Przewalski’s Horse

Today’s endangered animal looks hard to pronounce but it’s actually pretty simple. Przewalski is pronounced “shuh-VAL-skee”. Also known as the P-horse for short, or the Mongolian horse. Przewalski’s horse are the last true wild horses. All the “wild horses” you see in places like Australia and North American Great Plains are actually feral horses.The Mongolians refer to P-horses as “tahki” which means spirit. Spirits are generally worshiped so you don’t ride the P-horse, you don’t capture the P-horse and your certainly don’t kill the P-horse.

Przewalski’s horse looks like your average horse or even looks to be related to a donkey but their genetic makeup is quite a bit different. You see your average domestic horses have 64 chromosomes where the P-horse has 66 chromosomes. They are small and stocky compared to domestic horses ranging from 4.3 to 5 feet tall (1.3-1.5 meters) and weight about 550 to 800 pounds (250-360 kilograms). They are dun colored, which is a light gray tan with zebra like manes. Their bellies are paler than the rest of their body and they have dark lower legs.

Like zebra and donkeys, P-horse are monogastric herbivores. This means they have simple, single chambered stomachs. They digest through a process known as hind-gut fermentation and without going completely scientific on you, that basically means that their large intestine is where most of the fiber breakdown takes place where as humans, for example, the digestion takes place as soon as you put food in your mouth and by the time it reaches your intestines, it’s tiny particles. P-horses have a harem like social structure where you have the dominant, a harem of mares and and their offspring. Young stallions are not allowed to breed unless they can defeat the dominant so oftentimes you would see a group of young stallions together known as the “bachelor herd”. A P-horse life span is estimated to be about 36 years.

500,000 years ago, Przewalski’s horse roamed the continents of Europe and Asia. It is rumored that these horses have been around since the reign of Genghis Khan. The first recorded reference to this beautiful creature was in the year 900 by a Tibetan monk. After that, Genghis Khan recorded seeing them during his many conquests followed by a German writer in the 15th century who claimed to have seen one while he was in a Turkish prison. It wasn’t until 1878, when geographer and explorer Nikolai Przewalski was gifted a p-horse skull that they truly became discovered.

This was the beginning of an almost extinction. An animal exotic merchant got wind of this beastie and would hunt as man foals as possible. The problem became the hunters killing stallions while trying to take the foals which lead to the decrease in natural breeding. After World War II, the once thriving wild population was down to a staggering 32 individuals and by 1950 there were only 12 individuals left. Not only were hunters a problem but extremely harsh winters, agriculture and low genetic diversity was barreling this poor species straight into extinction.

Conservationists and zoologists, naturally, freaked. They began a studbook documenting the studs out of the 12 they were forced to capture who successfully brought offspring into the world. By 1965 the population rose to 134 individuals and by 1990 it was up to 1000 in captivity; a lot of it due to crossbreeding. It was decided that they would try to reintroduce the P-horse back into the wild.

Since the early 1990s, Przewalski’s horse has been upgraded from almost extinct to endangered. Population majority (the only wild herd) can be found in the steppes of Hustai National Park in Mongolia. Hunters are no longer a huge threat although there are still patrols of the protected areas. The largest threats to this species is animal hybridization. There are instances of the P-horse mating with domestic horses which dilutes the gene pool. There are also natural threats such as harsh winters, natural predation from wolf packs and disease. Conservationists are deeply researching reproduction habits and slowly keeping this animal from ever reaching almost extinction again.

(Source: Smithsonian1, Smithsonian2)

Advertisements

Amur Leopard

Not to be confused with the cheetah, today’s endangered tale is brought to you by the Amur Leopard. The name Amur comes form the Amur river which separates Far East Russia from Northeast China. The Amur leopard is also known as the Korean leopard or the Manchurian leopard depending on which region is referencing it. It is currently listed on the IUCN Endangered Species list as critically endangered.

Leopards are usually associated with high elevation environments or savannas of Africa. The Amur leopard is the long distant cousin of its family in Africa seeking temperate forests and harsh winters found in Russia’s Far East. Amurs have longer legs than their leopard cousin allowing them to run speeds up to 37 mph and can jump up to 10 feet in the air vertically. In the summer, the individual hairs on their pelts are 2 cm long but in the winter, they grow up to 7 cm long. Amurs are very solitary, nocturnal creatures. They’re really good hunters; mainly preying on roe deer, small wild boar, hares, badgers and raccoon dogs.

Amur leopards have a relativity short life span; about as long as your average domestic dog or cat. In the wild they live about 10-15 years. In captivity, they may live up to 20 years. They reach sexual maturity at three years of age and breed in spring or early summer. Litter sizes are between 1-4 cubs that are weaned off mom at three months and leave mom at a year and a half. Male amurs are sometimes known for sticking around and helping rearing the young after mating with a female.

I couldn’t pinpoint exact numbers on how many amur leopards there once were but their population has been dramatically reduced because 80% of their habitat range has been loss due to deforestation. There are fewer than 60 individuals left in existence making the Amur leopard the most endangered large cat in the world. As the forests are being cut down for logging purposes, not only does it affect the Amur leopard, it affects the prey that they eat because they become more scarce. Conflicts with humans are another huge cause for the decreases in population. Poachers illegally hunt the Amur leopard for it’s beautiful fur. A female pelt goes for $500 USD and a male pelt goes for $1000 USD on the black market. Lastly, inbreeding also plays a huge factor in depressed populations. Father-daughter and sibling mating have been observed which leads to problematic genetic mutations and lower fertility rates.

Conservationists are working hard to increase the Amur leopard population. Russia has declared forest areas federally protected and are working together with groups like the WWF to increase the prey population in the Amur leopard’s range. Efforts do pay off in some instances such as in 2007 where conservationists were able to convince the Russian government to reroute the construction of an oil pipeline away from the Amur leopard’s habitat.

If you would like to do you part in supporting conservationists, you can adopt an Amur Leopard here.

(Source: WWF-Panda)

Saola

Today’s endangered animal is quite the unicorn. Brace yourselves.

Saola (pronounced sow-la) are in the genus bovid family. Other bovids include bison, buffalo, antelopes and domestic cattle. The saola stand out because they have long curving horns and striking white marking patterns on their face. Saola are endemic to the deep, evergreen forests and Annamite Mountains of Laos and Vietnam. Saola means “spinning wheel posts” in the Lao language because their horns resemble the spinning wheels on posts that villagers used. They weigh about 175-220 pounds (80-100kg).

I usually tell you about the animal’s diet, behavior and reproduction cycles but for once, I won’t be able to do that. This animal is listed as critically endangered. That’s one step above extinction. The story behind this animal’s existence is quite an extraordinary one. You see, one day a team of the Vietnamese government and a group from WWF (World Wildlife Fund) went out to conduct a general biodiversity. This sometimes includes walking into the homes of hunters to see some of their prizes. One day, they stumbled upon an unusual pair of horns in the home of a local hunter. They were horns they had never seen before from any animal in all of Southeast Asia.

This lead to this huge discovery about a large mammal in Laos that was previously unknown. The scientists eventually found more horns and even the full skin of a saola and published their findings in the 1993 journal Nature. It was dubbed “one of the most spectacular discoveries of the 20th century”.

Related image

As cool as that sounds, its also quite sad. The saola have only been captured on film or print a handful of times. Nobody knows how many actually still exist because they live in such deep, dense forests and there are none in captivity. If there are any left, they are still in serious danger due is habitat loss from deforestation and hunting. Because they are so rare, they are often caught in snares meant for other wildlife but are then capitalized on once the hunter figures out its the rare saola.

So far efforts to save this unicorn are very limited because they are so rare. Areas of Laos are legally protected and groups such as WWF are working to expand those protected areas daily.

Great White Shark

Today’s endangered animal is not exactly endangered quite yet but deserves awareness. Now, I know most humans are instinctively afraid of these huge creatures but this species is very vulnerable and can tip over to the endangered side any day.

Let’s start with basic facts shall we?

Great white sharks roam the the cool coastal waters of Japan, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa Taiwan and US States California and Florida. The size of great white shark is largely debated but scientists can agree that recorded lengths are anywhere between 16-20 feet long and weigh between 4,000-7000 pounds. Great White sharks have a whopping 300 teeth but they don’t actually chew they prey. They bite them and swallow them whole. Their bodies are torpedo shaped which enables them to switch from a slow swim to a a high speed burst when hunting.

The size of their prey ranges from small, bony fish, to tuna, seals, dolphins and sometimes whales. They’re also known to eat crustaceans from time to time. Great White sharks are ovovivparous which means their eggs are produced and hatched inside the shark and sometimes uterine cannibalism may occur. This isn’t completely concrete, however, because a shark mating hasn’t been officially documented. They are also warm-blooded as opposed to most other shark species that are cold-blooded. It is estimated that a Great White shark’s life span is about 30 years.

Great white sharks are naturally curious creatures. They will readily swim up to a boat hoping to scavenge their next meal. Unfortunately, this as well as a few other things are the reason their population is declining. This is a problem because Great white sharks are keystone species.

For starters, Great White sharks do not eat humans. The humans who have been bitten by a shark are because the shark can’t tell the difference between a sea lion and a human when it’s hungry. There are more car accidents in the world 1000 times over than shark attacks. Thanks to the movie Jaws, sharks have gotten a very bad rap. Overfishing and poaching are slowly but surely killing the population. Again, sharks are curious and they like to scavenge so oftentimes they’ll swim up to a fisherman’s boat hoping to catch a few tunas and get caught in the netting or flat out killed because of human fear. The poaching is largely in part due to human demand for shark jaw, teeth and fins. On the black market, a shark jaw can go for $20,000-$500,000 US dollars with the individual teeth being sold for $600-$800 US dollars.

Great White sharks are super important to our marine environment. Not only are they apex predators (top of the food chain) they are also keystone species. Great White sharks keep the ocean biodiversity in check because they prey on the sick and weak species of a population which in turn keeps those species from overpopulating and helps us humans to have healthy, non diseased fish on our plates.

Bottom line, we need these beasties. Conservation efforts have taken place. The Great White Shark is protected under law in Australia, South Africa, Namibia, California and Florida, and Israel with fisheries being completely banned from some of these waters. However, humans have their ways of avoiding or “misinterpreting” the law so it’s still a struggle. If you’ve read this and decided that Great White sharks aren’t so bad after all, consider adopting one here.

(Sources: WWF, IUCN)

Asian Elephant

Today’s endangered post is focusing on the Asian elephant. It is grouped as top 10 most endangered animals in the world. Their population ranges between 40,000 and 50,000 which may seem like a lot but in actuality is not enough. Before the 20th century, over 100,000 Asian elephants existed. Their numbers have been vastly cut down for reasons I will discuss in a bit.

 

The main two elephant types that people are aware of are the African elephant and the Asian elephant. There are actually 4 more sub species in the elephant family: Borneo Pygmy elephant, Sri Lankan elephant, Sumatran elephant, and Indian elephant. And before you ask, yes, all 4 of these subspecies are listed as endangered as well with the Sumatran elephant being critically endangered.

The Asian elephant finds habitat in the forests of India to Thailand and southern Asia. Their scientific name is Elephas maximus (saying that out loud is so cool! Do it, you know you want to). And adult Asian elephant weighs about 11,000 lbs (about 5000 kgs) and can grow up to 22 feet in length and 6-11 feet high. The Asian elephant is smaller than their African cousins. They have smaller ears and smaller tusks. They are very intelligent creatures. It is believed that they are able to recognize themselves in a mirror. They are also very sociable. Groups of six to eight females herd together led by a matriarch. The Asian elephant also plays a prominent role in Hindu mythology. Lord Ganesha, also known as The Remover of Obstacles, was presented as an elephant head and is honored as a powerful deity in all sacred rituals.

The four main causes for the Asian elephant decline are:

  • Habitat loss
  • Illegal wildlife trade
  • Genetics
  • Capture of wild elephants

The forests these elephants inhabit are consistently being destroyed by humans due to infrastructure development. Elephants in general, have very long migratory routes. When railways and towns are built along their routes, they’re forced to come in closer contact with humans to travel as well as for food. Poaching of elephant tusks for ivory, meat and skin are the main contenders in the illegal wildlife trade. Because many of the male Asian elephants are being killed the most, it makes it hard to keep the gene pool from interbreeding. And last but not least, humans like to capture wild elephants for domestic use such as circuses and tourist attractions.

Since essentially all elephant species are some form of endangered, great efforts are being made to protect the wild herds. Organizations have set up patrols in certain areas to find and disable elephant snares and traps as well as apprehending poachers and putting them in jail. Communities are also coming together to make everyone more aware of the elephants plight as well as helping to rebuild the forests. More and more forests and other natural areas are being protected under law. Circuses such as the Ringling Bros. will no longer feature elephants in their shows and countries like China are completely ending the domestic ivory trade by banning imports and exports.

If  you are interested in donating to help the cause of elephant survival, check out WWF’s adopt an elephant program here.

Red Wolf

In the spirit of Game of Thrones returning, today’s endangered animal is the red wolf. The most well known wolf species is lupus or the gray wolf but the red wolf belongs to species rufus. Gray wolves are found throughout North America and Euraisia. They are not always gray in color. For example the Arctic gray wolf can be gray or white. Red wolves are endemic to to a small area of coastal North Carolina. You will not see a red wolf anywhere else in the world (legally).

Red wolves are mostly nocturnal. They are about 26 inches (.66 meters) tall. They weigh about 50-80 pounds (22-36 kilograms) and are about 4.5 to 5.5 (136–160 cm) feet long including their tail. Red wolves are monogamous creatures. A pair, once mated, is forever. Breeding season occurs in January or February and the female will bear 5-7 pups in April, May or June. The dens are usually hollowed tree trunks, along stream banks, or other abandoned animal’s homes.

These wolves are very solitary creatures. They usually hunt alone or in a very small group. Their diet is definitely carnivorous. They primarily eat rabbits, rodents and nutria which are like a sub species of a beaver. As their population increases, they’ve expanded their diet to include white tailed deer and raccoons.

The red wolf is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN list. There are about 250 red wolves left in existence with approximately 207 of them in captivity and 45 or so in the wild. There is only one killer of this species; humans. Looking at Cherokee mythology, the red wolf was known as wa’ya — the companion to Kanati, the hunter. Cherokee did not kill red wolves because they did not want to experience the wrath of the dead wolf’s pack mate. Clearly, Europeans did not abide by these sentiments and killed every wolf they saw. Between 1973 and 1980, four hundred candids were captured because the US Fish and Wildlife wanted to save the red wolf from extinction. Out of the 400, only 17 were pure red wolves. The remaining were coyotes or a hybrid species of wolf and coyote.

Today the fight continues. Even though there are laws in place protecting red wolves, they are still being shot by humans for one reason or another. Hopefully the wild population can recover.

Featured Image: Source

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

I’m going to mix it up again this week and talk about something that’s pretty gruesome.

Have you ever heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? If not, you’re in for an enlightening ride.

When I first learned about it, I was told it was this big island of trash that was “larger than the state of of Texas” or “three times the size of the United Kingdom!” The sad truth is, no one will never really know the size because it’s constantly growing.

You see, our Mother Earth has oceanic gyres. Gyres are these large spirals of seawater that collide with the earth’s natural currents. The largest gyre is the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG) which fills the space between Japan and California. The temperatures of the oceans are different depending on where you’re located. The closer you are the the equator the warmer the water is. Waters are always circulating so there comes a point where warm water from the South meets cooler water from the north and that’s how gyres are created. In the NPSG, when this happens, its called a convergence zone and is also a prime location for trash to collect. It is estimated that about 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean in a year.

The biggest problem with this is that most of this trash is made up of plastic. Plastic is not biodegradable. If anyone has ever told you that, they lied to your face. It slowly breaks down to tinier and tinier pieces but never fully disintegrates. Originally, I told you that it was referred to as an island of trash. This is where that misconception comes in. If it was only an island of trash, it would be really easy to clean up. We could all just go out and scoop the island up and call it a day. Since we’re dealing with micro plastics that makes things extremely difficult and will require decades upon decades of work.

We are affecting our ocean’s ecosystem big time. It affects all the wildlife that travels those waters. Here are a couple grueling examples of how:

  • Microplastics look like food to not only sea life but to birds who fish as well. They eat them and end up getting obstructed or they unknowingly feed them to your young who end up dying from starvation because they’re eating plastic not actual food
  • “Ghost fishing” which happens to a lot sea turtles, sea lions and whales where plastic nets are used for fishing and these animals get caught up in them and drown
  • Plastic bags and pop can rings look like jellyfish to turtles and other creatures who eat them but also their heads and sometimes their bodies can get stuck in the rings and they end up growing abnormally because they’re wrapped in plastic
  • Photodegradation, which is when the sun breaks down floating debris, ends up making the ocean more toxic because the colorants and chemicals are released into the waters. It also has a reversal effect where the plastics can absorb organic pollutants like BPA which has huge impact on the food chain.

I’m not trying to freak you out here but this is a pretty big deal. There are plenty of ocean crews out there who are dedicated to coming up with ocean cleanup projects every day. The best thing you, the individual can do, is make informed purchase decisions such as, buying BPA free, biodegradable, reusuable items, recycling any and all plastics or repurpose those plastics into a different type of use. Every little bit truly counts.

For more information feel free to Google it. You’ll find a ton of pages. My main source today was from here.

Dragon Tree

I decided to mix it up this week and talk about a plant that’s endangered. (Also in the spirit of Game of Thrones back in 10 days!!)

There is a such thing as a Dragon Tree; Latin name: Dracaena draco. Also known as Sangre de Drago. Originally listed as vulnerable but is now considered endangered, this tree is native to the Canary Islands, Madeira, Morocco and the Cape Verde Islands. If you ever thought asparagus looked like little trees, well, you were sort of right. This tree is in the family Asparagaceae!

It has an interesting background in Greek mythology as well. According to the Greek myth “The Eleventh Labour of Hercules: The Apples of the Hespérides” there was a hundred headed dragon named Ladon who was charged with guarding the Hespérides tree from people trying to poach it’s golden apples. Ladon was slain by Hercules as one of his twelve labours and it was said that the blood of Ladon soaked into the land and from it sprouted Dragon Trees.

Once upon a time these trees played an important ecological role. It is estimated that five hundred years ago, the fruit of the Dragon tree was a staple to a Dodo-like, flightless bird that is unfortunately now extinct. It was a sort of symbiotic relationship. The trees fed the birds and the birds stimulated germination of more trees from the seeds flowing through and out their digestive tract.

Nowadays, the main threat to these trees are rats, goats and rabbits that graze on the seedlings as well as deforestation. These trees grow extremely slow. It takes 8-11 years for a sapling to reach 2-3 feet. It also doesn’t help that the tree has many uses. The sap (dragon’s blood) was used in Ancient times for the mummification process but today it’s used medicinally to treat ailments such as diarrhea and fever. It’s also used as varnish and anti-oxidant for iron tools and as a dye.

Conservation efforts are slowly taking effect. For example, it’s against the law in Cape Verde to uproot or pick this tree in any way. There are also protected areas being established which include fencing the trees from livestock and other rodents.

Pangolin

The most trafficked animal on Earth.

The MOST TRAFFICKED animal on this planet.

How did we ever let an animal gain such a title??

Today’s animal is the pangolin.

 

(That baby is so freaking CUTE!)

Anyway, what looks like a reptile is actually a mammal! It’s often mistaken for an artichoke or a dragon when people see one for the first time.

Pangolins have been around for at least 80 million years. There are 8 species that still exist today. Chinese, Malayan, Indian and Palawan are the four Asian speices and the Tree pangolin, Giant ground pangolin, Cape pangolin and Long-tailed pangolin are the African species. These creatures are the only mammals in the world covered in scales. The scales are made of keratin which is found in our fingernails, bird talons and rhino horns. These scales make up 20% of a pangolin’s weight!

Depending on the species, you can find them on ground digging or in trees climbing around. The ground species are capable of digging holes big enough that a human can fit and stand up in! The name came to be thanks the the Malay which is the language of Malaysia and Indonesia and literally translates to “something that rolls up” because these critters can roll into near impenetrable balls when threatened.

Besides rolling into the hardest ball, they also emit a noxious smelling acid from glands near their butt. It’s actually quite similar to what a skunk does; another defense mechanism.

These animals are prehistoric. Originally scientists thought pangolins were in the same family as anteaters and armadillos — the Xenarthra family, but new evidence suggest that they are more closely related to the Carnivora family which is a very diverse order containing wolves, bears and hyenas. That’s pretty mind boggling considering they don’t have teeth and their diet consists of termites and ants.

Now back to what I said at the beginning. This animal is the most trafficked animal on Earth because their main predator is most obviously humans. Humans capture and smuggle pangolins into the black market for their scales and their meat. Their meat is considered a delicacy while their scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine. They are known for relieving palsy, stimulating lactation and draining pus. The cost for just a kilogram of their scales can be $3000 or more. Because they don’t have teeth and their defense mechanism is to roll into a ball, they are, unfortunately, very easy for poachers to catch. It is said that pangolin sales make up 20 percent of the entire wildlife black market which translates to roughly 10,000 pangolin deaths per year.

Because they are so heavily trafficked, no one knows how long they live. The guess is only about 20 years in the wild because the oldest pangolin recorded lived to be 19 in captivity. One of the setbacks for saving this creature is they just don’t do well in captivity. Since they eat about 70 million insects a year, zoos are just not able to handle that type of volume and the pangolins end up suffering from malnutrition along with stress.

This is one animal that definitely needs some crazy awareness. Most people don’t even know it exists and scientists have no idea how many are left in the wild. On January 2nd of this year the animals were listed on the IUCN which bans the commercial trading of all eight species and their parts. Now we just need the individual states to increase protection rules on these animals to help in the fight to save the pangolin before its too late.

Unfortunately, I don’t have an adopt the pangolin link but if you would like more in depth information, click here.

Blue Whale

The largest living mammal on this planet is endangered. The blue whale, rarely seen, roams from the oceans of the north pole to the oceans of the south pole and everywhere in between. Blue whales weigh a whopping 20 tons which is about 33 elephants combined. At birth, a baby blue weigh can be about 25 feet long and by the time they mature they are 100 feet long. They usually swim at a sedate 3-10 miles an hour but are known to swim up to 30 miles an hour when they feel threatened.

Because of it’s size, this beautiful mammal has some of the biggest organs on Earth. A fully matured blue whale’s tongue can weigh about as much as an elephant (6000 lbs) and their hearts are literally the size of your average Volkswagon Beetle automobile which weigh about 3000 pounds. The blue whale also has the loudest call on Earth; 188 decibels. This is louder than a jet engine plane and can be heard by all manner of marine species 1,000 miles away. Turn your volume up and check out this snippet below. Truly mind blowing.

Even though these gentle giants are at the top of the food chain, their diet consists of 4 tons of krill each day. Baby calves drink 100 gallons of milk a day from their mamas and can gain 200 pounds a day! During migration periods, blue whales can go without eating for 4 months because they build huge fat reserves.

Blue whales became endangered due to serious whaling in the early 21st century. It has been estimated that over 200,000 blue whales have been killed leaving the population at about 5000 individuals left. Although whaling has been drastically reduced, blue whales are still at the mercy of climate change and getting caught in fishing nets because their migration path sometimes lands them in fisheries.

The people over at WWF have been placing satellite chips in blue whales they encounter in efforts to track their migration paths in order to establish protected areas that large vessels and fisheries can avoid.

If you find this information helpful and decide you would like to donate in some way, you can adopt a whale here.