is derived from the sound they make when calling each other  –  a hiss-like “shee fak”.   They are also nick-named  “ghosts of the forest”  or  “angels of the forest” because of their distinctive and very beautiful silky fur,  and the way in which they leap so quickly,  30 feet at a time,  through the trees;  there one minute  –  gone the next!  
They travel using a form of locomotion known as  “vertical clinging and leaping”  and on the ground they move with bipedal sideways hopping movements.

Silky sifakas are diurnal and mate only one day a year,  during the start of the rainy season.   Troup members of varying ages and both sexes play with,  occasionally carry, groom and often nurse each other’s infants.   Baby sifakas attach to the front of the mother for three to four weeks, after which they climb onto her back.  The sifaka’s cycle of reproduction makes for slow progress in increasing their numbers, and may affect the future survival of the species.  The gestation period is six months and they normally give birth to only one tiny baby every two years.

The estimated wild population figures,  which are very wide-ranging,  are between 100 and 1000.   Possibly due to their folivorous diet,  they have never been able to survive in captivity,  so there is not much hope for a captive breeding program.

Tropical,  moist forest located up to 1800 metres above sea level.
The mountains of north-eastern Madagascar
What they eat
Leaves,  fruit and seed form most of their diet,  with a small amount of flowers,  bark and soil thrown in.
Man is the greatest threat  –  what a surprise!    Illegal logging,  slash-and-burn agriculture  and hunting for meat have all contributed to the sifaka’s dilemma.   The fossa (cryptoprocta ferox) has also been known to prey on them.
Status: Critically Endangered
The silky sifaka  (propithecus candidus)  is classified as Critically Endangered by the  IUCN and is on its  ‘Top 25 Most Endangered Primates’  list.  It is hoped the work of Erik Patel,  whose mission with Simpona is “to protect and research silky sifakas and their habitat while engaging local communities as partners”,  as well as other agencies involved in Madagascar,  will aid the recovery of the species.

“We share this planet with many species.  It is our responsibility to protect them,  both for their sakes and our own”
Pamela A. Matson


The Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species 20 – The Pygmy Three-toed Sloth

Smiling three-toed pygmy sloth Description
Surprisingly, sloth are exceptionally good swimmers.  They have been known to drop straight out of the trees into the water and move smoothly along using their outstretched limbs.  They are as much at home in the water as they are in the trees. Whereas, with their long claws, which are perfectly adapted to an arboreal life, on the ground they are disadvantaged and vulnerable to predators. 

Also known as a monk sloth or dwarf sloth, they possess an extraordinary ability to turn their heads 270 degrees, and it’s all down to one extra neck vertebrae.  The irony being, even though they may have this advantage, they are far too slow for it to benefit them in the case of predators.  In fact, they are so slow, algae grows on their fur (which is why they often appear to be green).  They are thought to have some sort of symbiotic relationship with the algae, which provides some nutrients and camouflage to the sloth, whilst the algae obtain shelter and water.

Sometimes referred to as the  ‘ai’  because of their high-pitched call, they are small, with blotchy, grey/brown fur, tannish faces and a dark forehead band.  Often, they have long hair draped over their faces.  They have also inhabited the planet for over 3.5 million years.

They spend most of their time hanging upside-down in the trees, clinging on with their powerful claws.  Which is also where they mate and give birth while still hanging upended from the branches.

Oh yes!  And, October 20th is International Sloth Day

Coastal red mangrove forests
Found only on the Isla Escudo de Veraguas;  a small island (about 5 square kilometres) off the coast of Panama
What they eat
Red mangrove leaves and cecropia leaves
Habitat destruction, increasing tourism and illegal hunting
Status: Critically endangered
With less than 500 left in the wild, and decreasing, they have been  listed by the IUCN as a critically endangered species.   Isla Escudo de Veraguas is a protected wildlife refuge within the Comarca Indigenous Reserve.  However, law enforcement is lax and visiting fisherman freely poach them.  Their coastal mangrove location coupled with their speed makes them an easy target.  Steps are being taken by the various agencies involved to change this situation.

“If we kill off the wild, then we are killing a part of our souls.”
Jane Goodall

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species 17 – The Iberian Lynx

Iberian lynxDescription
These beautiful, and sometimes quite comical-looking, creatures may well be on the verge of extinction – a sad indictment of the world we live in. Their other claim to fame is that they are a single prey species.
Also known as the Spanish lynx or Pardel lynx, their most distinguishing feature is their ‘beard’, which I think can make them look quite scary. They have tufted ears and large wide feet thickly covered with fur, long legs and a short tail.
They are nocturnal during the summer months, but in winter they can be seen hunting throughout the day.
Litters are born between March and April with usually three kits to a litter, but unfortunately a high mortality rate exists and few reach maturity.

Woodland and open scrubland
The Iberian Peninsula
What they eat
Rabbit (they are a single prey species), but they will supplement the rabbit with small game birds, ducks and young deer, if needs must.
Loss of habitat due to land conversion, decline in rabbit numbers, illegal hunting and accidental death (traps set for smaller animals, poisoning and road accidents)
Status: Critically Endangered
The Iberian lynx (lynx pardinus) is the world’s most endangered wild cat species. In 2008, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) stated that “Current numbers are not sufficient for the survival of the species in the long term”, showing the Iberian Lynx to be on the verge of extinction. Should this become a reality, it will be the first wild cat to achieve this status for almost 2,000 years. What a very sad thought!

“If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to the man. All things are connected”
Chief Seattle

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species 16 – The Javan Rhinoceros

Javan rhinocerosDescription
Prehistoric-looking, short-sighted and unbelievably shy, these astonishing beasts can run up to 30 miles per hour.  Needless to say, a charging rhino is best avoided.

As large animals go, the Javan rhino is possibly the rarest, and considered one of the most endangered, species on earth.  Only fifty remain in the world – quite alarming since they have been around for 50 million years.

50 million years!!   As with other endangered species, it begs the question; how has man managed to do so much damage in such a relatively short period of time?

Fascinatingly, no Javan rhinos whatsoever are kept in captivity, and the few that are left in the wild can all be located on the same Indonesian island.

The Javan is distinguished by its one small horn and often the majority of females have no horn at all.   Their skins have a dull greyish hue and they are smaller than other rhinos with less apparent folds of skin.

Though babies stay with their mothers for months, sometimes even years, adult Javan rhinos are usually solitary; but, when grouped together, they are known as a ‘crash of rhinos’. Who would have thought!

And, don’t be fooled! Even with all that armour plating, a rhino’s skin is not as tough as it looks.  Insects can and do bite them and they do get burnt by the sun.

Tropical rainforests

Western Java, Indonesia

What they eat
Fallen fruit, plants, shoots and twigs – of which they manage to munch their way through fifty kilograms per day.

The usual suspects: hunting & poaching (Chinese medicine), habitat loss and degradation. Lack of genetic diversity is a large contributor to the Javan rhino’s decline as well, as there are so few rhinos left; new mates are hard to find and those remaining are often related.

Status: Critically Endangered
Virtually all Javan rhino populations have disappeared over the last 150 years.  Those that remain on the island of Java are listed by the IUCN as critically endangered and unless something is done fairly soon, the Javan rhinoceros will probably be extinct within the next decade.  All the appropriate agencies are currently working to change this deplorable situation in an attempt to provide a future for these noble animals.

“Once species become extinct, no corrective legislation can bring them back—they are gone forever”
Allen M. Solomon

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species 15 – The Sumatran Orangutan

Sumatran orangutan and baby Description
More intelligent than a lot of people I am sure many of us will have met, these endearing great apes are our closest living relatives, sharing 97% of our DNA.
They are nearly exclusively arboreal.  Females hardly ever alight on the ground and males only very occasionally.
Compared to their Bornean cousins, Sumatrans are fewer in numbers and have longer faces, and lighter and longer hair.
Their life expectancy is 58 years for males and 53 years for females. They breed on average every seven to eight years.
Highly intelligent, they are able to use basic tools, make umbrellas out of leaves (orangutans don’t like getting wet), and have the capacity to remember things; such as favourite feeding grounds, which they will return to each season.
The name orangutan is derived from the Malay and Indonesian words orang (person) and hutan (forest), translating to ‘person of the forest’.

Lowland tropical rainforests and swamps
Sumatra, Indonesia
What they eat
Orangutans are omnivores: they eat fruits, leaves, bird’s eggs, insects and small vertebrates.
The palm oil industry, forest fires, habitat loss, illegal hunting for meat and illegal capture for the pet trade.
Status: Critically endangered

In the year 2000, the Sumatran orangutan was listed as critically endangered on the IUCN red list.  Other experts believe orangutans could be extinct in the wild in less than 25 years.

“The continued existence of wildlife and wilderness is important to the quality of life of humans.”
Jim Fowler  

Fast Fact Attack – Endangered Species 13: The Western Lowland Gorilla

Western lowland gorilla

Every night, western lowland gorillas build a fresh, leafy nest in which they snuggle down and sleep for about 13 hours. When not sleeping, they are either seeking food or eating it. As gorillas go, they are smaller than their mountain cousins and have shorter hair and longer arms. Despite their huge canine teeth and notably powerful limbs, western lowlands are rarely aggressive. In fact, they are quite gentle. They live in groups led by a dominant ‘silverback’ male. Females give birth after an eight to nine month gestation period, their newborns being surprisingly tiny and weighing in at only about four pounds. The babies learn to crawl at two months and can walk before they are nine months. They ride on their mothers’ backs for the first two or three years of their lives. Gorillas, sadly, have a high infant mortality rate; only half the infants reach maturity. 
Lowland tropical forests and swamp forests
West and Central Africa
What they eat
Fruit, leaves, shoots, vines and other such vegetation, and bark; with the occasional termite thrown in for good measure
Major concerns are the Ebola virus, commercial hunting and hunting by locals for bushmeat.  Habitat destruction is becoming another large factor.
Status: Critically Endangered
Due to such a dramatic decline in numbers (60% over the last 20 to 25 years), attributed mainly to poaching and disease, scientists estimate it will take up to 75 years to fully re-establish the population.

“The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of humanity.” George Bernard Shaw