This video speaks for itself!
This video speaks for itself!
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On the 12th and 13th February, 2014, forty-six countries participated in the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade 2014. The result was a signed declaration to tackle the illegal wildlife trade that is annually killing many thousands of elephant, rhino and other endangered species.
For those who have yet to see it – click here for the London declaration
I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions!
Last week’s release of population numbers for Mexican gray wolves was disappointing, but this week there is something really atrocious to yowl about. The Arizona Senate Government and Environment Committee approved three measures that, quite literally, place a target on lobos, and could devastate future recovery efforts. This imperiled population of only 83 wolves now face a triple threat from local legislators including: a proposed bill from Senator Gail Griffin that would allow Arizonans to trap and kill Mexican gray wolves despite federal law; a second bill that appropriates $250,000 in state money to fund state litigation to block federal recovery efforts; and finally, a resolution from Griffin that derails recovery by shifting management control to the state in order to halt reintroduction efforts. This action was aptly described in a recent Arizona Republiceditorial: “Lobos remain perilously close to extinction’s cliff, and Arizona’s Legislature is poised to give them a shove over the edge.
Read more here at Defenders of Wildlife
Hopefully, they will also consider reviewing their own ‘sporting’ activities, which involve killing a great deal of ‘non-endangered’ wildlife.
“The awful wrongs and sufferings forced upon the innocent, faithful animal race form the blackest chapter in the whole world’s history”
Edward Augustus Freeman
Often called the ‘vampire deer’ because it has fangs (tusks) instead of horns, or the ‘kangaroo deer’ because of its kangaroo-like face (though I think it looks more like a llama head on), the Siberian musk deer is an undeniably interesting ungulate. But, have you ever wondered where that equally interesting, and powerful, musk smell comes from in perfumes and soap? Or how it is produced, and how many lives are taken to render even the smallest amount of this strongly aromatic substance.
For over five thousand years, the male Siberian musk deer has secreted musk for the benefit of man’s vanity and ailments. The musk has been highly prized for use in the production of both perfumes and traditional medicines. The Chinese Journal of Medicine is actively encouraging an end to the use of endangered animals in Traditional East Asian Medicine, but the problem continues and trade is as brisk as ever. Currently, there are over four hundred patented Traditional medicines using musk as an ingredient. This accounts for more than ninety per cent of the entire musk market.
The perfume trade has also changed tack, albeit by way of a ban on importation imposed by the European Union In 1999. The majority of perfumiers have now switched to synthetic alternatives. Others, however, still use the real thing. Though today, natural musk used in perfumes makes up a much smaller percentage of the market. Nevertheless, a lot of animals are still killed for this.
Musk is the powdery active ingredient inside the musk pod, which the male musk deer secretes from its preputial gland. This musk is highly prized and is still probably one of the most expensive raw materials on earth. It can sell for anything from $8,000 per kilogram to a past recorded $45,000 on the Black Market. Another disturbing factor is the number of deer slaughtered per kilogram. Only tens of grams can be taken from one animal, and for every kilogram harvested, over one hundred and sixty animals must die. Add to that the number which are killed incidentally and it is not hard to see why the species is declining so dramatically. Age and sex are immaterial to hunters setting snares, and three to five musk deer are killed for every male with a musk pod. This carnage includes females, which are crucial to the regeneration of the species.
Siberian musk deer are also bred in captivity at musk deer farms, especially in Russia and China. Farming was introduced as a method of obtaining musk without killing the deer. Alas, this method has not proved entirely successful. The quality and quantity of musk produced is way below par. Hunting in the wild, the more cost-effective method, continues for the purer musk.
The most striking characteristics of the Siberian musk deer are its pair of prominent, tusk-like canine teeth. These are grown by the male and used for displays, rather like antlers in most other deer. They continue to grow throughout the deer’s life. The deer itself is small in stature and reaches a height of only twenty-six inches at best, with a body length of roughly forty inches. Weighing in at up to thirty-eight pounds, it is much the same as an average four-year-old child.
Siberian musk deer have dense, long coats, keeping them warm in the cold weather. Bodies are mostly dark-brown in colour with a greyish head. The species has long hare-like ears, short, thin front legs and powerful, long hind legs, with a stubby tail which can hardly be seen. Long pointed hooves, which are broad at the base, give the deer more surface area to prevent them from sinking into snow-covered ground.
On the whole, Siberian musk deer are shy, solitary creatures. Both nocturnal and crepuscular, they spend their days resting in the undergrowth, safely tucked away from predators. If they are approached, they head for rocky terrain and out of reach crags. When unable to do this, they panic and run in circles. They are very fleet of foot when it comes to taking flight, but they do tire easily.
The breeding season for Siberian musk deer starts in December and normally lasts three to four weeks, but some females do not mate until March. At this time the musk is put to its proper use, that of attracting the female. Some females remain barren, but for those who do conceive, a gestation period of six months takes place, after which one fawn will normally be born. Two are rare.
Fawns are tiny and almost completely motionless for the first month. Fawning takes place in dense shrubs, under low branches or around fallen trees. Youngsters will be weaned at three to four months and will remain with their mothers for up to two years.
Siberian musk deer live for no more than fourteen years in the wild, but can live as long as twenty years in captivity.
Mountainous broadleaf, needle and dark coniferous forest (at under sixteen hundred meters) protect and feed them through the winter. In summer they tend to gravitate towards the lusher valleys below, by then abundant in vegetation.
Mongolia, Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, China, and the Korean Peninsula
What they eat
Lichens constitute the bulk of the Siberian musk deer’s winter diet, supplemented with bark, leaves and pine needles. In summer they eat grasses, cereals and the leaves of indigenous fruit trees.
Illegal, unsustainable hunting for musk is the greatest threat to the musk deer. Only the male has the musk gland, but hunters do not discriminate when killing the species.
Habitat fragmentation and loss is also a threat. Illegal logging, mining, human disturbance and fires caused by humans, all contribute to the loss. Natural predators include the lynx, tiger, bear and wolverine.
The Siberian musk deer (Moschus moschiferus) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable (meaning the species is at high risk of endangerment in the wild). This species is also listed under CITES Appendix II.
The Siberian musk deer is protected throughout its range, although the level of protection shows room for improvement. It is also against the law to kill musk deer in all countries save Russia and Kazakhstan. In Russia it is prohibited in some areas and not in others, where a permit is required during the months of November and December. In Kazakhstan, little information about hunting is available but it is thought the population numbers, confined to the eastern most part, are very low.
Four Russian Officials Accused of Poaching a Rare Siberian Deer! (January 2014)
Russian Border Agents Seize Half Ton of Bear Paws Some of these packages contained body parts belonging to Siberian musk deer. (November 2013)
Russians May Face Death in China for Bear Paw Smuggling (June 2013)
Day 680 – BPAL’s Siberian Musk (November 2013)
5,500 Siberian Beavers to Be Culled (January 2014)
Big Cats Disappearing in Russia along with other species (August 2013)
“If one way be better than another, that you may be sure is Nature’s way”
Aristotle – Nichomachean Ethics
One significant fact to cherish about the numbat is its relationship to the now extinct thylacine  or Tasmanian tiger. They were cousins. You may remember “Benjamin” the very last thylacine, who died in Hobart Zoo in 1936 in deeply sad circumstances. Ironically, the numbat is the only living member of its own family of marsupials – the Myrmecobiidae family . So it will be quite something if Australia manages to hang on to it. And… they are trying. A lot of dedicated people are doing all they can to keep the numbat alive, and, in general, it is held in quite high regard. In 1973, the then Governor of Western Australia, His Excellency Major General Sir Douglas Anthony Kendrew, declared and authorised this unique and rapidly declining species as the faunal emblem of the State of Western Australia.
Perhaps, by way of apology!
Needless to say, these mammals are in danger of extinction in the wild because of man’s never-ending activities. Although these same activities began with the first European settlers, they have continued to this day. At one time, the numbat were widespread across Australia, but massive loss of habitat has left them confined to a few isolated pockets in Western Australia, where only two original populations still survive. Small numbers of the species have, however, been reintroduced there and in other areas as part of the significant conservation effort.
Agriculture, as usual, has done its bit, along with mining and humans building more and more settlements. Whereas the need for housing is not difficult to understand, after all we all need somewhere to live, if not for the expansion of farming and mining it wouldn’t have really been necessary to live within the range of the numbat and devour so much of its natural habitat. And… do we really need to cultivate every inch of land on the planet at the cost of its original inhabitants and the environment in general? The answer is a resounding NO.
Numbats, also know as banded anteaters, favour environments where termites are plentiful, which means a habitat that is neither too wet nor too cold, and has areas where the sun can penetrate and stir the termites into action so the numbats can feed on them. So their free choices of living areas are limited to start with. The hollow fallen trees they shelter and nest in are fast-disappearing with these developments, and their only prey with them.
Bush fires have also taken the lives of many of these little creatures, as they have others animals and humans occasionally, which is more sad than reprehensible. But these fires make light work of the hollow logs the numbats use as their homes, again leaving the species without food and shelter. The loss of these hollow shelters has also made the numbat more vulnerable to predators.
The need to introduce predators such as red foxes and cats has never been adequately explained either. Both these species prey on the poor little numbats and have had a devastating effect on the population.
Personally, I think these little animals are adorable, and with a name like numbat, who could possibly fail to be drawn to them and their plight.
Numbats are small animals with pointed heads, long faces and tiny ears. They have squirrel-like bushy tails and short legs. Small enough to be weighed in grams, they come in at between four and seven hundred of them. They can grow up to twelve inches in length, with a tail of about seven inches. The males are larger and heavier than the females. Coats vary from greyish-brown to darker shades of red on the shoulders and head. Numbats have a pale underside and a black stripe across the eyes. They also have very distinctive black and white banding on the back and rump showing a remarkable colour resemblance to their cousins, the lost Tasmanian tigers. Numbats have strong claws with five toes on the forefeet and four on the hind feet, and the ability to stand on their hind legs when feeling curious or threatened.
The species has some fascinating adaptations, too:
The long narrow snout is designed for finding the corridors termites travel along and the small holes in the ground they occupy. Numbats sense the presence of the termites they love so much by using olfactory perception.
They have a long thin tongue, which they like to keep ‘well-oiled’ with saliva to maintain its stickiness. This tongue is perfectly modified to retrieve the day’s newly discovered termites and enjoy a hearty meal. There are multiple ridges along the numbat’s soft palate to scrape the termites off the tongue .
And, they have a mouth full of non-functional teeth set in an under-developed jaw. There is little need for numbats to chew their food, so teeth are not an issue.
Numbats are strictly diurnal and one of the only two Australian marsupials to be so. The other is the musky rat-kangaroo. Their daylight activity is closely associated with that of its termite prey. Termites are out and about early in the day in the summer, before the sun gets too hot and they feel the need to take refuge from the heat in deeper soil. As the day cools, the termites reappear. In winter, termites tend to stay out of reach until mid to late morning when the soil starts to warm up, and will remain active until dusk arrives. These movements dictate the feeding and resting patterns of the numbats.
Numbats are mostly solitary animals, coming together only during mating. With the exception of a mother and her young, the species is rarely seen together. The mating season runs from December to January. After a gestation period of fourteen days, the mother will give birth to up to four babies. Numbats do not have a pouch and the babies will be kept warm by the long underside hairs of the mother. The babies will latch on to the mother’s teats, which in turn swell in their mouths preventing them from dropping off. The babies, born bind and hairless, will learn to cling whilst growing. Sweetly, the babies’ noses are flat allowing them to get close to their mothers and feed. When they are big enough to eat termites, their long noses will develop to accommodate that action, too. The rest of their first year will see them deposited in a nest, weaned, eating termites and gaining independence before going their own way at twelve months.
 Various sightings of thylacine have been reported over the past decades and it seems there is a vague possibility the species may be extant.
Eucalypt forests and woodlands
Western Australia | Scotia Sanctuary in New South Wales | Yookamura Sanctuary in South Australia
What they eat
Termites – Adults eat roughly twenty thousand termites a day (they do not eat ants despite their other name of banded anteater)
Feral cats and foxes; these are predators which have been introduced to the numbat’s natural habitat. Natural predators such as pythons, eagles and goshawks. Loss of habitat due to agricultural development, bushfires, mining and residential development.
The Numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered. It is also listed as a threatened species under Australian law. Numbers are low in the wild, but the species is being reintroduced, successfully boosting the numbat population and helping to combat the threat of extinction. Perth Zoo, the world’s only captive breeding centre for numbats, breeds and returns the animals back into the wild on an annual basis as part of its Native Species Breeding Program. Care is now also being taken to release the numbats into fox-free areas.
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