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


Asiatic golden cat via Wikimedia Commons.

Photograph: Karen Stout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 88 – The Red Panda


Two young red pandas in a tree

Photographer: Aconcagua

“The earth we abuse and the living things we kill will, in the end, take their revenge;  for in exploiting their presence we are diminishing our future”
Marya Mannes

Native to the Himalayan foothills, and arguably one of the most heart-melting little bears on the planet, the red panda has seen a big rise in popularity lately, and ‘awwws’ and ‘ahhhs’ galore follow wherever it is seen. But, just like its namesake, the giant panda, man is robbing the red panda of its basic needs in the wild – food and shelter. Throughout most of the red pandas range, theRed panda sleeping in a tree by Aconcagua trees it nests in and the bamboo it eats have disappeared. With over ninety per cent of its diet made up of something which is now in very short supply, hunger now looms.

The red panda’s striking red fur has made it a much sought after clothing item in some parts of China and Myanmar. And, red panda fur hats are still very popular in Bhutan. The killing of red pandas is highly illegal across its range, but the poaching continues, often unchecked.

But… at least what is left of the population can sleep easy in their nests tonight – the International Fur Trade Federation doesn’t do red panda any more!! Lucky red pandas!! Red panda

To veer slightly off topic for a moment – anything else, of course, is fair game to these self-serving, greedy and ruthless fur traders, who somehow seem to be missing the point.
To quote from the International Fur Trade Federation website:  

“Wild fur is only taken from abundant species”
“Over 85% of fur sold today is farmed”
“The legitimate fur trade does not trade in endangered species”
These are not principles. These are hoodwinking statements attempting to justify their egregious activities.  Surprisingly, they have the full approval of the IUCN.

Advocating, and profiting from, the breeding of animals solely for the purpose of killing them for their coats, or snatching animals from the wild simply because there are more than enough to go round, and then wallowing in the ill-claimed  glory of  avoiding using endangered species, does not make this barbaric trade any more acceptable. It simply serves to illustrate  how wide a range of species are targeted,  and how there is such a total lack of any form of moral compass involved.

baby red panda sleeping in treeBut, back to the red panda itself.  Also known as the lesser panda or red cat-bear, these little bears are not much bigger than the average domestic cat.  They have rust-coloured fur on top with black legs and undersides, long bushy ringed-tails and cream-coloured markings on the face, and cream to white ears.  Their fur is thick and covers their entire bodies including the soles of their feet.  In winter they wrap their long, fluffy tails around themselves maintain heat.  They have a low metabolic rate to further ensure their survival in extreme temperatures.  A red panda can lose up to fifteen per cent of its body weight during the winter months.

Red pandas have semi-retractable claws and a thumb-like wrist projection for gripping bamboo. Their wrap-round tails also act as a balancing tool when moving through the trees.  And, sweetly, red pandas dip their paws into water to drink.

Red pandas spend most of their waking time looking for and eating bamboo.  They nibble away at it one leaf at a time.  They have flattened teeth and well-developed chewing muscles.  They are excellent tree climbers, and are most active during the day.  If called upon to defend itself, the red panda will stand upright on its hind legs and show its sharp, ready to strike claws.

Red Panda mother and baby huggingRed pandas are shy and solitary except when mating.  Females (sows or she-bears) birth once a year. They build nests in hollow tree trunks or small caves.  There is a gestation period of about one hundred and thirty-five days followed by the birth of one to four cubs.  Baby red pandas weigh an average of one hundred and ten grams when born.  They have fluffy cream and grey fur and their eyes and ears tightly closed.  They remain in their protective nests for roughly ninety days.  Only their mothers care for them.  Male red pandas (boars or he-bears) take little or no interest in the babies.  At six months old, the babies are weaned from their mother. Red panda friends Young red pandas grow relatively slowly, reaching adult size after one year.  They reach full maturity at eighteen months.  This pattern of growth results in an inability to recover efficiently from the devastating declines in population.  There is also a fairly high infant mortality rate.

Contrary to popular belief, the red panda is not closely related to the giant panda.  They are very distant cousins, sharing only the panda name and a penchant for bamboo.  Nor is the red panda related to the raccoon, with which it shares a ringed tail. Red pandas are considered members of their own unique family—the Ailuridae

The red panda is the state animal of the Indian state of Sikkim.

Natural Habitat
Subtropical and temperate bamboo forests at sites above four thousand feet.
Where
Bhutan, China, Myanmar, India and Nepal.
What they eat
Almost all of their diet consists of bamboo shoots and leaves, but, they will also eat fruit, grasses, acorns, roots, bird eggs and some insects.
Threats
Habitat destruction is the greatest threat across the red panda’s range.  In India, this threat is particularly significant.  Loss of habitat has been caused by the medicinal plant trade, grazing, logging, livestock competition and agricultural cropping. In Nepal ,in the Dhorpatan Hunting reserve (the only area in Nepal where licensed hunting is allowed) deforestation has occurred, red pandas are caught using snares, overgrazing of domestic cattle has impacted ringal bamboo growth, and herders and their dogs are damaging the population further. In China and Myanmar, the threat of poaching looms large. Pelts are commonly found in local markets.  In Bhutan, the pelts of the red panda are made into caps and hats.
Status: Endangered
The red panda (Ailurus fulgens) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable (high risk of endangerment in the wild). The red panda is also listed under CITES Appendix 1  and Schedule I of the Indian Wild Life Protection Act 1972.   The exact numbers of red pandas left in the wild are not known, but, are said to be declining rapidly. Red pandas have been kept and bred successfully in captivity across the world. Management programs have been created in North America, Japan, Europe, Australia, and China.


Related Articles

Stop Illegal Poaching of Red Pandas  (Petition)
Red Panda Cubs Debut at Wildlife Conservation Society Zoos

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 87 – The Okapi


Young okapi by Charles Miller IUCN

Young okapi by Charles Miller IUCN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Endangered Species Red List Updated

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


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

Courtesy: Jeroen at Sri Lanka Blog

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

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

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

Western purple-faced langur  by Steve Garvie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 84 – The Long-tailed Chinchilla


Long-tailed chinchilla (CR) Chinchilla lanigera

Today is Worldwide Fur Free Friday

When celebrating Worldwide Fur Free Friday, I felt I could not possibly ignore the plight of the long-tailed chinchilla. This little animal has become critically endangered because of man’s actions; a sordid story which can only serve to illustrate, once more, how man’s narcissism and greed has allowed him to put himself before the needs, and, even the most basic rights of, innocent, defenceless beings.

Today there are multitudes of chinchillas kept in captivity, either for the pet trade, for research (specifically the auditory system), or for the fur trade. And, all three are prospering. The fur trade, undoubtedly, being the most despicable of these.

Chinchilla coat for sale on eBay- Farm Raised Genuine (Empress Breeders Cooperative) Chinchilla LanigeraAll wild chinchilla species are listed in  Appendix 1 of CITES.  But, since these captive animals are considered domesticated, they are not protected by CITES provisions (a fact pointed out with tedious regularity by those selling furs on eBay). Furriers and farmers can, therefore, keep breeding, butchering and promoting the wearing of chinchilla as much as they wish. Many, with more money than conscience and compassion, can’t wait to adorn themselves in the poor creatures’ fur; so there is a very willing market waiting in the wings. A market which would far rather wear the chinchilla’s coat as a status symbol or fashion statement than see the rightful owner wearing it as a natural layer (or, one hundred and fifty rightful owners to be precise – that’s how many tiny chinchillas it takes to make a full-length coat). A coat can cost anything between ten thousand and one hundred thousand dollars, so it’s highly profitable.

Apart from depriving these little creatures of a normal life, what desperately needs to be remembered is that there is no easy, pain-free way to skin an animal alive! They are not shearing sheep here!

To quote the obviously caring Natalie Imbruglia, “There is no kind way to rip the skin off animals’ backs. Anyone who wears any fur chinchilla - adultshares the blame for the torture and gruesome deaths of millions of animals each year.”

But, these particular animals have not all been taken from the wild. At least not directly. They are farmed from stock stolen from their natural habitat, mostly in times past. The international trade in chinchilla fur began in the 16th century. However, the chinchillas we see today are almost all descended from chinchillas taken from Chile in the 1800s and early 1900s. This was the cause of depletion, and, sadly, despite efforts, this depletion was so severe, the species has been unable to recover. In two centuries, of vanity and greed, over twenty-one million chinchillas have been taken from their homes; over seven million of these were exported between 1828 and 1916. At one stage they were being shipped from Chile at a rate five hundred thousand per annum. The devastation to the species was unimaginable.

Very young chinchillaIn 1918, the government of Chile, (along with those of Peru and Bolivia) declared the trapping of animals and exportation of pelts illegal; ­ but, it was all too little, too late. Needless to say, this activity did not cease then, and has still not ceased today. Poaching in Chile persists. But, possibly due to much smaller populations now, they are not being taken in such large numbers.

Originally, chinchilla populations flourished within their range.  Now, it is the trade in the animals which thrives, as their pelts continue to be found amongst the most valuable in the world. As a result, these endearing little rodents are now facing extinction in the wild.

Chinchillas are small, just slightly larger than ground squirrels. They have strong legs and can leap around in a very agile manner. They have bushy tails, and soft, silky dense fur. As many as sixty hairs grow from one follicle. The fur was designed by nature to insulate the species against the cold of the barren mountain regions it inhabits.Baby chinchilla Lanigera

Chinchillas sit upright on their hind legs to eat, grasping their food in their front paws. They are social animals living in colonies of up to one hundred individuals (you can see by this how easy it must have been to capture them in large numbers). These colonies are properly referred to as herds, so named by the first fur farmers who treated them as livestock. And, just to add to that trivia; a female is called a velvet or sow, and a male is called either a bull or a boar.

Chinchillas are crepuscular and nocturnal, though they have been seen in broad daylight foraging for food. They sleep or rest in rock crevices and holes. They are expected to live up to ten years in the wild, but, can live to as much as twenty years in captivity.

Breeding takes place during May and November. The female will give birth to two litters a year.   The average gestation period lasts one hundred and eleven days,  after which, a litter of between one to three babies (known as kits) will be born. Kits are precocial at birth (fully furred and with eyes open) and weigh about thirty-five grams. They are usually weaned by sixty days.

From beasts we scorn as soulless,
In forest, field and den,
The cry goes up to witness
The soullessness of men.

M. Frida Hartley
(Animal Rights Activist)

Habitat
Barren, arid, rocky or sandy mountainous areas.
Where
Chile
What they eat
Plant leaves (mostly of the cactus family), fruits, seeds, and small insects.
Threats
Human activities; mainly poaching, followed by grazing of livestock, mining and firewood extraction. Their natural predators include birds of prey, skunks, cats, snakes and dogs.
Status: Critically Endangered
The long-tailed chinchilla (Chinchilla lanigera) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered.
The Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) lists all chinchilla species in Appendix 1, making international trade in the animals or their skins illegal among participating nations. Frighteningly, there are only 10,000 individuals thought to be left in the wild. There have been attempts to reintroduce chinchillas to the wild, but these have been markedly unsuccessful.
A great deal more could be done to monitor hunting in the remote mountain ranges of the Andes. However, this has proven to be a difficult place to patrol leaving the chinchillas vulnerable.

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Fur Free Friday

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 83 – The Malayan Tiger


Malayan Tiger at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.

Photographer: Greg Hume

“As long as people will shed the blood of innocent creatures there can be no peace, no liberty, no harmony between people. Slaughter and justice cannot dwell together”
Isaac Bashevis Singer

Regrettably, the magnificent tiger has been exploited for body parts and skins for centuries, and the Malayan tiger is no exception. Much is done in many countries to try and save tigers from extinction.  In Thailand, the home of the Malayan tiger, there are 20,000 forest rangers employed to protect all wildlife, but this is becoming an increasingly dangerous occupation.  In September Malayan Tiger in water2013, two rangers were fired upon by five poachers they had tracked to the Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary in northern Thailand.  On their way, the poachers had poisoned various animals, which the rangers suspected had been left behind as tiger bait (although, it is known they were hunting for various species). Four of the rangers were shot  in the incident, and two later died.  To add to the tragedy of the deaths of the rangers, when shots were exchanged, shockingly, the hunters were seen to be armed with AK-47 and carbine automatic rifles.  This does not imply poaching for subsistence food.  Instead, it smites heavily of terrorist activity.

Sadly, these incidents have become commonplace across Asia.  In the past four years, forty-two forest rangers have been killed on duty in Thailand alone.  These poorly paid, hard-working, dedicated rangers could do with a lot more support from the rest of the world as well as their own people.

A large part of the market for body parts and skins is created by the demand of middle class Asian consumers, in particular the fast-growing middle classes of China  (many of whom think elephants shed their tusks naturally), and it is not slowing down.  The demand for young animals as pets and exhibits has also become huge.  But, more often, it is terrorism which benefits most from these killings and live trade.  The trade in illegal wildlife, dead or alive, is now worth an estimated nineteen billion dollars a year.

Under such adverse circumstances, it seems only matter of time before the beautiful Malayan tiger, like so many other species, is lost to this world forever.

Slightly smaller than their Indian counterparts, female Malayan tigers can reach an average of seven feet ten inches in length, and Malayan Tiger and cubmales as much as eight feet six inches. They can stand at anything between two and four feet high at the shoulder and weigh between one hundred and four pounds and two hundred and eighty-four pounds.

The tiger’s orange, black and white striped coat is designed as camouflage in the forest or long grass.  It has huge front paws with five retractable claws on each.  It has incredibly powerful jaws housing large canines with which it is able to grab its prey and suffocate it.  In fact, in favourable circumstances it would have a more than fair chance of defending itself against its human predators.

Not always successful in every attack, one in twenty seems to be the kill rate, tigers can eat up to eighty pounds of meat in one feeding session.  The rest they will cover and come back to later, having already marked their territory with deep claw marks on trees.

Malayan tiger - Three-month-old Malayan tiger triplets at San Diego ZooThere is no specific breeding season for tigers.  It is an all-year-round event which is followed by a gestation period of roughly fourteen weeks.  Females birth in deep grass hollows or caves. Normally, a litter will consist of three cubs weighing about three pounds each.  They will stay with their mother for the first eighteen months to two years of their lives, in which time they will be taught all they need to equip them for a life of independence.

Habitat
Tropical forests, grasslands, and subtropical moist broadleaf forests.
Where
The southern tip of Thailand and the Malaysian Peninsular.
What they eat
Deer, wild boar, sun bears and occasional livestock.
Threats
Habitat destruction due to logging operations and development of roads for the same, and conversion of forests to agriculture or commercial plantations.   Poaching for skins and Traditional Chinese medicine, and human conflict.  An ever-diminishing prey base.
Status: Endangered
The Malayan Tiger  (Panthera tigris ssp. jacksoni)  is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Endangered.  It is also listed on  CITES: Appendix I.  Only five hundred or so Malayan tigers are still thought to exist in the wild.  Many are kept in captivity around the world. In the wild, most live outside protected areas.
Various agencies are addressing the issue of the Malayan tiger.  The World Wide Fund for Nature, for example, has initiated programs focusing on raising awareness, education and the reduction of human conflict.

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Sumatran Tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae)
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Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 82 – Pennant’s Red Colobus


Pennant's Red Colobus

Image courtesy: The Drill Project

“I cannot see how there can be any real and full recognition of Kinship as long as men continue either to cheat or to eat their fellow beings.”
Henry Salt (1851-1939)

On a small, highly biodiverse island in the Gulf of Guinea, there lives a species of monkey which, surprisingly, is not dying out through loss of habitat.   Incredibly, this unfortunate monkey is instead being eaten into extinction.  And, not as a subsistence food either.  The poor cannot afford to eat monkey-meat on the island of Bioko. This Pennant's Red Colobusis strictly the privilege of the more well-to-do.  Oil money has taken care of that, and red colobus is now considered a luxury item on the menu.   As more have developed a penchant for the meat, the price has shot up, trade in the island’s market of Malabo is burgeoning, demand is high, and the red colobus are rapidly declining in numbers. The usual arguments about  the indigenous peoples being hungry and depending on a species for food, are meaningless here.   The  local populace are eating this animal because they want to.

Red colobus weigh in at anything up to twenty-two pounds. They can grow to as much as two feet tall with a slightly longer, non-prehensile tail length of two feet four inches. Typical of its species, Pennant’s red colobus has a small head, a long back and the characteristic red colobus round belly.  Its limbs are long and spindly ending in thumbless, elongated, hook-like fingers.  Its coat comes in various shades of brown and red on the back, with a light underside and orange and black down the sides of the limbs. It has a black fur on its head, which is usually parted down the centre.

The mouth contains specialist molars for softening or breaking up leaves and fruit.  It also has a multi-chambered stomach for fermentation of ingested food.

Pennant's red colobus Red colobus are arboreal, slow and noisy.  When not simply leaping across the branches, they move through them by bending the thinner, more flexible ones and using them as catapults.  They live in groups of twelve to eighty comprising of both male and female individuals, with females outnumbering the males twofold. Females tend to remain with the same group throughout their lives, whilst males move between troops.  They communicate between each other and other troops using a series of barks and squawks.

There is little or no information available about the reproductive habits of Pennant’s Red Colobus (Procolobus pennantii),  so I think it may be fair to assume it will be much the same as say, the Zanzibar red colobus (Procolobus kirkii) which is as follows.
There is no specific breeding season and they mate throughout the year, but the inter-birth interval can be up to three years or more.  The gestation period lasts between five and six months, after which only one baby will be born.  The babies are born altricial. (Please remember, this part is only an assumption)

Habitat
Primary and secondary rain forest, and swamp forestsPennant's red colobus
Where

Equatorial Guinea (the island of Bioko).  Two other sub-species exist in the Niger Delta (Procolobus pennantii epieni) and the Republic of the Congo (Procolobus pennantii bouvieri).
What they eat
Fresh leaves, flowers, fruit and seeds.
Threats
The main threat to Pennant’s Red Colobus is commercial hunting for the bushmeat market. Habitat loss has also played a part as has limited range and small numbers.
Status: Endangered
Pennant’s Red Colobus  (Procolobus pennantii ssp. pennantii) is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Endangered. It is also listed as one of the  “World’s 25 most endangered primates”.   Almost half the entire red colobus population has been lost to uncontrolled bushmeat hunting over the past two decades.

There are no red colobus monkeys kept in any recognised public zoos or other known approved places operating captive breeding programs.  Though it has been tried, it was found red colobus did not do well in captivity.  

National laws forbid hunting of primates in protected areas, but these laws are not enforced.  

The Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program  had this to say:   “The continuing BBPP presence in the marketplace is also a constant reminder to both buyers and sellers that trafficking in primate carcasses is illegal.”

This may well be a constant reminder, but it doesn’t seem to be much of an ongoing deterrent.  With the price of red colobus meat exceeding all expectations in some quarters, it could be some time before an end is brought to this despicable trade.

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