Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 94 – The Golden Lion Tamarin


Family portrait

 “In simple terms, the rainforests, which encircle the world, are our very life-support system – and we are on the verge of switching it off.”
Charles, Prince of Wales

Golden lion tamarins take their name from the magnificent ‘mane’ of golden hair around their necks – bearing a remarkable resemblance to the lions of Africa.  There are four species of lion tamarins – all of which are endangered, and all of which are endemic to Brazil.

Golden lion tamarin foragingEach species is blighted with the same major threats to its survival; loss of homes due to illegal logging, haphazard cattle ranching and human settlement.  Shockingly, the lion tamarins have now been left with only eight per cent of their original habitat.  Put another way, a staggering ninety-two per cent of their native Atlantic Brazilian forest has been burned or felled. This has jeopardised their freedom to roam for food, shelter and genetically diverse mates, rendering them one of the most endangered species on the planet.

Colonisation is not new to the Atlantic forest. Europeans first settled here in the 1500s. Historically, destruction began with coffee and sugarcane plantations.  During the 18th and 19th centuries demand was high for both commodities, heights matched only by the devastation caused by these activities. Despite this, today’s damage far surpasses anything achieved previously.

Current deforestation has created a specific danger for young golden lions.  These highly sociable little animals are far more exposed in their ‘play areas’ than before, making them vulnerable to predators.  Over forty per cent of Golden lion tamarin feedingjuvenile tamarins do not live past one year, even in normal circumstances, and this can only add to the difficulties of re-populating the troops.  The average lifespan of any golden lion tamarin surviving the age of one, in the wild, is fifteen years.

There are several conservation programs designed to combat the decline of the species in the wild.  Animals have been reintroduced from various worldwide captive breeding programs, which incidentally move individuals among the various zoos to prevent inbreeding. Survival rates have been notable, but their habitat is now so sparse, the problem with finding suitable homes and feeding grounds has not abated.

Fortunately, tourism has also begun to play its part, using the golden lions as a an attraction to be seen rather than harmed.  This can only be  a step in the right direction.

Also known as golden marmosets, the golden lion tamarins are easily recognized New World monkeys that sport a vivid orangey-red coat, with a long mane surrounding a hairless face of dark, rich purple.  It has been said that the colour of the coat may have come from direct exposure to sunlight coupled with carotenids in the diet.

Golden lion tamarin climbing a tree Golden lion tamarins are callitrichids, which have the defining characteristic of claw-like fingernails on all digits except the hallux (big toe).  These adaptations aid climbing, clinging to tree trunks in vertical fashion, quadrupedal movement through the branches and feeding.  Both male and female are similar in size reaching a height of about ten inches and weighing an average of one and a half pounds.

Golden lions are arboreal, sleeping in tree hollows at night hoping for some protection from predators.  Unfortunately, nocturnal predators, such as snakes and wild cats, often get the better of them.  When one monkey sees a predator, an alarm call is emitted to warn the rest of the troop.  Sadly, this is often too late.

A golden lion tamarin dad , front and back, rare twin babies, Brandywine Zoo, Wilmington, Delaware.These tamarins, like the others,  are omnivorous and travel through the branches (at up to 24 miles per hour, no less) to forage during the day.  They live in troops of anything up to nine individuals and often these delightful primates share food with each other. Normally these troops would be made up of a male, a female and some younger members of the family.

Lion tamarins are monogamous and mating usually takes place at the end of the rains (March to June), after which there is a gestation period of four months.  The species is unusual in that twins are normally born.  Most primates will give birth to a single infant.  Three and four babies have also been known to be birthed, but the chances of survival of all are quite remote.  The weakest will usually go first.  All group members, especially the father, will help with the care of the babies.  Infants are totally dependent on their mothers for the first four weeks.  At five weeks they will become a tad more independent and start to explore their surrounding, but still keeping close to mother.  Seventeen weeks will see them socialising with others in the troop, and at the age of fourteen months they will be considered young adults.

Natural Habitat
Coastal primary tropical forests.
Where
The diminishing Atlantic coastal forests of Brazil.
What they eat
Soft fruits, insects, flowers, nectar, eggs, invertebrates and small vertebrates.
Threats
Habitat loss and fragmentation due to aggressive logging, reckless agriculture and extensive human settlement.  Loss of suitable habitat has made reintroduction to the wild difficult because of the lack of sufficient clustered trees.   Though more than four hundred animals have been reintroduced into Brazil since 1984.   Capture for the illegal pet trade seriously depleted populations in the past, however,  this practice has lessened since laws were passed making the keeping of exotic pets illegal. But, it has not ceased.  Natural predators include birds of prey, snakes and wild cats.
Status: Endangered
The golden lion tamarin  (Leontopithecus rosalia)  is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Endangered.  It is also included on the  Brazilian Official List of Species Threatened with Extinction  (Lista Oficial de Espécies Brasileiras Ameaçadas de Extinção)  and on the regional threatened species list of the state of Rio de Janeiro.  The golden lion tamarin is protected under CITES Appendix I.
Dedicated conservation efforts have brought the numbers of golden lion tamarins from less than two hundred in the wild in the early 1970s, to over fifteen hundred living in the forests today.
Approximately four hundred and fifty are known to be living in one hundred and fifty zoos around the world.
Various conservation measures and programmes are in place, including  the National Zoo 


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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.
Where
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.
Threats
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. 91 – The Maned Wolf


Maned wolf by Tambako the Jaguar

Maned wolf by Tambako the Jaguar

“To cherish what remains of the Earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope of survival”
Wendell Berry

Called a wolf and looking remarkably like a long-legged fox only adds to the mystique of this unique canid.  Invariably described as a ‘fox on stilts’, the maned wolf (genus Chrysocyon – the only species in this genus) is not closely related to either fox or wolf. Its closest extant relative is the bush dog (genus Speothos).  It is also very distantly related to a few others with bizarre names, such as the crab-eating fox and the short-eared dog.

Maned wolf walking with two pupsBut being one of a kind has not protected this species from the onslaught of encroaching agriculture and road building.  A great many maned wolves are killed on the roads every year. A problem which has been addressed with introduced speed limits and local awareness, but as usual, not everyone takes note and fatalities on the roads are still high.

The maned wolf has been greatly misjudged in the past.  Under the false label of chicken, cattle and sheep killer, it was once hunted mercilessly by farmers.  It is now known these shy, retiring creatures will not approach human settlements for any reason, and will run away in fear if they see humans approaching elsewhere.  Consequently, with the exception of a few very remote areas, the reputation of the maned wolf has altered in its favour.

Maned wolf pupLet’s not forget, of course, the now-to-be-expected threat of folk medicine.  The eyes of the maned wolf are purported to bring good fortune and as a result are made into amulets.  This is very local, not big business, and certainly not a serious threat to the species, but a change would be helpful.

The most remarkable feature of the maned wolf are the legs.  Extraordinarily long, they are thought to be an adaptation enabling the species to see its prey in the tall grass. The legs have a pacing gait which allows each side of the body to move together, helping it to travel quickly across large areas of its territory.

Maned wolf pup curled upManed wolves weigh up to seventy-five pounds, can reach over three feet at the shoulder and be as long as five and a half feet from head to tip of tail.  The ears are large, and can be rotated when listening for prey moving through the high grass. 

Maned wolves have reddish-brown fur with black legs, a black muzzle, white markings on the throat and a white tip on the tail.  They have a distinctive black ‘mane’ which, when erect, signals displays of aggression or potential threats, rather like a domestic dog’s hackles going up.

The species does not come together in packs, which is quite unusual in the canid world. They are mainly solitary animals and nocturnal hunters.  In order to flush out its prey, the maned wolf will tap its foot on the ground, pounce and kill.  It will kill the prey by biting the neck or back, or simply by shaking it to death.

Maned wolf carrying pupManed wolves are monogamous, coming together only during the breeding season.  There is  a gestation period of up to sixty-five days.   After which a litter of anything between one and six pups, each weighing about one pound, will be born.  Both eyes and ears are closed until the pups are nine days old.  The mother will provide regurgitated food when they reach four weeks.  By ten weeks, their black fur will change to red, and by fifteen weeks they will be fully weaned.  They will still be reliant upon their parents for provision of food for their first year, at the end of which they will be fully grown.  Originally, it was thought the female alone cared for the young. Now it is believed the male also takes part in this process.

Natural Habitat
Semi-open tall grasslands, wet grassland, woodlands and scrub forest.
Where
Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Peru.  Possibly Uruguay – but it is generally thought they have been extirpated.
What they eat
Fruits and vegetable matter, insects, small reptiles, birds and small mammals such as cuis, rabbits and viscachas.
Threats
Habitat reduction due to agricultural conversion (mainly to soy bean plantations) and road building.  Maned wolves are often killed on the roads, too.  Competition with, and the transmission of diseases from, domestic dogs has also played a part in their decline. “The maned wolf is particularly susceptible to infection by the giant kidney worm, a potentially fatal parasite that may also infect domestic dogs.” (Wikipedia)  Body parts are sometimes used in local folk medicine.  The species do not have any natural predators.
Status:  Near Threatened 
The Maned Wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Near Threatened (likely to become endangered in the near future).  The species is also listed under  CITES Appendix 11.  It is protected in Argentina as an endangered species and included on the list of threatened animals in Brazil.  It is also included in the  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species List.  Hunting is prohibited in Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia.  Law enforcement is lax.

There are thought to be little more than twenty thousand maned wolves left in the wild today.  Most of these are found in Brazil.

There are over four hundred maned wolves reportedly kept in captivity.  Less than one hundred of these are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan.  Mane wolves breed don’t well in captivity and there is a high recorded mortality rate of pups. There are various other conservation plans in progress initiated by a wide variety of non-profit organisations.  One of which is the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) – forest conversion plans have been put in place in the hope of restoring some of the maned wolf’s habitat.

Related Articles
Dying Wolf Given Stem Cells Stuns Vets With Recovery (2011)
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Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 90 – The Common Chimpanzee


Glitter watches her sister Gaia fish for termites at Gombe National Park.

“Only if we understand can we care. Only if we care will we help. Only if we help shall they be saved”
Jane Goodall

There cannot be many who do not know what a chimpanzee is.  It is probably one of the few wild animals most of us will have actually seen first hand, albeit in captivity.  But where numbers are concerned, captivity is not the problem per se.  It is, of course, Two baby chimpsa huge failure the way chimps are kept as pets and as items of display, to say nothing of the abhorrent practice of using them in so-called ‘science laboratories’.

Currently though, their problem lies in the wild where they are rapidly disappearing down the road marked extinction.  Happy as they are to reproduce, they cannot keep pace with the rate at which they are being killed.

Killed for their meat:  Not just for subsistence – chimp meat now fetches a high price on the open market for those who can afford this shameful diet.
Killed for their young:  Infant chimps are a valuable commodity on the black market.
Killed by diseases introduced by man:  Ebola has devastated whole populations.
Killed for their body parts:  To be used in worthless medicines.
Killed in experimental laboratories:  In the name of science.
Killed by lack of food and shelter:  Africa lost 3.4 million hectares of its forested area between 2000 and 2010 (FAO Global Resources Assessment 2010).  This included a very high percentage of the chimpanzees’ range.

Orphaned chimpsChimpanzees are one of the five great apes, along with gorillas, bonobos, orangutans and man; of those we are the only ones who are flourishing.  Together with their near cousins, the bonobos, chimpanzees are our closest living relatives.  We share almost ninety-nine per cent of our genetic blueprint with them, which is close by any standards.

Currently there is a great deal of controversy surrounding the status of chimps; whether or not they should be considered as proper legal persons, albeit with limited rights.  The argument is not about allowing the normal social liberties associated with being a member of a franchised society, but more about physical freedom and the right to live out their lives in peace, unfettered by the chains of captivity.  It is not proposed the chimps roam freely amongst us, hopping on and off planes, trains and buses, but that they are afforded tranquillity, dignity and sanctuary.

There are some very interesting links below discussing this and other legislation regarding chimpanzees.

Chimps in Uganda - USAID Africa BureauThere are four sub-species of chimpanzee: The Western chimpanzee (P. t. verus), the Central chimpanzee (P. t. troglodytes), the Eastern chimpanzee (P. t. schweinfurthii) and the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee (P. t. ellioti). All four are endangered. Reasons for this vary with location.

Chimpanzees have long arms, and opposable thumbs and big toes.  Their faces, ears, palms and soles of their feet are hairless. Their bodies are covered, in some parts thinly, with dark-brown to black hair.  They can grow quite large, a male chimp reaching over four feet in height, and weighing on average one hundred and thirty pounds.  Females are slightly smaller.

Chimpanzees are largely arboreal.  They swing through trees in search of food, and build nests in them.  They will build a new nest Chimpanzee at the Jane Goodall Institutealmost every day.  They also travel on the ground when covering long distances or in search of food not found in the trees. Although known as ‘knuckle-walkers’, they are capable of standing and walking upright.   Chimpanzees do not like water and cannot swim.  Any who do fall into water are in danger of drowning.

Sounds, facial expressions and body language are all used as forms of communications.  In the case of disputes, unlike their gentle cousins, the bonobos, who tend to kiss and make up, chimpanzees will ready for battle. Common chimpanzees can be quite aggressive and have been known to attack humans, too.  It is never wise to upset a full-grown male chimpanzee.  When angry they are able to draw upon an extraordinary amount of strength and an adult chimp is quite capable of overpowering a fully grown man.

But most of all, chimps have become known for their use of tools.  Most notably, the modification of twigs for extracting termites from mounds and the use of heavy objects to crack nuts.  These are skills that need to be learned.  They have also been observed fashioning spears out of small branches to hunt smaller mammals.

Mother and infant (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) Gombe Stream National ParkChimpanzees breed all the year round.  After a gestation period of eight months, a single infant will be born.  Twins are rare.  Newborns are totally dependent on their mothers (their sole carers) for support for the first two months of their lives. The quality of care the mother gives is essential to the emotional and physical growth and well-being of the infant.  This maternal dependency is long-lasting.  The relationship is close and they are rarely separated.   Babies cling to their mother’s underside at first and progress to the back when they are about five or six months old. By the age of two they will be able to move around and sit unaided, staying very close to mother, and by the age of three they will have started to move a little further away.  But it is not until they are five or six years old that they will be fully weaned and virtually independent.

A great deal of understanding of the behavioural patterns of the chimpanzee can be attributed to the ongoing work of primatologist, Dr Jane Goodall.   Best known for her study of wild chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania, Dr Goodall continues to support the chimpanzees to this day, at the age of seventy-nine.  She began her life’s work in 1960 and founded Gombe Stream National Park in 1965.

Natural Habitat
Tropical low altitude evergreen forest, mountain forest and forest-savannah mosaic.
Where
West and Central Equatorial Africa.
What they eat
Mainly fruit, chimpanzees love fruit, but they also eat plants (all parts) and insects. And, contrary to popular belief, chimpanzees are meat-eaters and will indulge themselves in other small mammals from time to time.
Threats
Habitat destruction caused by logging, mining, agriculture and road building. Excessive poaching for bushmeat and the taking of live infants for the illegal pet trade (and it is surprisingly easy to  buy a chimpanzee  on the internet). In some areas, chimpanzees are hunted for their body parts for use in Traditional medicine. They are also used extensively in scientific research. Human conflict over crops is another large problem. But the major threats to chimpanzees are the diseases passed on by humans. In particular, the Ebola virus.
Status: Endangered
The common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered.  All chimpanzees are listed under CITES Appendix I and as Class A under the African Convention. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service classifies the species as endangered in the wild, and threatened in captivity.

It is thought there are no more than 150,000 to 250,000 common chimpanzees left in the wild today.  This may seem a lot, but compared to the million or so which once roamed free in Africa, it is hardly surprising they are now considered endangered.  Man is killing them faster than the apes can reproduce themselves.  In some regions, the population has declined by 90% over the past twenty years.  In others, the common chimpanzee is now extinct.

Untold numbers of captive individuals exist in zoos, science laboratories, and private homes and establishments.

If more robust action is not taken soon to curb the slaughter of these delightful apes, and the spread of disease is not brought under control, there is a real possibility the chimpanzee may soon be extinct in the wild.

Related Articles
Considering the Humanity of Nonhumans  (New York Times Dec 9th 2013)
Judge Rules Chimps Can’t Be Legal Persons, But Activists Vow to Fight On (Dec 9th 2013)
Chimps give birth like humans
U.S. Research Chimps Heading to New Homes (Op-Ed) (Dec 4th 2013)
Bipartisan Chimpanzee Retirement Legislation Passes Senate (Nov 14th 2013)
Captive Chimpanzees May Get Endangered Status in US (June 11th 2013)
Chimps in Laboratories
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes Protection for All Chimpanzees – Captive and Wild – as Endangered (June 11th 2013)
Illegal marijuana cultivation threatens Nigeria’s forests and chimps (July 26th 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.
Where
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.
Threats
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. 87 – The Okapi


Young okapi by Charles Miller IUCN

Young okapi by Charles Miller IUCN

“The joy of killing!  The joy of seeing killing done! – These are traits of the human race at large”
Mark Twain

The IUCN has produced an updated Red List of Threatened Species for 2013.  And on it, this rare and beautiful creature has been moved up a notch from Near Threatened to Endangered. Not just because of habitat loss and poaching, though both are huge threats, but, because mindless, heavily armed, ruthless gangs of rebels have been running wild in a country torn by civil strife for almost twenty years, taking copious amounts of bushmeat and skins.  At the beginning of November, 2013, the M23 rebel group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo  were overwhelmed by the Congolese army, backed by the United Nations, and have now surrendered.  But, not before okapi numbers were greatly depleted and conservation efforts in the country brought to a virtual halt.

Okapi with newborn calf  Many may remember the notorious killings in 2012 at the Epulu Conservation and Research Center, where seven people were slaughtered by armed poachers in retaliation for the Center’s part in the hindering of their illegal poaching activities (this was apparently a warning to others).  All fourteen of the peaceful, captive ‘ambassador okapi’ (one of which was a young five-month-old calf), were killed too.  Not for their skins or body parts, the bodies were left on the ground.  They were killed because they were there, and because their existence was meaningful to the villagers and the Center.  And, the poachers did not stop there.  They continued their bloody rampage until incalculable damage was done to both the people and the vicinity.  Fortunately, in the case of Epulu, despite the deaths of men, women and animals, the Center’s activities have  continued as normal.  Now they have the good military at hand to protect them, as the threat of rebels is not yet entirely over.

When unrest and incidents such as these occur, it is easy to see why conservation efforts do not always work.  Those who are so dedicated and strive so hard to protect the wildlife, are left exposed to the same dangers, or thwarted in their mission.Okapi

Following the disarming of the rebels, as you would expect in any forest, habitat loss has now risen back to the top of the okapi’s list of threats.  These enigmatic treasures like plenty of cover and the usual culprits (mining, logging and settlement) have deprived them of this.  Local tribes also hunt them as bushmeat and sell their skins, and Wambutti pygmies use their skins as tribal headbands.

Okapi have very beautiful, striking, velvety coats of many colours.  Those colours include the black and white stripes on the hind quarters and back legs which resemble the zebra. But, in fact, they are far more closely related to giraffe than zebra, hence the nickname ‘forest giraffe’.  Their stunning, unique coats, or skins as they become, are highly prized by poachers.  The disruptive colouration aids camouflage when the sunlight filters through the trees, making them hard to see, but the poachers are persistent.  As with zebra, no two sets of the okapi’s stripes are the same and, like fingerprints, can be used for identification purposes.

OkapiOkapi have large black eyes with poor eyesight and large ears with keen hearing. Their tongues are long (up to eighteen inches in total), blue, and prehensile for stripping leaves from trees; and for personal grooming.

The okapi is diurnal, and solitary except for mother and calf pairings. The breeding season for these mammals is spring to early summer. After a gestation period of fourteen to fifteen months, a single calf will usually be born.  The newborn will weigh between thirty and sixty pounds.  Its weight will double within the first month of life.  Calves occasionally suckle from more than one female.  The calf will be weaned at six months of age. Females birth once every two years.

The retiring nature of the okapi has earned it yet another appellation, that of the African unicorn – rather like the elusive saola in Viet Nam, which is known as the Asian unicorn.

The Okapi is also the Congo’s National Symbol and features on all Congolese banknotes.

Natural Habitat
Closed, high canopy forests, primary and older secondary forests.
Where
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (Central Africa) within the Ituri tropical rainforests.
What they eat
Understorey foliage (they are known to feed on over one hundred plant species). They also seek out and consume sulphurous, salty red clay for mineral requirements.
Threats
Habitat loss due to logging and human settlement, including illegal occupation of protected areas.  Mining and hunting/poaching for meat and skins. Civil War and the aftermath.
Status: Endangered
The Okapi (Okapia johnstoni) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered.
The okapi is not included in any CITES Appendices.
The Okapi is a fully protected species under Congolese law, though any laws have lacked enforcement during the unrest in the Congo.
The IUCN recommends strengthening protection of the protected areas as being the single most important means to ensure the long-term survival of Okapi. The Congolese agency responsible for protected area management, the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), is currently both under-staffed and under-funded. The Epulu Conservation and Research Center is the headquarters of the ICCN.
Okapi are kept in various zoos around the world, where breeding programs have been highly successful.
It is believed the rate of decline of the species in the wild has been in excess of fifty percent over three generations.
Natural predators are few. The leopard is one of them.

Related Articles
Tragic losses in the heart of darkness
Poacher known as ‘Morgan’ behind devastating massacre at Okapi Wildlife Reserve
DR CONGO REBELS END INSURGENCY
Okapi – the endangered forest giraffe
Okapi and Yellow-breasted bunting take a step closer to extinction 

Endangered Species Red List Updated

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 86 – The Martial Eagle


Martial eagle at Masai Mara, Kenya

Photographer: Erik A. Drablos

“I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority”
E.B. White

The largest of all African eagles, this magnificent raptor, the martial eagle, is losing out fast because of man’s encroachment upon, and degradation of, its habitat.  Not only has the land been cleared, huge modern pylons have been erected and steep-sided reservoirs built within its range.  Both of these have accounted for many untimely deaths of these apex predators.  Although they have drowned in the reservoirs, unable to get out, the pylons, which have electrocuted some of them, have been turned by others  to their advantage.  In the absence of adequate trees, the martial eagle will often choose to build its nest on top of one of these many towering metal structures. Martial eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus) with prey.

But it doesn’t end there, the threats continue.  Martial eagles are persecuted by farmers, who deliberately shoot and trap them (in retaliation for livestock losses) and accidentally poison them.  It seems the larger agricultural enterprises are chiefly responsible for the poisoning, but the smaller farmers can also be a problem. These two threats are the major cause of the current decline. Reduction in prey base may account for the eagles striking at farm stock, but there is a very likely chance this will see an increase as the birds continue to see less and less of their own natural prey. Then, there is the age-old threat of traditional medicine – in this case African muthi or muti. Parts of the martial eagle have been found for sale on stalls in Johannesburg’s Mai Mai market.  These parts, alongside those of endangered species, are sold out in the open, and because this is muthi, a blind eye is turned by the authorities. 

This is a very large eagle, measuring over three feet in length with a wingspan of up to eight feet six inches.  It can weigh up toImmature martial eagle fourteen pounds, making it the fifth heaviest eagle in the world.  Females tend to be larger than males.  The species has remarkably keen eyesight for spotting its prey from a great distance.  Most of its time is spent in flight, and it is capable of achieving heights great enough to hide it from the naked eye.

Martial eagles breed at various times of the year.  They build their nests as high as eighty feet from the ground.  They fashion them out of large sticks which they line with green leaves.  These basin-like structures are usually about six feet in diameter and four feet thick. Newly born martial eagle  the first of its species to be born in captivity After an incubation period of forty-five days, the egg will hatch, but the newborn will be very weak and parentally dependent.  The mother will feed the young one for roughly sixty days or until it starts to tear up its own food.  Full feathers appear after about seventy days.  A young bird will make its first flight at one hundred days.

Natural Habitat
Across its entire range: open woodland and woodland edges, wooded savannah, thorn-bush and wooded hillocks, semi-desert and open savannah with scattered trees.
Where
Sub-Saharan Africa:  from Senegal through the Gambia, Ethiopia, Somalia, Namibia and Botswana to South Africa.
What they eat
Medium to large mammals, birds and reptiles.
Threats
Poisoning, electrocution by overhead power lines, drowning in reservoirs, habitat loss, direct persecution for livestock losses, reduction in prey base and pollution.
Status: Vulnerable
The martial eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable (at high risk of endangerment in the wild).   The species was elevated from Near Threatened in 2012 to Vulnerable in 2013.   There is no true assessment of population numbers available, but, it is estimated there are no more than six hundred pairs left in South Africa.   The range of the martial eagle is extensive, though the birds themselves are rare.   Many more are thought to survive in low-densities in the other locations.

Conservation Actions Proposed by the IUCN:
Introduce programmes combining awareness campaigns and compensation to farmers for stock losses across the species range. Install anti-electrocution devices on electricity pylons.  Implement education and awareness campaigns across its range to reduce the use of poisoned baits.  Carry out regular population monitoring across its range.

Related Articles
Newly-born martial eagle – the first of its species to be born in captivity – Nelspruit News
A young martial eagle attempting to take on a klipspringer  (amusing)
Interview with Alan Kemp about the Martial Eagle in Southern Africa (including the global problem of electrocution)
(American) Bald Eagle Electrocuted Shortly After Leaving the Nest (for the first time)
One South African student’s initiative to save the martial eagle
Durban’s muthi market
Durban’s muthi market attracts a large number of international pharmaceutical companies
Johannesburg’s Mai Mai Market