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)

 

Born.. Twice?

Hello everyone and welcome to Endangered Thursdays. The animal I’m about to talk about isn’t endangered but its survival just trying to be born is quite interesting. This was shared to me a few weeks ago and by special request, I’m going to talk a bit about this crazy cool phenomenon today.

To the women out in the world, imagine if you could control exactly when you want to get pregnant. Well, for humans, we can’t. It’s usually hit or miss even if you plan it out. Kangaroos females, or does, however, have this ability. Mating season for kangaroos usually occurs in the rainy season when food is plentiful and temperatures are just right. When a doe is impregnated, she is able to control, to an extent, when the embryo attaches to the fetus. For example, if she still has a baby kangaroo, or joey, in her pouch, she’ll delay attachment until the joey is ready to be completely out of the pouch. Because does have so much control, they are pretty much able to breed offspring all year long.

Now, in case you don’t know what a marsupial is, I’m going to tell you. Marsupials are mammals that carry and develop offspring in their pouches. When the offspring comes out of the pouch, it’s fully developed with fur and everything. Inside the pouch is where the teats or nipples are that offspring suckle from while they grow strong. Majority of marsupial species are found in Australia such as kangaroos, koalas, wombats and wallabies. However, there is one species of marsupial you can find in America and that’s the opossum.

So now the doe has decided she wants to be pregnant and the embryo attaches to the fetus. From an external viewpoint, you can’t tell when a doe is pregnant. The only indication an embryo is on it’s way is when the doe starts licking the inside of her pouch and takes on a birthing position. The fetus comes out surrounded in it’s amniotic sac, not more than about an inch in size. Fetuses are born blind and they only have front legs with tiny claws which help them to break the amniotic sac and ready itself for it’s journey North.

Yes. I said journey North. You read that right. What happens next is truly extraordinary.

The fetus, blind, death and with only front legs begins to use those tiny legs to pull itself up to mama’s pouch. It’s born instinctively knowing to do this because if it doesn’t migrate to the pouch, it will die. Even though the fetus can’t see or hear anything, it is able to smell. The travelling process takes about 3 minutes though the video I will show you at the end makes it seem like it takes forever. Once it reaches the pouch, it climbs inside, finds one of the four nipples and attaches itself. Mama doe then cleans herself of all evidence of birth.

While the growing joey is in the pouch, mama will clean her pouch daily by licking herself. It’s almost a robotic process because does seem to be pretty oblivious to the fact that they’re growing a joey. Joeys first emerge from the pouch after cooking in there for 198 days. It’s still wobbly and not ready for the world so will usually crawl back inside the pouch. Does don’t seem to mind it all. They just change their stance to accommodate little joey climbing back inside. Joeys usually climb in head first and then do a little flip to get their feet pointed down and their head out of the pouch.

After about 235 days inside the pouch, it becomes pretty cramped in there and the joey climbs out for good. This is when does take interest in their offspring by helping them get used to their legs and preventing them from going back inside because it’s highly likely she’s producing again and if the joey climbs back in, it’ll kill the next in line offspring.

You have to see this! Check out the video below to see this incredible process in action:

Thank you Mischenko for bringing this to my attention and recommending I share it on the blog. 🙂

(Sources: KangarooWorlds, Answersingenesis)

Tasmanian Devil

Growing up watching Looney Tunes did not do the Tasmanian Devil the justice it deserves. Being the size of a small dog, they’re actually sort of cute little Austrialian pups. …see for yourself. 😛 

The name for these guys may be a little deceiving, as scientists have found. They mainly live in the state of Tasmania and are extinct in their original homeland of Australia. Hunters were killing dingoes for their pelts and when they ran out of dingoes they turned to the next best thing. The claim was that they were a massive threat to livestock and so they needed to be dealt with accordingly. Some 50 years later researchers are finding that they, along with many humans, are victims of facial and skin tumors and cancers. As a result, many are being sent to zoos in order to help provide better care for them.

While they do rip and shread their prey, they are somewhat communal animals. Once mated they protect and fight for their female at all costs…and we all know how that goes! 😉

All in all, just some food for thought. I’m sure those farmers and hunters didn’t dream that what they were doing to a group of animals in the mid 1940’s would impact them so many years later. Unfortunately, it is still happening today with many other groups of animals for a variety of reasons. You’d like we’d have learned something by now.

If you’re interested in learning more the Parks and wildlife service have got you covered.