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. 33 – The Pygmy Hippopotamus


A baby Pygmy hippopotamus takes a bath in an enclosure at Tokyo's Ueno Zoo. The baby hippo was born on June 22 at the zoo. (AFP)

Photo: Getty Images

Description
These adorable little hippopotami are so elusive there are few images of them in the wild.  They are both shy and nocturnal, and consequently photographs are scarce.  The heart-melting little man above was born on June 22nd,  2011 in Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo.

Pygmy hippopotami are solitary creatures who wallow in mud or water for most of the day until they emerge at night to feed.  When doing so, they have the most unusual trait of using their lips instead of their teeth to grind food.  They are also strong swimmers, with specially adapted valves to close their ears and nostrils when underwater.  And, contrary to belief,  calves don’t instinctively know how to swim.  They require a few lessons from mother first.

Once fully grown,  pygmy hippopotami can reach up to five and a half feet in length and thirty-nine inches in height,  and weigh up to six hundred pounds.  With wide heads,  stout legs and round bodies,  these are really solid little individuals.  Unlike the African hippo, they do not have eyes on the top of their heads.

Nature,  forever compensating as it does,  has afforded the pygmy hippo its own built-in sun screen.  In order to stay cool it has a thin skin;  which could quite quickly cause dehydration when exposed to the sun.  So,  very cleverly,  the skin secretes a pink fluid, making it look all wet and shiny,  which protects it from the sun’s harmful rays.  This fluid is impressively named,  blood sweat.

The gestation period for a pygmy hippopotamus lasts about 6 months,  after which the female  (cow)  gives birth,  on land,  to a single baby (calf).  A newborn usually weighs in at about 14 pounds.  The baby will remain with its mother until it is weaned (about eight months). Newborns are not able to walk too well at first,  so the mother will hide the baby in the undergrowth whilst she forages for food.  Mother and baby will remain in each other’s company for the next two years.

It is thought,  though not proven,  pygmy hippopotami live between thirty and fifty years, but it is doubtful that they will live this long in the wild.  The name Hippopotamus, incidentally,  comes from the Ancient Greek meaning  “river horse”.

One of the folk tales associated with the pygmy hippopotamus tells of pygmy hippos carrying a shining diamond in their mouths to help travel through thick forests at night; by day the pygmy hippo has a secret hiding place for the diamond,  but if a hunter catches a pygmy hippo at night,  the diamond can be taken.

Habitat
Swamp and rivers  within damp tropical lowland forests.
Where
West Africa:  The Ivory Coast,  Guinea,  Liberia and Sierra Leone  (the largest population occurring in Liberia)
What they eat
Leaves and roots of forest shrubs, ferns,  broad-leaved plants,  semi-aquatic plants and forest herbs,  as well as on fallen fruit.
Threats
The major threat to  pygmy hippopotami is devastating habitat destruction caused by logging,  farming and human settlement.  Poaching for the illegal bushmeat trade is also a known problem.  As are natural predators,  hunting and warfare.
Status: Endangered
It is estimated only 2,000 pygmy hippopotami  (Choeropsis liberiensisare)  are left in the wild, and those numbers are declining rapidly with the ongoing destruction of their habitat.  In 2008,  the species was placed on the IUCN Red List as Endangered.  Various agencies are working to resolve the issue of habitat degradation.   Some pygmy hippos have been bred in captivity,  where they seem to be doing well.  In fact, these breeding programmes have been highly successful.  A great deal of the available information has come from these sources.

“For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver”
Martin Luther 

Fast Fact Attack – Endangered Species 13: The Western Lowland Gorilla


Western lowland gorilla

Description
Every night, western lowland gorillas build a fresh, leafy nest in which they snuggle down and sleep for about 13 hours. When not sleeping, they are either seeking food or eating it. As gorillas go, they are smaller than their mountain cousins and have shorter hair and longer arms. Despite their huge canine teeth and notably powerful limbs, western lowlands are rarely aggressive. In fact, they are quite gentle. They live in groups led by a dominant ‘silverback’ male. Females give birth after an eight to nine month gestation period, their newborns being surprisingly tiny and weighing in at only about four pounds. The babies learn to crawl at two months and can walk before they are nine months. They ride on their mothers’ backs for the first two or three years of their lives. Gorillas, sadly, have a high infant mortality rate; only half the infants reach maturity. 
Habitat
Lowland tropical forests and swamp forests
Where
West and Central Africa
What they eat
Fruit, leaves, shoots, vines and other such vegetation, and bark; with the occasional termite thrown in for good measure
Threats
Major concerns are the Ebola virus, commercial hunting and hunting by locals for bushmeat.  Habitat destruction is becoming another large factor.
Status: Critically Endangered
Due to such a dramatic decline in numbers (60% over the last 20 to 25 years), attributed mainly to poaching and disease, scientists estimate it will take up to 75 years to fully re-establish the population.

“The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of humanity.” George Bernard Shaw