Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 113 – The Asiatic Lion


Asiatic lion in Gir Forest via Pinterest

“Living wild species are like a library of books still unread. Our heedless destruction of them is akin to burning the library without ever having read its books”
John Dingell

Asiatic lionPossibly one of the most persecuted animals in history, this majestic and noble creature has suffered a shocking catalogue of violence and abuse over the past two millennia or more.

It has been used as a weapon, killed for sport and entertainment, stolen for zoo exhibits, graced the floors and trophy rooms of the unconcerned, been poisoned and electrocuted by villagers protecting their cattle, drowned in open-pit wells and is now, in the face of dwindling tiger numbers, being hunted for body parts for use in Chinese Traditional medicine and other applications.

Populations were first dramatically and critically depleted, and in some areas wiped out, in Roman times.  Had you lived as a Christian in ancient Rome, you might have wished this had happened a little sooner.  For Christians were often hunted as criminals for refusing to worship Roman Gods.  And indeed these, the Asiatic lions, were the lions the Christians and other prisoners were “fed to” and the ones gladiators faced in the arenas of the primitive coliseum games of the Roman Empire.

Wild Asiatic lion by Falguna ShahNot the lions choice, of course, they just happened to fit the task in hand.  And at the time they were as abundant as their human fodder.  But there is no doubt the animal’s lives ended very badly.

Killing them was a form of highly popular entertainment. They were starved in cages and then brought up into the arena where they would be baited, abused, stabbed and gored by gladiators, to the delight of the crowd. Sometimes, after they had been encouraged to kill a defenceless prisoner tied to a post.

“Hunts” would also be organised in the arenas with the lions having no way out and no cover.  Attack was their only defence and always ended in the gory and painful deaths of the overwhelmed, trapped lions.

Roman Circus, by K. KochRoman emperors staged these contests for personal popularity. Both animals and humans suffered a terrible fate.  Those who tormented and killed the weakened and frightened lions were hailed as heroes. Those themselves killed were soon discarded and replaced by others. The death toll was high on all sides.  But such deaths meant little to the sadistic Romans.  Their appetites were simply whetted further in their insatiable lust for blood and gore. 

These same callous and depraved Romans undoubtedly started the ball rolling where decimation of certain species are concerned, including the Asiatic lion, by the massacre of multiple species of starving, terrified animals for their own personal gratification.  At the inauguration of Titus, in 80AD, eight thousand animals were slaughtered within three days for his and the crowd’s amusement.

More of this centuries-lasting, unjustifiable slaughter can be found here, but do be prepared to be shocked at the scale of the annihilation and the range of animals concerned.  It is truly disquieting. 

The Christians Thrown to the Beasts by the Romans - Louis Felix LeullierIt is also particularly disturbing to realise a civilisation so advanced in so many ways could be so uncivilised and so deficient in others, including compassion.  The slaughter petered out eventually, after having continued for some four hundred years, but not because someone had developed a sense of fair play or a love of animals; simply because most of the animals were sadly gone and the power of the Roman Empire was declining.

But, by then the Romans had managed to eradicate the Asiatic lion from most parts of its original habitat.  And not just lions were involved in these barbarous activities. There were also elephant, crocodile, ostrich, bear, hippo, leopard, giraffe and rhinoceros, to name but a few of the species concerned.  In fact, anything they could capture by means fair or foul, they did, and with undisguised relish.  In short, the Romans wreaked complete havoc on the indigenous wildlife of Asia, Africa and the Mediterranean; lands which the Asiatic lion once roamed freely.  Some species disappeared altogether.

Asiatic lion showing his huge teeth An early pattern certainly seems to have formed here which, though many may now eschew such practices, great numbers have still not evolved from this mentality; indeed it seems firmly embedded in their psyche. Humans continue to be the lion’s only predator and the same blood-lust and cravings for degenerate fun have never been entirely stamped out.

Lion hunting for trophies and pleasure continued throughout the centuries, long after the Romans were gone.  Wealthy visitors and local tribesmen pursued them for sport. Some native peoples hunted them for meat and others killed them in defence of their own. In the nineteenth century, in India, the only country where they could still be found by this time, British colonial officers were bloated with pride when they were able to take home a lion skin to add to their trophy rooms. One hunter shot over three hundred lions.  

Something started by one empire running rough-shod over the world was finished by another doing the same, almost two thousand years later – so much for empires!

Young male in Gir Forest by Sumeet MogheFinally in 1900, following the devastation created by the British, which left the only remaining population confined to one area – the Gir Forest in the state of Gujarat – the lions were afforded legal protection.  At that point, this one isolated population consisted of about one hundred lions.

Hunting of lions is still forbidden in the Gir Forest and its surrounding areas, and although these particular lions are not subjected to profit-making hunts for tourists, there is still some evidence of recreational hunting.

And, inescapably, there are the highly organised gangs of poachers who, despite the endangered status of the lions, continue to profit from them.  Provided, naturally, with a huge incentive.  A new threat has arisen in the past few years. There exists an enormous trade in tiger body parts using virtually every bit of the animal.  As tiger populations have become more depleted and demand has risen, specifically from Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan, those who seek bones and other body parts for Traditional Chinese medicines have turned their attentions to lions, with the most at risk being the Asiatic lion.  The ever-growing demand for these medicines could potentially wipe out this species altogether.  A huge revival in the use of traditional medicines is currently occurring.  Demand is high and prices are soaring. Anything containing tiger parts is considered a status symbol. Ergo, anything containing lion parts seems destined to achieve the same repute.

Another young male in Gir Forest taking a breakIf the Chinese peoples, most notably, but not exclusively, the absurd nouveau riche (tuhao), do not develop some respect for wildlife soon, it will only be a matter of time before they have either eaten the planet clean or poached every last available tiger, lion, pangolin, elephant and rhinoceros.  All in the name of “traditional” medicine (using animal parts which serve no medicinal purpose whatsoever), in the pursuance of “must-have” items of adornment and by ritual slaughter for entertainment

As with ivory, the tuhao need to learn how to be more responsible and intelligent when using their new-found wealth.  Cites restrictions and rules are either not working here or not being applied, rendering them pointless at this juncture. Unless change is effected soon, there will be no wildlife left to protect and cherish.

One cannot help but see certain similarities here between the current rising Chinese Dynasties and the long gone Roman Empire.  Albeit the use of the animals differs.

Pride of Asiatic lions at one of the many open-pit wells in Gir Forest via National GeographicSince India’s human population in the area surrounding the Gir Forest recently reached over one billion, much conflict between the lions and the natives has arisen. The lions are also vulnerable to unpredicted events because of the nature of their population.  Added to which, open-wells across the area have resulted in deaths by drowning as the lions literally fall into the unguarded holes.  Crudely erected electric fences also play their part in the mortality rates.

An article written in the Scientific American suggests, quite rightly, the Asiatic lion has outgrown its space in the Gir National Park.  Relocation discussions began twenty years ago, and still continue as the parties involved scrap over “whose lions are they anyway!” and “will they be safe from the resident tigers in their new home”.  Court cases have been brought and plans made, but currently pleas are flying around and any final decisions hang in the balance.  After years of litigation it has become clear, the good people of the state of Gujarat are more than a little reluctant to let their lions go, despite the obvious necessity for greater habitat.

Asiatic lion - panthera leoAlthough smaller than African lions, the overall appearance of the male Asian lion is very similar.  The mane is one distinguishing feature.  The Asiatic male lion lacks the enormous half-body-covering mane of the African male lion. It’s mane is much shorter and less dense, leaving the ears visible. Other notable features are the fold of skin beneath the belly of the Asiatic lion and the longer tufts of hair on the elbows and the end of the tail.

This impressive apex predator can reach a length of eight feet, with a three-foot long tail and weighs over six hundred pounds. On top of this intimidating bulk, the Asiatic lion sports a set of very powerful and retractable claws and long, sharp canine teeth.

This is one very ferocious beast that hunts down its prey of deer, antelope and boar with consummate ease.  Running up to fifty mph, it pounces on its prey without missing a step.  In fact, it is capable of jumping up to thirty-six feet when needs must, so prey on the ground presents no problem.  Though despite these skills not every chase ends in a kill.

Lioness hunting by Tambako the JaguarThe females are the hunters in the pride whilst the males spend most of their day loafing around. They do, however, get first dibs at the meal and usually the largest share.  They are followed by the cubs.  The female, for all her hard work, is rewarded with the left-overs. Perhaps this is where the phrase “the lion’s share” comes from.  Altogether they are highly social beasts, living in small prides with females mostly hunting as a team, unless the prey is of manageable size for one lion alone.

Mating takes place all year round with males and females reaching maturity by the time they are five and four years old respectively.  A litter of one to four cubs are usually born after a gestation period of three and a half months.  Cubs are born blind and helpless, they weigh a mere two to four pounds and are fully dependant upon their mothers for the first few weeks of the lives.  They will suckle to the age Asiatic lioness with her cubsof six months but will start eating meat at the age of three months. Whilst male members of the pride will often guard carcasses preventing the lioness from feeding in order to allow the cubs to eat first, males taking over a pride will kill cubs under one year of age. Independence comes at one year.  By then the cubs should have their own hunting skills honed.

Sadly, there is an eighty per cent mortality rate in cubs and infanticide is the major cause.  This is followed by natural causes and occasional parental abandonment.

Those who survive infancy and current threats to the species should hopefully live to their full life expectancy of about twenty years.

A few extra thoughts…
Lions are the second largest of the big cats, after their closest relatives, the tigers.
The lion symbol is used as the national animal of many countries, including England. It has also been used for centuries in heraldic emblems on shields and coats-of-arms.
Though often commonly and mistakenly referred to as the “king of the jungle”, African lions live on grasslands, savannah and plains. As forest dwellers Asiatic lions are the only ones who come relatively close to this label.
Amazingly, the Asiatic lion’s heels don’t touch the ground when it walks and it can issue a roar which can be heard up to five miles away.
The Asiatic or Indian Lion is the only extant species of lion outside Africa.

Asiatic lion - Gir National Park Natural Habitat
Exposed grassy scrubland and dry deciduous forest.
Where
Gir Forest National Park, Western Gujarat, India and the surrounding area. 
What they eat
Primarily deer, antelope and wild boar.
Threats
Forests fires, poisoning, drowning in open-pit wells, inbreeding, disease, loss of habitat and prey,  and poaching.  These lions are now being targeted for Chinese Traditional medicines as tiger populations decrease.
Status: Endangered
The Asiatic Lion (Panthera leo ssp. persica) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered.  It is also listed in CITES Appendix I and it is fully protected in its native India.  A reintroduction programme, the Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project initiated by the Indian government, serves to restore numbers of the species in the wild by way of reintroduction, increase water holes and end poaching, etc.  More details can be found here.  Little more than four hundred of the species exist in the wild. Although the population is now stable, poaching has increased putting numbers once more in jeopardy.  Various zoos across the world hold Asian lions and some participate in captive breeding programs.  A translocation programme to offer a larger prey base is in place, but this is currently being opposed by the Gujarat Government.

Related Articles

Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 111 – Dorcas Gazelle


 

Dorcas gazelle in the desert

“We cannot have peace among men whose hearts delight in killing any living creature. By every act that glorifies or even tolerates such moronic delight in killing we set back the progress of humanity”
Rachel Carson

Dorcas gazelle The small and graceful Dorcas gazelle continuously falls prey to what is left of the indigenous four-legged occupants of North Africa and the Middle East. Natural hunters such as lion, caracal, Arabian wolves, cheetah and leopard. But, the efforts of all these predators combined are no match for humans and the havoc they have wreaked upon the species. Little surprise to most, of course, since this seems to be the prevailing cause of decline in ninety-eight per cent of all wildlife today.

Although the Dorcas gazelle has long been, and still is, subjected to traditional hunting for meat, hides and horns, the killers have now upped the ante.

Current, uncontrolled pursuance of the species in high-performance, four-wheel-drive vehicles, carrying trigger-happy assassins armed with powerful modern weaponry, is something which patently needs to be addressed by the hosting countries. Who, shamefully in some cases, issue permits for this barbaric enterprise.

Hunting Dorcas gazelle in LibyaIn most parts of its range, however, hunting the gazelle is deemed illegal, but it continues regardless and a blind eye is often turned by the authorities. And, just as often, groups of militia are among the bands of slayers.

For those who see killing as an enjoyable past-time, the opportunity is but a phone call and a credit card away. There are plenty of blood-thirsty safaris, for the right price, where you will find everything laid on for you, right down to the freely available permits which can be bought at the airport upon landing.

Horrendous mental images leap to mind of ruthless, like-minded men and women standing up in the back of open-topped, fast-moving, specially adapted motor vehicles. Their weapons (often automatic) loaded and ready to discharge as they rapidly gain on the animals, preparing to pick them off at will. The faces of the executioners aglow with anticipation – rather like those of innocent children waking up on Christmas morning. But the outcome here is far more sinister.

Dorcas gazelle runningDorcas gazelle can travel up to sixty mph when threatened, and like all other gazelle, speed is this gentle ungulate’s only asset when defending itself. But in this case, the advantage of being fleet of foot is lost to the superior vehicles and their cold-blooded hunting parties. Within a short time whole herds are found, overtaken and massacred – the unfortunate victims of large scale slaughter for the entertainment of the few, in their eternal quest for amusement.

Atop of that, the gazelle’s habitat is rapidly shrinking in the face of human invasion. In recent times, the development of wells and boreholes has seen an influx of humanity pouring into the desert, along with their livestock. 

Dorcas gazelle herdThat the clean water supplies have saved lives, there is no doubt. Both human and non-human animals have benefited greatly. But now, converted to farmland; cattle, goats and sheep graze the arid landscape where abundant Dorcas gazelle once roamed freely, slowly squeezing it out of its habitat.

These activities have all influenced the decline of the Dorcas gazelle and have led to these delightful, placid creatures becoming extinct in several parts of Africa. Now is perhaps the time to ensure no further vulnerable populations are lost to human greed, callousness and oversight. The irony being, they are now marginally safer from their natural predators as most of them, too, have been aggressively hunted down and killed for meat, hides, body parts and recreation.

Dorcas gazelle Al Wabra Wildlife PreservationThese diminutive, perfectly assembled creatures are little more than two feet in height and weigh, at most, forty-five pounds. They sport ringed horns which curl backwards and inwards, and grow up to fifteen inches in length. The female horns tend to be thinner, paler and not quite as curved.

Their coats are a palish sandy colour on top with a deeper colouring of two differing brown strips along the edge of the underside where the coat becomes white. Heads are darker than bodies with well-defined facial markings. They have short, almost black tails used constantly for flicking away insects in the intense heat of the desert.

And, they absolutely thrive in the desert. They are able to withstand extreme temperatures in their far from hospitable, parched environment, and manage to derive all the moisture they need from the plants they consume. But survival is not just about food and water. The Dorcas gazelle still has a few natural predators left, like the caracal and hyena, and the Arabian wolf, and perfect eyesight allows them to efficiently watch out for such dangers and call to each other when anything fearful is spotted. “Stotting” takes place, which involves taking bouncing leaps with heads held high, along with shivering and tail twitching, which are all are used to warn the rest of the herd when something is amiss.

Dorcas gazelle - newborn hiding in the shadeAt such times, calves are kept well-hidden from potential harm. Newborns, arriving after a gestation period of six months, are usually well-developed and able to stand within the first hour, but not able to defend themselves or run with the herd, so a secure hiding place is a must. The females, having separated from the group to give birth to the new calf, will stash the little one in the bushes or long grass for the first few weeks of its life, which also leaves her free to graze. The calf will be strong enough at two weeks to follow its mother in short bouts, and by three months it will be fully weaned. Those who survive the rigours of life in the wild can expect to live for a further twelve years.

A few extra thoughts…
The Dorcas gazelle, along with a few other ungulates, is extremely important as a seed disperser for a variety of Acacia plants in the areas between Israel and the Red Sea.
The Dorcas gazelle once roamed the entire Sahelo-Saharan region in great numbers.
The species is now extinct in Senegal, possibly Nigeria and, it is thought, Burkina Faso as well.
Dorcas is the Greek translation of the Aramaic name Tabitha, meaning “gazelle”.

Dorcas gazelle are also known as the Ariel gazelle.

Dorcas gazelle distribution Natural Habitat
Savannah, low hilly outcrops, semi-desert, absolute desert, steppe and wadis (dry gullies).
Where
North and North East Africa and parts of the Middle East (Israel, Jordan, Syrian Arab Republic and the Yemen)
What they eat
Leaves, grasses, flowers, young shoots, fruits and acacia pods.
Threats
Excessive recreational hunting with powerful modern weaponry.  Habitat degradation due to land conversion and overgrazing by livestock, and drought.
Status: Vulnerable
The Dorcas gazelle (Gazella dorcas) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable (at high risk of endangerment in the wild). It is also listed in CITES Appendix III (Algeria, Tunisia) and included in the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) Sahelo-Saharan Antelopes Action plan for the conservation and restoration of the species, on CMS Appendix I.
All told, the species is either legally or partially protected in most if its range countries. Some of these include designated reserves. Unfortunately, these laws are often ignored. Captive breeding programmes also exist.
There are only some 35,000 – 40,000 Dorcas gazelle living in fragmented populations in the wild today, whose numbers are declining rapidly. Further animals can be found in zoos and private collections around the world.

Related Articles

Crimes of Humans and Nature

Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 107 – The Southern Pudú


Pudu

“Killing animals for sport, for pleasure, for adventure, for hides and furs is a phenomena which is at once disgusting and distressing. There is no justification in indulging is such acts of brutality.”
The Dalai Lama

SPudu outhern pudús are the smallest deer in existence. Their size, coupled with their endearing appearance, has made them targets for the illegal exotic pet market. Many have been taken from the wild as babies to satisfy the whims of uncaring and mindless consumers, oblivious to all but their own desires. Pudú are also snatched from the wild and shipped off to various zoos around the world, presumably to aid the survival of the species!

But their plight doesn’t end there. Specialist trained dogs are used to hunt them down. The pudús are then fed to the dogs as part of their diet. Dogs, incidentally, which also transmit diseases to the deer. And, in keeping with the age-old threats to most wildlife, the adorable pudús are poached for food and hunted for sport.

Pudu I think it goes without saying man has virtually destroyed their habitat, leaving them living in fragmented areas. When travelling between locations, they now come across roads built for settlements, ranches and plantations. They are not particularly good at negotiating these, especially with fast traffic, and road deaths are high among the pudú populations.

And, if all that were not enough, populations of red deer have been introduced to their home territory. Between the larger deer and the cattle from the ranches, the poor little pudús are now having to compete for food as well.

Pudu That’s an awful lot of problems for something little more than a foot high.

In fact, pudús normally reach a height of about fifteen inches and typically weigh twenty pounds, so they are something akin to the size of an average family dog. They have small eyes and ears and short tails. Adult coats are reddish-brown in colour with fawns’ coats bearing white spots, possibly for camouflage, until they reach maturity. Males sport short antlers which are shed annually. 

In the wild, southern pudús, also known as Chilean pudús, are nocturnal and crepuscular. They forage in the dense undergrowth and bamboo thickets seeking out fresh vegetation and fallen fruit, and balancing on their hind legs to reach fresh leaves on the trees.  Physically, they excel at sprinting and climbing. If pudús sense danger, they bark and run in a rapid zig-zag manner to elude or outrun any predators.

PuduPudús tend to live alone or in pairs, and very occasionally in groups of three.  Individuals come together during the rut which takes place in April and May. A gestation period of about seven months follows, after which a single fawn will be born. Fawns are tiny, weighing less than thirty ounces, and are on their feet almost immediately. Care of the young falls entirely to the mother. Pudús advance  quickly and are usually weaned by two months. Females will be mature at six months of age and males at eight to twelve months.

Southern pudu distribution Natural Habitat
Dense temperate forest or bamboo groves.
Where
Chile and Argentina
What they eat
Their varied diet includes leaves, shoots, fruit, bark, seeds and berries.
Threats
Poaching and illegal taking for zoos, private collections and the exotic pet trade. Pudú are killed for sport and food using specifically trained domestic hunting dogs. Habitat loss due to cattle ranching, logging and other human developments. Road accidents. Diseases transferred by domestic dogs. Competition for food from the introduced red deer.
The pudú’s natural predators include eagle owls, cougar, fox and small cats such as the kodkod.

Status: Vulnerable
The Chilean pudú  (Pudú puda) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable (high risk of endangerment in the wild). It is also listed on Appendix I of CITES.  
Various conservation programmes exist with the emphasis being on monitoring the pudú  in protected areas and removing threats from the same, and establishing internationally accepted guidelines for the care of rescued and confiscated animals. [1]
Southern pudús  have been bred successfully in several zoos across the world and international captive breeding programmes have been developed for the species. Although, the only evidence I can find of any being returned to the wild are the few that exist in the Nahuel Huapi National Park in Argentina. Others appear to have been kept simply as exhibits in zoos. Any further information would be welcome. Please feel free to leave a comment.

The Zemanta related articles provided below are all centred on zoo births, as is the video. Whereas I feel ill-inclined to support these profit-making organisations by referring to them on this blog, the events themselves are joyous occasions from respected sources, so I have included  them here. Let’s just hope these little animals grow to live full and happy lives.

Related Articles

Domestic Dogs in Rural Communities around Protected Areas: Conservation Problem or Conflict Solution? 

Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 105 – Northern Muriqui


Northern muriqui (Brachyteles hypoxanthus) family play by Peter Schoen

Man has been endowed with reason, with the power to create, so that he can add to what he’s been given. But up to now he hasn’t been a creator, only a destroyer. Forests keep disappearing, rivers dry up, wild life’s become extinct, the climate’s ruined and the land grows poorer and uglier every day.
Anton Chekhov

Northern muriqui (Brachyteles hypoxanthus) by Bart van DorpThe muriqui, the largest of all New World primates, has recently been divided into two separate species. Both species are considered at risk of extinction. The northern muriqui (Brachyteles hypoxanthus) is listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered and the southern muriqui (Brachyteles arachnoides) as Endangered.

And, all because the Atlantic forests of Brazil have been, and continue to be, relentlessly and indiscriminately hacked down to make room for crops such as Devastated rainforest in São Paulocoffee, sugarcane, palm (hearts) and tobacco. Mining for rock, like bauxite and granite for instance, has reeked havoc, too. And, as if that is not enough, vast swathes of land have been cleared and given over to grazing cattle. Needless to say, all the human requirements  that go with this rampant destruction have greedily devoured enormous slices of the precious and essential forests as well.

Slash-and-burn agriculture was, in fact, banned in Brazil over forty years ago, but the effects of this horrendous vandalism are still in evidence. Charred plant material is seeping from the soil into the rivers and thus into the ocean, potentially harming marine life.

But loss of habitat, although major, is not the only threat to the muriquis.

Northern muriqui by Peter SchoenThere is also the ubiquitous and questionable propensity for hunting. Muriquis have been heavily hunted for food and sport since the 16th century, when the Europeans first settled in São Paulo State. Something which continues to some extent today. The docile muriqui are active during the day and gather in large groups, and they are large of body, making them easy to spot in the trees. Each individual is big enough to provide the average family with more than one good meal. So, you can see their appeal to the less scrupulous. But with their current status, killing even one animal could be devastating to the smaller populations. Where once they were plentiful, there are now less than one thousand left in the wild, and some of those inhabit extremely isolated and fragmented forest areas. Their chances of long-term survival, at best, are not favourable.

Hunting of muriquis, whether for food or sport, is illegal, but still persists. To add to the crisis, many locals have also captured infant muriquis and kept them as pets.

Northern muriqui (Brachyteles hypoxanthus) by Bart van Dorp Northern muriquis have long limbs and long, fully prehensile tails. The combination allows for optimum agility when moving through the trees. Males and females are almost identical in appearance with coats of brownish-grey and marked faces. Babies are born with black faces which then become mottled with age, developing typical pink blotches. Males and females are also roughly identical in size. Adult males weigh in at an average twenty-seven pounds and can extend to almost five feet from the head to the end of the tail.

Biologically, the most significant difference between the southern and northern muriqui is the presence of a small opposable thumb in the latter. This thumb is vestigial, possibly due to the development of its prehensile tail which may have gradually rendered the thumb superfluous to requirements.

Northern muriqui Both arboreal and diurnal, muriquis live in mixed troops of up to eighty individuals. Unusually for primates, they are not territorial and little aggression is ever displayed between members of the troop. Indeed, they are rather affectionate toward each other. Although they don’t seem to indulge in a lot of social grooming, a great deal of hugging does take place.

The also travel in line, one after the other, when moving through the forest. All very organised and orderly. A bit like following in the footsteps of someone else through a minefield. Those behind will always be in less danger. In this case from falls, the branches have already been tested by those in front, and from predators; alarm calls will soon be raised by those ahead who see them first.

This species is promiscuous, and mating is at a high from September to March, ensuring births occur in May to September during the dry season. Twins are rare, and most mothers give birth to only one infant. The infant will be born altricial and its care will only ever fall to its mother. Fathers do not tend to get involved, possibly due to paternity issues.

Northern muriqui - National GeographicInfants will only be weaned between the ages of eighteen and thirty months, and it will be between six and eleven years before they are mature enough to reproduce. Until weaning is complete, mother and child enjoy a close relationship, which then ends abruptly with the mother chasing her offspring away. Again, unusually for primates, it is the males which remain within the natal birth troop, with females leaving to join other troops.

It is not known how long muriquis live in the wild, but this long attachment to the mother, such late maturity and an average inter-birth interval of three years, can surely only hamper any rapid increase in the populations.

Northern muriqui stampsTo its great credit, the muriqui has become a symbol of the Atlantic Forest and its vastly rich biodiversity. It now appears on postage stamps, t-shirts and posters. Its peaceful and tolerant reputation has also earned it a place on the short list of mascots for the 2016 Olympic Games.

Natural Habitat
Humid coastal forests.
Where
Brazil’s Atlantic Forest.
What they eat
Young leaves, fruit and flowers.  When needs must, they will also eat birds’ eggs and some insects. 
Threats
Habitat destruction (the species now survives in extremely reduced and isolated populations). Locals hunt the muriqui for food, and they are sometimes hunted for sport. Natural predators include such as raptors and jaguars, but these are not seen as a huge threat as there is little else to attract them to the fragmented forests the muriqui inhabits.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Northern muriqui (Brachyteles hypoxanthus) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered. It is also listed on Appendix I of CITES.
Scientists have applied a species prioritization scheme, the ‘National Action Plan for the conservation of Central Atlantic Forest Mammals’, to include the northern muriqui. Plans include habitat conservation and restoration, and establishment of green corridors. More of this can be found at ICMBio.
The green corridors will be created to link the few remaining fragments of forest. There are thought to be less than one thousand individuals left in these isolated parts. This species has shockingly suffered a decline in numbers of over eighty per cent over the last three generations.

Captive breeding programmes are in place.

Related Articles

Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 104 – Darwin’s Fox


Darwin's Fox

Photographer: Kevin Schafer

“Animals share with us the privilege of having a soul”
Pythagoras

Darwin's fox Darwin’s fox is considered an “umbrella species”, and by protecting the primary temperate forests it inhabits, the entire ecosystem can be preserved by this one little fox. But, despite such importance, it is now critically endangered. Large scale deforestation, agriculture, firewood production, wildfires, overgrazing and human settlement have all shamelessly played their part. As have uncontrolled, non-sustainable commercial logging and local poaching (though it is not entirely clear why they are being poached).

Once running along the entire coastline of southern Chile, there is little original habitat left for the foxes. The southern half and coastal ranges of the Island still have large expanses of pristine primeval forest, but for the rest; exotic timber plantations stand where vast, verdant forests once grew, and Darwin’s foxes have found themselves displaced and hungry.

Darwin's fox in Ahuenco, Chiloe Island, Chile  But, there is another even greater threat to this small animal. One that is completely preventable. It seems visitors are not welcomed in the park with their dogs. But this does not stop them being there. Once inside the protected area, these same visitors irresponsibly allow their dogs to roam free. There is an abundance of domesticated dogs in Southern Chile, many of which use the park with their owners; and the park rangers have dogs, too. In fact, dogs are now considered a huge problem within the confines of these supposedly safe areas. They have chased, attacked and killed the foxes in such numbers they have become a recognised menace. Thousands of incidents have been documented including one of a dog attacking a vixen whilst feeding her cubs.

Darwin's Fox A bad perception by, and of, humans doesn’t help either. They are killed by farmers who, convinced their poultry is at risk, view them as a threat. The little foxes in turn, having learned not to fear man, stroll around in plain sight, making themselves easy to pick off. This is because they have become accustomed to visiting humans. The foxes often sleep under the parked cars as well. Sadly, most humans do not think to look before driving away, and there have been reported deaths amongst the fox population as a result. This naïve disposition, displayed by the foxes when interacting with humans, is seen as non-adaptive behaviour.

Darwin's fox  Their most protected environment is on the mainland in Nahuelbuta National Park. But only ten per cent of them live there. The other ninety per cent live on Chiloé Island (possibly the only long-term safe area for growing the population). But in winter, the foxes tend to leave the security of the location and move to more hospitable areas where they are at high risk from the loggers, the poachers and the local dogs. The dogs which not only kill them, but also expose them to parasites and viral diseases.

Known in Spanish as zorro de Darwin, zorro de Chiloé or zorro chilote, Darwin’s foxes have long bodies, short legs and long bushy tails. They have small muzzles Darwin's fox and wide, round heads and can weigh up to six-and-a-half pounds. The head and body length is about twenty-one inches with an added tail length of nine inches. It is, in fact, the smallest of all fox species. It has a thick coat of greyish-black with rust-like colouring on the legs and around the ears, and a dark grey tail. Sometimes a white band can be seen across the chest. The underside is usually pale.

These delightful creatures are crepuscular. They usually hunt alone, but have been known to share carcasses. They are normally solitary animals, only coming together to breed. It is thought they may be monogamous, but little is really known of the species.

Credit - Yamil HusseinThe breeding season starts in October and pups have been seen emerging from the den in December, so the gestation period could be about eight weeks. A litter of two to three pups are normally born who will be weaned around February. The pups are born altricial. Both parents take part in the care of them. The new family will stay together for an unlimited period of time and previous offspring may share the parents range as well. Adults foxes tend to breed annually and individuals and can live up to seven years.

The scientist Charles Darwin first discovered this endemic species in 1834, while he was on the Beagle survey expedition, and is quoted as saying: “He allowed me to walk behind him and actually kill him with my geological hammer”.  What an obliging little fox!

Natural Habitat
Coastal sand dunes mixed with dense, evergreen forest, preferring secondary forest to old-growth forest in areas typical to temperate rainforest vegetation.
Where
Chile
What they eat
A variety of food including birds, reptiles and small mammals, and insects, fruits, and seeds, depending on the season.
Threats
Habitat destruction, disease, attacks from unleashed dogs and persecution by farmers. Some are known to have been kept illegally as pets on Chiloé Island.
Status: Critically Endangered
Darwin’s fox (Lycalopex fulvipes) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered. It is also listed on CITES Appendix II and has been protected, not very well, by Chilean law since 1929. There are thought to be little over two hundred and fifty individuals left in the wild. There are no known Darwin’s foxes in zoos or breeding programmes.
Camera traps used in the Valdivian Coastal Reserve and the Alerce Costero National Park in southern Chile have shown the presence of Darwin’s fox. This important discovery means there is now a third location for the foxes, where previously only two were known: Nahuelbuta National Park and Chiloé National Park.

Other Related Articles


Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 103 – Chinese Water Deer


Chinese water deer

“We are the only species which, when it chooses to do so, will go to great effort to save what it might destroy.”
Wallace Stegner

Chinese water deer You may have noticed how the rare Chinese water deer in the image above bears an uncanny resemblance to the recently featured Siberian musk deer.  In fact, there are various similarities between them, but the tusks are, of course, the real common denominator. There are contrasts, too, one of which lies in the way their value is perceived by their human predators; their individual reasons for becoming a cause for concern in the wild. Although both are hunted for body parts and meat, and the musk deer is specifically hunted for its musk pod to make perfume, these sweet little things are pursued and slain for the most egregious of reasons:  the quasi-digested milk found in the rumen of unweaned fawns, is used in traditional medicine as a cure for indigestion in children.  In other words, an extremely young animal, a baby, is being killed for the sake of a relatively minor ailment in a human child.  Just how bad is that!  Yet again, that same primal pattern of behaviour surfaces to aid the demise of a wonderful species.

In China, hunting occurs at night with the use of dogs.  In Korea, where dogs are also utilised, snares are very much in evidence, too.

Then, we have the introduced populations in England and France.  Speaking of primal behaviour, in England you can shoot the Chinese water deer – providing it is Open Season, of course.  Is this why England introduced the water deer in the late nineteenth century [1] and continue to conserve the species today?

Chinese water deer “This opportunity is strictly limited as it forms part of our management control to keep the deer damage at acceptable levels and provides additional income for landowners”. So sayeth “Pete ‘the Meat'” of Chinese Water Deer Stalking when speaking of providing recreational hunting of the water deer.

Why they are not operating a captive breeding programme, with a view to re-introducing the species to its native home, is not clear.  Bearing in mind the English population makes up ten per cent of the world population (including the small feral populations founded by escaped deer), and it seems, that is too many.  It does beg the question – is ‘sport’ in a non-native country more important than conserving the deer in its own native wild habitat where it is considered at risk?

Chinese water deer are classified as Vulnerable (at high risk of endangerment in the wild) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.   Surely, we should be investing Chinese water deer some time and effort in this animal before it reaches the brink of oblivion, and not using it for the entertainment of the privileged few.  If any such captive programmes do exist, I apologise, and would welcome any information – but thus far I have been unable to trace any.  But, there is no doubt, these delightful and unusual animals, with their shy and gentle natures, and fascinating evolutionary biology are something we should both treasure and assist.

There is little information available regarding the French herds, though it is thought they are small and completely feral.

Reportedly, the Chinese water deer is the most primitive living member of the Cervidae family.  As with the Siberian musk deer, the water deer sports large canine teeth, or tusks, and has no antlers. This makes both these deer biologically significant species.  The similar Reeve’s muntjac, also a significant species, has both tusks and antlers.

Chinese water deer Huge furry ears, a round face, soft black eyes and a black button nose give the Chinese water deer the look of a well-loved teddy bear.  The second part of their scientific name, Hydropotes inermis, is translated as ‘unarmed’, ‘defenceless’, ‘without weapons’. Which is exactly, where man is concerned, what they are.  Those sharp little fangs, admittedly not very teddy-bear-like, are used for in-fighting. Any territorial issues are laid to rest by the bucks confronting each other.  This is usually a last resort, as chasing off is normally the first choice of weapon. The bucks can sometimes harm each other by fighting, but fatalities rarely occur.

These are small deer, with males weighing in at up to forty pounds, and standing less than two feet at the shoulder.  Their hind legs are longer than their forelegs and they have short, stumpy tails.  Their enlarged canines grow just over three inches in length, and can move around in the sockets.  This adaptation helps eating and reduces the risk of the teeth breaking. The female is slightly smaller than the male, with smaller tusks.  Coats are thick and coarse, and chestnut-brown in the summer months, dulling to a greyish hue in winter.  The underside is of a much paler colour.

Chinese water deer and fawn by Hans WatsonChinese water deer are, as the name implies, frequenters of water. Proficient swimmers, they move through the water between locations, in search of food and shelter.  They are crepuscular and usually hide in dense vegetation during the day.  When alarmed, they tend to run in ‘bunny-bounds’, shrieking and barking as they go.

In fact, they have a range of very distinctive calls.  The main call is a bark, often used as an alarm call.  If challenged during the rut, a clicking sound can be heard from the males (possibly made with their teeth), and a buck chasing a doe will squeak or whistle.  And, there is a special call reserved by mothers when signalling to their fawns, which has a gentle pheep tone.

Chinese water deer with four fawnsThe mating season, or rut, for Chinese water deer takes place between November and January. Following successful pairings, there is a gestation period of up to two hundred and ten days, after which the doe can give birth to as many as six or eight young; though the more common births are between one and three fawns.  These tiny babies will weigh about one kilogram at birth and will be on their feet within the hour.  They will have darker coats than their parents, with white spots and stripes on their backs.  For the first few weeks, most of their time will be spent well-hidden amongst grasses and shrubs.  This is a fast-growing species and the fawns will be weaned by two months of age and fully mature at six and eight months (male and female respectively).  Sadly there is a forty per cent mortality rate of fawns between birth and four weeks.  Those that do survive could live up to thirteen years in both the wild and captivity.

[1] Chinese water deer were first introduced to London Zoo in the 1870s and later to the Duke of Bedford’s Woburn Abbey estate in 1896.

Natural Habitat
Riparian zones, swamps, marshes and coastal plains.
Where
China (Hydropotes inermis inermis) and the Korean peninsular (Hydropotes inermis argyropus).  It has also been introduced to England and France.
What they eat
Young grasses,forbs and other wetland plants.
Threats
Habitat loss through reclamation of land for agriculture and urban development. Poaching for its meat and for the semi-digested milk found in the rumen of unweaned fawns.
Status: Vulnerable
The Chinese Water Deer (Hydropotes inermis) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable (at high risk of endangerment in the wild).  This species is also listed on the Chinese Red List as Vulnerable and on China Key List II.
The introduced Chinese water deer population in the United Kingdom is increasing.

Related Articles
Chinese deer in England 
Only mass deer cull can prevent destruction of British woodlands and wildife
City reintroduces Chinese water deer for eco-tourism
Letter from Norfolk

Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 102 – The Aye-aye


Aye-aye

“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom”
Bertrand Russell

Aye Aye In many parts of Madagascar, ancient Malagasy legend has it that if an aye-aye points its extremely long finger in your direction, you are marked for death.  Locals believe the aye-aye will sneak into the village houses, under cover of darkness, and, using its long middle finger, pierce the hearts of those sleeping.  The only way to avoid this terrible fate is to kill the tiny, defenceless creature and hang it upside down by the roadside, so that the malignant spirits will be carried away by passing travellers.  As a result, aye-ayes are killed on sight, a practice resulting in the species being accorded Near Threatened status by the  International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Aye-ayes are nocturnal and arboreal creatures who hide away in nests during the day, curled up at the top of the canopy and safe from natural predators.  However, when they do descend, they seem to know no fear of humans.  Reports suggest they stroll calmly into villages and approach people in the forest, making them very easy targets.  But, having been perceived as an harbingers of death for so long, the fate of the little aye-ayes has been more-or-less sealed, and these friendly little primates are rapidly diminishing in numbers.  The legend may or may not have been based on the fact that they look rather like demented demons, but whatever its origins, a call for education is an obvious must here, before all populations are obliterated because of this ludicrous superstition.

Aye Aye In a few areas, where the legend does not induce trepidation, aye-ayes are revered by the Malagasy. It is said they embody ancestral spirits and are a good omen.

The plight of the aye-ayes is in no way helped by ever-increasing deforestation, either. Growing human settlements are increasingly encroaching on the aye-aye’s natural habitat.   Agriculture is gobbling up the forests where tavy (slash-and-burn agriculture) is widely used.  The aye-ayes, along with most of Madagascar’s other lemurs, are rapidly becoming homeless and hungry because of this.  This has lead to them moving towards cultivated land and being shot as crop pests.

Aye-ayes, also hunted as bushmeat incidentally, are the largest nocturnal primates.  They are also one of the few solitary primates. These demonic-looking little lemurs may not be the prettiest animals on earth, but they are certainly very endearing in their own way. Aye Aye Unfortunately, because of their strange looks, rather derogatory remarks are made about them, and they have been awarded the dubious accolade of ‘one the ugliest animals on earth’.  Though, it has to be said, the aye-aye is a bit of a mish-mash.

The ears of the aye-aye resemble those of a bat, the teeth those of a beaver, the tail that of a squirrel and the large, orange eyes bring gremlins to mind.   The large, wickedly responsive, bat-like ears rotate independently, and can detect the slightest sounds, and the incisor teeth never stop growing throughout the aye-ayes life.  The most extraordinary feature, however, is the elongated, almost skeletal, middle finger.  Contrary to superstition, this digit is not designed to kill humans, but is, in fact, an evolutionary marvel and a highly adapted tool of the species.

Witness aye-ayes eating and it’s clear good forest table manners are not their forte, but their motor skills, using this incredible digit, are superb.  Rather like a woodpecker using its beak, the aye-ayes tap on bark to locate pockets of wood-boring Aye Aye insect larvae hidden inside.  This is known as percussive foraging.  Once the presence of larvae has been confirmed, the sharp, rat-like teeth gnaw away at the wood and in goes the long, thin middle finger to retrieve the grubs through the newly made hole.  All perfectly executed.

Aye-ayes spend the largest part of their day sleeping in well-made, woven nests.  They site these in tree forks and construct them with leaves and twigs. Time is taken building each nest, usually a whole day, and a single aye-aye may build up to twenty of these within its home range.  The spherical nests are quite intricate and consist of a closed top, a side entrance and a base of shredded leaves.  They tend to measure about twenty inches in diameter.  The aye-ayes may switch nests from time to time and others may occupy the nests left vacant.

Aye Aye babyThere is no fixed breeding season for aye-ayes, this seems to be an all-year-round event. Following suitable pairing, there is a gestation period of about one hundred and sixty days, after which a single infant will be born in the nest ‘box’.  The baby, born with floppy ears, will depend on its mother’s milk for the first seven to twelve months of its life, and remain with its mother until it is two years old.  This, in effect, means females are only able to care for one infant every two to three years, making re-population of the species a slow process.  The baby will remain in the nest for about two months before emerging into the canopy.  It will start on solids at about fourteen weeks of age.   Both parents will remain near the nest after the birth and the male parent has also been known to share food with the infant.

Assuming infants survive the rigours of the wild, it is generally thought they will not live as long as they would in captivity, where records show aye-ayes living up to twenty-six years.  Unfortunately, little is known about their actual lifespan in the wild.

Natural Habitat
Dense, tropical and coastal rainforest, dry scrub forest,  secondary growth forests, bamboo thickets, coconut groves and mangroves.
Where
Madagascar
What they eat
Mainly the inside of Ramy nuts.   Plus other f
ruits, seeds, insect larvae and nectar.
Threats
Killed on sight by locals believing it to be a harbinger of death.   Killed as a crop pest. Hunted for subsistence food.  Poaching for the bush-meat trade.  Habitat loss due to deforestation by way of human settlement and agriculture.  Natural predators include the fossa, birds of prey and snakes.
Status: Near Threatened
The Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Near Threatened (likely to become endangered in the near future).  The species occurs in national parks and special reserves throughout Madagascar, though it is not adequately protected.  Captive breeding programmes exist involving various worldwide institutions. There is also an introduced population on the island of Nosy Mangabe and Aye-Aye island.  The species is listed on  Appendix I of CITES.
The global captive population of aye-ayes stands at about forty-five individuals.  Those involved include the Duke Lemur Center, Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust, London Zoo, Paris Zoo and Tokyo Zoo.

Related Articles
Madagascar aye-ayes in danger
Aye-ayes: Endangered lemurs’ complete genomes are sequenced and analyzed for conservation efforts
Aye-aye lemur ‘heats up’ its special foraging finger
Secrets of a Strange Lemur: An Aye-Aye Gallery
Legends of Madagascar
A HORRIFIC CREATURE
Weird Animal Hands: Demon Primate, Flappy-Armed Frog, More


Enhanced by Zemanta