Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 85 – The Purple-faced Langurs


Purple-faced langur, in Athurugiriya, near Colombo, Sri Lanka

Courtesy: Jeroen at Sri Lanka Blog

“Our treatment of animals will someday be considered barbarous. There cannot be perfect civilization until man realizes that the rights of every living creature are as sacred as his own”
David Starr Jordan

These poor little monkeys are now mistakenly swinging on power cables instead of vines. Needless to say, they don’t last very long! They are also getting hit by cars on roads – again, it goes without saying, they are not very familiar with traffic!  But, they have lost their own habitat due to man and are now forced to live in close proximity to the same.  

Next, conflict arises as man declares the monkeys a nuisance for stealing his crops – a common local pest, in fact.   Failing to take into account that he has stolen the home and food supply of the animals, he then sets about persecuting them.  And, just to exacerbate matters in this   ‘man versus monkey’ war, through this forced move, the purple-faced langurs have become more tolerant of human beings, and, as a result, have made themselves easy targets.

Western purple-faced langur  by Steve Garvie

There are four species of purple-faced langur in Sri Lanka, and all are endangered, one of them critically.  They have been fiercely driven out of their natural forest habitat and forced to find food within the gardens and rubber plantations of the invaders, which they now depend upon for their survival.  The food they are now  eating through necessity is far from adequate for these monkeys.  They, like several other species, have specialized stomachs which use symbiotic bacteria to aid digestion.  In their natural habitat, much of their nutrients and energy are derived from the complex carbohydrates contained in leaves.  Now, they must rely on cultivated fruits which are loaded with simple sugars and are difficult to absorb.

No two sub-species of purple-faced langurs are the same – their coats and cranial features vary. But, overall we can see a dark-brown to black colour on the body, legs and arms. The species sports pale to dark whiskers which sweep backwards.  Contrary to their name, they do not have purple faces – more of a grey-black colour.  They all have long arms and reduced thumbs.  Males can reach a body length of twenty-five inches, with a much longer tail length of thirty-three inches.  They can weigh up to twenty-one pounds. Females, as you would expect, tend to be slightly smaller.

Purple-faced langurs live for a quite a long time, and life spans of twenty-six years have been recorded as normal.Western purple-faced langur

Also known as purple-faced leaf monkeys, these primates have a one-male social system, very occasionally two, with a ratio of one male to one to seven females and assorted juveniles and infants.  The male will defend this group, or troop, aggressively against other males coming attempting to encroach.

There are also all-male groups consisting of anything between two and fourteen individuals.  These groups will forage separately in daylight and regroup at night to sleep.

The purple-faced langurs use three loud forms of communication; whoops, barks and residuals.  These sounds are used to alert others to predators, in defence of the group and its territory, attract suitable mates, and locate other members of the troop.  Adult males tend to be the loudest and most vociferous.  These vocalisations help conservationists, who have difficulty seeing the monkeys in the trees, to identify the species.

Western purple-faced langur with infantThere is little information about the breeding season of the purple-faced langurs available.  I suspect this may be because it is an all year round occurrence.  There is a gestation period of up to two hundred and ten days, after which one infant will be born, weighing just under one pound.  The infant’s coats are a contrast to their parents in that they are pale grey with a brownish tinge on the top of the head, arms, legs and chest.  The little ones start to eat solid food at about twelve weeks and will be fully weaned by eight months.

Natural Habitat
In general;  monsoon scrub, dry evergreen forests, mature secondary forest, undisturbed cloud forest, montane tropical forest and semi-deciduous forest.  Each sub-species has its own preference.
Where
Sri Lanka
The southern lowland purple-faced langur (Trachypithecus vetulus vetulus) lives in the rainforests of southern Sri Lanka.
The western purple-faced langur (Trachypithecus vetulus nestor) inhabits the wet zone of western Sri Lanka.
The northern purple-faced langur (Trachypithecus vetulus philbricki) can be found in the north and east of Sri Lanka, in the dry zones.
And, the bear monkey, or montane purple-faced langur, (Trachypithecus vetulus monticola), occupies the mountains of central Sri Lanka.

What they eat
They are mainly folivorous, but, as needs must, will eat fruit, flowers and seeds (from gardens).
Threats
Loss of habitat is the greatest threat to these little primates. Because of this, they are simply not getting enough of the right food any more. There are various reasons for habitat loss, depending on the area the primates are located in, but, collectively the reasons are rapid urbanization, selective logging, encroachment for agriculture, and development for infrastructure and industry.  Occasionally, in the north-east, they have fallen victim to cyclones.  Hunting is also a  threat, either for the pet trade, subsistence or the bushmeat market (this is not a significant amount). Skins are used, by some, to make tribal drums. They are electrocuted by power lines and hit by cars on the roads.  Human conflict over crops and encounters with dogs are also becoming far too common.
Status: Endangered
Three sub-species of purple-faced langurs (Trachypithecus vetulus) are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered. The sub-species western purple-faced langur (Trachypithecus vetulus nestor) is listed as Critically Endangered, and, is also classified as one of The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2012-2014.  All purple-faced langur species are listed on CITES Appendix II.

Juvenile purple-faced leaf langur  kept as a petExact population numbers are unknown, but it is widely acknowledged these once highly prevalent monkeys are declining at an alarming rate.  Various agencies are working to minimise the threats to the purple-faced langurs, such as building corridors and rope bridges within protected areas.

A few southern lowland purple-faced langur (critically endangered) are known to be kept in captivity.

 

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 39 – The Javan Slow Loris


Javan slow loris

Photo by Iing Iryantoro

Description
Often referred to as the gremlins of the jungle, these adorable creatures are being subjected to the most wanton cruelty imaginable.  Heartless illegal pet traders, who not only wrench them away from their families and natural environment, are gratuitously ripping their teeth out with wire clippers or cutting them down with nail clippers (in order to protect themselves from being bitten), causing untold anxiety and other complications. Often this leads to a slow and painful death with few making it to their intended destinations.

Some animals have been confiscated from illegal traders, and, in some cases, returned to the wild.  However, those who have had their teeth extracted are unable to defend themselves in their natural environment.  Per force, these unfortunate creatures must remain in captivity for the rest of their lives.

Remarkably (and apparently the reason for such cruel acts as teeth cutting), this shy little creature is the only living primate with a toxic bite.  And, in self-defence, it does bite.  It produces an oily substance from a gland in the elbow which, when mixed with saliva becomes poisonous.  There is no antidote for the poison, consequently locals have described it as being more dangerous than the leopard.

The Javan slow loris is nocturnal and arboreal,  moving slowly across vines and lianas in quadrupedal mode and  sleeping on exposed branches.  When foraging for food, baby lorises are left clinging to the branches alone.  All of these things render the species vulnerable to capture, and unscrupulous humans have been very quick to take advantage of this.

Javan slow lorises can be distinguished by their facial markings and features; long marks from the sides of the mouth to the top of the head, a white central stripe from the nose to the forehead, and huge, bulging brown eyes.  They also have soft, silky fur and human-like hands with opposable thumbs.  The tail is no more than a stump and is hidden by fur. They weigh in at less than two kilos, when fully grown, and can reach a length of roughly thirteen inches.

Little is known about the mating activities of the Javan slow loris in the wild.  Whatever sparse information there is available, has come from observations of those kept in captivity, and is as follows:  they give birth to a single infant  (all 50 grams of it!)  after a gestation period of just over six months.  Both parents take turns to carry the infant. Infants are weaned at five to six months of age.

I may be preaching to the converted, but the best way to help these lovely little creatures is by not supporting the pet trade market and buying one to take home.

Habitat
Both primary and secondary forest including bamboo forest; mangroves and various plantations (especially cocoa).
Where
Western and central Java  (Indonesia)
What they eat
Sap, flowers, fruit, insects, small mammals such as lizards, and birds and bird’s eggs.
Threats
The illegal exotic pet trade, hunting for research in traditional medicine and severe loss of habitat. The illegal pet trade is now the main cause of the decline of the species.
Status: Endangered
The Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered.  It is also listed on CITES Appendix I.  International Animal Rescue  has established a facility specialising in the care of the slow loris in Ciapus, West Java. [1] Many other organisations, too numerous to mention here,  are also involved in the care and protection of this species. Although fully protected by Indonesian law, the illegal pet trade continues to flourish and enforcement of the laws is very lax.

“Human nature will find itself only when it fully realizes that to be human it has to cease to be beastly or brutal”
Mahatma Gandhi

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 38 – The Bengal Tiger


Bengal tiger

Photography by Nikolay Tonev

Description
One of the most persecuted creatures on the planet,  the Bengal tiger is also one of the most beautiful.  But greed and misguided myths are pushing the species to the brink of extinction.  Notwithstanding, it is still the most numerous tiger sub-species.

The Bengal tiger is a powerful killing machine.  One reported kill demonstrated this power when a Bengal took down, killed and dragged away a gaur  –  the largest living bovine.  These beasts weigh over a ton, so that’s quite some feat.  Bengals, like other tigers, hunt at night, killing their prey by severing the spinal cord, via a bite to the nape of the neck, or suffocating the prey by a bite to the throat.  Death is usually quick and painless.  Once dead, the prey is dragged to cover for consumption.  Tigers can gorge their way through sixty pounds of meat in one go.  If any is left, they cover the kill and save it for later.  Not known for their efficiency in hunting, they need to get as much down as possible before the next meal, which may elude them for several days.  They also have the longest canine teeth of any extant big cat, three to four inches.

They are swift runners, excellent swimmers, hugely successful climbers and can leap great distances of over thirty feet.  Like domestic cats, they purr.  Purring can either denote happiness or pain.  Their almighty roar can be heard over a distance of two miles, allowing for communication with other tigers.

The largest of all living cats, there is no doubt these animals are a considerable size.  The male of the species can grow to ten feet in length and weigh up to six hundred and fifty pounds.  The females are slightly smaller and less heavy.  The unique appearance makes the tiger instantly recognisable. It has an orange coat with black stripes (no two have exactly the same stripes) and white patches on the face and neck with a white underside.

There is no specific mating season for tigers, it’s an all year round event, but November to April seems quite popular. The gestation period is one hundred and three days, after which a litter of up to six cubs are born.  Sadly, there is a very high mortality rate within the first year of their lives.  Those that do make it will stay with their mothers until they are about eighteen months old.

Habitat
Both tropical and subtropical rainforests, deciduous forests and scrub forests, alluvial grasslands and mangroves.
Where
Most are found in India with lesser populations in Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, China and Myanmar.
What they eat
Larger prey such as deer and wild cattle, and smaller hoofed prey including antelope, wild pigs and boar.  Though not strictly part of their natural diet, they have also been known to eat humans.
Threats
Poaching:  The tiger has been slaughtered for centuries because, according to the tenets of Chinese medicine, their bones and other parts have extensive healing properties.  As a result they are in high demand.  Skins are traded on the black market and fetch a considerable amount, as do the body parts.   Habitat loss due to illegal logging and plantations building is also playing a large part in their dwindling numbers.  Human/tiger conflict arises frequently.
Status: Endangered

The Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered, and on  Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora  (CITES).   In the 1970s game reserves were created.  These worked well for a short period of time and numbers became more stable. But, the potential profit involved in poaching is so great, it took hold once more, putting the Bengal at risk again.  Unless extensive and robust support is put in place, this species will no longer survive in the wild.   The World Bank is currently, amongst others, addressing this and making a significant contribution to the future of tigers in general.

“The first law of ecology is that everything is related to everything else”
Barry Commoner

Recommended reading:   As Tigers Near Extinction, a Last-ditch Strategy Emerges

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 37 – The Andean Cat


Andean cat

Source: The Andean Cat Alliance

Description
There are those who are eaten to the brink of extinction and those who are hunted for profit to the brink of extinction.  Then there is the rare Andian cat;  hunted and killed to the edge for religious ceremonies and beliefs.  Like the pampas cat, they are considered sacred and offered up accordingly. The Andean cat, whom I daresay far from appreciates this, is also considered to be one of the most endangered felids on the planet.  Despite this;  they are still killed, stuffed and skinned.

These animals occupy a very inhospitable environment.  They blend in well with the terrain, are not much bigger than a domestic cat and are sparsely distributed. Consequently, sightings have been as rare as the creature itself, and knowledge is limited.

Small, sturdy and furry, the coat is silver-grey with brown stripes and orange blotches. The pale underside is strewn with dark spots.  The tail is long, thick and fluffy with dark rings.  The Andean cat is possibly solitary, although adults have been recorded in pairs. Birth is thought to occur between October and April. Only two litters have ever been observed, both with two young.

Originally, the major prey species of the Andian cat was mountain chinchilla.  Then a huge demand arose for the fur of these sweet little animals.  This led to the chinchilla being almost hunted to extinction as well, and the Andian cat being deprived of its food base. Through necessity, mountain vizcacha became its major prey.  The Andean’s nocturnal habits are now thought to be related to this change and the feeding habits of mountain vizcachas.  This was a classic case of having to adapt rapidly or perish.

Habitat
Rocky, arid and semi-arid, and sparsely vegetated zones of the high Andes above the tree-line.
Where
The Andes mountains, through Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru.
What they eat
Mountain viscachas and mountain chinchillas, when they can get them.
Threats
Hunting for traditional practises (stuffed cats and skins are used in religious ceremonies in the belief they will bring good fortune).  Loss of natural prey.  Hunting for food, and for traditional medicine in central Peru, and hunting for pelts.  They are also often killed in retaliation for loss of small livestock.  Destruction of habitat by extensive mining, resource extraction for fuel and cattle grazing.  Disease from domestic animals. 
Status: Endangered
The Andean cat (Leopardus jacobita) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered.   Only 2,500 are believed to be still alive, and there are no known Andean cats in captivity.   Significant efforts are being made by various non-profit making organisations to help protect and preserve this species, and laws in all four South American countries, where the Andean cat is present, have been passed  accordingly.   Each country now has protected areas where hunting is banned.

To update this post, I would like to add a link to another post about the Andean cat.  This is a wonderful article by Carmen Mandel. I can highly recommend taking a look, especially at the updated images and videos.  The Elusive Gato Andino

“Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to a man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures”
The Dalai Lama

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 36 – The Dama Gazelle


Dama gazelle

Photo: Tim Wacher / Sahara Conservation Fund

Description
After suffering a severe decline in recent years, the dama gazelle is now only found running wild in Chad, Mali and Niger.  They are one of the most threatened species in Africa.  Shockingly, these critically endangered animals can also be found on various ranches in the United States, where they are offered up specifically for hunting down again. On one particular ranch, for $10,000,  “whether safari style, spot and stalk, or sitting patiently in a blind, you’ll experience the ultimate African game hunt right here in Texas”. This is far from the only ranch offering this ‘service’.  Only three hundred left in the wild and these people are killing them for entertainment  –  Beggars belief!

Damas are diurnal and also tend to need more water than many desert animals, but they can withstand reasonably long periods of drought.  They also have the cute habit of ‘pronking’ when they sense danger.  This involves bouncing up and down on all fours so their legs all leave the ground together and land again in the same way.  They are also very fleet of foot.   And, they are not slouches when it comes to feeding.  In order to take advantage of all the available food, these gazelles stand on their hind legs to reach the higher leaves.

The highly nomadic, and astonishingly beautiful, dama gazelle is the tallest and largest of all the gazelles, reaching almost four feet at the shoulder and weighing in at anything up to one hundred and sixty-five pounds.  The elegant body is supported by long, thin legs, and the neck is slender and graceful.  Both sexes sport s-shaped horns, with the male’s being larger and thicker.

Damas live in mixed herds consisting of fifteen to twenty animals. During the breeding season, March to June, the males establish their territory, ousting out all other males. Following which the gestation period lasts six and a half months.  Normally females give birth to only one calf/fawn at a time, which will be weaned by six months.

These animals are perfectly designed to cope with the hot conditions of the desert. Their white and rusty-red coats reflect sunlight whilst their long legs offer more surface area to the body.  These surface areas disseminate more heat and help them stay cool.  Their legs and underparts are white to reflect heat from the hot desert sand, and, with their extraordinary length, the legs keep the body raised high above ground level.

Habitat
In the dry season, they wander the grasslands, sparsely wooded savanna and sub-desert steppes of the Sahel region, where acacia trees are dominant.  In the wet season, they migrate north to the stony plains and plateaux of the Sahara Desert.
Where
Central and west Africa – Mainly Chad and Niger, with a few still in Mali.
What they eat
Leaves (particularly acacia leaves), coarse desert grasses and fruit.
Threats
Uncontrolled, excessive mechanised hunting by Arab hunting parties, military personnel and nomads.  Habitat loss and degradation, and grazing of domestic animals.  Natural predators include  lion, hyena, cheetah, leopard and jackal.
Status: Critically Endangered
In all, there are probably no more than 300 dama  (Nanger dama) gazelles  in the wild today.  The species is listed on CITES Appendix I and has been placed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered.  According to a report issued by the IUCN in 2009, a quarter of all antelope species are threatened with extinction, and the dama gazelle is one of the five species of antelope in the highest category of threat.

“Deer hunting would be fine sport, if only the deer had guns” **
William S. Gilbert

**Although gazelle and deer are not strictly related, I felt this quote was appropriate.

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 35 – The Humphead Wrasse


Humphead wrasse

Photo: Jeff Rotman / WWF

Description
The humphead wrasse is one of the ocean’s most spectacular sights.  Despite this, it has become a plated delicacy for indiscriminate diners.  This huge fish, it can grow up to seven feet in length and weigh in at anything in the region of four hundred and twenty pounds, is being hunted mercilessly for its flesh.

But, looking at a wild creature and saying,  “I don’t care how many of you are left  –  I think you’re really tasty, so I’m going to eat you anyway”  –  is just not acceptable.  So, if you see it on the menu  –  order something else. Thankfully, this is a recognised fact and, for this and other reasons for concern, the humphead wrasse has now become widely protected. Needless to say, they are still taken and killed despite the penalties.

They are sedentary creatures who, resting in caves at night, are highly vulnerable to unscrupulous divers and fishermen.  At night, scuba divers are able to sneak up on them unawares, using flash-lights, and simply take them or kill them.  Fishermen use cyanide, stunning them for capture.  The humphead wrasse is one of the most expensive live reef fishes in the world.  This species cannot be hatchery reared, meaning all those traded come from the wild population, making trade restrictions especially important.

It is often solitary, but has been seen in small social groups consisting of a limited number of male, females and juveniles.  Humphead wrasses possess a remarkable immunity to the toxic spines of starfish, boxfish and sea hares.

An adult humphead wrasse can change its colour, the shape of its body, and even its sex. Which it has been known to do when there has been an absence of the opposite sex.

Habitat
Steep outer reef slopes, channel slopes, lagoon reefs up to 300 feet in depth. Juveniles seem to prefer staghorn coral thickets, seagrasses and bushy macroalgae.
Where
They are widely distributed throughout the Indo-Pacific region, though nowhere are they common.
What they eat
Mainly molluscs, fishes, sea urchins and crustaceans.  With their sharp, hard teeth, they are also known to prey upon the toxic crown-of-thorns starfish, boxfish and sea hares.
Threats
Habitat loss and degradation, spear-fishing at night with scuba gear, illegal fishing, destructive fishing techniques, including the use of sodium cyanide and dynamite, and intensive capture for the Live Reef Food Fish Trade (LRFFT) (the use of cyanide has been found to be the most efficient way to take the wrasse, which is not only directly detrimental to the wrasse but also has a devastating effect on the coral which they depend on for shelter).  As a food, the flesh of the humphead wrasse is highly sought after.  Dwindling numbers are pushing the price up causing a further decline in numbers. Capture for the export trade in juvenile humphead wrasse for the marine aquarium trade is also a large problem.
Status: Endangered
The humphead wrasse was placed on the IUCN Red List as Endangered in 2004 and was listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in October 2004.
The WWF is working with others to attempt to re-populate the coral reefs with this extraordinary species. Live fish, captured for resale by local fishermen, have been bought back by the WWF and released into the wild. Almost nine hundred have been returned to their natural environment, by this method, since 2010.
IUCN Groupers and Wrasses Specialist Group aims to raise awareness throughout the region. In many areas this fish is now protected.

“Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace”
Albert Schweitzer

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 34 – Tonkin snub-nosed monkey


Tonkin snub-nosed monkey

Photo: Tilo Nadler

Description
The elusive Tonkin snub-nosed monkey was believed to be extinct until 1989 when a small population was found in Na Hang District in Tuyen Quang Province of Vietnam.  Later, in 2002, Fauna and Flora International discovered a further population in Ha Giang Province.

This delightful monkey is diurnal and almost exclusively arboreal; but has been known to occasionally take to the forest floor.  Sightings of these enigmatic creatures has been rare, so information is sketchy.

The basic social unit is known to be a one-male to several females ratio along with  some young . Other males form all-male groups.  Unfortunately, when groups are approached by humans they tend not to run away, which makes them easy targets for hunters.  Though the meat is considered “bad tasting” it does not stop them being killed and consumed.  They do, however, have a range of alarm and other calls, from the soft “huu chhhk” and “hoo”, to the rapid-fire “chit”, so others are warned of impending danger.

Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys are the largest of Vietnam’s primate population and have black hands and feet; black back fur and black outer sides of limbs.  The inner side of the limbs tends to be a creamy colour along with backs of legs, face and elbows.  They also have adorable, also human, pink lips and stunning blue-rimmed eyes.

Habitat
Tropical evergreen forests containing steep karst limestone hills and mountains
Where
Northern Vietnam
What they eat
Leaf stems and young leaves, unripe fruits, flowers and seeds
Threats
Aggressive  deforestation; illegal logging, cultivation for domestic use, collection of fuel-wood, the gathering of other forest products,  grazing of domestic cattle and intensive hunting.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus avunculus) is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as Critically Endangered on their IUCN Red List. The species is also listed on The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates – 2006 to 2008. **   It is thought there are less than 200 Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys left on the planet.   Various agencies are working to rectify the issue of habitat destruction and hunting in Khau Ca is controlled. Not so in Quan Ba, where it still poses a threat despite Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys being protected under CITES Appendix I and Group IB Decree 32/2006 of the Vietnamese law.  Whatever the conservation tactics, at the moment the future of this unusual primate still hangs very much in the balance. 

** Titled “Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates–2006–2008”, the report compiled by 60 experts from 21 countries warns that failure to respond to the mounting threats now exacerbated by climate change will bring the first primate extinctions in more than a century. Overall, 114 of the world’s 394 primate species are classified as threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List. [1]

“A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers but borrowed from his children”
John James Audubon

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 33 – The Pygmy Hippopotamus


A baby Pygmy hippopotamus takes a bath in an enclosure at Tokyo's Ueno Zoo. The baby hippo was born on June 22 at the zoo. (AFP)

Photo: Getty Images

Description
These adorable little hippopotami are so elusive there are few images of them in the wild.  They are both shy and nocturnal, and consequently photographs are scarce.  The heart-melting little man above was born on June 22nd,  2011 in Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo.

Pygmy hippopotami are solitary creatures who wallow in mud or water for most of the day until they emerge at night to feed.  When doing so, they have the most unusual trait of using their lips instead of their teeth to grind food.  They are also strong swimmers, with specially adapted valves to close their ears and nostrils when underwater.  And, contrary to belief,  calves don’t instinctively know how to swim.  They require a few lessons from mother first.

Once fully grown,  pygmy hippopotami can reach up to five and a half feet in length and thirty-nine inches in height,  and weigh up to six hundred pounds.  With wide heads,  stout legs and round bodies,  these are really solid little individuals.  Unlike the African hippo, they do not have eyes on the top of their heads.

Nature,  forever compensating as it does,  has afforded the pygmy hippo its own built-in sun screen.  In order to stay cool it has a thin skin;  which could quite quickly cause dehydration when exposed to the sun.  So,  very cleverly,  the skin secretes a pink fluid, making it look all wet and shiny,  which protects it from the sun’s harmful rays.  This fluid is impressively named,  blood sweat.

The gestation period for a pygmy hippopotamus lasts about 6 months,  after which the female  (cow)  gives birth,  on land,  to a single baby (calf).  A newborn usually weighs in at about 14 pounds.  The baby will remain with its mother until it is weaned (about eight months). Newborns are not able to walk too well at first,  so the mother will hide the baby in the undergrowth whilst she forages for food.  Mother and baby will remain in each other’s company for the next two years.

It is thought,  though not proven,  pygmy hippopotami live between thirty and fifty years, but it is doubtful that they will live this long in the wild.  The name Hippopotamus, incidentally,  comes from the Ancient Greek meaning  “river horse”.

One of the folk tales associated with the pygmy hippopotamus tells of pygmy hippos carrying a shining diamond in their mouths to help travel through thick forests at night; by day the pygmy hippo has a secret hiding place for the diamond,  but if a hunter catches a pygmy hippo at night,  the diamond can be taken.

Habitat
Swamp and rivers  within damp tropical lowland forests.
Where
West Africa:  The Ivory Coast,  Guinea,  Liberia and Sierra Leone  (the largest population occurring in Liberia)
What they eat
Leaves and roots of forest shrubs, ferns,  broad-leaved plants,  semi-aquatic plants and forest herbs,  as well as on fallen fruit.
Threats
The major threat to  pygmy hippopotami is devastating habitat destruction caused by logging,  farming and human settlement.  Poaching for the illegal bushmeat trade is also a known problem.  As are natural predators,  hunting and warfare.
Status: Endangered
It is estimated only 2,000 pygmy hippopotami  (Choeropsis liberiensisare)  are left in the wild, and those numbers are declining rapidly with the ongoing destruction of their habitat.  In 2008,  the species was placed on the IUCN Red List as Endangered.  Various agencies are working to resolve the issue of habitat degradation.   Some pygmy hippos have been bred in captivity,  where they seem to be doing well.  In fact, these breeding programmes have been highly successful.  A great deal of the available information has come from these sources.

“For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver”
Martin Luther 

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 32 – Proboscis Monkey


Proboscis monkey 3

Photo: Frank Wouters

Description
With its huge fleshy nose and its World War II flying jacket, this endearing primate is bound to raise a smile on most faces.  A native of Borneo, it emits sounds eminently suited to its nasal abnormalities – it honks.  From a special honk for reassuring infants to its alarm honk when sensing danger, it manages a whole range of honk tones.  And, its nose stands out straight when doing this.  The male’s is so large it gets in the way of eating, hanging down over its mouth.  Only the male of the species has this nose.  Another bizarre distinction of the proboscis monkey is the large pot belly.

But, that’s not all.  They’ve managed to dispel any ideas that monkeys do not like water. They are incredible swimmers.  They have partially webbed feet and a penchant for leaping from high branches into the water.  They swim on or under the surface.  They can swim submerged for up to twenty metres at a time.  They appear to do the breast stroke as they move swiftly through the water – amazing!   If they have the misfortune to encounter a crocodile, they have a plan.  They slide quietly into the water and glide silently past it, taking care not to splash.

They are the largest of Asia’s monkeys, with males reaching up to fifty pounds in weight; the females being more or less half of that.  Their coats of fur are light brown on the bulk of the body becoming red near the shoulders and head.  They have grey arms, legs and tails.  Their chambered stomach harbours symbiotic bacteria to aid digestion.

Groups of proboscis monkeys (troops) typically consist of one male to six females – something on the lines of a harem.   The breeding season is from February until November.   Females give birth to just one baby at a time.  The gestation period lasts about 166 days.  Babies are usually born during the night.  All the females in the troop pitch in to help with the new babies, who stay with their mothers for about a year, or until she gives birth again – whichever comes first.

Habitat
Riparian-riverine forests, coastal lowland forests (including mangroves) where tidal flooding occurs,  peat swamps and freshwater swamp forests.
Where
Borneo: Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia
What they eat

Leaves, seeds,  fruits and occasionally insects.  The proboscis monkeys will only eat unripe fruit.
The sugars in ripe fruits can ferment in their stomachs and cause fatal bloating. [1]
Threats

Habitat destruction through land clearance and conversion, logging and settlement.  Oil palm plantations have depleted huge tracts of their habitat.  Forest fires have also had a massive impact.  In 1997 to 1998, fires decimated a huge proportion of what remained at the time.
Its natural predators include crocodiles and the clouded leopard.  In some parts, proboscis monkey-meat is considered a delicacy.  And, here we go again, they are hunted for traditional Chinese medicine.  In their case,  for their intestinal bezoar stones.   
It really is time these people stopped eating and grinding up everything with a heartbeat – BEFORE they are entirely bereft of wildlife.

Status: Endangered
The proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus) was listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature on its IUCN Red List as Endangered in the year 2000, with an estimated 50% reduction in the population in the following ten years.  In 2008, numbers were thought to be less than 6,000.  The conversion of land to palm oil plantations is an alarming and escalating problem, which can only be addressed by the consumer choosing not to buy palm oil based products.

“The more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man”
Mahatma Gandhi

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 31 – The Indri


Indri in Madagascar

Photo: Erik Patel

Description
Also known as the Babakoto, meaning ‘ancestor of man’, the indri are surrounded by taboo. Many Malagasy believe the indri resemble their sacred ancestors, therefore traditionally they refrain from eating them.  This affords these lemurs a certain degree of protection.

Like other lemurs, they evolved from smaller species which came to Madagascar from  mainland Africa 50 million years ago. Diurnal tree-dwellers, related to the sifakas, indri are the largest lemurs in existence.  Able to run up at speeds of up to twenty miles per hour, they also sing to communicate with others of the species.  Colours range from black to shades of brown with white patches. They move across the canopy by taking huge, graceful bounds of up to thirty feet.

They live in small groups and bonds between the individuals run deep.  In-fighting is rarely known.  Indri lemurs pair for life.  After mating,  the gestation period lasts sixty days.  The babies depend on their mother for the first two years and are cared for by both parents. Females reproduce once every two to three years and there is a high infant mortality rate, which exacerbates the population problem; they simply cannot keep up with their declining numbers.

Habitat
Mainly montane forests and tropical moist lowland
Where
Madagascar
What they eat

Mostly young, tender leaves; and flowers, seeds and bark.
Threats

Habitat loss due to extensive rainforest clearance, selective logging, fuel wood and slash-and-burn agriculture.  Although the indri are protected by taboo in many areas, in some parts they are still hunted for their meat and skins.  And, then there is the fossa. The fossa was just made to prey upon lemurs and the indri are no exception.  Snakes and hawks also share a taste for all lemur.
Status: Endangered
The indri (indri indri) is listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature on the  IUCN Red List  as Endangered.  The habitat of the indri has been totally ravaged by deforestation therefore endangering the indri itself.  Thanks to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) this is all about to change.

The Wildlife Conservation Society and the Government of Madagascar announced a landmark agreement, where the government will offer for sale more than nine million tons of carbon offsets to help safeguard this African nation’s most pristine forest. Proceeds from sales will protect the wildlife-rich Makira Forest, contribute to the economic well-being of people living around the forest, and help fight global climate change. [1]

“It is our task in our time and in our generation, to hand down undiminished to those who come after us…the natural wealth and beauty which is ours.”
John F. Kennedy