Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 70 – The Asian Elephant


Asian elephant

Image: World Wide Fund for Nature

“Compassion for animals is intimately connected with goodness of character; and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man”
Arthur Schopenhauer

Asian elephant pulling log uphill  Photo by Zafer KizilkayaEveryday, more elephants are captured for illegal logging operations.  Forced to aid the destruction of their own natural habitat, they move around in chains hauling away huge trees, clearing the way for more palm oil plantations.  With their habitat gone, the free herds are compelled to move towards human settlements in search of food and shelter. They have nowhere else to go.  They have no choice other than to leave behind the remnants of their forests and head towards the villages.  Those that do flee are often on the point of starvation. Unfortunately, on the move, they are inclined to do a great deal of damage.  This has brought humans and elephants to the point of war in Asia.

Villagers are laying traps for elephants, tormenting and torturing them, and even killing them.  But, it is hard to blame them sometimes.  A moving elephant can, and does, trample crops, demolish homes and kill people.  And it is happening a lot.  But, that doesn’t mean the fault lies with the elephant either.

The blame for this appalling situation falls squarely on the shoulders of the greedy, callous and criminal plantation owners.  Those who see littleDeforestationin Sumatra other than a cash crop.  The West cannot get enough of palm oil, and there are few products that do not contain it.  And, these insatiable pillagers of the forests intend to meet the demand regardless of the absolute devastation they are causing to the irreplaceable and magnificent rainforests and the dependent inhabitants.

As most of us are aware, elephants are not small.  The average Asian adult male comes in at about five and a half tons.  They grow up to nine feet at the shoulder and can be as long as twenty-one feet from trunk to tail  (the tail being just under five feet long).  Females tend to be smaller.  The ears of the Asian elephant are much smaller than those of the African elephant and coincidentally resemble the shape of the India subcontinent.

Asian elephants at mud-holeIn Asian elephants, unlike their African cousins, only the males have tusks.  If any are found in females, they  (the ‘tushes’)  are barely visible.  Tusks are, in fact, elongated incisors which continue to grow throughout the elephant’s life. They are used for eating, digging for water, debarking trees, social interactions and as weapons.

Elephants usually mate during the rainy season.  After a gestation period of twenty-two months, a single calf will be born (twins are very rare).  The calf will weigh about two hundred and fifty pounds at birth.   When born, calves suckle through the mouth.  At this point the trunk does not have enough developed muscle to be of any use.  Several months will need to pass before it is able to gain full use of it.  The bond between mother and calf is known to be strong, but others in the herd will help out with the infant’s care.   Once males have reached adolescence, they will be pushed away from the group.   Most will become part of bachelor groups until they reach full maturity and go it alone.

Habitat
A wide variety of forests, grasslands and scrublands.
Where
Asian elephants occur in isolated populations in thirteen range States in parts of India and South-east Asia, including Sumatra and Borneo.
What they eat
Grasses, roots, fruit, and bark – and in enormous quantities.  One adult alone can get through up to 300 pounds of food in a day. They are also known to eat cultivated crops such as sugar cane and bananas.
Threats
Capture for domestic use;  this has become a major problem for some populations and numbers have been reduced significantly.  Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation are also huge threats.  Poaching and conflict with humans is on the rise. 
Status: Endangered
The Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered.  It is also protected under Cites Appendix 1. Estimates put the population, across all range States, as being between thirty-nine and fifty thousand in the wild, with a further thirteen thousand kept as working or former-working elephants. There are obvious difficulties in collecting this sort of data, so exact figures have never been published. What is certain, is that over half the elephants occur in India.
Various agencies and organisations are working towards reducing conflict between local communities and the elephants. This includes approaches to crop protection, community-based guarding methods to safely repel the onslaught of elephants and education and promotion of elephant conservation throughout Asia.

Related links
Deforestation is Killing the Asian Elephant

Asian Elephants Are Being Smuggled Into Thailand To Tightrope Walk For Tourists
A tusk-less future for the Asian elephant

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 63 – The Bonobo


Bonobo lying in the grass

Courtesy: Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Description
Universally recognised as one of man’s closest relatives, these deeply intelligent, sensitive and peaceful great apes are in critical danger.  Since the two major threats to bonobos are habitat destruction and hunting, it’s no coincidence that those who are destroying their habitat for profit are also paying professional hunters to kill the bonobo for their meat.  The meat is used to feed the workforce who are systematically degrading and destroying the bonobo’s home at the behest of these rainforest profiteers.

Bonobos exist in a peaceful and egalitarian society, which is attributed to their highly complex social system.  Their society is matriarchal, but males are far from excluded, and is fission-fusion orientated.  This means they live in large groups which split into smaller groups during the day to hunt for food, and reassemble at night to sleep.

Bonobos may look a lot like common chimpanzees, but there are quite a few differences. Bonobos have hair parted down the middle, which partially covers their ears, and they have black faces and pink lips.  Their brows are less prominent and their faces a little flatter.  Their heads and ears are also slightly smaller than those of the common chimpanzee.  Male bonobos weigh an average of eighty-five pounds and females sixty-five pounds.  They can grow up to four and three and a half feet tall, respectively.

Bonobos vocalise and gesticulate frequently.  Often at the same time.  Their voices are melodic and high-pitched with sounds ranging from hooting and barking to grunting. Their gestures are versatile and expressive, reaching out and pointing are just two of them. They also display facial expressions including, a  ‘silent pout’,  a  ‘duck face’,  a  ‘play face’ accompanied by a ‘panting laugh’,  a  ‘tense mouth’  and ‘silent teeth baring’.

What do bonobos sound like? Listen to a range of bonobo calls

Bonobos are, by nature, quadrupeds, but they also practise bipedal locomotion.  They can either move forward by walking on their knuckles or stand upright and walk on two legs. They are far more adept at this than the common chimpanzee, and tend to do it more often.

Bonobos are highly promiscuous.  It is thought males reach sexual maturity around nine years of age.  Females do not become sexually mature until they are twelve or thirteen. Then, as is typical, they will mate freely with any member of the group  (only relationships between a mother and her physically mature male offspring are avoided). Gestation lasts two hundred and forty days, after which females give birth to a single infant.  From data collected, a peak in births seems to occur annually between March and May, the rainy season.  There is an inter-birth interval of four to six years.  The infants will remain partially dependent upon their mothers until they are five years old.  Due to the level of promiscuity, fathers are rarely identified so the care of the infants falls to the mothers.

A survey recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that young bonobos react in the same way as children given the same background conditions.  Observations of mother-reared bonobo juveniles and juveniles orphaned at a young age were carried out.  Each were put in a stressful situation and observed.  Their reactions and emotions were very like those of children in the same circumstances, highlighting the importance of the mother–offspring bond.

The conclusion was  “human children who have a stable relationship with their parents learn to control their emotions as they develop, whereas orphans typically struggle to temper their ups and downs.”

For more information on this, please click on the related links below.

Habitat
Primary and secondary moist tropical forests and swamp forests.
Where
The Democratic Republic of the Congo  –  the Congo Basin.
What they eat
Primarily fruit;  but leaves, seeds, flowers, bark, small vertebrates and invertebrates are also consumed.
Threats
Habitat loss through commercial logging,  slash-and-burn agriculture and civil warfare (the past fifteen years have seen some of the deadliest violence witnessed since World War II).  The bonobo is also poached for the illegal pet trade and traditional medicine. Furthermore, it is hunted for bushmeat;  Military personnel are given the go ahead to hunt at will and logging companies use commercial hunters to supply  their workforce with the meat.
Status: Endangered
The bonobo  (Pan paniscus) is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Endangered.  It is also protected under  CITES Appendix I.  No real population numbers exist, but it is thought between twenty-nine and fifty thousand individuals are still in existence. Any observation of the species has been hampered by the ongoing war in the Congo, so data is a bit thin.
Some of the bonobo’s habitat is protected, but not enough, leaving them exposed to many threats. Added to that, they are slow to reproduce and the population is declining fast.
Their habitat may only be sustainable for another ten years, making the extinction of the bonobo a real possibility.
Regrettably, with over six million people in the Congo in need humanitarian assistance, the eyes of the world may not be on our closest cousin, the bonobo.

“The behaviour of men to the lower animals, and their behaviour to each other, bear a constant relationship”
Herbert Spencer

 
Related articles
Young Bonobos Comfort Each Other Like Human Kids
Young apes manage emotions like humans

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 61 – The Sumatran Tiger


Sumatran tiger in jungle

Image: Creative Commons

Description
From the eyes on its head to the whiskers on its face, there is not a single bit of the tiger that does not promise a cure for something.  Or, so decree the Oracles of Chinese traditional medicine.  And, if the Chinese are not boiling the tiger, grinding its bones into powder or making soup of it, others are selling it on the black market for as much as twenty thousand dollars per animal.  Live beasts are good, but dead pose little problem. And, of course, there is always a little bit of sport involved, too.  Then there are the land robbers, committing large scale pillage and rape.  They have logged, cleared, burnt, converted, planted and settled.  And, they show no signs of easing up until they have fully exploited the Sumatran tiger’s habitat.  The situation, by the admittance of Indonesian forestry officials, is now way out of control.  We are, in case you haven’t already guessed, back in Sumatra;  an island where they seem very practised at forcing species towards extinction.

Sumatran tigers can be distinguished by their thinner stripes.  Male Sumatrans have long fur around their faces, giving them a maned appearance.  They are smaller than other subspecies, with an average male weighing about two hundred and sixty-five pounds. Females are less heavy at about two hundred pounds.  Males grow up to eight feet in length, and females, a slightly shorter seven feet.

Tigers kill swiftly and painlessly.  A tiger will ambush its prey from behind and administer one fatal bite to the neck.  The spinal cord will break and death is almost always instantaneous.  They will then drag their prey out of sight.  They can eat up to forty pounds at a time, and will save what they don’t eat for later.  They are spectacular swimmers and have been known to chase their prey into water to gain an advantage. They live in dens and caves, and sometimes tree hollows;  they are mostly nocturnal and invariably solitary.

There is no specific breeding season for tigers, but mating often takes place between November and April, following which there is a gestation period of about three and a half months.  Three or four cubs will be born in a cave, a rocky crevice, or in dense vegetation. For the first few days their eyes and ears will remain closed.  The father of the cubs will not be involved in raising them.  They will stay within the confines of the den until they reach eight weeks.  At the age of six months they will begin their lessons in killing prey. However, their first lone kill will not be until they are about eighteen months old.  Cubs normally stay with their mothers until they are two or three years of age.  The juvenile mortality is high, however, and sadly, almost half of all cubs do not survive beyond the age of two.

The Sumatran tiger is the smallest of the five tiger subspecies.  It has lived exclusively, for over a million years, in the once extensive moist tropical jungles of the island of Sumatra, Indonesia.

Although tigers have been killed as a result of human conflict, the most significant numbers of killings have been for financial gain.  Poaching for trade is responsible for over 78% of estimated Sumatran tiger deaths, consisting of at least 40 animals per year.  There is no evidence that this trade is declining.

Almost sixty-seven thousand square kilometres of forest was lost between 1985 and 1997.  Most of that was lowland forest, the preferred habitat of the Sumatran tiger.  Since then, the annual rate of deforestation has increased dramatically.

If these illegal activities are not stamped out soon, or at least brought under control, there will be no future for the Sumatran tiger.

Habitat
Montane and peat forests, lowlands, swamps and rivers.
Where
The Indonesian island of Sumatra.
What they eat
Young rhinos, various pigs and members of the deer family.   It will also feast on smaller prey such as snakes, fish, monkeys and tapirs.
Threats
Habitat loss, illegal logging, depletion of prey base, human conflict and poaching.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Sumatran tiger  (Panthera tigris sumatrae)  is listed on the IUCN List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered.  Most wild tigers live in the various National Parks of Sumatra.    Others, about 20% of the overall population, live in unprotected areas.  However, the square acreage of these supposedly protected National Parks is constantly dwindling due to illegal agriculture. The growing of coffee has become a major concern.  This issue, and others, can only be addressed by a) the law being strictly enforced – which it most certainly is not at the moment, and b) making the penalties far more severe that they are.

It is thought three hundred of the species may still survive in Sumatra in the wild. There are roughly the same amount kept in zoos.  “The European breeding programme and the Global Management Species Programme for Sumatran tigers are both coordinated by ZSL London Zoo – where ZSL’s specialists are responsible for ensuring a healthy and diverse population of tigers in zoos around the world.” [1]
There are various international organisations and trusts who are trying to help the Sumatran tiger, but unless something is done to halt the destruction of the forests soon, the Sumatran tiger will go the way of the Javan and Balinese tigers.  Both of which are now extinct.

“Man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all”
Aristotle

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 55 – The Sumatran Rhinoceros


Sumatran Rhinoceros in close-up

Photograph courtesy: World Wildlife Fund

Description
The only surviving member of the Dicerorhinini, a primitive group of rhinos from the Miocene epoch – which existed almost twenty million years ago, the Sumatran rhino is now close to extinction itself.  It is also closely related to the woolly rhinoceros, which roamed throughout Europe and Asia until a mere ten thousand years ago.  The Sumatran rhino was widespread across Asia as recently as the early twentieth century. Now it seems doomed to go the way of its ancestors.

The Sumatran rhino is the smallest of all the rhino.  But, as you would expect, these animals are not lightweights.  They weigh in at anything up to two thousand pounds, can grow to a length of nine and a half feet and stand up to five feet at the shoulder.  They have grey leathery-looking skin, which, contrary to belief, is quite thin and pliable.  They are not smooth-skinned either, as you would perhaps expect.  They are covered in coarse hair which has earned them the nickname of ‘hairy rhino’ in some circles.  Another notable characteristic is the prehensile upper lip, used for tearing food.  Add to that its short, stocky body and stumpy legs and its whole appearance is that of a small furry tank.

But, it is the horns which are most interesting.  For starters, they have two of them; the only Asian rhino to do so. Although, the posterior horn is very small and often absent altogether in females.  The horns are made of keratin, as fingernails are, and will grow back in the same way if broken off or torn.  The most obvious use of the horn would be self-defence, but this is not its true purpose.  Sumatran rhino use their horns for reaching vegetation (of which they eat over fifty kilos a day), fashioning wallows and protecting their heads when travelling through dense vegetation.

Rhino are nocturnal, feeding very early in the morning and late at night.  Their days are spent wallowing in mud. The mud protects them from the sun’s rays and keeps them cool. It also helps to stave off insects.  They are found near water, and the mudholes they wallow in are made by themselves.  They will only use a hole a few times and then move on.

Sumatran rhino only come together to breed.  Otherwise, they are solitary animals. Calves are usually born during the rainy season, from October to May. Females birth every three to four years.  After a long gestation period of fifteen to sixteen months, a single calf will be born with a dense coat of hair.  The calf will stay with its mother for the next two or three years.

I recently read an article where rhino horns, on the living rhino, were being poisoned.  It seems South Africa has taken the dramatic, and brilliant , step of injecting the horns of living rhino with chemicals which, although will not harm the rhino, will definitely make anyone who uses it in crushed form, very ill.  Hopefully, this idea will spread across the globe and eventually render rhino horn worthless on the black market.  Read more…

Habitat
Tropical rainforests and montane moss forests.
Where
Sumatra, western Indonesia and Sabah, Malaysia.   It is not known whether a small population still exists in Borneo, but the species is generally thought to be now extinct in that location.
What they eat
Leaves, fruits, twigs and bark.
Threats
The main threat to the Sumatran rhino is hunting.  Like all rhino, it is callously slaughtered for its horns and other body parts, believed to have medicinal properties. Yet again, the folly of Chinese traditional medicine prevails.  The horns alone can fetch up to thirty thousand US dollars per kilo on the black market, making the horns extremely valuable and the rhino extremely vulnerable.
Another major threat is loss of habitat resulting from illegal logging and land conversion. The Sumatran rhino is left to inhabit small fragmented pockets of forest, and as such is left exposed to disease, fire and possible inbreeding.

Status: Critically Endangered
Although hunting is now illegal, poachers are not deterred.  And, the destruction of their natural habitat continues.  Both these factors have led to the status of this species becoming critical.

From the 31 March to the 4 April, 2013, the Sumatran Rhino Crisis Summit took place.  On the 4th of April, 2013, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) issued a press release.

“With population estimates of Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) reduced to less than 100 individuals, a ground-breaking agreement to save the Critically Endangered species was reached today between representatives of the Indonesian and Malaysian governments. The agreement was formed at a summit convened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC), involving a wide range of international and national organisations.” Read more…

“Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man”
Stewart Udall