Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 111 – Dorcas Gazelle


 

Dorcas gazelle in the desert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dorcas gazelle are also known as the Ariel gazelle.

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

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Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 75 – The Malayan Tapir


Malayan tapir in captivity

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe, the less taste we shall have for destruction”
Rachel Carson

Looking remarkably like a cross between a rhinoceros (to which it is related) and a huge prize boar wearing a saddle blanket, the Malayan tapir is yet another species suffering from habitat devastation. Once again, we bear witness to the terrible destruction caused by palm oil plantations.

These solitary, timid creatures are one of four species of tapir.  The others can be found Central and South America. The Malayan tapir, as the name would suggest, is native to Asia.

Malayan tapirs are surprisingly large, weighing up to seven hundred pounds; roughly as much as a Shetland pony.  But, far from being pony-like in its length, it can grow to as much as eight feet from head to tail.  Of all the tapirs, the Malayan tapir is the largest by far. Oddly, females are usually larger than males.

Tapirs are close relatives of (surprisingly) horses and (not so surprisingly) rhinos.  And, something you may not know, a group of tapirs is called a “candle”.

Malayan tapirs have long, flexible, prehensile trunks used extensively for grabbing leaves and plucking tasty fruit.  But, this proboscis also has another important role; that of a snorkel, used when the tapir goes swimming and diving for food and cover.

Malayan tapir - forestry commission IndonesiaIts sparse coat is a deep-dark-grey to black with a white ‘saddle’ running from the centre of its back to its tail, and white ears trims.  The coat is made up of very coarse hair which covers extremely tough skin. The tough skin comes in handy for protection against the claws and jaws of predators, and for withstanding the rigours of crashing through thick understorey vegetation when on the run.  It also has a very short stubby tail, small piggy-eyes and large ears. There are four toes on each fore foot and three toes on the hind ones.

It is said the disrupted colouration of the coat acts as camouflage, and predators most likely will mistake it for a large boulder when the animal is prone. This sounds a bit optimistic to me, but… let’s hope so!

Because tapirs are nocturnal and crepuscular (most active at dawn and dusk), the short-sightedness of the species is a bit of a drawback, especially when searching for food or avoiding predators. However, this is well-compensated for by the acute sense of smell they possess and the excellent hearing they enjoy.

Malayan tapirs are superb swimmers too, and will, by preference,  live near water, where they will spend the majority of their time. They feed from the bottom of the rivers on aquatic plants, and are able to submerge themselves for several minutes before using their ‘snorkels’.  Water also helps to cool them down and remove parasites, and allows refuge from predators.

But, don’t be fooled into thinking these gentle-looking creatures cannot and will not attack if necessary.  When threatened, they will charge using their very dangerous teeth to defend themselves.  Deaths of humans have been recorded in both the wild and in captivity.  Well… I suppose at least one species is getting its own back!

Malayan tapir and babyThe breeding season for tapirs typically occurs between April and June.  A gestation period of up to three hundred and ninety-five days follows. After which, one single calf will be born weighing about fifteen pounds.  Looking nothing like the mother in colour, the baby will have brown hair, white spots and white stripes.  This colouring allows it to blend in with the variegated forest vegetation.  Between the ages of four and seven months, the, now juvenile’s, coat will turn to the colours of an adult tapir.  The young one will be weaned at six to eight months.  By this time it will be almost fully grown.  The mother will only produce a calf once every two years.

***
Habitat
Primary and secondary tropical moist forests and lower montane forests.
Where
Sumatra, Myanmar and Thailand.
What they eat
Young leaves, growing twigs and aquatic plants. And, seasonal fruits. They enjoy palm tree fruits as well as mango and fig. They also put a great deal of effort into finding salt licks.
Threats
Human activity: habitat conversion to palm oil plantations. illegal logging, deforestation for agricultural and flooding caused by dammed rivers for hydroelectric projects. Hunters seek out Malayan tapirs for food and sport.  Young tapirs are also trafficked.  Baby and adolescent tapirs can be worth as much as six thousand dollars on the black market. Some are known to have been traded through Indonesian zoos and some have gone to private collectors.  Natural predators are the leopard and the tiger.
Status: Endangered
The Malayan Tapir (Tapirus indicus) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered.  It is also protected under Cites Appendix 1.  Remaining numbers are thought to be as few as fifteen hundred to two thousand and decreasing.
The species is protected against hunting in all locations, and, because of their pig-like appearance, tapir meat is taboo in Sumatra anyway, where most of the population is Muslim.  Sadly, nothing is being done to protect its habitat.  The Malayan tapir is, regrettably in the same position as all other tapirs – in danger of extinction.  But, there is an upside;  there are a number of tapirs in zoos around the world and captive breeding seems to be working.

Other names: Asian tapir, badak (Malaysia and Indonesia), som-set (Thailand).

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Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 50 – The Javan Leopard


Javan tiger, caught on camera, resting in the rainforest

Photographer: Age Kridalaksana (The Center for International Forestry Research – CIFOR)

Description
The Javan leopard inhabits one of the most densely populated and richly bio-diverse islands in Indonesia.  Given the amount of attention by visiting biologists and conservationists over time, it is surprising there is so little information available about this and other island species.

Most of scant data written has come from those observed in captivity or those captured in the wild and returned with radio collars, or caught on camera traps.  They are said to be extremely elusive, though someone has clearly been finding them.  If only to export to various zoos.

Driven back deep into the forests by man, having been deprived of more than ninety per cent of its original habitat  (and with that its prey base),  the Javan leopard has been forced to turn to domestic livestock for food supplies.  The irony of this situation seems to be lost on the local population as conflict between the tigers and humans escalates. And, to make matters worse, villagers are turning to poaching.  Plans are being made to address the conflict and to offer alternative economic opportunities to the villagers. Which can only be a good thing.

The Javan Leopard is a beautiful, small leopard endemic to Java.  Its coat is orange with black rosettes.  It has piercing steel-grey eyes. Leopards,in general, are larger and stockier than the cheetah but not as big as the jaguar.  One wildlife photographer suggested the Javan leopard he ‘shot’ was about five feet ten inches in length.

Expert climbers, when not draped over branches fast asleep, they can run up to thirty-five miles per hour, bound over twenty feet forward and leap almost ten feet upwards.

Leopards remain solitary except when mating.  The gestation period involved lasts roughly one hundred days, after which two to four cubs will be born.  Sadly, only half will survive.  As happens so often, the infant mortality rate is high.

Less than two hundred and fifty pure Javans are thought to remain in the wild.  However, this estimate may be on the low side.  The species is prone to melanism, and more may exist as ‘black panthers’.

Habitat
Dense tropical rainforest, dry deciduous forest and scrubland.
Where
Gunung Gede National Park on the Indonesian island of Java.
What they eat

Deer, various monkeys and small apes, and wild boar. Through diminishing habitat and depletion of their prey base, Javan leopards have been forced towards settlements and have been known to prey on domestic animals in their search for food.
Threats
Habitat loss, illegal logging and agricultural expansion, poaching, loss of own prey and human conflict.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Javan leopard (Panthera pardus melas) is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Critically Endangered.  It can also be found listed under  CITES Appendix I.  In Indonesia, the Javan leopard is classified as a protected species, and stringent hunting laws are enforced to prevent this leopard from going down the same road as the Javan tiger.  

There are an estimated two hundred and fifty Javan leopards left in the wild. In 1997 (latest available data), there were fourteen Javan leopards recorded in captivity within world zoos.  From 2007, the Taman Safari zoo in Indonesia kept seventeen Javan leopards, of which four were breeding pairs.  Javan leopards are also kept in the Indonesian zoos of Surabaya and Ragunan.  Captive breeding programmes do exist, but are not widespread. However, there have been zoo births, making the future look a little brighter for the species.

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”
Rachel Carson

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 26 – The Fishing Cat


Fishing cat

Photograph: Mathieu Ourioux

Description
These cats not only like water,  they spend a great deal of their time either beside it or diving beneath the surface of it to catch their prey.  When wading in shallow water,  they use their paws to scoop the fish up .  When diving,  they use their teeth.

For all of this,  they possess the most remarkable two-layered coat.  The dense inner layer,  next to the skin,  provides waterproofing and all year round warmth;  the second layer,  which sprouts longer hairs  (guard hairs),  gives the cats their individual pattern.

They are nocturnal and  have stocky bodies,  short legs and tails,  round ears and relatively broad heads.  Their tails can act as rudders when swimming.  They are powerful swimmers who are equipped with partial membrane between the toes to aid movement in the water.  Unlike other cats,  their claws are not fully retractable. They have olive-green/grey fur.

The mother gives birth to two or three young after a gestation period of sixty-three days.  She raises them alone,  the male having left after mating.

Habitat
Wetlands: marshes, rivers,  streams and mangrove swamps.
Where
The Himalayan foothills in India and Nepal,  Bangladesh,  Sri Lanka,  Myanmar (Burma),  the Indonesian Islands of Sumatra and Java,  Vietnam,  Thailand and the Indus Valley in Pakistan.  Though widespread,  the fishing cat favours  only parts where wetlands are found.
What they eat
These cats are certainly not the pickiest of eaters.  Though primarily they feast on fish, they are not averse to nibbling on others’  left overs,  including tiger scraps,  and are quite able to kill and devour chickens,  dogs,  frogs,  cats,  rodents,  wild pig,  goats and calves.
Threats
The greatest threat is man.  His increasing settlement,  degradation and conversion of the wetlands,  and his drainage systems for agriculture,  have all led to extreme loss of habitat.   Over-exploitation of  fish stocks is also threatening fishing cat numbers.   And, they are  hunted for food,  medicine,  skins and body parts.   On top of all this,  they are often persecuted for preying on domestic livestock.
Status: Endangered

The fishing cat  (Prionailurus viverrinus),   is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.   The species is also protected by national legislation  in most,  but not all,   of the countries it inhabits. But,  legal protection is difficult to enforce and poaching continues.   Wetland destruction and degradation is the primary threat faced by the species.  Captive breeding programmes have been established and habitat loss is being addressed.

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”
Rachel Carson