African Penguin

When you think of Africa, it’s not normally associated with penguins; at least not in my mind. Penguins are usually associated with snow and cold somewhere. But today’s endangered animal comes hails straight from the coastal waters of Namibia and South Africa where they are endemic. The African Penguin is known by other names such as Black-footed penguin and Jackass Penguin; the latter of which is because of the sound of their braying call which sounds very much like a donkey.

penguin-447714_640Like most other genus of penguin, these have the black and white tuxedo look. They are quite tiny in size — weighing about 4-11 pounds (2-5 kilograms) as adults. They also have wings but they don’t fly in the air; they “fly” (glide) really well in the water. Mature adults have pale pink around their eyes. Their diet consists of mostly fish including: anchovies, sardines and herring but they have been know to eat squid and other shellfish. African penguins can stay underwater for about two and a half minutes before it needs to come up for air which is why its wings are specialized in such a way that allows the penguin to swim very fast.

African penguins dig their own nesting burrows to lay eggs in. The nests usually consist of sand or guano, which, if you don’t know what guano is, I’ll tell you; it’s seabird poop. Back in the 19th century, humans were guano crazy because it’s such a rich mixture of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium that it makes very good fertilizer. It’s also a good place to incubate eggs for African penguins. A pair of African penguins are monogamous and they actually share nesting duties such as incubation. When a female lays her clutch, the offspring hatches about 30 days later. African penguins don’t reach sexual maturity until about 4 years old and can live anywhere between 10 to 25 years in the wild.african-penguin-3242888_640

African penguins are marked as Endangered on the IUCN Red List and have been that way since 2010. Population decline has been quite rapid. For example, in 1978 there were a little over 12,000 pairs in Namibia but by 2015 there were only a little over 5,000 pairs. Same for South Africa. In the 1970s there were 70,000 pairs but by 2015 there were only a little over 19,000 pairs. These are huge decreases and they’re still steadily declining. Today there are about 50,000 total individuals between Namibia and South Africa.

The major threats to this species are competition with commercial fisheries, the decrease in guano, oil spills, and in the early 20th century it was due to egg stealing. Because a combination of all of these things, African penguins have had to work harder to find food to raise their chicks, have nests out in the open instead of burrows or deal harshly with human disturbance. Conservation efforts are underway. Seabirds and their guano are strictly protected, all penguins are rehabilitated when oil spills occur, fiberglass igloo burrows have been installed around colonies so the penguins have a safe place to nest, and there are marine “no-take” zones in some parts of the ocean to combat competition against commercial fisheries.

If after reading this you decide you would like to donate to help save the African Penguin, check out The South African Foundation for the Conservation of Sea Birds (SANCCOB) and adopt a penguin!

(Sources: IUCN, OurEndangeredWorld)

Master of Disguise

Today I’m so excited to talk about a fantastic creature who has a process that spans across other oceanic creatures and even insects but this one is truly the best at this! Now we’ve all heard of or seen some type of camouflage I’m sure. They sell camo clothes for humans, especially hunters, bird watchers and nature photographers who are looking to blend into their surroundings while observing a creature without disturbing them. There are also a lot of insects and marine creatures and even reptiles who are able to change their skin to blend with their surroundings. It’s like a “Where’s Waldo?” type of challenge to find them. One creature, however, stands out above the rest.

The cuttlefish!

Cuttlefish are a type of cephlopod that roams deep ocean. A cephlopod is a predatory mollusk that is unique in that its body is very symmetrical; meaning if you cut one down the middle, both sides would be identical. The most common cephlopods that people are aware of are octopi and squids. The cuttlefish is kind of a mesh between the two because it’s back end is like that of a squid but its face is very octopus like with all it’s tentacles.

Now, octopi and squid are able to change their coloring to match their marine surroundings. It’s not an exact science and you can still spot them most times but what the cuttlefish does in comparison is quite extraordinary. Not only can it change its coloring, it can also change it’s coloring and pattern to match literally any of it’s surroundings. The article I read by NatGeo News expressed it best when they made the comparison to a high definition television. The cuttlefish has what amounts to electric skin but instead of pixels, cuttlefish have what are known as chromatophores in their muscles that are able to broadcast different colors depending on their surroundings.

The chromatophores are basically muscles the cuttlefish are able to bend and contract to form reds, yellows, browns and blacks. What’s super cool is they are able to do this even in the dark. The neurons in their brain are just that advanced. Funnily enough, cuttlefish are colorblind but their skin is like a rainbow when it comes to reflecting their surroundings because white light bounces off of them and is able to transmit any color because white is, after all, all the colors combined.

This amazing method of camouflage is literally the difference between life or death for the cuttlefish. Most mollusk species have a hard outer shell. The cuttlefish is completely squishy so not only does the color change help them capture unsuspecting prey, it keeps them from being prey themselves. One of the coolest things however is besides the color change, they can shape shift! Yep, you read that right.

The best example is when it’s mating season. Not all male cuttlefish are the same size and it’s always a huge competition to get to the female and inject her with their baby makers. One such incidence, which happened to be caught on video, shows a male cuttlefish on the smaller side trying to get his chance at the female and being barred and even attacked by the bigger males. This cunning little cuttlefish then does the genius thing and changes not only his coloring, but his body to make him look like a female! The males surrounding him can’t tell the difference and he’s able to get through them to the female. Success! Check it out below:

Have you heard of the cuttlefish? Would you agree that the cuttlefish is a master of disguise? Isn’t that male cuttlefish in the video a genius? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Right Whale

Today’s endangered animal comes to you from the Atlantic oceans of North America. There are three types of right whales: the North Atlantic, Pacific and Southern right whales. The one I will be discussing today is the North Atlantic because it’s been cropping up a lot in the news lately as it is estimated to be on the brink of extinction.

North Atlantic right whales have a very distinctive appearance. They are about 95% black in color all over with a few having white spots speckled here and there around their face. This was interesting to me because the only whale with black on it that I’d known about before were Orcas (killer whales). Another distinctive feature of the right whale is it does not have a dorsal fin. Instead it has large pectoral fins and a giant tale that create powerful strokes through the ocean. Right whales are larger than orcas and about two steps below blue whales which are the largest mammals in the world. Right whales are about 45-60 feet long in comparison to killer whales that are only 23-31 feet or blue whales that are 60-90+ feet long.

There are two types of whale species based on their teeth: Odontoceti and Mysticeti. The former have teeth whereas the later have baleen plates. Right whales fall into the second group. They have large baleen plates that help them capture and eat the most microscopic sea organisms. What they do is take a huge gulp of water and then the water filters out of their baleen plates while these really fine, densely packed hairs capture plankton, krill and larval stages of barnacles which are about the size of a grain of rice. Then the right whale will scrape its baleen with its tongue and swallow its tiny prey. Right whales have two blowholes on the top of their head in which they breathe air from and because they are a vertebrate, they also have a backbone.

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Right whales travel in small pods of 2-3 usually. Sometimes if food is plentiful, pods of up to 12 can be seen. They feed in the temperate waters of the North and the migrate South around the coasts of Florida and Georgia to breed and give birth; between December and March. Female right whales aren’t sexually mature until they’re about 10 years old. Gestation is about 12 months and then mom will give birth to one offspring who will nurse and stay with her for 9-12 months. Female right whales only bear offspring once every 3 years. The general lifespan of a right whale is about 30 years.

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North Atlantic white whales are currently listed on the IUCN database as endangered. Their name is derived from early whalers who considered these whales easy targets because they hang close to the shore, swim very slow (about 6 mph), and are very friendly toward whaling boats making them the “right” whale to hunt. Commercial whaling was huge between the 11th and 20th century. Right whales were decimated by the thousands for their baleen and oil. It wasn’t until 1935 when commercial whaling became illegal that humans realized how depleted the species had become.

Today there are about 300-350 North Atlantic individuals left in the wild and their numbers are still declining. The main threats to this species are still due to human activity; collisions with boats, fishing net entanglement and water pollution, acoustic smog (which is the sounds from boat horns and drilling that inhibit whales from communicating with each other) and climate change are the main factors. Scientists and conservationists have been following a pod of individuals and it’s been noted that no offspring have been born in several decades, or if they have, it’s every 9 years instead of every 3, which is a huge problem considering how long it takes for these whales to breed in the first place.

Conservation efforts have been going on for many years. One main operation involves improving shipping lanes between northern US and Canada to reduce ship collisions. Another route is conversation programs and initiatives for people to get involved in spreading awareness. WWF suggests buying only seafood that’s MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certified because they promote healthy, sustainable fishing practices.

If after reading all of this, you decide you would like to support the cause, check out the New England Aquarium website HERE where you can adopt a right whale and buy merchandise where the proceeds go to right whale conservation research and development.

(Sources: Arkive, Ocean Portal, Defenders of Wildlife, WWF Panda)
(Pics: Featured, Mom+Calf, Baleen)

Giant Ibis

Today’s endangered beastie hails all the way from Cambodia. The giant ibis or Thaumatibis gigantea if we’re going to get scientific. You’ve probably seen some form of an ibis before as there are 28 extant (which means alive) species and 2 extinct species of ibis. However, you can only see the giant ibis in Cambodia or Laos where it’s pretty much endemic. They used to spread across Thailand and Vietnam as well but they are regionally extinct in those countries now.

Giant ibis habitats are around wetlands, seasonal pools, marshes and lowland forests. Although they look like they can’t fly, they actually can. They forage on the ground but nest in trees. You can recognize the giant ibis by its large, curved bill, naked grey head, orange legs and dark red eyes. They have dark bands going down the back of their necks; kind of like wrinkles and their plumage have black cross band lines over pale greyish/brown wings. Offspring look a little bit different than adults because they actually have small feathers down the back of their heads and their eyes are brown instead of dark red.img_8716x

The diet of a giant ibis is pretty insect based. They like feasting on locusts and cicadas but will occasionally dine on small crustaceans, seeds, and small reptiles and amphibians. Most of their diet is found in soft mud and is also where small pairs or groups gather. Breeding occurs during the wet season which in Cambodia is from June to September. They use the earthworms to create nesting mounds and the female will lay 2 eggs per clutch. Besides that, not much is known about breeding behaviors or lifespan of giant ibis except they are territorial and will usually stay in pairs or small congregations and that they do not migrate.

It is estimated that there are about 250 individuals left in the wild. The major threats to this species are climate change and human disturbance due to agriculture and tourism. Climate change affects them because rainy seasons are not as long which means the giant ibis endure longer periods of drought. The seasonal pools they gather around used to be naturally cared for by megafauna such as water buffalo but consistent human disturbance has caused those animals to move elsewhere. Humans also do not help this species by draining wetlands for farmland as well as collecting giant ibis eggs, disrupting their breeding efforts.

The species has been listed as Critically Endangered since 1994 making it illegal to hunt the giant ibis. In 2015, the Giant Ibis National Action Plan was established focusing on habitat restoration, land management to increase successful breeding, and more research in order to have this species thriving again by 2025. Engagement with local communities to bring about more awareness is also a big contribution to save the giant ibis. In fact, a bus tourism company took on the giant ibis as their champion calling themselves Giant Ibis Transport to bring awareness to tourists and by donating some of its funds to conservation efforts. If this post has caused you to want to help the giant ibis, you could always donate to the Wildlife Conservation Society here.

(Sources: Arkive, IUCN, Wiki)
(Pic Sources: WildlifeFriendly, AllanMichaud)

RIP Sudan

This is unprecedented for me because I usually only talk about animals on Thursdays but I woke up to some sad news in my Google Now feed. For those of you who have followed Reactionary Tales for a while know that I started a series called Endangered Thursdays where I highlight beasties from around the world that are struggling from the threat of extinction. This subject is something I’m quite passionate about as I’ve worked for many years in wildlife rehabilitation and conservation and awareness was always number one priority.

The very first creature I highlighted way back a year ago was the Northern White Rhino. I talked a bit about Sudan and how he was the last surviving member of this species. Back then my posts were only a paragraph or two and I didn’t go into much detail like I do now. But, for those that are fairly recent to RT, feel free to check out the original post HERE.

Now, as I’d mentioned in the post, Sudan was the last surviving Northern White Rhino. I was actually right and wrong at the same time. He was the last surviving member in the wild but there are still two female northern white rhinos, Najin and Fatu, who live at a conservancy in Kenya. Sudan was the last surviving MALE member of the species. He lived in a heavily guarded open habitat for most of his life because poachers are the reason this species have declined from 2,000, in 1960, to 3.

Sudan was very popular. Not only was he very cute, but he had his own Tinder profile created to collect donations to help fund his in vitro fertilization surgery. The goal was to collect as much sperm from him as they could because socializing with Najin and Fatu in order to get them to breed naturally was unsuccessful.

Last night, Sudan was euthanized. He was 45 years old and his health had just declined to the point that veterinarians decided it was time to let the old guy go. Now there are only the 2 females of the species that exist and sadly the outlook for this species just looks even more bleak. Even though sperm was harvested from Sudan, the only way to grow another northern rhino would be through some serious scientific miracles almost. You see, between Najin and Fatu, one is sterile, so that’s not an option and the other could be artificially inseminated but it might kill her because she’s just not physically able to carry a baby rhino. Scientists are looking to see if they can essentially grow an egg in a petri dish of sorts to insert into a Southern white rhino that can carry to full term.

Overall this just made me so sad but appreciative of modern technology. I know some people don’t agree with this kind of stuff but considering humans are the main cause for this extinct in the wild creature, I appreciate any and all last ditch efforts to save these animals and I for one will continue to bring as much awareness on my blog in my tiny little corner of the internet about animals and their survival struggles.

(Source: NPR)

Role Reversal

Most mammalian, bird and fish reproduction require the female of the species to carry and birth offspring. This is also known as heterogamous where the females have bigger gametes than males, i.e. egg size versus sperm size. What if the roles were reversed? Any men reading this, I’m sorry in advanced but in the Syngnthidae family there are a couple of species where this phenomenon occurs.

Syngnthidae family is a family of fishes that are probably familiar to you. Seahorses, pipefish and leafy seadragons are the well known members. Seahorses are the only species that experience a “true male pregnancy” as the males have physical brood pouches whereas with the other species, the eggs are attached to the tail or trunk by the female and hatch from there.

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Seahorses are quite an evolutionary question mark for most scientists. They range from about one inch to one foot in size, have prehensile tails that are able to grab and grip vegetation to keep them from floating away with water currents and they also have bony plates all over their body. As I said earlier, they are considered a fish even though they don’t really look like what we consider a fish to look like. They don’t have many natural predators cause a lot of sea creatures do not like the taste of them, especially the bony plates but they do have a couple of threats which I will get into in a different post. This one is about mating after all. 😉

When a male and female seahorse find the other attractive, they’ll start a mating dance which usually occurs in the predawn hours of the day. Then when things get really serious, a true courtship dance occurs that ends with the female dumping her eggs in the male’s pouch. This can be as quick as minutes or take as long as long as 8 hours. Dancing is a full time job people!seahorse courship

Up to 2,000 eggs can be deposited in the pouch. Two thousand!!!! (I can’t even…) The male seahorse then cares for them by doing things such as regulating water salinity and providing nutrients like glucose and amino acids to make strong seahorse babies. This can take anywhere between 10 to 25 days and then the real fun begins! Like human females, and really most animal species, when it’s time for baby to come, contractions are necessary to push the little one(s) out. Male seahorses actually have contractions as well! Then all 2,000 baby seahorses or “fry” are expelled all at once. After that his fatherly duties are over. Once the fry are out in the world, it’s their responsibility to hurry up and latch on to something with their tails and survive because the parents don’t help them at all. Because of this, only about 10 of the fry will survive to adulthood. It’s hard out there for baby fry. However, females are able to implant males with more eggs again as soon as the first litter is released. This process can go on all day long because they want as many fry to survive as possible and in order for that that happen, men have a job to do!

Check out the video below to see this in action. I showed it to my husband and his eyeballs went huge and he is now very grateful to be a human male instead of a seahorse male.

 

(Sources: Wiki, NatGeo)

Cycad

Mixing it up for Endangered Thursdays today and this species is brought to you straight from South Africa. When I first read the name “cycad” I thought of cicadas and figured it was some type of insect but it’s actually a plant! There are over 300 different species of cycads known to man and sadly, over 2/3rds of these species are endangered to the point of possible extinction.

Cycads have an interesting look. They are sort of a cross between a palm plant and a fern even though they are not related or remotely in the same family as a palm or fern. They have been on this planet for over 250 million years. That’s right, they were here during the dinosaur age and even before dinosaurs. They have survived three natural mass extinctions in that timeframe including the Ice Age, being munched on by dinosaurs themselves and the asteroid. Scientists have figured this out due to finding cycad remnants in fossils of dinosaur poop! Amazing.

Cycads, in ancient times were commonly used in food and in ceremonies. Preparing a cycad for consumption is a bit of process that requires extreme care because the fronds do contain toxins that are harmful if ingested. In ceremonies or in times of war, crossing cycad fronds were seen as a sign for peace. In fact, the country Vanuatu uses cycad fronds in their national flag:

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The Y represents the chain of islands, red represents bloodshed for freedom, green represents fertile lands and black is representative of the original natives. The fronds crossed in the middle are symbolic of peace.

T17_0110_019.jpgCycad reproduction is quite interesting as well. It takes many years for a cone to be produced on a cycad plant and when it does, the cones is either male or female. They rely on insects to reproduce so what they’ll do is emit an odor that attracts insects like weevils to come and gather pollen from them and then they’ll turn around and emit a different odor to repel the insects when they’re done. A single cycad can live over 1000 years.

1712613613Cycads are the most endangered species on this planet; i.e. more than any group of animal or plant. The main cause for their steep decline is because they have been extensively overexploited. Poachers and even just some regular people illegally uproot them from the wild and transfer them to a domestic garden, assuming they survive. Cycads are worth a lot of money. There was an incident in 2014 where Albany cycads were stolen from Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town. Albany cycads are critically endangered as there are barely 100 mature individuals left in the wild and they have to receive hand pollination in order to reproduce. The thieves stole 24 cycads for a combined total of roughly $55,000 dollars USD.

There are a few conservation policies in place but not as much because the cycads aren’t cute like tigers, elephants and rhinos. Like other species in this world however, these are a piece of history, even prehistory if you want to get technical, that must be saved if we are able to do so. If you’re interested in donating to help preserve cycads, there are numerous organizations around the world that are putting in the effort to do their part. Just google “cycad conservation” and click any of the links to support.

(Sources: Mongabay, Fossilplants, Extinction)
(Pic Sources: SanDiegoZoo, IUCNRedList, Fossilplants)

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark

Today’s endangered creature hails from many parts of the world’s oceans. You can find scalloped hammerhead sharks in the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean and even the Mediterranean Sea. They love coastal, warm, often shallower waters then deeper waters. Sea cliffs and continental shelves are where you’ll find them in groups the most.

The scientific name of the scalloped hammerhead is Sphyrna lewini. Don’t ask me how to pronounce that. I can only guess. I’m sure you’ve heard of hammerhead sharks before. What distinguishes them from other shark species is the “T” shape of their heads versus the long, rounded snout. Their eyes are spaced on each end of the “T” and what makes the scalloped hammerhead different from other hammerheads is the scalloped or half “U”, half moon crease that occurs on the top of their head. Their backs are usually a bronze color while their underbellies are white. They have one large dorsal fin at the front of their body but the rear fin is a lot smaller.

Scalloped hammerheads are usually solitary swimmers but they can often be found in groups especially when the food supply is abundant. Their diet consists of small fish, lobsters, crabs, small sharks and rays. Even though they have large heads, their mouths are quite small and are designed so that they can essentially swallow their prey whole instead of ripping it apart like other shark species. Scalloped hammerheads are quite friendly when it comes to humans. There have been only a handful of cases of a scalloped hammerhead biting a human; it’s just too uncharacteristic for them because they have such tiny mouths.

Female scalloped hammerheads grow to be much larger than their male counterparts. The largest scalloped hammerhead weight recorded was 336 pounds with a length of 12-14 feet. Males only grow to be about 70 pounds or so and are shorter in length. Scalloped female hammerhead sharks are viviparous which means eggs hatch inside the body, the young feed on the yolk sac of the placenta and the female gives live birth. Gestation period is about 9-10 months and pup birth occurs in the summer months in warm nursery waters such as one in Kanoehe Bay in Oahu, Hawaii. A scalloped hammerhead litter consists of about 12-38 pups and they are only about 15-18 inches long. They’ll stay in a group in those warm coastal waters until they mature and move on. Life span of a scalloped hammerhead is about 30 years.

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Adult scalloped hammerhead sharks have no natural predators. Their pups are susceptible to being picked off by larger sharks or due to “disagreements” in the nest but normally they are free to swim. There are unnatural threats to the scalloped hammerhead however. Humans being the biggest threat to this species. Scalloped hammerheads are considered game fish in the commercial industry and they are often caught in bycatch (which means a fishery is fishing for a huge school of something else and the hammerhead is caught in the net as well). Their fins are used for soup, liver for vitamins, meat for general human consumption and their carcasses are used for fishmeal.

Unfortunately they have been listed as Endangered on the IUCN RedList. According to a NOAA study in 2009, scalloped hammerhead shark numbers showed that the Atlanta population decreased from 155,500 individuals in 1981 to 26,500 individuals in 2005. Quite a significant decrease and current population numbers are unknown because even though they are listed as endangered, not much has been done in the way of conservation. Hopefully more awareness will change this.

If after reading this post, you feel the need to help this beastie in some way, World Wildlife Fund has an adopt a hammerhead shark donation link here.

(Sources: Arkive, NOAA, FloridaMusuem)
(Pic Credits: Mangroves, GalapagosConservation)

Proboscis Monkey

Today’s endangered animal comes straight from the coastal forests of Borneo. Sadly, pretty much all the animals in Borneo are Endangered, Critically Endangered or Extinct already. However, efforts are being made to save the surviving few.

I want to start by saying that if you Google the word proboscis it means the nose of a mammal, usually a long nose or it’s the mouth-like snout of an insect. So, seeing the picture of this monkey, you can imagine how it obtained it’s name. It’s scientific name is Nasalis lavatus. Proboscis monkeys don’t grow to be very tall. Only a little over 2 feet tall with males weighing up to about 50 pounds and females weighing less than that. You can find them in the arboreal coastal lowlands of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia where they are endemic.

monkey-681668_640You can distinguish adult proboscis monkeys from offspring because of their coloring. Adults have light brown or red fur with pale faces while their young are born with black fur and blue faces. The bulbous nose is only found on male proboscis monkeys. The main reason for such a large nose has to do with obtaining and attracting mates. Proboscis monkeys live in groups of harems where you have one male and between to to six females. They have specialized mating calls and it is speculated that the echo of these calls is amplified because of their noses. In the case of this species, size matters… a lot. Scientists have speculated that the size and length of the nose has a direct correlation with the size and length of the penis and the testes. The bigger the nose, the bigger the reproductive parts. The nose is always growing too. As males age, their noses become larger and longer.

Diet of proboscis monkeys mostly consists of leaves, seeds and unripe fruits. Offspring are born after a gestation period of six months. Like humans, proboscis monkeys only have one offspring at a time and will remain with mom and the rest of the harem for several years. If the offspring is male, once he reaches maturity, he goes off and joins bachelor groups. Proboscis monkeys primarily spend most of their time in trees but they will come down to land if food is scarce. Another feature of these monkeys is their swimming ability. There have been sightings of proboscis monkeys belly flopping into rivers to swim across in search of more food. What makes them such great swimmers are their partially webbed hands and feet! They are able to escape predators such as large lizards and crocodiles because they are such good, fast swimmers.proboscis-monkey-216215_640

The proboscis monkey has been listed as Endangered since the year 2000 with less than 1000 individuals remaining in the wild. The main causes of population decline are illegal hunting and capture and habitat destruction. The rainforest and mangroves trees have been cleared for the harvest of timber and implementation of oil palm plantations. This forces the proboscis monkeys to come to land more often and travel far distances for food making them easy prey for land animals such as jaguars. Hunting is also a problem because even though they are banned from being sold internationally, they are still sold within the area and some natives consider them a delicacy.

There are ongoing conservation efforts. One of which is a wildlife sanctuary but even that is a challenge for the proboscis monkeys especially since they do not do well in captivity. There are not any direct links to contribute to saving proboscis monkeys specifically but donating to any project that’s goal is to save rainforests is a start.

(Sources: Arkive, NatGeo, IUCN)

Shoebill

The other day I was browsing Facebook, as I usually do, and I came across an article titled “15 animals that are endangered of going extinct in the next 10 years” or something along those lines. Most of them I’ve seen before like polar bears, Sumatran tigers, rhinos, etc, and the vaquita. Then I saw a picture of one of these and immediately was like, “what is that! I have to talk about it”, thus commencing my internet search for this Endangered Thursday post.

The shoebill, also known as the whale headed stork, or Balaeniceps rex, is quite a fascinating creature. It’s blueish gray in color, has yellow eyes and stands about 5 feet tall. I’m 5 foot 7 inches myself and this bird can almost look me in the eye just standing there! The name is derived from the size and shape of it’s beak. It looks almost like an elf shoe or a clog with the hook on the end but definitely not as soft and fuzzy as one. Most people relate the look of this species to a stork, a pelican or a heron but it’s more like all those 3 combined and then some because this species is highly evolved.

If you’re wondering where this beastie resides, you’d have to travel to the wetlands and shoebill with eelswamps of Africa to see them. They are endemic to the areas of Southern Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia. These areas are plentiful of what the shoebill loves to eat: lungfish. However they snack on other things as well. Shoebill have been known to eat other smaller fishes like catfish and tilapia, eels, frogs, monitor lizards, turtles and baby crocodiles. That’s right, BABY CROCODILES! The mandible on this bird is insanely strong and it can crush hard exoskeletons like cracking open a hazelnut. They are quite smart too. They are very good at standing still for extended periods of time. What they do is stand very still, like a statue, in the area of their prey and they almost blend in with the vegetation surrounding them — striking when the opportunity presents itself. They usually gulp up a mouthful of vegetation along with their prey so they’ll shake their heads to be rid of the vegetation (because vegetables are gross 😉 ) and then decapitate their prey while it’s in it’s mouth before final consumption.

Balaeniceps-rex_Claudia-Gray_ZSL_2Shoebills are very solitary animals. It’s very rare that you’ll see them in a group unless it’s mating season. They also do not migrate like regular birds unless the lungfish move then they’ll generally follow them. Breeding season occurs at the start of the dry season. When a shoebill mates, it’s monogamous but also the males and the females participate fully in the rearing process from building the nest to keeping the eggs incubated or cooled. Eggs hatch once a year because it takes a while for a shoebill to fledge. It takes 30 days for an egg to hatch and then 95 days for the the hatchling to fledge. During this time the parents feed the chicks regurgitated food multiple times a day. Once they fledge, it takes about another 30 days for them to be able to fly and once they fly they are independent of their parents. Shoebills live about 36 years in the wild.

Shoebills don’t really have any predators because they protect their habitats aggressively. Humans don’t bother them either. They’ll usually just have a staring contest. Shoebills are important to the ecosystem however because they keep the lungfish and some of the other swamp creatures populations in check. The natives borderline fear these birds but they bring money to the area through ecotourism.

Shoebills are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List because they suspect there are only about 5,000-8,000 individuals remaining. This is one step above Endangered. They are protected by law in the countries they inhabit but habitat destruction is the number one cause for population decline. The swamps and wetlands they rely on to survive are being converted into agricultural land for farming and cattle grazing. There is also what’s known as the zoo trade. Shoebills in zoos are in high demand so the natives will capture the shoebirds and sell them for up to $20,0000 dollars to zoos. If shoebills breed in captivity, it’s highly likely that hatchlings will imprint on the zookeepers making it impossible to ever release them back in the wild when they’re adults. As of now there are no conservation plans to save the shoebill or conservancies taking donations but this is one bird that has eyes on it because nobody wants it to become endangered or even worse, extinct.

Check out the video below to see the shoebill catching its prey in action! Isn’t this one of the most prehistoric, robotic looking animals you’ve ever seen??

(Picture Sources: EDGE, Imgur)
(Sources: IUCN, Animal Diversity)