Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 48 – The Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat


Northern hairy-nosed wombat

Source: Unknown

Description
Who could possibly look at the face of this gentle, adorable creature without wanting to save it from extinction.  Thankfully, multitudes of caring, giving and conscientious people want to do just that.  But, a near-extinct wombat – who would have thought!

And, it is by no means delicate in build.  In fact, they are built like small tanks.  Which is probably what is so appealing about them.  They have broad heads, short, stocky legs and can measure over forty inches from nose to tail.  They only grow up to fourteen inches in height, but weigh in, on average, at seventy pounds.  These amazing little marsupials are solid.  On top of that, the females have an extra layer of fat making them even heavier. They have soft grey/brown fur on their bodies and all over their noses, hence the name, pointed ears and very short tails.  There are three species of wombat: the northern hairy-nosed wombat, the southern hairy-nosed wombat and the common wombat. The northern hairy-nosed wombat is the largest of all three.  Wombats are marsupials, meaning they carry and nurse their young in a pouch.

The northern hairy-nosed wombat is nocturnal.  Although usually solitary, wombats sometimes share burrows.  They have teeth which continue to grow all their lives, allowing them to continue to grind food when they are old.  They are extremely near-sighted, but have a highly developed sense of smell.  Known as the ‘engineers’ of the mammal world, they are capable of digging burrows up to 90 metres long. Each burrow has several entrances, is well-ventilated and maintains a constant temperature all year round.  Wombats cannot survive above ground for long periods, so their burrows are of the utmost importance to them.

Little is known about the mating habits of the species, but following a gestation period of roughly twenty-one days, most young will born in the summer (the wet season), between November and April.  Only one baby is ever born at a time. The baby (joey) will stay in the mother’s pouch until it is nine months old.  Interesting fact: all baby marsupials are called joeys.

It is said in many places, the northern hairy-nosed wombat is the rarest marsupial in the world.  I beg to differ here, I think Gilbert’s potoroo is.  But, I am sure this little wombat cannot be far behind.  Whatever the dubious honour, as with all endangered species, it would be a terrible shame to lose this beautiful, docile animal.

Habitat
Semi-arid grasslands offering deep, sandy soil for excavating burrows.
Where
Epping Forest National Park – central Queensland and St George in southern inland Queensland.
What they eat
Various coarse grasses, including African buffel grass, and roots.  African buffel grass, introduced and favoured by the cattle industry, has taken over the native grasses on which the wombat prefers to feed.
Threats
Pasture competition from cattle, prolonged drought, wildfire, disease (such as toxoplasmosis or mange) and dingoes. Due to small population numbers, and all animals originally being confined to the same location in central Queensland, the northern hairy-nosed wombat could have been extirpated by any of these threats, or any other unforeseen natural disasters.  It was a bit like the Board of Directors of a large company travelling on the same plane at the same time. But, all that has now started to change with the founding of a second site in southern Queensland (2009). This reserve has a predator proof fence surrounding it to keep out the dingoes as well. The same overall threats still exist, but now the future is looking better, and new babies are expected in mid 2014.
Status: Critically Endangered
The northern hairy-nosed wombat  (Lasiorhinus krefftii)   is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Critically Endangered. Through extreme vigilance, numbers have increased from thirty to forty individuals in the early 1980s to an estimated two hundred today.  People and organisations all over Australia, who clearly adore the wombat, are helping to protect and maintain the species.  “Re-wilding” has been introduced (re-introduction to old habitats) and scientists believe the northern hairy-nosed wombat may have a future. Let us hope they are right.

“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty”
Albert Einstein

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 46 – The African Wild Ass


Somali  wild ass and foal

Source: Zooborns

Description
The African wild ass is a highly endangered equidae.  Numbers have decreased by ninety per cent in the past two decades.  And, like so many other poor unfortunates, the wild ass is hunted for, here we go again, traditional medicine.  Amongst other things, its bones are boiled up to make a cure-all soup for the heartless and ill-informed.

The ancestor of all domestic donkeys, the species was domesticated about six thousand years ago.  It’s hard to enter any country without seeing a domesticated donkey somewhere, yet only a few hundred of their wild ancestors are still in existence.

African wild asses have a smooth coat, which varies from light grey to fawn becoming white on the undersides and legs.  Most have a dark stripe along the back and the Somalian subspecies has black horizontal stripes on its legs.  They all have a stiff, upright mane.  They can reach a height of five and a half feet  (16.2)  at the shoulder and are about six and a half feet in length.

The species is crepuscular, feeding during twilight hours when the temperatures are lower.  The day is spend resting in the shade of the rocky hills.  They are fast and sure-footed over the rough terrain, and can reach speeds of up to thirty miles per hour.

Although well-adapted to the arid climate, they do need surface water.  Most stay permanently within twenty miles of water.  Moisture is extracted from the vegetation they consume.  They can survive with very little liquid, but need to drink at least once every three days, and lactating females need to drink every day.  Therefore a surface water supply is essential to them.  Unfortunately, access to water (and food) is often limited due to competition with livestock.

African wild asses live in small herds, typically consisting of fewer than five animals.  Only the mother and her foal form long-term relationships.  Following mating, the gestation period is relatively long; eleven to twelve months.  Usually, only one foal is born.  The foal will be weaned at six to eight months, and reach sexual maturity at two years.

Habitat
Rocky deserts, arid and semi-arid bushlands and grasslands, where there is access to surface water.
Where
Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.
What they eat
Grasses, bark and leaves.
Threats
Hunting for food and traditional medicine.  Competition from domestic livestock for food and water supplies.  Interbreeding between wild and domestic donkeys, resulting in hybridisation.
Status: Critically Endangered
The African Wild Ass (Equus africanus) is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Critically Endangered.  Fewer than five hundred and seventy individuals are thought to still exist, the least number being in Somalia.  The species is protected by law in Somalia and Ethiopia, but, these laws are difficult to enforce and illegal hunting still goes on.  The use of automatic weapons is common in some areas.
African wild asses are kept in captivity around the world and breeding programs do exist. These have been very successful and births have occurred.  Indeed, the image above portrays a foal named Hakaba, born in 2010 at the Basel Zoo, Switzerland.  It is unclear, though, whether any of these animals will ever be returned to their natural environment.

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.”
Aristotle

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 44 – The Cotton-top Tamarin


Cotton-top tamarin clinging to tree

Photo: William T Hornaday

Description
The cotton-top tamarin was declared endangered in 1973;  and in 1974 it became illegal to export them.  Prior to that, these endearing little monkeys were subjected to years of torment.  Exported to the United States by the tens of thousands, they were used for long-term biomedical research.  Notwithstanding that mass depletion of the species, they were also highly sought after, and taken, by zoos and pet traders.

Closely related to humans, the cotton-top tamarin was found to spontaneously develop a highly prevalent idiopathic colitis resembling human ulcerative colitis.  Four out of five animals died or were euthanised after a disease course of two to ten days.  [1]  Having lost most of my own family to cancer, I never fail to see, and always fully appreciate, the need for a wide range of research. However, this use, or rather misuse, of animals was unforgivable. It’s hard to imagine the horror of it all.  All international trade has long since been banned, but now the species faces other risks  –  again created by man.

The cotton-top tamarin is a New World monkey.  As you can imagine, it’s pretty rare. Tamarins are monomorphic, arboreal and diurnal.  They are instantly recognisable by the long white chine from forehead to shoulders.  They have mutated claws on all digits and only two molars on either side of the jaw.  Startlingly, they weigh no more than a pound. They live in groups ranging from one to nineteen, though the more common size would be three to nine.  They are highly intelligent, with their language showing signs of some grammatical structure.

The cotton-top tamarin has a monogamous breeding system.  Gestation lasts about one hundred and forty days, followed by the birth of twins.  Females produce twice a year.

Habitat
Tropical rainforests, secondary forests and open woodlands; up to altitudes of four hundred metres.
Where
Northwest Colombia
What they eat
Insects, fruit, sap, small birds, lizards, and eggs.
Threats
Deforestation:  Most of its habitat, 98% over the last decade, has been lost to farming, expansion of human settlements and fuel.
Status: Critically Endangered
The cotton-top tamarin  (Saguinus oedipus) is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Endangered Species  as Critically Endangered.  It is also listed on CITES Appendix I.  Various non-profit making organisations are helping in their own way.  Nature reserves have been set up to help maintain populations.  The species has been legally protected in Colombia since 1969.

“Because the heart beats under a covering of hair, of fur, feathers, or wings, it is, for that reason, to be of no account?”
Jean Paul Richter

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 43 – The Ethiopian Wolf


Ethiopian wolf and cub

Source: Born Free Photos

Description
Also known by a whole array of others names, including Abyssinian wolf, Simien fox and Simien jackal, this species has the dubious honour of being the rarest canid in the world. It is the only wolf species to be found in Africa, and can only be found in a handful of scattered areas in the Ethiopian Highlands.  For those who favour wolves, this is a species well worth getting to know.

Personally, I find these fox-like wolves rather beautiful.  With their long, elegant legs, slender bodies and necks, deep red fur (the females are the slightly paler ones) with contrasting black and white markings, they are undoubtedly striking, and most certainly very photogenic.  That gorgeous coat is very practical from the wolf’s point of view.  It has an insulated undercoat to protect it against the cold, in temperatures as low as minus -15 degrees centigrade.  For added warmth they hide their faces beneath their bushy tails when resting.  On average males weigh about 16 kilos and females just under 13. They are about the same size as a coyote.  Their front feet have five toes and their hind feet have four.  I have yet to find out why this is.

Ethiopian wolves tend to be mostly lone hunters.  Their prey is so small there is not enough to share.  They do, however, join forces when hunting larger species such as antelope.  As their prey is active during the day, so are they.   They are very much pack animals when it comes to other everyday living.  At dawn and dusk, they patrol the boundaries en masse;  and socialise and sleep as such too.  They sleep together, curled up in a ball, out in the open.  Male wolves rarely leave the pack, but females tend to wander off at two years of age in search of other opportunities.

This species is very vocal.  There are huffs, yelps, barks, growls, whines and group yip howls.  The howls can be heard over five kilometres away.

There is no social hierarchy amongst these wolves when it comes to mating.  Bit of a free-for-all really.  The mating season is between August and November.  After a gestation period of about sixty days, a litter of pups, numbering between two and six, will be born. Although the adults sleep in the open, when the cubs are born, the mother digs a hole, usually beneath a large rock or inside a crevice, to shelter her pups.  The pups are born with their eyes closed and have no teeth.  The den will be moved several times before the pups are ready to experience the outside world.

Habitat
Afroalpine grasslands and heathlands at altitudes above 3,000 metres.
Where
The Bale and Simien Mountain ranges of Ethiopia.
What they eat
Rodents make up nearly 96 percent of all their prey – big-headed mole rats,  black-clawed brush-furred rats and  grass rats.  Highland hare is sometimes on the menu too, along with birds, eggs, and occasionally carrion.
Threats
Habitat loss and fragmentation, over grazing of livestock, road construction, persecution, confrontation and hybridisation with domestic dogs, and diseases from domestic dogs (rabies, distemper and parvovirus).  Most of these threats are related to the Oromo people who live in close proximity to the wolves in the Bale Mountains National Park .
Status: Endangered
The Ethiopian wolf  (Canis simensis)  is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered.  Less than five hundred mature individuals are thought to remain in existence.  The species is protected from hunting under Ethiopian law.   A vaccination programme is in place to curb diseases, in particular rabies which decimated populations in both 1991 and 2003.   Steps are also being taken to prevent cross-breeding with domestic dogs.
The Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme has undertaken:  [1]
• To assess, address and counteract threats to the survival of Ethiopian wolves.
• To secure the conservation of Afroalpine biodiversity and ecological processes.
• To strengthen Ethiopia’s environmental sector, particularly biodiversity conservation.

”The quicker we humans learn that saving open space and wildlife is critical to our welfare and quality of life, maybe we’ll start thinking of doing something about it.”
Jim Fowler

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 42 – The Iranian or Asiatic Cheetah


Iranian or Asiatic cheetah with cubs

Source: Unknown

Description
As opposed to being hunted by man, these magnificent animals were once used as man’s hunting companions.  Known then as the ‘hunting leopard’, Indian princes kept Asiatic cheetah in captivity (in very large numbers) and trained them, as they did birds of prey, to hunt.  With the cheetah, they hunted various antelope. The royal families, and their multitudes of ‘sporting guests’, would wander off with these wonderful creatures in tow and the hunt would begin.  This practise began over five thousand years ago and continued until the first half of the twentieth century.  [1]  Part of the reason for this species being endangered today relates to the mass, ill-managed, live capture of cheetah for the pleasure of those aristocratic folk, so long ago.  Though this was not the sole reason for the decline, it played a huge part.  For example, Akbar the Great, Mogul Emperor of India, had an eye-watering collection of an estimated six thousand cheetah. Not many left in the wild after that sort of extraction.  By 1950 the species had become extinct in India, and most other places as well.

Despite the many wrongs of this, I cannot help but wonder how long it took to train these cheetah to surrender their kill.

These fabulous cats are just built for hunting.  Their bodies are svelte and their legs long and strong.  They have semi-retractable, blunt claws to grip the ground as they travel at speeds of up to eighty miles an hour.  They have a tail which acts as a balancing tool, when cornering sharply; and their eyes, high on their small heads, have a 210-degree field of vision.   Asiatic cheetah  (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus)  are also excellent stalkers and are able to get extremely close to their prey before they are seen.  Once caught, strong jaws can suffocate the prey within minutes.

When fully grown, the Asiatic Cheetah is about four to five feet in length, and weighs up to fifty-four kilos.  As is so with most animals, the male is larger than the female.  Both sexes chirp when they call.  The strange sound is more like a tiny, yapping puppy than a fierce big cat, and can be heard up to a mile away.

Breeding is thought to take place in mid-winter.  Gestation lasts up to ninety-five days, after which one to four cubs are normally produced.  Sadly, many do not make it past twelve weeks.

The name cheetah comes from the Hindi word “chita” meaning spotted.

Habitat
Semi-desert areas and small plains where prey is available.
Where
Most are in Northern Iran with lesser numbers being found in Sub-Saharan Africa
What they eat
Ungulates such as gazelle, wild sheep and goats.  But, they have also been forced into hunting cattle because of the loss of their primary prey species, due to poaching.
Threats
Alteration of the grasslands to farmland, overgrazing of domestic livestock, habitat fragmentation and degradation.  Hunting and poaching of the cheetah’s prey.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Asiatic cheetah is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Critically Endangered.  The total population may only be 50 to 100.  Exact numbers are difficult to obtain.  Three separate bodies, the Iranian Department of Environment , the United Nations Development Programme and the Global Environment Facility, partnered to found the Conservation of the Asiatic Cheetah Project (CACP). The intention being to preserve and rehabilitate the Asiatic cheetah’s remaining habitat in Iran.
“The second phase of CACP was initiated in January 2009 to run as a four-year project, with a budget of $4 million funded by national and international organizations. Recently, it was announced that the project will be extended until 2015”. [2] 

Let us all hope this extremely beautiful animal can be saved by all of this.  I know I am certainly rooting for them, and perhaps you should too.

“The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer