Archive for the ‘Spotlight’ Category

Pyrenean ibex, Baiji Dolphin, Western Black Rhinoceros and the Japanese River Otter have all recently been declared extinct. How long until the Giant Panda(Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is to join this list? With less than 2000 recorded in the wild and only a handful more in captivity, the Giant Pandas time, sadly, may come sooner rather than later if conservation efforts do not prove successful.

The Panda used to found in both lowland and mountainous areas across China; however deforestation and farming has restricted their natural habitat to the mountains in Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu. The broadleaf/coniferous forest areas in which the Pandas reside are often found so high up the mountains they are surrounded by clouds. As solitary animals, Pandas spend most of their lives alone, coming together only to mate, and communicating through scents and calls.

Tian Tian (Sweetie) at Edinburgh Zoo - Photo by Milca G photography (check out her facebook page link at bottom article)

Tian Tian (Sweetie) at Edinburgh Zoo – Photo by Milca G photography (check out her facebook page link at bottom article)

While their digestive system is designed for a carnivorous diet, they feed almost entirely of bamboo. Given the poor nutritional value of bamboo they have to eat very large quantities each day, up to a third of their own weight. This specialist diet is also a player in their endangerment due to the damage of bamboo forests limiting their habitat further. Occasionally they will eat small rodents and eggs, but this makes up only about 1% of their diet. The Panda is active both night and day and spends most of its time eating, finding food and sleeping.

A female Panda is only fertile for 2-3 days, once a year, and the duration of a pregnancy is varied. This leaves very little margin for error and if that window is missed, there is another years wait. A Panda will usually give birth to two young, however in the wild it is very common for only one to survive. There are reintroduction programs in place; however they have not seen much success over the years and Pandas numbers in the wild continue to decline.

Yang Guang (Sunshine), the male Panda at Edinburgh Zoo - Authors own

Yang Guang (Sunshine), the male Panda at Edinburgh Zoo – Authors own

These majestic creatures are currently listed as endangered and it looks to remain so for a very long time. One can only hope their situation does not get worse and we can sustain the wild population that is present with hopes of an increase over the years. The WWF, Chengdu Research Base, Pandas International etc are all organisations which work for Panda conservation worldwide. Zoo’s across the world are also involved in Panda conservation by means of raising money for research, sanctuaries and breeding programs, as well as being involved in breeding programs themselves.

The photos featured in this article were taken in Edinburgh Zoo this year. Edinburgh Zoo are one such zoo which aid in Giant Panda conservation by means of putting money back into conservation and educating their visitors about the Giant Panda. They are currently home to two beautiful Pandas, Tian Tian and Yang Guang, with whom they are hoping to successfully breed from over the coming years while they are on loan. I one day hope to see Giant Pandas in the wild, but for now seeing them in Edinburgh was truly inspiring.

 

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Did you know that there are less than 1000 Bactrian Camels left in the wild? The number is currently estimated to be around 500-600. This is a startling number, considering how popular these two-humped ungulates are in zoos and circuses across the world, not to mention thousands of Bactrian camel herds which have been bred domestically over the years living in large herds (app 2million).

The wild Bactrian Camel is currently found only in Northwest China and in Southwest Mongolia (Gobi Desert).In order to survive the harsh conditions of their main habitat the Bactrian Camel features a double set of eyelashes, a hair lined inner ear and thin nostrils to protect against dust and sandstorms. After the harsh winters they can quickly shed their thick shaggy coats to adjust effectively to the changing seasons.

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Batrian Camel shedding lumps of fur for the warmer weather.

Food and water are not always readily available and the Camel has a great coping mechanism for this as well , being able to last sometimes for months on end without water. They do this by converting the fat stored in their two large humps into water when resources are scarce. It also helps that they can feed on dry and sometimes thorny plants that most herbivores avoid as well as drink salt water when fresh food and water are hard to find.

The Bactrian Camels demise is entirely down to human interference. The main reasons for their endangerment being: Habitat loss due to industrial development, and increasing human population forcing the mixing of wild populations and domestic herds. While they are masters of survival in their harsh habitats the battle against humans and extinction is proving one battle they may not win unless conservation efforts see a huge turn around in the future.

For more information on the conservation of the wonderful Bactrian Camel check out :

http://www.wildcamels.com/

http://www.edgeofexistence.org/mammals/species_info.php?id=8

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Well this little guy hardly needs much of an introduction being a very popular feature in many zoo’s across the world. Unfortunately the Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens) is currently listed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red list. This means that we need to take extra care in conserving the Red Panda in its small pockets of damp high-altitude forests in Nepal, India, Bhutan, Myanmar, and southern China or it may be joining the “critically endangered” list all too soon.

The Red Panda is a very good climber using its specially adapted feet with rotatable ankles to control downward climbs. They have very strong claws which they use to grasp branches and leaves when feeding. Bamboo makes up the most part of their diet however they occasionally eat eggs, berries or fruit depending on the availability of their main food during foraging. Mostly nocturnal, they forage by night and sleep by day, spending the majority of their time in the trees.

Their main form of communication is by means of body language however they are usually a solitary animal, rarely interacting with other Red Pandas apart from during mating and when caring for young. Even though they are born very small, females have a considerably long gestation period of up to 135 days and usually only have one or two at a time. This also presents limitations in captive breeding programmes and makes the management of their habitat all the more important as they are fragile reproducers.

The main threats to Red Panda populations in the wild are: habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching and inbreeding depression. While human populations increase, Red Panda populations decrease as the humans claim more and more of their habitats for their own. This unfortunately is not restricted to the Red Pandas but uncountable different species worldwide suffer a similar threat and many unique habitats are suffering under the pressure. Road construction, commercial logging, localized logging and clearing for farm lands, being just some of the culprits in the fragmentation of habitats.

Poaching does not present as serious a threat to the Red Panda as habitat loss; however it is still a big problem mainly in China. They are hunted mainly for their fur and their beautiful tails. Outside China they are usually only killed by accident, caught up in traps meant for other animals and shot occasionally because the opportunity was there, rather than being deliberately hunted for.

Research and Habitat protection are vital for the survival of this species. They are known to be shy and due to their nocturnal behaviour observation and data collection can be difficult, so it is important that population studies are fronted in order to get a clearer picture of this secretive animal’s lifestyle. The more known about the Red Panda, the easier it becomes to protect. There are several protected areas covering some of the Red Pandas habitats across their home countries, however not near enough if they are to thrive in the long term and get the management and protection they need.

If you want to know more you can visit the Red Panda Network webpage. They are an organisation that focuses on education, research and conservation. All of which are important in the protection of a species.

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This species of Gorilla can be dived into two subspecies: The Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and the Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli). The Western Lowland gorilla being the most common (As common as this critically endangered species can be) with over 90,000 estimated in the wild and is found in several locations in Central West Africa. The Cross River Gorilla is estimated at just over 250, a scary figure, and is found on the border between Cameroon and Nigeria.

The Ebola virus, poaching, civil war and commercial logging are the main threats to the conservation of these sociable and powerful primates. While the Ebola virus wiped out almost a third of the population between 1991 and 2007 they are, against their nature, fighting back against the humans by means of throwing sticks and stones. This goes against their more common instinct to run. This strange behaviour sadly will not be enough to deter poachers or prevent them from getting caught in the crossfire of the civil wars which rage on in their territory.

The main difference between the Western and Eastern Gorillas is in their size, the Western gorillas being smaller and more agile, allowing them to be sufficient climbers. Their diet consists of high fibre content, mainly eating fruit when it is available, leaves and wood vegetation suffices when fruit is scarce. They are a highly sociable animal living in groups from anywhere between 2 and 30 individuals and are not all that territorial with family’s often crossing paths in the wild. These groups consist of a dominant male and several young males, females and their offspring.

Conservation groups such as the WCS are working hard to improve poaching laws, and establish health centres in areas such as Gabon and Cameroon in order to prevent the spread of a disease like the Ebola Virus. They are also working alongside logging companies to help create a more sustainable and Gorilla friendly method of logging.

Eco-tourism also plays a vital part in the conservation of the Western Gorilla. Through tourism conservation groups can work towards finding a careful balance for locals in that they can find alternatives to bush meat for survival, thus lessening the pressure on the Gorillas. The ZSL (Zoological Society of London) are one such organisation aiding in sustainable tourism and bush meat alternatives for locals. They are also involved in a project in Cameroon helping Timber Company’s management in a way that is less harmful to the Gorilla populations in its logging areas.

The Western Gorilla is in critical danger and needs our help NOW ! So spread awareness and get onto some of the above links if you wish to donate, or help! There is no shortage of information online and if you want to go see these beautiful creatures in the wild (It is an expensive but very worthwhile investment), now is the time and in the long run your efforts will help to conserve the Western Gorilla.

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Wildlife conservation is a hot topic in this century due to the increase in endangered animals and plants across the globe throughout recent years. I will be going through some of my favourite and sadly at risk animals one by one in hopes to inspire more people to get involved in conservation. There is so much that can be done to help and some people just need and extra nudge to actually stand up and do something about the diminishing numbers of our earths beautiful wildlife. Every small gesture, every penny put into trusted conservation organisations, will go a long way to the future, so spread the word!

Today’s animal in the spotlight is the Asiatic Lion (Panthera Leo Persica); one of the 7 currently recognized subspecies of lion and one of the most endangered. I fell in love with this majestic king of the jungle when writing up an enclosure evaluation for the Asiatic lion enclosure at Chester Zoo during my second year at University. Watching the beautiful female and her male, I really grew to respect their strength and elegance. To see them in the wild would be a dream come true, however with numbers at a low, this may not be possible for very long.

Only a single population of this subspecies exists in the wild, resident to the Gir Forest in India and with a constant threat coming from poaching and limited gene pool for expansion, this number is currently stable. . In 2000 the ICUN Red list had listed the Asiatic lion as “critically endangered” however since captive breeding programmes and conservation efforts have been put into place, they are now rated as “endangered”. The current estimated wild population is around 359 and with less than 100 in captive breeding programmes the outlook is bleak for the Asiatic Lion.

Like the African lions, the Asiatic lions live in prides, however of smaller size, with the normal pride consisting of up to two females. In the dry deciduous scrubland of the Gir Forest they feed mainly on deer and domesticated cattle (at the cost of angry farmers) however they will also eat wild boar and water buffalo when they can.

It was around the same time that firearms became popular that the number of Asiatic lions across Asia went into steep decline and where pushed into the small population in India that exists now. Only time will tell the faith of the Asiatic lion, however with a limited gene pool and breeding with African lions, the question is more: “when”? rather than “If”?

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