Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 96 – The Black and White Ruffed Lemur


Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park

“It’s a matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, something the best people have always done.”
Harriet Beecher Stowe

The name lemur is taken from the Latin word lemurēs.  Lemurēs were “shades or spirits of the restless or malignant dead and haunters of the night”.  Lemurs were probably so named because of their appearance and nocturnal habits.

Black and white ruffed lemur hanging in a treeClearly this legend no longer protects this rare and critically endangered primate.  The black and white ruffed lemur, being quite large, is now viewed more as a tangible, edible commodity than an elusive, mythical spectre. Sadly, its distinctive black and white markings, its size and its daylight activity, make it, as you would imagine, hard to miss when sitting in the trees;  it is now heavily hunted. Black and white ruffed lemur meat is also expensive and much sought after.

But, there is an even broader threat to the existence of the black and white ruffed lemurs – extensive deforestation has left them with very little space to find food and shelter.  Their forests have been cleared by slash-and-burn agriculture, logging and mining, greatly endangering the species.

Black and white ruffed lemur on nestWith the capacity to produce up to six babies at a time, it would be quite reasonable to assume the species could replenish any losses quite quickly, but unfortunately there is a very high infant mortality rate.  The mothers build special nests for their young whilst they await their arrival, well-hidden in trees and ten to twenty metres above the ground.   Quite unique, but, sadly many babies fall from the nests and die before reaching a few weeks old, and only around thirty-five per cent survive longer than three months.  The ones that do survive don’t have enough trees to live in or live off.  They rely heavily upon fruit in their diet and the trees they favour are disappearing at an alarming rate.

Black and white ruffed lemur in a tree showing its long fluffy tailBlack and white lemurs are important pollinators. Though they may well be unaware of this, when feeding on the nectar of the traveller’s palm, they automatically transfer pollen between the flowers, thus ensuring the ongoing success of the palm trees.

These lemurs, together with the red ruffed lemurs, are one of the largest of all extant lemurs.  Both male and female are the same in appearance and size, and can grow up to four feet in length and weigh up to ten or twelve pounds.  They both have soft, thick fur with black and white markings, a ruff of long white fur around the ears and neck, and under the chin.

Black and white ruffed lemurs have thick, furry tails. These are longer than the body and are used for balance.  They move through the trees and on the ground in quadrupedal fashion.

These adorable primates are arboreal and crepuscular (active mainly in the early morning and late afternoon).  They normally live in groups consisting of two to five individuals (though larger groups do occur) and communicate using a range of raucous vocalisations, second only to the howler monkey in volume.  The most used calls are predator alarm calls, locator calls and Black and White Ruffed Lemur mating calls.  Choruses can be heard throughout the day but are stepped up during periods of high activity, making these lemurs very easy to find.  Lemurs also have an enlarged sensory organ to help read smells, pheromones, and other chemical signals.

A peculiar and comical trait  of  lemurs is their penchant for relaxing while facing the sun.  The black and white ruffed lemur is no exception.  Arms are usually outstretched as they soak up the sun, as if hoping for the perfect tan.

The females in the troop are the dominant members and can, as such, choose their own mates. They also get first dibs on the food. The black and white ruffed lemurs were thought to be monogamous and bond for life, but this has since been disputed. They are now thought to be polygamous.

Breeding is seasonal (between May and July) and the gestation period running up to the birth is normally three months.  Prior to the birth, the females will build a nest for the imminent arrivals. The nests will made of twigs and leaves and lined with the female’s fur, which she will have pulled out herself.  They are the only true lemurs to build nests. Births of six infants have been recorded, and the females do Black and White Ruffed Lemur with babieshave six mammary glands to support such large births, but the usual number is between two and four.  The new babies will stay in the nest until they are about two or three weeks old when they will start to move around after the mother.  Whilst very young and still in the nest, mothers carry the young in their mouths and ‘park’ them in safe spots while they forage for food.  At about five weeks the infants will start climbing trees.  Males are also known to take part in the parenting of the young.

The black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata) is the more endangered of the two species of ruffed lemurs, both of which are endemic to the island of Madagascar. The other being the red ruffed lemur (varecia rubra).

Three subspecies of black and white ruffed lemur are recognised, the southern ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata editorum), the white-belted ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata subcincta) and the black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata variegata), all of which are classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. [1]

Natural Habitat
Primary and secondary lowland and mid-altitude rainforest.
Where What they eat
Lemurs are mainly frugivorous but nectar, flowers, leaves and seeds are also eaten.
Threats
Habitat loss due to illegal logging, illegal mining and slash-and-burn agriculture techniques. The black and white ruffed lemur are also heavily hunted for their meat. Natural predators include birds of prey, mongooses, fossa and boa constrictors.
Status: Critically Endangered
The black and white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered. In fact, all three of the recognised subspecies are classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN.  The species is also listed on CITES Appendix I.  Exact population numbers are unknown, but are thought to be declining rapidly.
If this species is to survive in the wild, the forest reserves it inhabits need to be better protected. Although they are part of various successful captive breeding programs, which have in turn reintroduced the black and white lemur back to the wild, these programs have ultimately failed the black and white ruffed lemurs because of the lack of safe, natural habitat available for the animals on arrival in Madagascar.

The following videos all show animals in captivity, the first two being shot at  Sacramento Zoo  where this species is bred to “educate the public on how they can help these and other animals in the wild.”  I have not been able to obtain any footage of black and white lemurs in the wild.

Related Articles
Dexterous Fingers
‘Nursery nests’ are better for survival of young black-and-white ruffed lemurs
World’s most extraordinary species mapped for the first time
Primary seed dispersal by the black-and-white ruffed lemur 

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


Family portrait

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 93 – The Jaguar


Jaguar sleeping in a tree

“Only when the last tree is cut, only when the last river is polluted, only when the last fish is caught, will they realize that you can’t eat money”
Native American proverb

With destruction levels of South America’s rainforests set to hit an all time high, these wild and beautiful big cats are being forced to move closer to human settlements.  This is not their choice, they simply have nowhere else to go.  Their habitat is being lost at an Young jaguar in the undergrowthalarming rate, and with it most of their wild prey species.  Many of the ungulates eaten by the jaguar are also hunted by humans.  Over-hunted, in fact.  Farmers, who will shoot jaguars on sight, view them as pests, and as a threat to both themselves and their livestock. This, of course, is not without foundation; but when you deprive an animal of its own natural prey, there is a great possibility it will look elsewhere in order sate its appetite.  The human population is growing as fast as the forests are disappearing, making it difficult for the jaguar to avoid contact with man, therefore increasing the potential for slaughter.  As a result the jaguar has become extremely vulnerable;  and he is not the one carrying a gun.

Another threat to the jaguar is hunting for pelts.  Although there was a huge decline in the 1970s, due to CITES involvement and protest campaigns, the wearing of fur has once again become popular.  The age-old demand for paws, teeth and other body parts also continues unabated.

Jaguar melanistic - black colour morphThe jaguar is the largest cat of the Americas, and the only living member of the genus Panthera found in the New World.  After the tiger and the lion, the jaguar is also the third largest cat on the planet. Noted for its power and agility, this iconic animal can weigh anything between one and three hundred pounds, stand three feet at the shoulder and reach as much as six feet in length.

These wild and graceful creatures have large, broad heads housing exceptionally powerful, short jaws.  One bite is enough to kill its prey.  Cats can tear their food and crush it, but are unable to chew.  Food is swallowed whole and, when in the stomach, the digestive juices break it down.

Pantanal Jaguar - Panthera onca palustrisThe base coat of the jaguar varies from yellow to reddish-brown with a white underside.  The spots on the head, neck and legs are usually solid, whereas on the back they appear as rosettes with spots in the middle.  The pattern of each coat is different and allows for identification of individuals.  It also provides perfect camouflage in the undergrowth.  When comparing leopard and jaguar, the leopard does not have spots in the centre of the rosettes.  This is an easy way to tell the difference at a glance.

jaguar melanistic Melanistic variants commonly occur in jaguars due to a dominant gene mutation.  They were once often referred to as “black panthers”.  This is, of course, now politically incorrect and they are instead known colloquially as “black jaguars”.  They are not, however, strictly black.  All the distinct markings of the jaguar are there underneath, but are hidden by the excess black pigment melanin.  It is quite possible to see these markings with the naked eye. Melanistic cubs can be born to non-melanistic parents and vice versa.

Jaguar in tree ready to pounceThis enigmatic and elusive cat spends its time either resting in the trees or hunting down its prey.  It hunts on both land and in water, and is a skilled swimmer.  It is capable of moving through the water with astonishing speed and stealth, often pouncing on its prey unannounced.  The prey is stalked in silence on huge padded paws, and after one agile leap, rapidly disposed of with a single powerful bite to the neck, suffocating the creature almost instantly.  In fact, the name Jaguar is said to come from the Native American word “yaguar” which interprets as “he who kills with one leap”.  A solitary creatures, the jaguar will defend its territory fiercely if other males attempt to encroach. This is when those huge canines come into action.

Like the tiger, lion and leopard (all genus Panthera) this large felid has the ability to roar, due to the unusual square shape of the vocal chords and the thick pad of elastic tissue towards the front.  Cats of the genus Panthera are the only cats which actually can roar.

Jaguar and melanistic cubs born in captivityJaguars only come together to mate.  Normally, they are solitary. There is no specific breeding season for the species.  It is the mother that takes care of the cubs – the father moves on.  As with tigers, there is always the risk of the father killing and eating the cubs. With perhaps this in mind, the mother soon sees him off after the birth if he lingers.  Following a gestation period of up to one hundred and ten days, typically, one to three cubs will be born, each weighing one and a half to two pounds.  The cubs will be born blind and remain so for the first two weeks of their lives.  They will be weaned at three months but will stay in the den, relying upon their mother for food, until they are about six months old. At this age, they will be ready to accompany their mother on small hunts.  They will stay with her until they reach maturity and can establish a territory of their own.  During this time the cubs will have perfected the art of finding food and shelter, and defending themselves. Females are mature at about three years of age and males four years of age.

Natural Habitat
Jaguars have a vast array of habitats including rainforest, deciduous forest, seasonally flooded swamp, grassland and mountain scrub.  They are almost always found living near water.  Where habitat is concerned, there are certain criteria essential to maintaining healthy populations:  dense cover, plentiful prey and a good supply of water.
Where
Remote regions of South and Central America, largely in the moist  Amazon Basin.
What they eat
Jaguars are obligate carnivores with a preference for large ungulates.  But, they will eat almost anything, including sloth, reptiles, amphibians, fish and monkeys.  In all,  jaguars are said to prey on over eighty-five species.   
Threats
Extensive and aggressive deforestation, persecution, human conflict, hunting for pelts, and hunting for paws and teeth for mythological reasons. “Those who excelled in hunting and warfare often adorned themselves with jaguar pelts, teeth, or claws and were regarded as possessing feline souls” (Saunders 1998).  Although hunting for pelts has declined dramatically over the last thirty years, demand is rising again in the markets, and claws are still seen as having the same mythical properties.
Status: Near Threatened
The jaguar (Panthera onca) is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Near Threatened (likely to become endangered in the near future).  It is also listed on  CITES Appendix I.  The jaguar is fully protected at national level across most of its range, with hunting either prohibited or restricted.
Various groups are involved in  Jaguar Conservation.  Recovery programs are in place,  and there  is an active  Jaguar Species Survival Plan.  Yet the species is still declining!  

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Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 92 – The Asiatic Golden Cat


Asiatic golden cat via Wikimedia Commons.

Photograph: Karen Stout

“What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of the spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected”
Chief Seattle

Known as the ‘fire tiger’ (Seua fai) in certain parts of Thailand, this enigmatic forest dweller is surrounded by legend. Thai people Asiatic golden cat believe that burning the Asiatic golden cat’s pelage will drive tigers away and that cooking and eating the whole cat will protect against tiger attacks. Those of the peaceful and nature-loving Karen tribe, the largest of the major tribes of northern Thailand, maintain a single hair will do the same job, but how they come by this one hair is not disclosed. The Asiatic cat is also believed, by most indigenous peoples, to be ferocious. Though few signs of this have been demonstrated in captivity.

The range of the golden cat covers parts of some of the most rapidly developing countries in the world. Their habitat is being destroyed at a terrifying rate to accomodate man, who is also managing to destroy the cat’s prey at the same time. Added to that, Asiatic golden cat caught in a trapthey are hunted for their beautiful pelts and body parts – no surprise there then! Evidence of this appeared in four separate markets in Myanmar between 1991 and 2006. Parts and skins from one hundred and ten individual cats were reported. These markets can still be found on the borders of China and Thailand, and are still trading in this very rare creature and other animals. The markets are well-attended by international buyers. The fact that the golden cat is fully protected in Myanmar does not seem to be helping it at all here.

The Asiatic golden cat is also known as the Asian golden cat and Temminck’s golden cat (named after the Dutch naturalist Coenraad Jacob Temminck. Temminck first described the related African golden cat in 1827). There are three subspecies of golden cat: C.t.dominicanorum – South China, C.t.temminck – Himalayas to Sumatra and C.t.tristis – Southwest China Highlands.

Asiatic golden cat at Edinburgh Zoo 2010Asiatic golden cats are quite solid creatures and tend to resemble the domestic cat in all but size. They typically weigh about twenty-five to thirty-five pounds and can reach up to forty-one inches in body length. Males are usually larger than females.
They have a dense, coarse coat ranging in colour from dark-orange to brown, dark-brown to cinnamon, and dark-grey to black. Melanistic, panther-like morphs also exist. Coats are sometimes spotted or have rosettes, or have vague stripes. Black and white lines run along the side of the face.

These elusive Asiatic golden cats were once thought to be mainly nocturnal, but studies now reveal they are diurnal and crepuscular. They can climb trees if needs be, though they do prefer to be at ground level. Their vocalisations, like their appearance, again resemble the domestic cat, with purring, meowing, growling, spitting and hissing.

Asian golden kittenMost of the information on reproduction in golden cats is derived from observations of the species in captivity. There is apparently no specific breeding season for the golden cat, and if one litter is lost another will be produced within four months. After a gestation period of up to eighty days, the female will give birth to one to three kittens, each weighing about eight and a half ounces. The kittens will grow very quickly and have tripled their size by the age of eight weeks. Their coats are already patterned at birth, but their eyes will be closed for the first six to twelve days. Males play an active role in rearing their young. The kittens will be fully weaned at six months and fully mature at eighteen to twenty-four months, depending whether male or female.

Natural Habitat
Subtropical and tropical forest with rocky areas, bamboo forest, grasslands and shrub.
Where
From the Himalayan foothills of Tibet into China, across to India and down through to Sumatra.
What they eat
Mainly rodents with some birds and reptiles. They are capable of bringing down much larger prey such as small deer and buffalo calves.
Threats
Deforestation, loss of prey species, indiscriminate snaring, poaching for its fur and bones, poaching for the illegal wildlife trade, and human conflict.
Status: Near Threatened
The Asiatic golden cat (Pardofelis temminckii) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Near Threatened (likely to become endangered in the near future). It is also listed under CITES Appendix 1 (as Catopuma temminckii).
The species is fully protected over most of its range with the exception of Lao People’s Democratic Republic where hunting is regulated, and Bhutan where it is only protected in certain areas.
In Myanmar, pelts have been found in various markets catering for international buyers. The general consensus is that CITES laws are not adequately enforced here.
It is not known how many Asiatic golden cats still exist in the wild, but it is thought their numbers are declining rapidly. A limited number of individuals are kept in zoos around the world. Captive breeding programs exist in some.

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Malaysia rescues rare golden cat from pot (2010)
Sensational offspring of Asiatic golden cats, Allwetter Zoo – Germany (May 2013)
Six cat species found in Eastern Plains Landscape  (WWF February 2013)
 

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. 90 – The Common Chimpanzee


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 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