Hippopotamus Attacks Crocodile and Saves Gnu


My thanks to the wonderful Cindy Knoke for telling me about this rescue. It is truly astonishing!

The gnu, in the jaws of a crocodile, is struggling to cross the river. Death seems almost certain until a bloat of huge (usually aggressive) hippopotami circle the duo and take action. One hippo, whose maternal instinct must have taken over (assuming it’s female), lunges, mouth agape, for the crocodile. It chases it away and escorts the injured gnu safely to the opposite bank.

Amazingly, the hippo then waits by the bank, guarding the gnu against further attacks, and actually tries pushing it up the bank out of the water. 

The incredible event took place on the Maasai Mara game reserve in Kenya. It took place three years ago, but has only just gone viral, giving everyone a chance to see it.

Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 108 – Grévy’s Zebra


Grevy's zebra

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself”
William Blake

Grevy's zebra running with giraffeHow sad it would be to lose the unique Grévy’s zebra from the plains of Africa. It is the rarest and most endangered of all species of zebra, and no other African mammal has seen such dramatic reductions in range as Grévy’s zebra has in recent decades. Being driven from its home by pastoral farmers after being forced to compete with cattle and goats for food and water has been one of the major problems the animals have had to face. Over-grazing has left the land severely degraded.

Furthermore, irrigation schemes surrounding the Ewaso Ng’iro River have seriously depleted water supplies in the past thirty years, “reducing dry season river flow by Grevy's zebra at the watering hole90%” (Williams 2002). This and natural droughts have been significant contributory factors in, not only the deaths of adults, but also the high rate of juvenile mortality (fifty per cent), posing a huge threat to the species. Human disturbance at crucial watering holes is also hastening their decline. Grévy’s zebra are able to live without water for up to five days, but this is their limit and access is then necessary. The distances they are compelled to travel between food and accessible water often prove too much for the foals and many die en route.

Diseases occur, and an outbreak of anthrax between December 2005 and March 2006 killed more than fifty Grévy’s zebra in the Wamba area of Rift Valley Province in central Kenya. Considering their low numbers, this constituted quite a high percentage of the population.

Grevy's zebra grazing In the late 1970s, zebra were extensively hunted for their highly prized skins, medicinal value and subsistence food, which markedly added to the initial reduction in numbers. Since then, hunting has been outlawed, but still persists in some areas; notably in Ethiopia where the laws are not always adhered to. Here the isolated populations are still sought primarily for their hides, occasionally for food and sporadically in connection with traditional healing.

But now much has changed for Grévy’s zebra, and the outlook is beginning to look a little more promising. But their numbers are still few and they may well become extinct in the wild if conservation plans are not successful.  So what is being done!

Grevy's zebra and foal Currently, there are some amazing ongoing projects in existence run by various NGO, including the Grévy’s Zebra Trust, which are doing their utmost to save the species within its own or similar habitat.

This includes involving the local tribes of Kenya. Fourteen years ago, Grévy’s zebra became a conservation flagship species among the pastoral communities of northern Kenya. At this point, indigenous tribes began to take a pride in their wildlife and ceased to be huntsmen and became guardians instead. This was an extraordinary turning point, beneficial to both wildlife and local farmers.

Lioness chasing Hartmann's zebraNot forgetting, the zebra has its fair share of natural predators, too. The Kenya Wildlife Service, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and the Ol Pejeta Wildlife Conservancy initiated a plan in 2012 to translocate the Grévy’s zebras, currently distributed thinly across the Ol Pejeta Conservancy,to a predator-free fenced area of seven thousand and four hundred acres. Several are now living safely in this area.  Since lion, leopard, cheetah, etc, take a fairly substantial share of beasts, this too is a heartening step towards enhancing the populations. And, of course, these predators will still have plenty of other natural prey left on their own home ground to choose from. Separating the Grévy’s zebra from the plains zebra, will also eliminate any further problems of hybridisation which have already occurred.

Gevy's rumpsGrévy’s zebra are ridiculously easy to spot out on the plains. They have huge furry ears, large heads and long legs. They are the largest of all wild equids and their stripes are as unique as the human fingerprint. Unlike the plains zebra, who is closely related to the horse, Grévy’s zebra,between its habits and distribution, falls somewhere between the wild asses and other zebras.

Although they have the classic black zebra stripes which form a concentric pattern, in Grévy’s zebra these are notably narrower than those of other species. Foals are born with reddish-brown stripes which Grevy's zebra foal at Whipsnade Zoodarken with maturity. Each adult animal has a characteristic dorsal stripe, black with white either side, and a very discernible brown muzzle. The hogged-like mane and forelock hairs have brown tips, as does the tail, and the underside is gleaming white. 

As far as build goes, Grévy’s zebra are fairly solid animals weighing up to nine hundred pounds. They can be as much as nine feet long and stand almost five and a half feet at the shoulder. Generally speaking, males tend to be about ten per cent larger than females.

They are herd animals, but where there is dominance over breeding females by the leading males, there is rarely aggression. Some males are highly territorial where others are not. Those who are claim prime watering and grazing rights. They are also Grevy's herd solitary, except for mating, and will often remain in their territories during the dry season, whilst other migrate to lusher pastures. The non-territorial males travel together in small bachelor groups of up to eight individuals.  

Socially, Grévy’s zebra do not form stable social units, or harems, such as other species of zebra do. Their social structure consists mainly of females attached to their young and joining large herds of other females and their offspring, and males being attached to their territory or forming bachelor groups. Females are polyandrous and, during the breeding season (they breed once every two years), are capable of visiting up to four territories a day in search of partners.

Grevy's foal Great Plains Zoo, South DakotaThe breeding season takes place in August and September, with births coinciding with the early rains. There is an exceptionally long gestation period of three hundred and ninety days, after which a single foal, weighing eighty to ninety pounds, will be born.

Newborn foals are like newborn ducklings; they will attach themselves to the first thing they see. New mothers instantly protect their young from other approaching mares until they have imprinted their own stripes, scent and sounds on the newborns. The new foal will be able to stand after just six minutes, and run after forty only minutes. It will not be weaned until six to eight months of age and may continue to travel with its mother for the next three years. 

Unfortunately, when very young and left alone in the open whilst their mothers forage for food, foals have a tendency to stand still rather than run away from predators. This is, of course, fatal.

A few extra thoughts…
In 1882, the Emperor of Abyssinia (Ethiopia), Menelik II, thought these zebras were rather regal-looking, and as such he gifted one of them to Jules Grévy, the then President of France. The zebra was subsequently accorded its own species and named after him.

Over six hundred Grévy’s zebra are recorded as living in zoos across the world, many in captive breeding programmes where they have bred very successfully, but I have been unable to find any evidence of any of these institutions taking steps to return the animals to the wild. Most seem to be simply kept as tourist attractions. As usual, comments are most welcome.

Grevy's zebra distributionNatural Habitat
Arid and semi-arid grass and shrubland, and dry acacia savannah; all within range of permanent water.
Where
Northern Kenya and southern and eastern Ethiopia.
What they eat
Grasses and forbs, and leaves in the dry season.
Threats
Habitat loss through over-grazing, competition for food and water, drought, hybridisation, disease and illegal hunting for meat, hides and Traditional medicine. Natural predators include lion, hyena, leopard and cheetah.
Status: Endangered
Grévy’s zebra (Equus grevyi) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered. It is also listed on CITES Appendix I.  Although the population is thought to be stable, only two and a half thousand or so remain with over six hundred of the species being kept in captivity.
The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya holds three hundred and seventy individuals constituting fifteen per cent of the entire population.
The species is protected by law in Ethiopia.  In Kenya, where ninety per cent of the populations live, hunting has been banned since 1977 and Grévy’s zebra is being elevated from ‘Game Animal’ to ‘Protected Animal’.
Conservation projects exist in both countries focusing on better management of protected areas, protection of water supplies, community involvement and monitoring of wild population numbers.

Here are just a few worthwhile and informative articles about the current status and conservation efforts on behalf of Grévy’s zebra.
Novel Strategies Save Both Endangered Grévy’s Zebras and Cattle Ranchers 
Grévy’s Zebra Trust
Grévy’s zebra – Fragile flagship of community conservation 
Our solutions to protecting the Grévy’s zebra 

Related Articles

2013 in review: the year wildlife crime became an international security issue


   looks back at some of the year’s biggest wildlife and natural world stories – 16 December 2013
Chinese Superstar Yao Ming Encounters Poached Elephant in Northern Kenya
Former NBA star and Chinese icon Yao Ming inspects the corpse of a poached elephant in Namunyak, northern Kenya. Photograph: Kristian Schmidt/Wild Aid

Demand for ivory destabilising central Africa – 18 June 2013

Arguably the biggest story of 2013 was wildlife crime, which escalated from a conservation issue to an international security threat. Driven by rising demand for ivory from east Asia, it has doubled over the past five years into a global trade worth $10bn, threatening political and economic stability in central Africa.

This month there were warnings that Africa could lose one-fifth of its elephants in the next decade if the continent’s poaching crisis is not stopped. By the end of September, a record 704 rhinos had been killed by poachers in South Africa and 47 in Kenya this year. Figures showed two-thirds of forest elephants had been killed by ivory poachers in past decade.

Some high-profile massacres hit the headlines, with 86 elephants – including 33 pregnant females–  killed in less than a week in Chad, 26 elephants slaughtered at a wildlife-viewing site in the Central African Republic and 80 poisoned at a water hole in Zimbabwe.

While conservation groups looked to technology such as surveillance drones and GPS trackers to aid their efforts, park rangers lost lives and faced corruption fighting a one-sided war against increasingly militarised and organised gangs of poachers sometimes linked to terrorist groups like Al-Shabaab.

Prince Charles calls for war on animal poachers – 21 May 2013

With Prince Charles and his son the Duke of Cambridge calling for a “war on poachers”UK prime minister David Cameron announced he would host the highest level global summit to date on combating the illegal wildlife trade. In the US, the Obama administration said it would destroy all 6m tonnes of its ivory stocks and the Philippines crushed 5m tonnes of seized ivory beneath industrial rollers.

Read the rest of the article here at The Guardian

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 89 – The Mountain Bongo


Bongo calf

“For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.”
Pythagoras

With their soft eyes, astonishingly beautiful coats and those magnificent horns, these highly sociable forest antelopes are a stunning vision.  Bongos, in general, are fairly plentiful across west Africa.  But, the critically endangered sub-species, isaaci, is only found in the mountains of central Kenya.  As you would expect, deforestation and hunting (including so-called ‘trophy hunting‘) have played a major part in its decline.  The numbers kept in captivity, now outweigh the numbers left in the wild by almost seven to one.

Male bongo Mount KenyaThe mountain bongo may look a lot like its cousin, the western bongo, but, in fact, it is heavier, taller and more richly coloured.  Adult mountain bongos stand at over four feet at the shoulder, and can be as much as an astonishing ten and a half feet in length.  Males can weigh up to almost nine hundred pounds, and females, just over five hundred pounds.

Mountain bongos, or eastern bongos as they are sometimes called, have beautiful coats of deep-chestnut with vertical white stripes.  Their muzzles are black with a white band across the nose and under the eyes, and their legs are dark in colour with patches of white.  Further white markings occur on the chest.  Like the okapi, the disruptive colouration of their coats helps to camouflage them in the forest.

Bongo with hornsAnother notable feature of the bongo are the heavy, but elegant, spiral horns.  Both male and female sport these, with the female’s being slightly smaller and paler.  These horns can be used to break branches allowing their long prehensile tongues to strip the same with ease.

Unfortunately, these spectacular horns have been a contributing factor in their downfall.  It is always wonderful how nature equips different species with these various adaptations for their survival.  But, wonderful turns to tragic when man comes along and ends that chance of survival because he sees that which belongs to another as his, and his right to possess; to satisfy his unquenchable greed and lust for death.

Bongos are outgoing and non-territorial, but they are also shy and wary.  They live in mixed herds of up to fifty individuals, though smaller herds are more likely.  They forage mostly under cover of the dense forest, but can be tempted out into clearings and swamps if the pickings look good enough.  Although mostly nocturnal, they are occasionally active during the day.

Distressed bongos bleat and mothers have a special low mooing call for their calves. Otherwise their vocalisations are fairly limited.

The peak breeding season for bongo antelope occurs between October and January. Following a gestation period of nine and a half Baby bongo at Taronga Zoo 2012months, a single calf will be born.  Females give birth in dense undergrowth where they can hide their babies from predators.  The mother will leave the calf alone for the first week, returning only to let the calf suckle.  By the time it is two weeks old, it will be racing round and ready to join the nursery herd.  Bongo calves are fast developers and will have the first signs of horns at three to four months of age. They are weaned at six months and fully mature at two years.

Natural Habitat
Dense montane forests and bamboo thickets.
Where
The central Kenyan highlands – restricted to Aberdare’s Conservation Area, the Mau Forest and Mount Kenya National Park.
What they eat
Leaves, shrubs, pith and bark of fallen dead trees, grasses and fruits.
Threats
Habitat loss due to illegal logging and charcoal production, poaching with snares and dogs, and diseases such as rinderpest.  The mountain bongo  are poached for their pelts and horns, and bushmeat to feed the ever-growing population.  Natural predators include leopard and spotted hyena.  Pythons have been known to eat calves. Bongo, in general, are considered a prize target for big-game trophy hunters, which in the past has devastated local populations of mountain bongo. 

Status: Critically Endangered
The mountain bongo, or eastern bongo, (Tragelaphus eurycerus ssp. isaaci), is listed on the  IUCN Antelope Specialist Group  as Critically Endangered.  It is thought there are now no more than one hundred of the species left in the wild, possibly as few as seventy-five.  In 2012, six hundred and seventy-seven were recorded as kept in captivity around the globe.  All captive bongo stem from the wild population captured from the Aberdere Mountains area in the 1970s.

Eastern Bongo calves  at the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy -“In 2000, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in the USA (AZA) upgraded the bongo to a  Species Survival Plan  participant and in 2006 named the Bongo Restoration to Mount Kenya Project to its list of the Top Ten Wildlife Conservation Success Stories of the year.  However, in 2013, it seems, these successes have been negated with reports of possibly only 100 mountain bongos left in the wild due to logging and poaching.” (Wikipedia)  Although zoos are not the best option for wildlife, it seems, in this case,  they may well be the saving of the mountain bongo.  With so few left in the wild, the species might otherwise be lost to us.

Related Articles
Bongo Surveillance Project   A village is rewarded with solar power to say ‘thank you’ for hosting the mountain bongo.
UAE’s bid to save the Eastern Bongo from extinction
EASTERN BONGO (TRAGELAPHUS EURYCERUS ISAACI) CAPTIVE POPULATION AND CONSERVATION

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 53 – The Hirola Antelope


Hirola, in the wild, looking at camera

Photographer: Unknown

Description
Hirola is the Somali name for this antelope. Originally it was known as Hunter’s antelope following it’s discovery in 1887 by big game hunter, H. C. V. Hunter.  It is highly recognisable by its facial appearance.  Not only does it look as though it is wearing spectacles with white frames, it also has the distinction of having large pre-orbital glands which give the impression of having two sets of eyes.

Like all antelope, the hirola belongs to the family Bovidae, which includes cattle, bison, buffalo, goats and sheep.  And also, like most antelope, it has been mercilessly hunted. Hunting has been banned in Kenya since 1997, but the butchery continues.

Despite the ban, there has been a dramatic drop in population since the eighties. Recorded then as being fourteen thousand strong, there are now only five hundred hirola left in the wild. In Somalia they have ceased to exist altogether.

Resembling a cross between an impala and a hartebeest, the hirola can reach a height of forty-nine inches at the shoulder, and weigh up to two hundred and fifty pounds.  Head to tail, they can measure almost six feet and six inches.  Both sexes have long, thin, curved horns; growing to twenty-eight inches and having bold, dark rings around them.  The overall body colour is a sort of pale buff, with darker legs. There is a white band across the eyes.  The tail is white with a black and white tip.

They feed early morning and early evening, and can survive well without water for long periods of time.  Herds range from fifteen to forty individuals, but occasionally this number can be much larger.

There exists a system whereby dominant, polygamous males defend a selected harem of seven to eight females and their young.  The breeding season is March to April, followed by a gestation period of seven to eight months.  Females leave the herd to birth their calves and continue to stay away for a further two weeks.  Single calves are born in October to November and will be able to stand almost immediately.  Unfortunately, both mothers and calves become vulnerable to predators during this time.

Habitat
Semi-arid, grassy plains and lush savannah grassland, amidst dry acacia scrub and coastal forests.
Where
Kenya  (close to the Somalia border)
What they eat
Freshly sprouting, short grasses  (they tend to avoid longer grasses)  and sometimes forbs.
Threats
Habitat loss, disease, drought, and competition with livestock are all considerable threats to the hirola.  Natural predators are plentiful too;  lion, hunting dogs and cheetah roam freely.   And, hyenas and eagles are known to prey upon the newborns before mother and baby have the chance to safely rejoin the herd.  Then, as always, there is the human predator. Poachers (hunters) are usually local herdsmen, tourists or military personnel.
Status: Critically Endangered
There are an estimated five hundred hirola antelope  (Beatragus hunteri)  left in the wild. The species is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Critically Endangered.  The hirola share the land with the pastoral Abdullah Clan of Somalian origin. These peoples have been working with the various non-profit conservation agencies to assist in the protection of the hirola.  Indeed, they are crucial to the project.  Both funding and knowledge have been provided and the project is working well.  [1]  If the issue of hunting by other parties could be addressed successfully, this species may have a chance of survival.

“You must be the change you want to see in the world”
Mahatma Gandhi