Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 59 – The Sumatran Elephant


Sumatran elephants in the jungle

Image: Green Global Travel

Description
Why is somewhere so richly bio-diverse as Indonesia losing its wildlife at such an alarming rate?  Why are the Sumatran tiger, the Javan and Sumatran rhino, and the Sumatran orangutan, all endangered?  And, why was the Sumatran elephant moved from endangered to critically endangered, on the IUCN Red List, in 2012?  Collectively, difficult questions to find the answers to, perhaps!

Well, no… not really.  There is no mystery attached at all.  It is not poaching, disease or the illegal pet trade, but  palm oil  which they have fallen victim to, and which has now become the principal threat to the survival of the Sumatran elephant.  For goodness sakes people, stop buying palm oil-based products now.  Palm oil is ‘liquid ivory'”  [1]  to the unscrupulous.  Do not feed the greed. This elephant is rapidly losing its habitat, and dying off at a terrifying rate because of it.

For a full, up to date report on the destruction caused by palm oil plantations,  click here.   Trust me – it will both shock and disgust you.

The Sumatran elephant is a recognised subspecies of the Asian elephant, and native to the Indonesia island of Sumatra.  These magnificent creatures can grow to between seven and ten feet at the shoulder.  They weigh in at an incredible six and a half to eleven thousand pounds, and surprisingly can run up to twenty-seven miles per hour.  They have leathery grey skin and smaller ears than African elephants. They also have an extra pair of ribs.  Females tend to be smaller than males and often do not have tusks.  Those that do, have them tucked safely away under the upper lip. That surely has to be a plus for the Sumatran elephant.

Elephants wallow a lot.  This endearing habit is very important.  It protects their skin from harmful insect bites and cools them down at the same time.  They also migrate, following strict routes.  The herd is led by the eldest elephant who is expected to remember its herd’s route from the previous trek.  Migration takes place between the wet and dry seasons, when they can walk up to seven kilometres in a single night.  Should they need to cross rivers, elephants are able to submerge themselves underwater and use their trunks as snorkels.  On their travels, they communicate with each other using sounds produced by soft vibrations of the trunk.  These sounds can be heard by other elephants up to five kilometres away.

There is no particular breeding season for elephants, but the rainy season seems quite popular.  Females are ready to breed by the time they are ten years old.  There is a gestation period of twenty-two months, after which a single calf will be born.  Calves weigh about one hundred kilos and are normally taken care of by other females in the herd, as well as the mother.  Infants stay with their mothers until they are five years old.

Who is responsible for the decline of the Sumatran elephant?
(An excerpt from the Rainforest Action Network factsheet on palm oil plantations)

“North American food and agribusiness companies purchase from, operate, and own many palm oil plantations in South-east Asia, making our corporations a powerful force in the palm oil market.
The largest privately owned company in the U.S., Cargill dominates the American palm oil market. They own five palm oil plantations in Indonesia and PNG and are the largest importer of palm oil into the U.S., sourcing from at least 26 producers and buying roughly 11 percent of Indonesia’s total oil palm output. A large and growing number of investigations have shown that Cargill’s palm oil is directly destroying forests, eliminating biodiversity and harming forest peoples.”

Companies such as Nestlé and Unilever are also heavily involved.

Read more:  Problem with Palm Oil Factsheet | Rainforest Action Network

Habitat
Lowland forests.
Where
Sumatra – Indonesia.
What they eat
Green vegetation and fruit.  The Sumatran elephant  and can munch its way through two hundred kilos of food a day.
Threats
Mainly oil palm plantations, followed closely by timber plantations for pulp and paper production, and land clearance for agricultural use. Elephants have also been shot and poisoned by local farmers.  Natural predators are few.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Sumatran elephant  (Elephas maximus sumatranus)  is listed on the  IUCN List of Threatened Species  as Critically Endangered.  There are an estimated two thousand of the species left in the wild.  The World Wide Fund For Nature predicts that within 30 years this South-east Asian elephant could be extinct.  The Sumatran elephant is protected under Indonesian law, though this has not been enforced efficiently in the past.  This year,  WWF  have been working with partners in Sumatra to  “prevent destruction of forest habitat and secure well-managed protected areas and wider forest landscapes connected by corridors”.  The government of Indonesia has now passed a new law setting maximum boundaries land use.  This has upset the plantation owners and their investors.  “For example, the production target of 40 million tons of palm oil by 2020 is in jeopardy”.  [1]

For a full, up to date report on the destruction caused by palm oil plantations,  click here. (just in case you missed it at the beginning)

“We are living on the planet as if we have another one to go to”
Terry Swearingen

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Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 55 – The Sumatran Rhinoceros


Sumatran Rhinoceros in close-up

Photograph courtesy: World Wildlife Fund

Description
The only surviving member of the Dicerorhinini, a primitive group of rhinos from the Miocene epoch – which existed almost twenty million years ago, the Sumatran rhino is now close to extinction itself.  It is also closely related to the woolly rhinoceros, which roamed throughout Europe and Asia until a mere ten thousand years ago.  The Sumatran rhino was widespread across Asia as recently as the early twentieth century. Now it seems doomed to go the way of its ancestors.

The Sumatran rhino is the smallest of all the rhino.  But, as you would expect, these animals are not lightweights.  They weigh in at anything up to two thousand pounds, can grow to a length of nine and a half feet and stand up to five feet at the shoulder.  They have grey leathery-looking skin, which, contrary to belief, is quite thin and pliable.  They are not smooth-skinned either, as you would perhaps expect.  They are covered in coarse hair which has earned them the nickname of ‘hairy rhino’ in some circles.  Another notable characteristic is the prehensile upper lip, used for tearing food.  Add to that its short, stocky body and stumpy legs and its whole appearance is that of a small furry tank.

But, it is the horns which are most interesting.  For starters, they have two of them; the only Asian rhino to do so. Although, the posterior horn is very small and often absent altogether in females.  The horns are made of keratin, as fingernails are, and will grow back in the same way if broken off or torn.  The most obvious use of the horn would be self-defence, but this is not its true purpose.  Sumatran rhino use their horns for reaching vegetation (of which they eat over fifty kilos a day), fashioning wallows and protecting their heads when travelling through dense vegetation.

Rhino are nocturnal, feeding very early in the morning and late at night.  Their days are spent wallowing in mud. The mud protects them from the sun’s rays and keeps them cool. It also helps to stave off insects.  They are found near water, and the mudholes they wallow in are made by themselves.  They will only use a hole a few times and then move on.

Sumatran rhino only come together to breed.  Otherwise, they are solitary animals. Calves are usually born during the rainy season, from October to May. Females birth every three to four years.  After a long gestation period of fifteen to sixteen months, a single calf will be born with a dense coat of hair.  The calf will stay with its mother for the next two or three years.

I recently read an article where rhino horns, on the living rhino, were being poisoned.  It seems South Africa has taken the dramatic, and brilliant , step of injecting the horns of living rhino with chemicals which, although will not harm the rhino, will definitely make anyone who uses it in crushed form, very ill.  Hopefully, this idea will spread across the globe and eventually render rhino horn worthless on the black market.  Read more…

Habitat
Tropical rainforests and montane moss forests.
Where
Sumatra, western Indonesia and Sabah, Malaysia.   It is not known whether a small population still exists in Borneo, but the species is generally thought to be now extinct in that location.
What they eat
Leaves, fruits, twigs and bark.
Threats
The main threat to the Sumatran rhino is hunting.  Like all rhino, it is callously slaughtered for its horns and other body parts, believed to have medicinal properties. Yet again, the folly of Chinese traditional medicine prevails.  The horns alone can fetch up to thirty thousand US dollars per kilo on the black market, making the horns extremely valuable and the rhino extremely vulnerable.
Another major threat is loss of habitat resulting from illegal logging and land conversion. The Sumatran rhino is left to inhabit small fragmented pockets of forest, and as such is left exposed to disease, fire and possible inbreeding.

Status: Critically Endangered
Although hunting is now illegal, poachers are not deterred.  And, the destruction of their natural habitat continues.  Both these factors have led to the status of this species becoming critical.

From the 31 March to the 4 April, 2013, the Sumatran Rhino Crisis Summit took place.  On the 4th of April, 2013, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) issued a press release.

“With population estimates of Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) reduced to less than 100 individuals, a ground-breaking agreement to save the Critically Endangered species was reached today between representatives of the Indonesian and Malaysian governments. The agreement was formed at a summit convened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC), involving a wide range of international and national organisations.” Read more…

“Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man”
Stewart Udall

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


Grey-shanked douc langur

Image: Art G via Creative Commons

Description
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.

Habitat
Evergreen and semi-evergreen primary rainforests.
Where
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.
Threats
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. 35 – The Humphead Wrasse


Humphead wrasse

Photo: Jeff Rotman / WWF

Description
The humphead wrasse is one of the ocean’s most spectacular sights.  Despite this, it has become a plated delicacy for indiscriminate diners.  This huge fish, it can grow up to seven feet in length and weigh in at anything in the region of four hundred and twenty pounds, is being hunted mercilessly for its flesh.

But, looking at a wild creature and saying,  “I don’t care how many of you are left  –  I think you’re really tasty, so I’m going to eat you anyway”  –  is just not acceptable.  So, if you see it on the menu  –  order something else. Thankfully, this is a recognised fact and, for this and other reasons for concern, the humphead wrasse has now become widely protected. Needless to say, they are still taken and killed despite the penalties.

They are sedentary creatures who, resting in caves at night, are highly vulnerable to unscrupulous divers and fishermen.  At night, scuba divers are able to sneak up on them unawares, using flash-lights, and simply take them or kill them.  Fishermen use cyanide, stunning them for capture.  The humphead wrasse is one of the most expensive live reef fishes in the world.  This species cannot be hatchery reared, meaning all those traded come from the wild population, making trade restrictions especially important.

It is often solitary, but has been seen in small social groups consisting of a limited number of male, females and juveniles.  Humphead wrasses possess a remarkable immunity to the toxic spines of starfish, boxfish and sea hares.

An adult humphead wrasse can change its colour, the shape of its body, and even its sex. Which it has been known to do when there has been an absence of the opposite sex.

Habitat
Steep outer reef slopes, channel slopes, lagoon reefs up to 300 feet in depth. Juveniles seem to prefer staghorn coral thickets, seagrasses and bushy macroalgae.
Where
They are widely distributed throughout the Indo-Pacific region, though nowhere are they common.
What they eat
Mainly molluscs, fishes, sea urchins and crustaceans.  With their sharp, hard teeth, they are also known to prey upon the toxic crown-of-thorns starfish, boxfish and sea hares.
Threats
Habitat loss and degradation, spear-fishing at night with scuba gear, illegal fishing, destructive fishing techniques, including the use of sodium cyanide and dynamite, and intensive capture for the Live Reef Food Fish Trade (LRFFT) (the use of cyanide has been found to be the most efficient way to take the wrasse, which is not only directly detrimental to the wrasse but also has a devastating effect on the coral which they depend on for shelter).  As a food, the flesh of the humphead wrasse is highly sought after.  Dwindling numbers are pushing the price up causing a further decline in numbers. Capture for the export trade in juvenile humphead wrasse for the marine aquarium trade is also a large problem.
Status: Endangered
The humphead wrasse was placed on the IUCN Red List as Endangered in 2004 and was listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in October 2004.
The WWF is working with others to attempt to re-populate the coral reefs with this extraordinary species. Live fish, captured for resale by local fishermen, have been bought back by the WWF and released into the wild. Almost nine hundred have been returned to their natural environment, by this method, since 2010.
IUCN Groupers and Wrasses Specialist Group aims to raise awareness throughout the region. In many areas this fish is now protected.

“Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace”
Albert Schweitzer