This video speaks for itself!
This video speaks for itself!
Sign the petition to save Aceh
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.
“Wild animals never kill for sport. Man is the only one to whom the torture and death of his fellow creatures is amusing in itself”
James A. Froude
Originally endemic to six of the Visayan Islands of the Philippines, the warty pig now only occupies two of them; Panay and Negros. It is extinct on the other four islands. The decline of the these wild pigs is almost entirely due to the activities of the local population. They have been hunting, eating and wearing the Visayan warty pigs for a very long time; and, as if that were not enough, have managed to destroy ninety-five per cent of the animal’s habitat. Retaliation attacks by farmers have also taken their toll on the population. With only five per cent of their original territory left, the pigs are now persecuted for crop raiding, in their hunt for food on what was originally their own home ground. Then, there are the local farmers who view the warty pigs as pests. They trap them in pits and use snares. In some areas explosives have been sunk into the ground, which have been activated by the rooting pigs. In general, there seems to have been a ‘by any means’ policy, which has almost wiped this species out in the wild. Not forgetting the poor old things are seen as objects of sport for ‘recreational hunting’ (who, in their infinite wisdom, coined that expression, is anyone’s guess!). In all, the lot of the Visayan warty pig has not been a very happy one.
As far as pigs go, the warty pig is relatively small, although the males are almost four times bigger than the females. At most, males reach a height of twenty-five inches at the shoulder, but can weigh up to one hundred and eighty pounds.
They have some fairly distinctive features, too. As their name suggests, facial warts are one on them. Surprisingly though, they are not large protuberances, but they are tough. These are thought to help protect the pigs’ faces when fighting, as any combat between wild pigs involves the use of tusks; the tusks being large canines which extend from the mouth. Leathery skin and matted hair across the shoulders are also thought to help protect the animals. The rest of their bodies are sparsely covered with bristles topped with reddish-brown to black hair on the crown.
Both male and female have a conspicuous white stripe which crosses the bridge of the nose (usually less apparent in females) which is another unique characteristic of the warty pigs. No other island pigs have this marking.
Visayan warty pigs live in family herds, known as ‘sounders’, each containing an average of four to six individuals. These sounders usually comprise a single adult male with females and youngsters of both sexes. Although this number is typical, larger sounders of up to twelve or more can also be found.
When threatened, boars raise their manes, rather like canids raising their hackles, giving themselves the appearance of being larger and more intimidating than they actually are. Though those tusks are quite scary on their own and perhaps best avoided. Despite this, these animals are not known to be particularly aggressive. In fact, these highly social creatures have been recorded as being friendly in captivity and, like most members of the pig family, they enjoy wallowing peacefully in mud.
The breeding season for Visayan warty pigs is January to March. Boars display unusual courting behaviour at this time and the spiky hair around the neck grows into a long floppy, very impressive mane, which falls over the face and obscures the eyes. This other stunning distinction usually wins the sows over instantly. The mane is shed after the breeding season is over.
Following successful pairings there is gestation period of one hundred and eighteen days after which two to four piglets will be born. They are extremely protective of their young and will display aggression if anything poses a threat to the little ones. Females, who make nests in which to farrow, usually give birth overnight and are capable of producing a litter every eight to twelve months. The piglets will start on solids at the early age of one week but won’t be full weaned until they are six months old.
A final characteristic of note, which also enables identification of pure bred Visayan warty pigs, are the three mammary glands. Other island pigs all have four.
Piglets are pale-brown at birth and have four dark stripes running from head to tail. This colouration will slowly fade out over the next twelve months as the pervading hue of adulthood is reached.
Recognized as a separate species in 1993, Visayan warty pigs also play a vital role in seed dispersal of some of the more important species of plants within their range.
Nearly all (95%) of its natural lowland habitat has gone. The species now occupies degraded habitats wherever there is dense cover available; now mostly over two thousand six hundred feet.
Philippines – The islands of Negros and Panay.
What they eat
Earthworms, roots, tubers and forest fruits. Through necessity, they also eat agricultural crops.
Severe habitat loss due to logging and clearance for agriculture – notably slash-and-burn techniques. The species is also heavily hunted by locals for food and skins, and by non-local recreational hunters as a means of sport and meat. Farmers see them as pests and kill them. Domestic pigs have been responsible for transmitting disease to the Visayan warty pig and have also caused hybridisation in the wild populations.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Visayan warty pig (Sus cebifrons) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered. It is not afforded protection under CITES. The species is, however, fully protected by Philippine law. Sadly, due to lack of resources and other contributing factors, enforcement of the law has been very shaky.
There are various active conservation, captive breeding and support programs including:
The Visayan Warty Pig Conservation Programme
The Crocolandia Foundation
The Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation Inc.
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland
The Visayan warty pig is resident in various zoos across America and Europe.
Wee Little Piglets
RZSS celebrates the arrival of four Visayan warty piglets
Critical Habitat Establishment – A Conservation Strategy to Protect the Mountain Range of Central Panay
10 Things Mother Earth Wants You to Know About the Philippines
PIGS AT THE BUTCHER
“It’s a matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, something the best people have always done.”
Harriet Beecher Stowe
The name lemur is taken from the Latin word lemurēs. Lemurēs were “shades or spirits of the restless or malignant dead and haunters of the night”. Lemurs were probably so named because of their appearance and nocturnal habits.
Clearly this legend no longer protects this rare and critically endangered primate. The black and white ruffed lemur, being quite large, is now viewed more as a tangible, edible commodity than an elusive, mythical spectre. Sadly, its distinctive black and white markings, its size and its daylight activity, make it, as you would imagine, hard to miss when sitting in the trees; it is now heavily hunted. Black and white ruffed lemur meat is also expensive and much sought after.
But, there is an even broader threat to the existence of the black and white ruffed lemurs – extensive deforestation has left them with very little space to find food and shelter. Their forests have been cleared by slash-and-burn agriculture, logging and mining, greatly endangering the species.
With the capacity to produce up to six babies at a time, it would be quite reasonable to assume the species could replenish any losses quite quickly, but unfortunately there is a very high infant mortality rate. The mothers build special nests for their young whilst they await their arrival, well-hidden in trees and ten to twenty metres above the ground. Quite unique, but, sadly many babies fall from the nests and die before reaching a few weeks old, and only around thirty-five per cent survive longer than three months. The ones that do survive don’t have enough trees to live in or live off. They rely heavily upon fruit in their diet and the trees they favour are disappearing at an alarming rate.
Black and white lemurs are important pollinators. Though they may well be unaware of this, when feeding on the nectar of the traveller’s palm, they automatically transfer pollen between the flowers, thus ensuring the ongoing success of the palm trees.
These lemurs, together with the red ruffed lemurs, are one of the largest of all extant lemurs. Both male and female are the same in appearance and size, and can grow up to four feet in length and weigh up to ten or twelve pounds. They both have soft, thick fur with black and white markings, a ruff of long white fur around the ears and neck, and under the chin.
Black and white ruffed lemurs have thick, furry tails. These are longer than the body and are used for balance. They move through the trees and on the ground in quadrupedal fashion.
These adorable primates are arboreal and crepuscular (active mainly in the early morning and late afternoon). They normally live in groups consisting of two to five individuals (though larger groups do occur) and communicate using a range of raucous vocalisations, second only to the howler monkey in volume. The most used calls are predator alarm calls, locator calls and mating calls. Choruses can be heard throughout the day but are stepped up during periods of high activity, making these lemurs very easy to find. Lemurs also have an enlarged sensory organ to help read smells, pheromones, and other chemical signals.
A peculiar and comical trait of lemurs is their penchant for relaxing while facing the sun. The black and white ruffed lemur is no exception. Arms are usually outstretched as they soak up the sun, as if hoping for the perfect tan.
The females in the troop are the dominant members and can, as such, choose their own mates. They also get first dibs on the food. The black and white ruffed lemurs were thought to be monogamous and bond for life, but this has since been disputed. They are now thought to be polygamous.
Breeding is seasonal (between May and July) and the gestation period running up to the birth is normally three months. Prior to the birth, the females will build a nest for the imminent arrivals. The nests will made of twigs and leaves and lined with the female’s fur, which she will have pulled out herself. They are the only true lemurs to build nests. Births of six infants have been recorded, and the females do have six mammary glands to support such large births, but the usual number is between two and four. The new babies will stay in the nest until they are about two or three weeks old when they will start to move around after the mother. Whilst very young and still in the nest, mothers carry the young in their mouths and ‘park’ them in safe spots while they forage for food. At about five weeks the infants will start climbing trees. Males are also known to take part in the parenting of the young.
The black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata) is the more endangered of the two species of ruffed lemurs, both of which are endemic to the island of Madagascar. The other being the red ruffed lemur (varecia rubra).
Three subspecies of black and white ruffed lemur are recognised, the southern ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata editorum), the white-belted ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata subcincta) and the black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata variegata), all of which are classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. 
Primary and secondary lowland and mid-altitude rainforest.
Where What they eat
Lemurs are mainly frugivorous but nectar, flowers, leaves and seeds are also eaten.
Habitat loss due to illegal logging, illegal mining and slash-and-burn agriculture techniques. The black and white ruffed lemur are also heavily hunted for their meat. Natural predators include birds of prey, mongooses, fossa and boa constrictors.
Status: Critically Endangered
The black and white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered. In fact, all three of the recognised subspecies are classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. The species is also listed on CITES Appendix I. Exact population numbers are unknown, but are thought to be declining rapidly.
If this species is to survive in the wild, the forest reserves it inhabits need to be better protected. Although they are part of various successful captive breeding programs, which have in turn reintroduced the black and white lemur back to the wild, these programs have ultimately failed the black and white ruffed lemurs because of the lack of safe, natural habitat available for the animals on arrival in Madagascar.
The following videos all show animals in captivity, the first two being shot at Sacramento Zoo where this species is bred to “educate the public on how they can help these and other animals in the wild.” I have not been able to obtain any footage of black and white lemurs in the wild.
‘Nursery nests’ are better for survival of young black-and-white ruffed lemurs
World’s most extraordinary species mapped for the first time
Primary seed dispersal by the black-and-white ruffed lemur
“When the buffalo went away, the hearts of my people fell to the ground”
Crow chief Plenty Coups
It is difficult to say anything about the historic slaughter of the bison that has not already been said. But, for the few who are unfamiliar with the unparalleled bloodshed of the late nineteenth century, it is safe to say those responsible succeeded in killing two birds with one stone, as was their intention, massively depleting the numbers of free-roaming bison, and defeating the entire Plains Indian Nation in the west of America at the same time.
These magnificent beasts were reduced in number from an estimated thirty million or more to just over one thousand, and the Plains Indians were brought to their knees. Never in history has such appalling devastation been caused to any other species of animal or had such a lasting effect on native peoples.
In both, the aggressors shamefully succeeded with ne’er a backward glance.
Originally initiated by the United States government to deprive the Plains Indians of their livelihood, in order to seize their lands for white settlers, the annihilation burgeoned into commercial hunting and greed, and the bison were then massacred for sport and profit. Their skins were sold and their carcasses left to rot. Hardly a beast was left to roam the lands they had inhabited for thousands of years, and the government and army, unable to tackle the vast numbers of bison alone, turned a blind eye to it all.
“Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.” said Colonel Richard Dodge, a US Army officer, in 1867. Columbus Delano, Secretary of the Interior at the time, reiterated this thought in his 1872 annual report, “The rapid disappearance of game from the former hunting-grounds must operate largely in favour of our efforts to confine the Indians to smaller areas, and compel them to abandon their nomadic customs.”
Bison were a lifeline for the indigenous Indians. The bison offered the people a whole cornucopia of unprocessed staples. They hunted them for meat, an activity which barely made a dent in the herds, utilised the by-products, such as skins, for clothing, tepees and utensils, and found many other practical uses for every part of the animal from the horns to the hairs of the tail – nothing was wasted.
The wondrous bison was revered by the Plains Indians. It symbolised sacred life, provision, gratitude, abundance, consistency, strength, stability, blessing and prosperity.
Striking at the heart of the Plains Indian’s cultural heritage, the mass slaughter of the bison was the beginning of detribalisation of the Indian Nation.
The land of the Plains Indians was lost and their way of life all but eliminated. Most were packed off to reservations to live out their days in virtual poverty as Native Americans.
The handful of surviving bison sheltered in the valleys of the now well-known Yellowstone National Park.
The American bison is the largest land animal in North America, weighing up to two thousand pounds, making it almost twice as heavy as the average domestic cow. Males can stand six feet from hoof to shoulder. Interestingly, females, standing only a foot shorter, can often weigh half as much as males, and both sexes can be as long as twelve feet or more. These are certainly big beasts – but not the biggest. The Asian gaur, African buffalo and Asian water buffalo are way ahead.
That said, the heads and forequarters of the American bison are massive, surrounded by a mane of thick woolly hair, a beard under the chin and a hump on the shoulders. Both male and female of the species have sharp, curved horns which are used for defence and, for males, during mating rituals.
The bison’s thick, shaggy coat, an adaptation to the severe weather conditions of the plains, is well insulated. So well insulated, snow can settle on it and ice form without melting. This dense coat is dark brown in winter, changing to a slightly paler colour during the spring weather when the coat starts to shed. Until shedding is complete, the coat hangs in thick uneven clumps. The process of ‘wallowing’ may well be associated with this annual shed. A wallow is a saucer-like hollow in the ground in which bison roll and rub, covering themselves with dust or mud.
Bison are migratory animals and have been known to cover several kilometres a day, grazing as they go. They live and travel in small, separate groups, with the ‘cows’ leading the individual families. During the mating, June through to September, they gather in large herds. Following a gestation period of nine months, a single calf will be born, twins are extremely rare. Calves are precocial and will be on their feet within the hour and soon be able to keep pace with the herd when it moves. Calves weigh an average of forty pounds at birth and will have all their primary teeth in place, but neither humps nor horns. Their coats are much paler than their parents’ but will start to darken after the third month. The young will be dependent on mother’s milk for about a year, during which time the mother will fiercely protect the calf against predators. When threatened, females form a defensive circles around the calves, and the males form circles around the cows. The males at the ready to charge if necessary and the females ready to run with the calves to safety, and use their horns to repel the predator if needs must.
As a footnote; bison are often referred to as buffalo. In fact, they lack the characteristics of the true buffalo found in the wilds of Africa and Asia, and are only very distantly related.
Prairies, plains and river valleys.
North America, Canada and Alaska (introduced In 1928).
What they eat
Mostly grasses and sedges. They regurgitate their food and chew the cud.
Loss of habitat – these magnificent beasts need far more space to roam than they have been ‘given’. Competition with cattle for grazing has seen their historic ranges denied to them. Other parts of their range have been cultivated.
Persecution – they are seen as health threats to cattle and brucellosis is said to be passed from the bison to domestic cattle – this is not the case. There are no reported incidents of this happening, but the thought that it could is used as an excuse to keep the bison away from the grazing claimed by ranchers.
Perception – bison are seen primarily as food and treated as livestock, not as wild animals, therefore not afforded the status they deserve. Recognition as a wild animal and segregation from domestic cattle will play a large part in the future of the species.
Diseases – passed on my domestic cattle.
Hunting – there is no season for killing bison. For the price of a permit, anyone can shoot wild bison on organised hunts or alone.
Cross-breeding – of today’s existing herds, most are not pure bred bison, but are the result of cross-breeding with cattle. Only the Yellowstone herds are known to be genetically pure.
Bison have few natural predators, due to their sheer bulk, but there are a some which include bears and wolves which will prey upon the sick, the elderly and the young.
Status: Near Threatened
The American bison (ssp. Bison bison) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Near Threatened (likely to become endangered in the near future). There are two subspecies of bison described. The subspecies wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) is listed individually on Cites Appendix II and currently only exists in the wild in Canada. Although there has been a come-back of the species since the devastating losses of the late 1800s, many animals now roaming the ranges are not pure wild bison, they have been cross-bred with cattle.
Various dedicated people and organisations are working hard to restore the depleted herds of bison. Here are just a few of the wonderful projects currently in action:
Bison—beefing up their numbers in Nebraska
THE EXTERMINATION OF THE AMERICAN BISON. by William T. Hornaday – Free Download
The Near Annihilation of America’s Buffalo in Pictures
The Human Footprint (Crow chief Plenty Coups)
Blood, Guts and Gore – Montana Investigates Bison Slaughter (June 2013)
Conservationists unveil plans to restore bison to North American plains (2010)
Bison Hunting in Alaska
Deal struck to reintroduce wood bison to Alaska wild (January 2013)
Double Your Impact for Bison!
Bison, A Plains Supermarket
The Legend & Importance of the White Buffalo
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