Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 71 – The Dhole or Asiatic Wild Dog

Dhole 3

“Nothing living should ever be treated with contempt.  Whatever it is that lives – a man, a tree, or a bird – should be touched gently, because the time is short.  Civilization is another word for respect for life”
Elizabeth Goudge (1900-1984)

Those familiar with Kipling’s Red Dog may remember the bloodthirsty, aggressive and destructive creatures the dhole were portrayed to be.  In fact, Kipling did for the dhole what Little Red Riding Hood did for the wolf.  Such seemingly innocent children’s stories leading to both animals being ultimately, and wrongly, feared and persecuted.

Although the same stigmata are still attached to the dhole, even more insults have been heaped upon it.  Again, we have the same chain of events as with other endangered species.  They have been driven away from their rapidly decreasing habitat.  They have seen their prey base diminish and been left with no choice but to return the discourtesy of encroachment inflicted upon them, and head towards the settlements of their aggressors.

In moments of hunger they have preyed on cattle and goats.  In return, they have been relentlessly poisoned, trapped, shot and had their pups killed in their dens.  And, to add to all that, they have suffered the diseases and pathogens brought to their world by man and his domestic animals.

This magnificent species deserves more than this.  Alas, it seems to have been forgotten, so now may be a good time to try and raise a little awareness.

These gorgeous creatures have coats of rusty-red, which may vary in tone between regions.  They have bushy fox-like tails with a black tip, and white patches on the chest, underside and paws.  They can jump vertically to a height of over seven feet and swim extremely well.  They have been known to drive prey into the water to capture it. Roughly the size of a springer spaniel, males can weigh up to forty pounds.  Females are smaller.

The dhole is capable of felling prey up to ten times its own weight and will happily take on a tiger.  The species hunts in packs of five to ten and will ambush prey rather than stalk or chase it.

The breeding season is from November to April, after which, anything between one and twelve pups will be born.  The pups will be fully weaned at seven weeks and will reach maturity at the age of one.  They will remain in the den for about ten or eleven weeks, and by six months of age will be learning to hunt with the adults.

Moist and dry deciduous forests, tropical rainforests, open meadows and alpine steppe.
A widespread range across seventeen countries in Central and eastern Asia.
What they eat
The species is almost exclusively carnivore, consuming mainly deer.  It will also eat wild boar and hare – as and when available.
Depletion of prey base, loss and transformation of habitat, persecution, disease and competition with other species  (In the case of Indo-China this specifically means people).
Status: Critically Endangered

The Dhole or Asiatic Wild Dog  (Cuon alpinus)  is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Endangered.  It is also protected under Cites Appendix 11 (2003). There are thought to be less than two thousand five hundred of the species left in the wild and at least one hundred and twenty in captivity.
This is a species whose habitat is so fragmented and wide ranging, it is easy to forget it is there.  Which may be one of the reasons it has not had all the attention it deserves of late.  After a great flurry of activity a decade ago, very little has been done since. Hopefully, this will soon change.
The dhole is protected, to some degree, in the following countries:
The Russian Federation

Here is a link to a great first hand account of  an encounter with the dhole  which you may enjoy.

Related Links
Wild dogs chasing prey fall into pit, rescued
How Hunting Might Have Helped Turn Wolf to Dog, W2D

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 56 – The Cat Ba Langur

New image for FFA 56 Cat Langur

Image courtesy of the Cat Ba Langur Conservation Project. This image is taken from their poster currently being displayed throughout Vietnam – Photographer Jörg Adler

Animals lose their habitat for a variety of reasons.  Slash and burn agriculture is one of the biggest culprits, followed closely by illegal logging and illegal plantation building. But Bonsai trees!  Who would have thought a species would succumb to someone stealing the trees from their protected park to make little potted things.  But, it is big business at the moment.  With hunting  (the main reason for the decline of the Cat Ba langur) no longer a worthwhile pastime, the locals are finding other ways to plunder the forests for profit.  And yet again, it is at the expense of the wildlife.

The common Ficus benjamica  ( fig – Cat Ba langur love figs)  can sell for more than one thousand US dollars as a Bonsai item.  But, that is absolute peanuts compared to some rewards.  One particular ‘harvester’ was reported to have said ‘some of his trees, which were about one hundred and fifty years old, sold for as much as three hundred and fifty thousand US dollars each’.  Wow!  Quite an incentive there for the unscrupulous!

Unfortunately, they are pillaging more than anyone’s fair share and the forest park is suffering.  Some of the trees are decades old, and are gone in hours.  Furthermore, it has become increasingly difficult to catch the perpetrators.

And, to make things a little worse;  in 2012, two lonely female Cat Ba were transferred from the limestone cliffs of Dong Cong  (where they had been stranded since the year 2000)  to the safety of Cat Ba Island.  Whilst high on the cliffs, locals cleared part of the mangrove forests below to create shrimp farms.  The trees had been used as a bridge by the langur.  The two females were unable to leave the cliffs for the next twelve years.  At times, the odds seem to be quite stacked against this species.

The Cat Ba langur is now one of the rarest primates on the planet.   And, it is one of the most endearing.  Its coat is dark brown, with bright to pale yellow on the head, shoulders and rump.  The long hair at the back falls across the shoulders like a cape.  Babies are born with bright orange hair, which will start to change at about four months of age.  Males and females are similar in appearance.  They have very long tails which well exceed the length of  body.  Their bodies grow to twenty four inches in length  (tails thirty-three inches)  and they can weigh up to twenty kilos.  They have long thin hands and feet, and reduced thumbs.  They have large salivary glands and complex sacculated stomachs, helping to break down plant material.

Known to be sociable, they live in groups of up to five to nine animals.  They are diurnal and sleep together in caves, tending to have many different caves at a time.  Every few nights, they leave one and move to another.  Groups establish their own territory and are defended by the dominant male.  Groups usually consist of one dominant male, some females and their offspring.  They are known to live up to twenty-five years.
Births normally occur in April.  Females birth every two to three years.  One single baby will be born.  Sadly, little else is known of the reproductive biology of the Cat Ba langur.

Karst limestone forest.
Cat Ba Island, Vietnam.
What they eat
Mainly folivorous, but they also eat flowers, fresh shoots, bark, and sometimes fruit.
Habitat loss is currently the greatest contributor to their declining numbers.  Hunting for sport and poaching for traditional medicine (monkey-balm) has been very popular in the past, but has now all but ceased.  They have not been hunted often for food either,  as their meat is said to smell very bad.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Cat Ba langur is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Critically Endangered.   A dramatic decline in numbers occurred, taking the population from two thousand eight hundred individuals in the 1960s to an alarming fifty-three individuals in the year 2000.  At this point, and at the behest of the Vietnamese authorities, an exceptional programme  (the Cat Ba Langur Conservation Project)  was put together by the Münster Zoo and the Zoological Society for the Conservation of Species and Populations to protect these langur and their habitat.   [1]   And the good news is,  it is now finally working.   The Cat Ba Langur population is stabilised at around the sixty mark, and educational programmes, amongst other provisions, have led to local villages and schools helping to protect and save a species they once were responsible for pushing towards the brink of extinction. A further program, the Forest Protection Clubs, was established in 2007.  The species still remains critical, but there is now hope for its survival.

“When the Earth is sick, the animals will begin to disappear, when that happens, The Warriors of the Rainbow will come to save them.”
Chief Seattle

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 54 – The Grey-shanked Douc Langur

Grey-shanked douc langur

Image: Art G via Creative Commons

Mankind has done irreparable damage to these poor langurs.  Their numbers were reduced dramatically during the Vietnam War when the their habitat was heavily bombed and sprayed with defoliants like Agent Orange.  On top of that, soldiers used these harmless creatures for target practice (they sit still in the branches – they do not run away – they think they are hiding). Today, they are hunted for the pet trade, food and medicine. And, as if that were not enough, their habitat has been horribly decimated over recent years.

Even more recently, in 2012, two grey-shanked douc langurs were brutally tortured and killed, for fun, and a series of images of these disturbing and horrific actions were posted on the Facebook page of Vietnamese soldier, Nguyen Van Quang.  One was a pregnant female.  [1]  This is humanity at its absolute lowest.  And, the deed has gone virtually unpunished.  Vietnam should hold its head in shame.

These acts of killing are not isolated.  Shortly afterwards, a man identified as Bui Van Ngay was arrested for killing eighteen langurs in Vietnam’s Bu Gia Map National Park.

Only man is responsible for the decline of this species.  Their numbers have now plunged to less than seven hundred individuals.

Grey-shanked douc langurs have light grey coats with pale undersides.  They have black hands and black feet, and the lower legs are dark grey.  They have a rusty-red  ‘bib’ around the neck and a white throat with long white whiskers on the chin.  Their faces are pale orange. They weigh between eighteen and twenty-four pounds  (male to female) and their bodies and tails grow to roughly the same length of twenty-nine inches.

They are diurnal and arboreal.  They move by leaping and brachiating through the trees. They live in groups of four to fifteen individuals (these numbers were once much higher) where the males are the dominant members.  They communicate by touch, sound and visual signs.

The breeding season runs from August to December.  There is a gestation period of up to one hundred and ninety days, and births will occur between January and August.  One baby will be born weighing, at most, a mere seven hundred and twenty grammes.

Evergreen and semi-evergreen primary rainforests.
Central Highlands of Vietnam
What they eat
Primarily folivorous, although plant buds, fruits that haven’t ripened, seeds and flowers are also eaten.  They don’t drink water unless they are on the ground, otherwise they get all the water they need from the food that is consumed.
Man is the greatest predator of the species. Through logging and agricultural conversion man has all but destroyed the habitat of the grey-shanked douc langur.   He has callously and unremittingly hunted this little monkey for food and traditional medicine.   Upon seeing humans,  grey-shanked douc langurs are known to hide unmoving in the trees instead of  beating a hasty retreat.   This has made them an easy target for cold-blooded, grasping hunters.
Status:  Critically Endangered
The grey-shanked douc langur is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as critically endangered.  It is one of “The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates.”   This species is listed in CITES Appendix I, and listed on Appendix 1B of Decree 32 (2006) in Viet Nam.  The grey-shanked douc langurs live primarily in protected areas, but the law enforcers are neglectful, leaving the species vulnerable.  Currently, the population is estimated to be less than seven hundred individuals.   Global response to the douc’s dilemma has been overwhelming. From the World Wild Life Fund to the Frankfurt Zoological Society and over to Vietnam itself, much is now being done to save this species. Tragic as the event may have been, not only did the torture and killings of the grey-shanked douc langurs in Vietnam spark universal outrage, it also drew the everyday world’s attention to the plight of this endearing little primate. So now, there is much support all round.

“Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it”
Mark Twain

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 34 – Tonkin snub-nosed monkey

Tonkin snub-nosed monkey

Photo: Tilo Nadler

The elusive Tonkin snub-nosed monkey was believed to be extinct until 1989 when a small population was found in Na Hang District in Tuyen Quang Province of Vietnam.  Later, in 2002, Fauna and Flora International discovered a further population in Ha Giang Province.

This delightful monkey is diurnal and almost exclusively arboreal; but has been known to occasionally take to the forest floor.  Sightings of these enigmatic creatures has been rare, so information is sketchy.

The basic social unit is known to be a one-male to several females ratio along with  some young . Other males form all-male groups.  Unfortunately, when groups are approached by humans they tend not to run away, which makes them easy targets for hunters.  Though the meat is considered “bad tasting” it does not stop them being killed and consumed.  They do, however, have a range of alarm and other calls, from the soft “huu chhhk” and “hoo”, to the rapid-fire “chit”, so others are warned of impending danger.

Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys are the largest of Vietnam’s primate population and have black hands and feet; black back fur and black outer sides of limbs.  The inner side of the limbs tends to be a creamy colour along with backs of legs, face and elbows.  They also have adorable, also human, pink lips and stunning blue-rimmed eyes.

Tropical evergreen forests containing steep karst limestone hills and mountains
Northern Vietnam
What they eat
Leaf stems and young leaves, unripe fruits, flowers and seeds
Aggressive  deforestation; illegal logging, cultivation for domestic use, collection of fuel-wood, the gathering of other forest products,  grazing of domestic cattle and intensive hunting.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus avunculus) is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as Critically Endangered on their IUCN Red List. The species is also listed on The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates – 2006 to 2008. **   It is thought there are less than 200 Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys left on the planet.   Various agencies are working to rectify the issue of habitat destruction and hunting in Khau Ca is controlled. Not so in Quan Ba, where it still poses a threat despite Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys being protected under CITES Appendix I and Group IB Decree 32/2006 of the Vietnamese law.  Whatever the conservation tactics, at the moment the future of this unusual primate still hangs very much in the balance. 

** Titled “Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates–2006–2008”, the report compiled by 60 experts from 21 countries warns that failure to respond to the mounting threats now exacerbated by climate change will bring the first primate extinctions in more than a century. Overall, 114 of the world’s 394 primate species are classified as threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List. [1]

“A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers but borrowed from his children”
John James Audubon

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 27 – The Chinese Pangolin

Chinese Pangolin

Photo: Jason Chin

Conservationists fear these endearing,  armour-plated little  ‘scaly anteaters’  may be overlooked because they are not quite as cute as some of the animals on the list.  But,  I think they are adorable  –  Just my opinion, of course!  

I also love the way they curl up into a ball when asleep or threatened.  In fact,  their name, pangolin,  comes from the Malay word, pen gguling,  meaning “something that rolls up”.

Their bodies are covered in scales;  only the underside,  face and throat are left exposed. Once a means of protection,  these scales are now causing the rapid decline in numbers of this amazing animal.

Another great feature is their prehensile tails which they can wrap around branches and hang upside-down with,  like monkeys.  They have thin,  sticky tongues,  longer than their bodies,  which they use to gouge out termites.  In fact,  these wonderful animals are highly adapted to their environment.

On the down side,  they are slow movers,  short-sighted,  hard of hearing,  have small heads and narrow mouths.  And,  to cap it all,  they have no teeth.  But,  they do have a great sense of smell.  In the absence of teeth,  the food is ground up in their stomachs with the help of the grit,  sand and tiny stones the pangolin eats.   Because of the very long claws on their front feet, they are often seen walking upright.   They can even swim and climb trees.  Aren’t they phenomenal!

Subtropical, tropical, deciduous, evergreen and bamboo forests; grasslands and agricultural land.
Provinces of China south of the Yangtze river, Taiwan, Hong Kong, northern India, Vietnam, Nepal, Bangladesh and the Lao PDR.
What they eat
Ants and termites
The major threat to these animals is human consumption.  The facts are truly shocking.  They are being hunted and killed  in astonishing numbers.  Somewhere between 90 and 180 thousand have been slaughtered for the Chinese market in the past four years.   Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in most parts of China  –  unbelievably,  even the foetus is consumed.  The scales,  which are made of keratin,  are sold for medicinal purposes.  The supposed cures they bring about beggar belief (cancer, weight loss and enhanced lactation in breast-feeding, are just a few).  Large cats,  such as tigers and leopards,  have also been known to prey upon them,  but,  somehow,  this seems to pale into insignificance compared to the devastation being wreaked upon the species by humans.
Status: Endangered

The Chinese Pangolin  (Manis pentadactyla)  is being eaten into extinction.  These incredible creatures now need all the help they can get from us  (ironic considering we are their greatest predator!).  The species has now been listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Endangered.  In 2012 the IUCN created the Pangolin Specialist Group to  “collaborate researchers and conservationists in developing techniques of conserving pangolin and directly combating the illegal trade”.  This seems to be the only way forward.

“We should remember in our dealings with animals that they are a sacred trust to us…they cannot speak for themselves.”
Harriet Beecher Stowe

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species 22 – The Saola aka the Asian Unicorn


Photo: David Hulse – WWF

Endemic to the Annamite Mountains of Laos and Vietnam,  the enigmatic saola was only discovered in 1992.   A team made up of workers and scientists from the Ministry of Forestry of Vietnam and the WWF came across a skull,  complete with horns,  in the home of a hunter in north-central Vietnam.   No new large mammals had been scientifically described since the Kouprey (Bos sauveli) in 1937,  making this one of the most exciting zoological finds of the century.

Also known as the Asian unicorn,  it is one of the world’s rarest mammals.  Looking remarkably like an antelope;  in reality,  the saola is a member of the Bovidae family.   With its chestnut coat,  white facial markings,  various body markings and unusual horns (possibly used for protection against predators),  it is a very singular animal,  and difficult to confuse with any other.  The two sharp-tipped long straight horns can grow up to 50 cm on both the male and female of the species.  The only sound they have been heard to make is a soft bleating noise,  rather like a domestic sheep.  Their young are born between April and June (usually one) after an eight month gestation period.

There has been little chance to study these animals whilst alive as they have rarely been seen since first discovered.  Put that together with the surviving numbers,  70 – 750,  and it is easy to understand why so little is known about them.  The source of most of the information gathered has come from one captive female.  No others survived long enough.   Other studies have come from dead specimens.

Subtropical/tropical moist mountain forests during the wet season and the lowlands in winter.
The Annamite Mountains along the Vietnam/Laos  border
What they eat
Small leafy plants  (they are especially partial to fig leaves),   various grasses and herbs
Habitat loss,  by-catch (snares set for other animals, such as boar and deer)  and hunting; their horns are prized.
Status: Critically Endangered
The IUCN estimates the total saola population to be less than 750. There are currently no saola in captivity.  The saola is protected by law in both Vietnam and in the Lao PDR.  But, enforcement is difficult and the hunting continues. The IUCN and other agencies are working to resolve this situation. The WWF has given the saola’s survival priority stating: “Its rarity, distinctiveness and vulnerability make it one of the greatest priorities for conservation in the Indochina region.”

“If we were to wipe out insects alone on this planet, the rest of life and humanity with it would mostly disappear from the land.
Within a few months.”
E.O. Wilson