Kangaroos have powerful hind legs and short, thumbless forelimbs. Kangaroos can travel at speeds up to 30 miles per hour and can leap some 30 feet. Kangaroos use their long tails for balancing. Their bodies are covered in thick, coarse, wooly hair that can be shades of gray, brown or red. Kangaroos are marsupials, which means that females carry newborns, or "joeys," in a pouch on the front of their abdomens.
Kangaroos have developed a number of adaptations to a dry, infertile continent and a highly variable climate. As with all marsupials, the young are born at a very early stage of development after a gestation of 31 to 36 days. At this stage, only the forelimbs are somewhat developed, to allow the newborn to climb to the pouch and attach to a teat. In comparison, a human embryo at a similar stage of development would be about 7 weeks old, and premature babies born at less than 23 weeks are usually not mature enough to survive.
Red and gray kangaroos stand between five and six feet tall. Most weigh between 50 and 120 pounds, though some can reach 200 pounds. Female kangaroos are generally smaller than males of the same species. On average, kangaroos live in the wild for six to eight years. Kangaroos are found in Australia and Tasmania, as well as on surrounding islands. They live in varied habitats, from forests and woodland areas to grassy plains and savannas. They are grazing herbivores, which means their diet consists mainly of grasses. They can survive long periods without water.
Kangaroos live and travel in organized groups or "mobs," dominated by the largest male. A mob may have ten or more males and females. The dominant male (called a boomer) is based on his size and age. A boomer has temporary exclusive access to females in a mob for mating. A boomer may find himself wandering in and out of a mob checking out the females and intimidating the other males who try to mate with the females within the mob. Courtship behavior in most species of kangaroos includes the male "checking" the female's cloaca. The males are often rejected by the females for their smaller size, but in the case of a larger kangaroo, the female may instead simply move away.
Often, when the female is being checked, it urinates. The male kangaroo will then make a practice of sniffing the urine multiple times until it is satisfied, then proceed to the mating cycle. Studies of Kangaroo reproduction conclude that this ritual is typical for a male kangaroo to check if the female kangaroo is receptive to the male. The sexually aroused male follows the responsive female (she raises her tail). Tail scratching (a form of foreplay) can occur between the male and female. The arched tail is indicative that either one or both kangaroos are ready to mate. The male kangaroo may sometimes be found giving the female kangaroo a back rub before mating.
Kangaroos are shy and retiring by nature, and in normal circumstances present no threat to humans. Male kangaroos often "box" amongst each other, playfully, for dominance, or in competition for mates. The dexterity of their forepaws is utilized in both punching and grappling with the foe, but the real danger lies in a serious kick with the hindleg. The sharpened toenails can disembowel an opponent, and this is the fate of many dogs that wrestle with a boomer.
Usually, female kangaroos give birth to one joey at a time. Newborns weigh as little as 0.03 ounces at birth. After birth, the joey crawls into its mother’s pouch, where it will nurse and continue to grow and develop. Red kangaroo joeys do not leave the pouch for good until they are more than eight months old. Gray kangaroo joeys wait until they are almost a year old. A female kangaroo has the ability to freeze the development of an embryo until the previous joey is able to leave the pouch. The composition of the milk produced by the mother varies according to the needs of the joey. In addition, she is able to simultaneously produce two different kinds of milk for the newborn and the older joey who still lives in the pouch.
THREATS TO KANGAROOS
Threats to kangaroos include humans hunting them for meat and hides. Also, the introduction of domestic herbivores, such as sheep, cattle and rabbits, increases competition for many plants and may cause food scarcity in times of drought.
Millions of kangaroos are killed each year for the meat and leather industries. Kangaroos also suffer in the inhumane animal entertainment industry. Some are used for cruel "kangaroo boxing" acts, dragged around the country and forced to participate in boxing matches against people. These animals often suffer from poor diets, inadequate veterinary care and stress-induced disease. Some have even died while touring.
Others are kept on display, living a life in captivity. Even under the best of circumstances, captivity is cruel for kangaroos. Confined to tiny areas and gawked at by crowds, animals in exhibits and acts endure constant stress. They may suffer from temperature extremes and irregular feeding and watering. Without exercise, they become listless, their immune systems are weakened, and they become prone to sickness; many resort to self-mutilation in reaction to stress or boredom. Mental illness is rampant among confined animals. Torn from their families and deprived of all dignity, every part of their lives is controlled by their captors.
While zoos may appear to be educational and conservation-oriented, most are designed with the needs and desires of the visitors in mind, not the needs of the animals. Many animals in zoos exhibit abnormal behavior as a result of being deprived of their natural environments and social structures. When the facility breeds too many animals they become "surplus" and often are sold to laboratories, traveling shows, shooting ranches, or to private individuals who may be unqualified to care for them.
The wolf is the largest wild member of the canine family. On average, wolves stand 26 to 32 inches at the shoulder and weigh 55 to 115 pounds. Females are usually slightly smaller than males. They range in color from grizzled gray or black to all white.
Wolves are built for stamina, possessing features tailored for long distance travel. Narrow chests and powerful backs and legs contribute to the wolf's proficiency for efficient locomotion. They are capable of covering several miles trotting at about a 6 mph pace, though they have been known to reach speeds approaching 40 mph during a chase.
Gray wolves are listed as endangered in the Southwest under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and threatened throughout the lower 48 states. Wolves in Alaska are not listed under the ESA. Endangered means a species is considered in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, and threatened means a species may become endangered in the foreseeable future. Regions of Yellowstone, central Idaho and the Southwest are designated as non-essential experimental populations, which isolate geographically-described groups from other existing populations and offer special regulations.
Wolves live up to 12 years. They can be found in forests, and on tundra, deserts, plains and mountains. They normally prey on large hoofed mammals such as deer and elk, but occasionally prey on smaller animals such as beavers or rabbits.
Wolves live in packs, which are complex social structures that include the breeding adult pair (the alpha male and female) and their offspring. A hierarchy of dominant and subordinate animals within the pack help it to function as a unit. The pack is led by the two individuals that sit atop the social hierarchy — the alpha male and the alpha female. The alpha pair (of whom only one may be the "top" alpha) has the greatest amount of social freedom compared to the rest of the pack, but they are not "leaders" in the human sense of the term. The alphas do not give the other wolves orders; rather, they simply have the most freedom in choosing where to go, what to do, and when to do it. Possessing strong instincts for fellowship, the rest of the pack usually follows.
Wolves communicate by scent-marking, vocalizing (including howling), facial expressions and body postures. They can visually communicate an impressive variety of expressions and moods that range from subtler signals – such as a slight shift in weight – to the more obvious ones – like rolling on the back as a sign of complete submission.
Wolves howl for several reasons. Howling helps pack members keep in touch, allowing them to effectively communicate in thickly forested areas or over great distances. Furthermore, howling helps to summon pack members to a specific location. Howling can also serve as a declaration of territory, as portrayed by a dominant wolf's tendency to respond to a human imitation of a "rival" individual in an area that the wolf considers its own. This behavior is also stimulated when a pack has something to protect, such as a fresh kill. Wolves will also howl for communal reasons—similar to community singing among humans.
Usually, only the alpha pair is able to successfully rear a litter of pups (other wolves in a pack may breed, but will usually lack the resources required to raise the pups to maturity). They mate in January or February. Females give birth two months later to a litter of pups. An average litter is four to seven pups. All the wolves in the pack assist in raising wolf pups. Some mature individuals, usually females, may choose to stay in the original pack so as to reinforce it and help rear more pups. Most, males particularly, will disperse however.
The size of the pack may change over time and is controlled by several factors, including habitat, personalities of individual wolves within a pack, and food supply. Packs can contain between two and twenty wolves, though an average pack consists of six or seven. New packs are formed when a wolf leaves its birth pack and claims a territory. Lone wolves searching for other individuals can travel very long distances seeking out suitable territories.
Wolves, like other canines, use scent marking to lay claim to anything from territory to fresh kills.
THREATS TO WOLVES
The illegal killing of wolves has become a leading threat to their survival. Another serious problem is human encroachment into wolf territory, which leads to habitat loss for wolves. As long as there is enough prey, wolves seem to avoid taking livestock, often ignoring them entirely. However, some wolves or packs can specialize in hunting livestock once the behavior is learned. In some areas across the world, hunters or state officials will hunt wolves from helicopters or light planes to "control" populations (or, in some instances, for sport), claiming it is the most effective way to control wolf numbers. Wolves are frequently trapped, in the areas where it is legal, using inhumane snares or leg hold traps. The economic value of wolf pelts is limited, so it is mainly a recreation activity. Wolf trapping has come under heavy fire from animal rights groups. Wolves are also inhumanely bred for their fur in some locations.
Birds of paradise are considered the most dramatic and attractive birds on the planet. They are a species of bird found in the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia and the jungles of eastern Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. There are about 50 birds of paradise species, some extremely rare.
Birds of paradise are known for the unique array of feathers on the male birds of paradise used to attract female birds of paradise, as well as the fascinating dances males use to attract females. Vibrant colored plumage on male birds of paradise features colors ranging from green, red and yellow. Some species have bright colored feathered ruffs or elongated feathers called streamers or wires. Female birds of paradise are more plain in comparison than their male counterparts and are usually smaller with light brown feathers.
Many birds of paradise species feed on berries and fruits in jungle canopies, while others feed on insects and spiders. Birds of paradise are usually solitary birds, coming together only to mate.
Male birds of paradise use their bright colored feathers and dance to win over females. They perform elaborate rituals for females through dances, poses, posturing stiffly, hanging from limbs, freezing and spinning and other displays. Some species of birds of paradise dance in trees; others create stages on the forest floor by removing leaves to allow sunlight to shine through. The stage area may be decorated with a variety of items accumulated by the male. Many males birds of paradise perform their rituals in a common area called a lek. The rituals often last for hours as the male attempts to win over the female with various acrobatics, swaying from side and even hanging upside down. Once the male mates with a willing female bird of paradise he leaves to find other females.
Female birds of paradise lay eggs in a nest on ground level, in dense foliage or in trees. Baby birds of paradise hatch in about 20 days, varying by species. Birds of paradise babies usually have little or no feathers and are unable to walk or stand. They rely on their mother for food, shelter and protection until they are about a month old.
Baby birds of paradise are preyed upon by large birds of prey and snakes. Adult birds of paradise have few predators.
THREATS TO BIRDS OF PARADISE
The main threat to birds of paradise is human development. Birds of paradise are threatened by habitat loss and deforestation.
The brightly colored feathers of birds of paradise have also made them a target of hunters and tribal peoples who use the feathers for costumes and clothing. Massive declines in the birds of paradise populations have resulted.
Leopards are medium-sized cats found in a range of colors from pale yellow to gray to chestnut. A leopard’s shoulders, upper arms, back and haunches are marked with dark spots in a rosette pattern, while the head, chest and throat are marked with small black spots. Large black spots cover the leopard’s white belly. Black, or melanistic, leopards are common, especially in dense forests.
Leopards are 1.5 to 2.6 feet tall at the shoulder. They are three to six feet long, with a tail that is two to 3.5 feet long. Males weigh between 82 and 200 pounds, females are slightly smaller. Leopards live for up to 20 years.
Leopards are found throughout most of Africa and Asia from the middle east to the Soviet Union, Korea, China, India, and Malaysia. They live in a variety of habitats including forests, mountains, grassland and deserts. Leopards eat small hoofstock such as gazelle, impala, deer and wildebeast. On occasion, they may also hunt monkeys, rodents and birds.
Leopards are nocturnal animals, meaning they are active at night. During the day, they rest in thick brush or in trees. Leopards are solitary, preferring to live alone. They are very agile and good swimmers. They are able to leap more than 20 feet.
Following a 90 to 105 day gestation, one to six kittens are born. The average litter size is two or three. Kittens weigh about one pound when they are born. They will stay with their mother for 18 to 24 months.
The big cats, especially the spotted cats, are easy to confuse for those who see them in captivity or in photographs. The leopard is closely related to, and appears very similar to, the jaguar; it is less often confused with the cheetah. The ranges, habitats, and activities of the three cats make them easy to distinguish in the wild.
Since wild leopards live only in Africa and Asia, while wild jaguars live only in the Americas, there is no possibility of confusing them in the wild. There are also visual markings that set them apart. Leopards do not have the spots within the rosettes that jaguars always have, and the jaguar's spots are larger than the leopard's. The Amur leopard and the North Chinese leopard are occasional exceptions. The leopard is smaller and less stocky than the jaguar, although it is more heavyset than the cheetah.
Besides appearance, the leopard and jaguar have similar behavior patterns. Jaguars can adapt to a range of habitats from rainforest to ranchlands, while leopards are even more adaptable ranging in from deserts and mountains, savanna and woodlands.
The cheetah, although its range overlaps extensively with that of the leopard, is easily distinguished. The leopard is heavier, stockier, and has a larger head in proportion to the body. The cheetah tends to run rather fast and goes much more quickly than the leopard. The cheetah also has dark 'teardrop' like markings running down the sides of its face, whereas the leopard does not. Cheetahs are usually diurnal, while leopards are more active at night (nocturnal); cheetahs are also exclusively terrestrial (except when young), while leopards often climb trees.
Prior to the human induced changes of the last few hundred years, leopards were the most widely distributed of all felids other than the domestic cat: they were found through most of Africa (with the exception of the Sahara Desert), as well as parts of Asia Minor. They are still found in the Middle East, India, Pakistan, China, Siberia, much of mainland South East Asia, and the islands of Java and Sri Lanka.
THREATS TO LEOPARDS
The leopard is doing surprisingly well for a large predator. It is estimated that there are as many as 500,000 leopards worldwide. But like many other big cats, leopards are increasingly under threat of habitat loss and are facing increased hunting pressure. Because of their stealthy habits and camouflage, they can go undetected even in close proximity to human settlements. Despite the leopard's abilities, it is no match for habitat destruction and poachers, and several subspecies are endangered, namely, the Amur, Anatolian, Barbary, North Chinese, and South Arabian leopards.
Leopards have long been victims of the animal entertainment industry; forced to perform in circus acts or sentenced to a life in captivity for human entertainment. Animals used in the circus spend the majority of the year imprisoned in small cages or on chains, traveling from show to show. The training endured by circus animals is almost always based on intimidation; trainers must break the spirit of the animals in order to control them. Zoos are designed with the needs and desires of the visitors in mind, not the needs of the animals. Many animals in zoos exhibit abnormal behavior as a result of being deprived of their natural environments and social structures. Most animals in zoos were either captured from the wild or bred in captivity for the purpose of public display, not species protection.
All sea turtles are protected by the Endangered Species Act, which lists all species as endangered except the loggerhead, which is listed as threatened. Marine turtles are one of the earth's most ancient creatures, with a fossil record going back 150 million years. Some estimates suggest they first appeared on earth as much as 230 million years ago, making them 224 million years older than humans.
Sea turtles are generally found in the waters over continental shelves. After taking to the water for the first time, males will not return to shore again. During the first three to five years of life, sea turtles spend most time in the pelagic zone floating in seaweed beds. Green sea turtles in particular are often found in Sargassum beds, a brown seaweed in which they find shelter and food. Once the sea turtle has reached adulthood it moves closer to the shore. Females will come ashore to lay their eggs on sandy beaches during the nesting season.
The habitat of a sea turtle has a significant influence on its morphology. Sea turtles are able to grow so large because of the immense size of their habitat: the ocean. The reason that sea turtles are much bigger than land tortoises and freshwater turtles is directly correlated with the vastness of the ocean, and the fact that they travel such far distances. Having more room to live enables more room for growth.
There are seven species of sea turtles:
Green (Chelonia mydas): Medium to large sized, brownish turtle with mottled patterns of markings on its shell. The green sea turtle usually lives among sea grass. The green turtle measures 36 to 43 inches and weighs 200 to 300 pounds.
Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata): Small-to medium-sized turtle with shield-like plates on its shell. The hawksbill turtle is the source of the term "tortoise shell" because of the pattern of markings on its shell. Their beautiful shells were once prized until the hunting of sea turtles became illegal. The hawksbill gets its name from its beak which is shaped like a hawk’s. They measure 30 to 36 inches and weighs 100 to 200 pounds.
Kemp’s Ridley (Lepidochelys kempii): The smallest and the most endangered of all the sea turtles, the Kemp’s Ridley has an oval-shaped shell that is olive-gray in color. On average, it reaches up to 30 inches long and weighs 80 to 100 pounds.
Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea): This turtle is named for its olive-colored shell. The Olive Ridley has a wide, heart-shaped shell and a greenish-white underside. It is 24 to 30 inches long and weighs 90 to 100 pounds.
Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea): This species is the largest living sea turtle. They average six feet long and can weigh 1,400 pounds. The leatherback has large limbs and no claws. It does not have a shell but instead has a leathery back with raised gray stripes.
Loggerhead (Caretta caretta): The loggerhead has reddish-brown markings, it can reach 33 to 40 inches in length and weigh 150 to 400 pounds. One of the two main loggerhead nesting areas is located along the Atlantic coast of Florida.
Australian Flatback (Natator depressus): This turtle is named for its flat back and because it is found only in the waters of Australia. The Australian flatback can weigh up to 200 pounds and reach 40 inches in length.
The worldwide population for each species is unknown.
Most sea turtles live approximately 15 to 20 years and may live to be 80 years old. They are found in warm and temperate waters throughout the world and migrate hundreds of miles between nesting and feeding grounds. Sea turtles eat jellyfish, seaweed, crabs, shrimp, snails, algae and mollusks.
Sea turtles spend most of their time in the water. When they do come to the shore, to lay eggs for example, traveling on land is awkward. Pregnant females pull themselves ashore, dig a pit into the sandy beach, and lay 70-170 eggs. Female turtles typically return to the same beach where they were hatched to lay eggs. Six to ten weeks later, baby turtles break out of this nest and scuttle down the beach into the sea. Young sea turtles swim towards kelp beds several miles offshore, where they shelter, feed and grow. During their early life stages, baby sea turtles are highly vulnerable and most do not reach adulthood.
Sea turtles play key roles in two ecosystem types that are critical to them as well as to humans - oceans and beaches/dunes. In the oceans, sea turtles, especially green sea turtles, are one of very few creatures (manatees are another) that eat the sea grass that grows on the sea floor. Sea grass needs to be constantly cut short to help it grow across the sea floor. Sea turtles act as grazing animals that cut the grass short and help maintain the health of the sea grass beds. Sea grass beds provide breeding and developmental grounds for numerous species of fish, shellfish and crustaceans. Without sea grass beds, many marine species would be lost, as would the lower levels of the food chain. The reactions could result in many more marine species eventually becoming endangered or extinct.
Beaches and dunes form a fragile ecosystem that depends on vegetation to protect against erosion. Eggs, hatched or unhatched, and hatchlings that fail to make it into the ocean are nutrient sources for dune vegetation. Dune vegetation is able to grow and become stronger with the presence of nutrients from sea turtle eggs, unhatched nests, eggs and trapped hatchlings. As the dune vegetation grows stronger and healthier, the health of the entire beach/dune ecosystem becomes better. Stronger vegetation and root systems help to hold the sand in the dunes and help protect the beach from erosion.
THREATS TO SEA TURTLES
Sea turtles are threatened with capture, harvesting of eggs, destruction of nesting beaches, ocean pollution, oil spills and entanglement in fishing and shrimp nets. Major threats to sea turtles in the U.S. include, but are not limited to: destruction and alteration of nesting and foraging habitats; incidental capture in commercial and recreational fisheries; entanglement in marine debris; and vessel strikes. To reduce the incidental capture of sea turtles in commercial fisheries, NOAA Fisheries has enacted regulations to restrict certain U.S. commercial fishing gears (gillnets, longlines, pound nets, and trawls) that have known, significant bycatch of sea turtles. To effectively address all threats to marine turtles, NOAA Fisheries and the USFWS have developed recovery plans to direct research and management efforts for each sea turtle species.
The tourist trade is the main reason why turtle numbers are in decline. Tourism poses the greatest threat to turtles for a number of reasons. Turtles migrate huge distances but during certain times of the year they congregate in shallow waters to breed. Females go ashore to lay clutches of up to 150 eggs. Two months later, tiny hatchlings emerge from the sand and make their way to the sea. But many of the tropical and sub-tropical beaches that turtles have used for millions of years are now inhabited by tourists. Many females will not lay their eggs if there is too much noise or lighting from local resorts. Also, nests can be damaged by sunbathers and newly hatched turtles can become disoriented by beachfront developments and may never reach the sea. In the Mediterranean, the nesting period of the loggerhead and green turtle coincide almost exactly with the peak tourist season (May to August).
Speedboats can be deadly, especially during the mating season when turtles spend long periods of time close to the surface. Turtles are also still killed for their shells, which are made into souvenirs such as combs and ashtrays.
The conservation and recovery of sea turtles requires multi-lateral cooperation and agreements to ensure the survival of these highly migratory animals. NOAA Fisheries has a broad national and international program for the conservation and recovery of marine turtles. The Office of Protected Resources works closely with 2 international environmental agreements that deal exclusively with sea turtle conservation.
Cockatoos are parrots of any of the 21 species that belong to the bird family called Cacatuidae. The main family in the superfamily known as Cacatuoidea. Alongside the Strigopoidea (huge New Zealand parrots) and the Psittacoidea (real parrots), they make up the order Psittaciformes (parrots).
Cockatoos are identifiable by their conspicuous crests and curved bills. With their high energy levels and natural curiosity, they are among the most remarkable and adored members of the parrot family. Their plumage is mostly less colorful than the other parrots, mainly white, black or grey, and frequently features colored patterns in the cheeks, crest or tail.
Cockatoos are found in Australia and some other small island countries toward the north and west. They live in forested territories of all types, from the eucalyptus forests to pine forests, as well as rain forests. They can likewise live in the lower slopes of mountain regions and mangroves and open country lands where they feed upon grass seeds.
Cockatoos are monogamous breeders with pair-bonds that can last for many years. Numerous birds pair up in the flocks before they reach their sexual maturity and sometimes delay breeding for at least a year. Courtship is very simple, especially for established pairs, with the black cockatoos alone engaging in courtship feeding. Established pairs do take part in preening one another, however all types of courtship drop off after incubation starts, perhaps because of the strength of the pair-bond.
The vocalizations of cockatoos are harsh and loud. Their vocalizations serve various functions, including enabling members to recognize one another, alarming others of predators, showing individual moods, keeping up the union of a flock, and as notices when protecting nests.
Cockatoos are different from other parrots in that their crest can be raised when needed. They are mostly white and black (with a couple of notable exceptions like the pink and grey galah). This is due to the absence of a special texture, called the Dyck texture, in their feathers. In various parrots, the presence of this texture gives color by the way it reflects light.
Cockatoos are diurnal and require daylight to search for food. They are not early risers, rather they wait until the sun has warmed their roosting destinations before feeding. All the species roost. They are highly social and forage in noisy and colorful flocks. These mostly differ in size based on the availability of food. During times of plenty, flocks are relatively small numbering a hundred birds or less. During the drought season or other times of adversity, flocks may contain a thousand or more birds.
Cockatoos do not have any oil glands, however they produce a fine powder from the breakdown of special downy feathers. The powder serves to protect their feathers and also keeps them clean.
Cockatoos eat seeds, corms, tubers, flowers, fruits and insects. Cockatoos regularly feed in huge flocks, especially when ground-feeding.
Cockatoos can live for 60 years or more, and have been known to live over 100 years.
THREATS TO COCKATOOS
Some cockatoos species have been affected by territory loss, especially from a deficiency of suitable nesting hollows after extensive mature trees are cleared. A few species have adapted well to the human changes and are seen as agricultural pests. They are inhumanely “controlled” by poisoning, shooting, or capture followed by gassing. Non-lethal destruction mitigation utilizes territory manipulation and sacrifice of crops to distract cockatoos from the major harvest.
Five cockatoo species - the Goffin's cockatoo, lesser sulphur-crested cockatoo, palm cockatoo, red-vented cockatoo, and the Moluccan cockatoo - are endangered with extinction. All other cockatoo species are threatened.
Humans also capture these birds to sell them as pets. Captivity is cruel for wild animals. Animals are captured from their native habitat and transported to various countries to be sold as “pets”. Backyard breeders also supply exotic animals. The sellers of these animals often disregard the dangers, difficulties, physical and physiological needs of the animals they peddle. The suffering of the animals in the hands of unqualified and hapless buyers appears to be of no concern in the lucrative exotic pet trade.
Birds' instinctive yearning to fly is thwarted when they are confined to a cage. Even in a large aviary, it is virtually impossible to provide birds in captivity with a natural existence, since naturally changing temperatures, food, vegetation, and landscape cannot be recreated indoors, nor, of course, can the birds fly freely. Thousands of birds are taken away from their families and flocks every year, packed up as if they were plastic dolls, and sold at bird shows or through pet shops. Many don't survive the journey, and those who do are likely to be destined for a life of misery.
For people who have aviaries or who have the space for pairs or groups of birds to fly indoors, adoption from sanctuaries, rather than buying birds from shops or breeders, is recommended by animal campaigners.
Chimpanzee faces are pinkish to black, and the apes' bodies are covered with long black hair. Chimps lack a tail. Their opposable thumbs and toes help them grasp objects easily. Chimpanzees are quadrupedal, which means that they walk on all four limbs, although they can also walk upright (bipedal) for short distances. Standing approximately 4 feet high, males weigh between 90 and 120 pounds, while females weigh between 60 and 110 pounds. An estimated 100,000 to 200,000 chimpanzees remain in the wild.
Chimpanzees rarely live past the age of 50 in the wild, but have been known to reach the age of 60 in captivity. They can be found in 21 African countries. Chimps prefer dense tropical rainforests but can also be found in secondary-growth forests, woodlands, bamboo forests, swamps, and even open savannah. They are omnivores, meaning they eat a wide variety of foods that includes fruits, nuts, seeds, and insects. Chimps occasionally hunt and eat meat.
Chimps live in communities. These communities are composed of family groups of three to six individuals, totaling about 50 animals. Hierarchies are formed by the adult males of the community, which is led by one alpha (the highest) male. Adolescent females may move freely between communities, although territory is strictly patrolled and conflicts can occur between neighbors. Most mothers give birth to one young an average of every five to six years in the wild. Young chimps stay with their mothers for up to 10 years.
THREATS TO CHIMPANZEES
Habitat destruction is the greatest threat of the chimpanzee. Large population decreases are also blamed on hunting and commercial exportation. Fewer than 250,000 chimpanzees still exist in western and central Africa. Chimpanzees now occupy only a fraction of their former territory. Chimpanzee habitats, already small and isolated, are being further destroyed by increased commercial and agricultural development. In Africa, both species of chimpanzees - pan paniscus and pan troglodytes - are considered endangered. The U.S. Department of the Interior also lists them as endangered.
There are approximately 2,000 captive chimpanzees in the United States. About 300 are in zoos, and the remaining 1,700 were bred for inhumane medical research. Many are the offspring of chimpanzees captured in the wild before 1973, when the United States agreed to abide by an international treaty prohibiting the capture and importation of wild chimpanzees. Chimpanzee meat is no longer exclusively the food of the forest peoples, but is now commercially available in urban areas too. Bushmeat, including chimpanzee flesh, is also eaten by people in logging camps.
CITES prohibits chimpanzees caught in the wild being used in circuses, but in countries where CITES has not been ratified or where it cannot be enforced, chimpanzees may be taken from the wild as infants, which often means the killing of the adults in their group.
Chimpanzees used in media entertainment are usually eight years old or younger. They are taken from their mothers at birth, as are chimpanzees sold as "pets". They are taught unnatural behaviors and forced to perform tricks. Whey they become too old and dangerous, they are doomed to a life in a roadside zoo, pseudo-sanctuary or circus. There they are often forced to "perform", living in inhumane conditions. Life in captivity is cruel for these wild animals. Some "retired" entertainers are used as breeding chimps, living the rest of their lives in cages.
Chimpanzees have been used in brain and skull research and in social deprivation studies. Chimpanzees have also been popular subjects for AIDS research, although their immune system does not succumb to the virus. Chimpanzees are also used in painful cancer, hepatitis, and psychological tests, as well as for research into artificial insemination and birth control methods, blood diseases, organ transplants, and experimental surgery. Their use in military experiments is suspected, but such information is kept secret and is hard to verify. Because they are in short supply, captive chimps are often subjected to multiple experiments, each of which can last an average of two to four years.
During the late 1980s, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) developed its so-called "National Chimpanzee Management Plan." This plan was, in reality, just a funding mechanism for five breeding colonies to maintain a steady supply of chimpanzees for vivisectors. Under a series of grants, the plan established breeding colonies of chimps at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center in Atlanta, the University of Texas in Bastrop, the Primate Foundation of Arizona in Tempe, the University of Southwestern Louisiana in New Iberia, and New Mexico State University (NMSU) in Alamogordo. The Chimpanzee Management Plan (CMP) also established chimpanzee-related research bases at Yerkes and the University of Texas, as well as at Texas A&M in College Station and at the University of Pittsburgh. The International Species Inventory System monitors the status of all the captive chimps. In 2013, under intense pressure from organizations and the public, the National Institutes of Health announced it would retain, but not breed, a colony of up to 50 chimpanzees for potential use. The remainder of the chimps would be designated for retirement into the Federal Sanctuary System.
One of the most identifiable birds in North America is the northern cardinal. Also called the redbird, common cardinal and Virginia nightingale, they are usually referred to simply as cardinals. Cardinals are beloved by backyard birders because of their bright red colors, joyful singing and year-round presence.
Cardinals are medium sized songbirds. Male cardinals are bright red, while females are light brown to gray with some red coloring on their wings, crests and tails. The red coloration of cardinals is a result of carotenoids in their feather structure ingested through what they eat. Both male and female cardinals have bright orange beaks. They have pointed crests of feathers on the tops of their heads and long tails. Male cardinals have black masks on their faces that extend to their chest. Female cardinals do not usually have black masks, but their faces may have dark markings. Young cardinals are similar in appearance to female cardinals, but have less red coloration and gray-black bills. Their beaks change from black, to a cream, then orange as they age.
Unlike most other songbirds, both male and female cardinals sing. They sing year-round to communicate. Male and female cardinals sing to each other. Male cardinals sing up to 200 songs an hour. They will sing to attract females or ward off intruders of their territory. Female cardinals often sing to get their mates to bring food to the nestlings. Cardinals also sing as alarm calls. Female cardinals have more elaborate songs than male cardinals. A cardinal can have over two dozen song variations. Cardinals from different areas can have very different songs.
Cardinals are granivorous, feeding mostly on grains. They also eat fruit and insects, foraging for different foods each season. They use their large, powerful bills to crack open seeds.
Cardinals are usually active during the day, especially in the morning and evening. They are often monogamous, mating for life. Cardinal couples remain together all year. In the winter months, most cardinals will flock together and roost together. During the breeding season they are very territorial. Cardinals can be extremely aggressive when defending their territories. Males cardinals violently chase away competitors. They may also attack their reflections in windows, mirrors and other reflective surfaces.
During the mating season, male cardinals show affection toward female cardinals by feeding them beak-to-beak. Cardinals are exceptional parents. Male cardinals will feed and care for mother cardinals during and following incubation. While caring for his family, the bright red colors of a father cardinal change to a duller shade of brown similar to the mother, acting as a camouflage. Mother cardinals lay one to five white eggs with brown spots. Cardinal babies are helpless when first born. Mother and father cardinals both collect food to feed them. Father cardinals are very protective of mother cardinals and their babies. Young cardinals follow their parents on the ground after they leave the nest for several days. They remain with their parents until they are able to fend for themselves.
Cardinals are preyed upon by a variety of predators, especially birds of prey. Snakes, other birds, rodents and cats prey on their eggs and chicks.
Cardinals can live over 15 years in the wild.
THREATS TO CARDINALS
Cardinals are not rare and are protected under the Migratory Bird Act. While considered a common bird, even common bird populations are alarmingly declining due to irresponsible human activities. Loss of habitat, animal agriculture, pesticides and forestry are the largest threats to bird populations. Collisions with power lines, buildings and vehicles kills 900 million birds each year in the United States and Canada alone.
Blowfish, or pufferfish, are found in tropical and subtropical ocean waters and are known for their ability to inflate to make themselves inedible to predators. Some species also have sharp spines and contain toxins to protect themselves from predators.
Blowfish are in the family Tetraodontidae, which are primarily marine and estuarine fish of the order Tetraodontiformes. They go by many names, including: blowfish, pufferfish, puffers, balloonfish, bubblefish, globefish, swellfish, toadfish, toadies, honey toads, sugar toads and sea squab. They are closely related porcupinefish, which have large external spines (unlike the thinner, hidden spines of Tetraodontidae that are only visible puffed up).
Blowfish are generally believed to be the second-most poisonous vertebrates in the world, after the golden poison frog. Certain internal organs, such as their liver and sometimes their skin, contain tetrodotoxin and are highly toxic to most animals when eaten.
There are more than 120 species of pufferfish. They are most diverse in the tropics, relatively uncommon in the temperate zone, and completely absent from cold waters. They are typically small to medium in size, although a few species can reach lengths of greater than 39 inches. Most species live in inshore and in estuarine waters. 29 species spend their entire lifecycles in fresh water.
The blowfish's unique and distinctive natural defenses help compensate for their slow locomotion. They move by combining pectoral, dorsal, anal and caudal fins. This makes blowfish highly maneuverable, but very slow, and therefore an easy predation target.
Their tail fins are mainly used as a rudder, but can be used for a sudden evasive burst of speed. The puffer's excellent eyesight, combined with this speed burst, is the first and most important defense against predators.
A blowfish's backup defense mechanism is to fill its extremely elastic stomach with water (or air when outside the water) until it is much larger and almost spherical in shape. All pufferfish have pointed spines, so a hungry predator may suddenly find itself facing an unpalatable, pointy ball rather than a slow, tasty fish. Predators which do not heed this warning may die from choking, and predators that do manage to swallow the puffer may find their stomachs full of tetrodotoxin.
Not all blowfish are poisonous, and toxin level varies wildly even in fish that are. A puffer's neurotoxin is not necessarily as toxic to other animals as it is to humans, and pufferfish are eaten routinely by some species of fish such as lizardfish and tiger sharks.
Puffers are able to move their eyes independently, and many species can change the color or intensity of their patterns in response to environmental changes. In these respects, they are somewhat similar to the terrestrial chameleon. Although most blowfish are drab, many have bright colors and distinctive markings and make no attempt to hide from predators.
Many marine blowfish have a pelagic, or open-ocean, life stage. Spawning occurs after males slowly push females to the water surface or join females already present. The eggs are spherical and buoyant. Hatching occurs after roughly four days. Baby blowfish are very tiny, but under magnification they look similar to adult pufferfish. They have a functional mouth and eyes, and must eat within a few days.
Reproduction in freshwater species varies considerably. The dwarf puffers court with males following females. After the female accepts his advances, she will lead the male into plants or another form of cover where she can release eggs for fertilization. The male may help her by rubbing against her side.
Male pufferfish have been documented carving large geometric, circular structures in the seabed sand. The structures apparently serve to attract females and provide a safe place for them to lay their eggs.
THREATS TO BLOWFISH
Pollution and habitat loss threaten blowfish populations. Because they consume algae, pollution has a major impact on the food that is available to puffers. Some species are considered vulnerable enough to become endangered because of pollution.
Overfishing also threatens pufferfish populations. Blowfish flesh is considered a delicacy, despite the fact that its toxin is 1,200 times more poisonous to humans than cyanide.
Blowfish are also victims of the pet trade and animal entertainment industry. Captured from their native habitat and transported to various countries to be sold as aquarium "ornamentals", the dangers, difficulties, physical and physiological needs of the animals appears to be of no concern in the lucrative pet trade and animal entertainment industry. Removed from their natural habitat they are deprived of the ability to freely engage in instinctual behaviors. Even under the best of circumstances, captivity is cruel for fish. Confined to tiny tanks, captive fish endure constant stress and boredom. With little room to exercise, they become listless, their immune systems are weakened, and they become prone to sickness; many resort to self-mutilation in reaction to stress or boredom. Mental illness is rampant among confined animals. Torn from their families and deprived of all dignity, every part of their lives is controlled by their captors.
Dugongs are large marine mammals inhabiting warm ocean waters surrounding Australia and Indonesia. Most dugongs are concentrated around northern Australia, while they are also found throughout the Indo-Pacific tropics.
The legends of mermaids are believed to have originated when sailors viewed dugongs and manatees from a distance and mistakenly thought they were half-fish, half-human.
The dugong looks very similar to a manatee, and is very closely related, but the two are different species. Dugongs are smaller than manatees, about the size of a large cow. Tails of dugongs are usually forked like that of a shark, while the tails of manatees are broad and flat and look more flipper-like than fin-like. Dugongs are also closely related to elephants. Dugongs evolved millions of years ago when an elephant-like animal entered the water.
Male dugongs develop tusks between the ages of 12 and 15 years old. Females do not usually grow visible tusks.
Dugongs are strictly herbivorous animals, often called “cows of the sea”. Dugongs graze on aquatic plants and sea grasses growing in warm, shallow waters. Dugongs shake their heads to remove sand from their food. Since dugongs consume large amounts of sea plants, they frequently leave trails of bare sand and uprooted sea grass behind them.
Being mammals, dugongs needs to surface every six minutes to breathe atmospheric oxygen. They can also breathe by standing on their tails with their heads above the water.
Dugongs live on their own, in pairs or in communities. Dugongs use a variety of sounds to communicate with each other, including barks, chirp-squeaks and trills.
Female dugongs give birth to one baby approximately every five years. Baby dugongs are born underwater in the tropical shallows. Baby dugongs can swim immediately and surface the water to take their first breath. Mother and baby dugongs have a strong bond. Baby dugongs sometimes ride on their mother's back. Baby dugongs stay near their mothers until they are about 2 years old. Dugong calves reach full size at about 15 years old.
Dugongs live to be about 70 years old.
The main predators of dugongs are sharks, killer whales and crocodiles.
THREATS TO DUGONGS
Dugong populations have decreased dramatically due to chemical pollution, hunting, the commercial fishing industry and coastal development. While the dugong is now protected by law, their populations remain low due to slow reproduction. Dugongs are considered vulnerable to extinction due to hunting, pollution, boat collisions and getting caught in fishing nets.
Seals are carnivorous aquatic mammals with front and hind feet modified as flippers, or fin-feet. The name seal is sometimes applied broadly to any of the fin-footed mammals, or pinnipeds, including the walrus, the eared seals (sea lion and fur seal), and the true seals, also called earless seals, hair seals, or phocid seals. More narrowly the term is applied only to true seals.
Pinnipeds have streamlined bodies, rounded in the middle and tapered at the ends, with a thick layer of fat beneath the skin. Their limbs are short and their feet are long and webbed, forming flippers. Sea lions, fur seals and the walrus are able to turn their hind flippers forward for walking on land; they swim chiefly by a rowing action of the long front flippers. True seals are unable to rotate the hind flippers. They progress on land by wriggling on their bellies, pulling themselves with the short front flippers. In the water they are propelled by a side-to-side sweeping action of the hind flippers.
True seals are called earless seals because they lack external ears, though they have functional inner ears. They have short, coarse hair, usually with a close, dense undercoat. Their color and pattern vary with the species. Many are spotted. The pups of most species have fluffy coats of a light color. True seals are generally polygamous and gregarious, but most do not form harems at breeding time, as do the eared seals. Some species have definite migrations, but in most the seals spread out after breeding, singly or in groups, over a wide area of ocean. Some polar species migrate in winter to avoid the advancing ice; members of other species winter under the ice, surfacing through holes to breathe. Most true seal species fall into one of three geographical groups: northern, antarctic and warm-water species.
Nearly all pinnipeds are marine, and most inhabit cold or temperate regions. They have an amphibious lifestyle, spending most of their lives in the water but hauling out to mate, raise young, molt, rest, thermoregulate or escape from aquatic predators. Some spend most of the year in the open ocean, while others inhabit coastal waters and spend varying amounts of time on shores, islands or ice floes. Occasionally they ascend rivers.
All pinnipeds leave the water at least once a year, at breeding time. In nearly all species the females give birth a year after mating, so that the births take place on land, just before breeding begins. The pups are nursed on land.
Some species spend most of the year far from their breeding grounds. Several species are known to migrate vast distances. The northern fur seals make particularly lengthy migrations each year. Traveling seals may use various features of their environment to reach their destination including geomagnetic fields, water and wind currents, the position of the sun and moon and the taste and temperature of the water.
Pinnipeds have lifespans averaging 25–30 years. Females usually live longer, as males tend to fight and often die before reaching maturity. The longest recorded lifespans include 43 years for a wild female ringed seal and 46 years for a wild female grey seal. The age at which a pinniped sexually matures can vary from 2–12 years depending on the species. Females typically mature earlier than males.
All pinnipeds are carnivorous and predatory. Most have diets of fish and shellfish; many are bottom feeders, with physiological adaptations for deep diving. They have acute hearing and some, if not all, make use of echolocation (sonar) for underwater navigation. Pinnipeds may hunt solitarily or cooperatively. Though they can drink seawater, they get most of their fluid intake from the food they eat.
Pinnipeds themselves are subject to predation. Most species are preyed on by orcas. They are also targeted by terrestrial predators, including polar bears, bears, cougars, hyenas and various species of canids. Pinnipeds lessen the chance of predation by gathering in groups.
The mating system of pinnipeds varies from extreme polygyny to serial monogamy. Of the 33 species, 20 breed on land, and the remaining 13 breed on ice. Species that breed on land are usually polygynous, as females gather in large aggregations and males are able to mate with them as well as defend them from rivals. Land-breeding pinnipeds tend to mate on islands where there are fewer terrestrial predators. Few islands are favorable for breeding, and those that are tend to be crowded. Since the land they breed on is fixed, females return to the same sites for many years. The males arrive earlier in the season and wait for them. The males stay on land and try to mate with as many females as they can; some of them will even fast. If a male leaves the beach to feed, he will likely lose mating opportunities and his dominance. Since ice is less stable then solid land, pinnipeds that breed on ice change location each year.
All species go through delayed implantation, where the embryo remains in suspended development for weeks or months before it is implanted in the uterus. Delayed implantation postpones the birth of young until the female hauls-out on land or until conditions for birthing are favorable. Gestation in seals (including delayed implantation) typically lasts a year. For most species, birthing takes place in the spring and summer months. Typically, single pups are born; twins are uncommon and have high mortality rates.
Mother pinnipeds have different strategies for maternal care and lactation. Some seals remain on land or ice and fast during their relatively short lactation period–four days for the hooded seal and five weeks for elephant seals. The milk of these species consist of up to 60% fat, allowing the young to grow fairly quickly. Some, like the harbor seal, fast and nurse their pups for a few days at a time. In between nursing bouts, the females leave their young onshore to forage at sea. These foraging trips may last anywhere from a day to two weeks, depending on the abundance of food and the distance of foraging sites. While their mothers are away, the pups will fast.
Pinnipeds communicate with a number of vocalizations such as barks, grunts, rasps, rattles, growls, creaks, warbles, trills, chirps, chugs, clicks and whistles. Vocals are produced both in air and underwater. Vocalizations are particularly important during the breeding seasons. Dominant male elephant seals advertise their status and threaten rivals with "clap-threats" and loud drum-like calls. In some pinniped species, there appear to be geographic differences in vocalizations, known as dialects.
Seals are able to demonstrate an understanding of symmetry, transitivity and equivalence. They demonstrate the ability to understand syntax and musical rhythms. Some have been trained to imitate human words, phrases and laughter.
THREATS TO SEALS
Each year thousands of seals are killed in Canada. Seal-clubbing is justified by the Canadian government because its victims are adversely affecting the profits of the Newfoundland fishing industry.
A harp seal can be legally killed as soon as it has begun to moult its white hair, around 2 weeks after birth. Adult seals are also killed. The seal hunt is one of the very few hunts that occurs in the spring when young are being born. As a result, roughly 80% of the seals killed in the commercial hunt are 'young of the year' - between approximately 12 days and 1 year old.
Six species of seals - including the harp, hooded, grey, ringed, bearded and harbour - are found off the Atlantic coast of Canada. Harp and hooded seals are the two most common species hunted commercially. In recent years small numbers of grey seals have been hunted for commercial use. The majority of seal pelts are still exported to Norway for processing. The seal pelts are either used for furs or leather.
Seal hunting is inhumane. Groups have campaigned on the issue for years and their evidence shows all the horror of the hunt. Many people remember the worldwide protest that arose in the 1970s over Canada’s killing of whitecoat seal pups (under two weeks old). The massive protest, with international campaigning against the Canadian seal hunt during the 70s & 80s, led to the European Union ban on the importation of whitecoat pelts in 1983, and eventually to the Canadian government banning large-vessel commercial whitecoat hunting in 1987.
Canada's cod fishery collapsed in the early 90s, and some in Canada blamed the seals, despite the fact that the greatest cause was clearly decades of over-fishing by humans. The collapse of fisheries around Newfoundland, due to mismanagement, is a major driver in the expansion of the seal hunt.
Although the Canadian seal hunt is the largest in the world and has the highest profile internationally, sealing is also carried out in a number of other countries across the world including Greenland, Namibia, Russia, Norway and Sweden.
Seals are also common victims of the animal entertainment industry. Aquariums and marine mammal theme parks are part of a billion-dollar industry built on the suffering of intelligent, social beings who are denied everything that is natural and important to them. Animals are taken from the wild; their families torn apart.
Marine parks have shown no more interest in conserving marine mammals' natural habitats than they have in educating audiences. Cetaceans do not belong in captivity where they are forced to perform meaningless tricks. They are often separated from family members when they’re shuffled between parks. Most die far short of their natural life spans.
The living conditions at these attractions are often dismal, with animals confined to tiny, filthy, barren enclosures, but even the best artificial environments can’t come close to matching the space, diversity, and freedom that cetaceans have in their natural habitats.
Tapirs are large mammals with a pig-like appearance, an elephant-like snout and a tail like a rhinoceros. They are the most primitive large mammals on the planet, having been around for 20 million years – changing very little. They are most closely related to rhinos and horses. The tapir inhabits swamps, grasslands, forests and mountains in temperate regions of the Southern Hemisphere.
There are four recognized species of tapirs: Baird's tapir, Mountain tapir, Malayan tapir and Brazilian tapir. The Malayan tapir is the largest tapir, and the Mountain tapir is the smallest species. All recognized tapirs are endangered.
Baird's tapirs inhabit northern parts of South America and Central America. Baird's tapirs have unique, cream colored markings on their faces.
The Mountain tapir is the smallest tapir species and lives in mountainous regions. Mountain tapirs inhabit the high forests of the Andes mountains in Peru, Colombia and Ecuador.
The Malayan tapir, or Asian tapir, features a distinctive white band across their bodies. Malayan tapirs once inhabited tropical forests across South East Asia, but now have a much smaller range as a result of habitat loss.
The Brazilian tapir, or South American tapir, is an exceptional swimmer inhabiting the Amazon Rainforest.
In 2013 it was announced that a new species of tapir had been discovered in Columbia and Brazil. Named the Kabomani tapir, it was declared the largest mammal to be discovered in 100 years. The discovery proved to be controversial, with some experts stating the Kabomani tapir was actually a young Brazilian tapir.
Tapirs have long, flexible snouts like small elephant trunks. Tapirs use their prehensile noses to grab branches and leaves from trees and bushes. Tapirs have stocky bodies, small eyes and ears, and stubby tails. They are about the size of a donkey. They have 4 toes on their front feet and 3 toes on their back feet. They are able to swim and tend to stay close to water to cool down and remove parasites. Tapirs dive into shallow waters to feed on aquatic plants. They use their snouts as snorkels if they need to hide under water from predators.
Tapirs are herbivores, feeding on twigs, leaves, branches, shoots, buds, fruits and aquatic plants. To locate watering holes and vegetation, they follow paths made by many tapirs that have traveled the same trails. Tapirs are very ecologically important as they disperse seeds through their feces as they move about.
Tapirs are either solitary or social. They graze together in groups called candles, and come together during mating season. Tapirs communicate verbally with high pitched sounds. They also communicate non-verbally with urine droppings. Urine marks communicate if there are other tapirs in the area.
Tapir mating season takes place in April and May. Following a gestation period of over a year, mother tapirs give birth to only one tapir baby. When first born, baby tapirs have yellow and white stripes and spots on reddish-brown fur which provides camouflage. After a few months, they lose the marks. Baby tapirs stay with their mothers until they are 2 to 3 years old.
Being large animals, tapirs have few natural predators. They are preyed upon by jaguars, tigers, cougars, crocodiles and large snakes.
Tapirs live up to 30 years in the wild.
THREATS TO TAPIRS
All four recognized tapir species are endangered due to habitat loss, deforestation, animal agriculture and hunting. Tapirs are hunted for their meat and skin. They increasingly must compete with livestock.
The IUCN's Tapir Specialist Group has not declared the proposed Kabomani tapir species a "unit of conservation importance," and it has not received a categorization on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The arctic fox is the smallest member of canine family. There are 5 subspecies of arctic fox. Arctic foxes inhabit the tundra throughout the Arctic Circle. Arctic foxes can be found in Iceland, Greenland, Northern Europe, Russia, Canada and Alaska.
Arctic foxes have thick white fur during the winter and grey-brownish fur during the summer; offering seasonal camouflage. Arctic foxes have small ears, round bodies and short legs - which helps prevent loss of body heat in their cold ecosystems. The Arctic fox also curls its bushy tail around its body to keep warm. The paws of the arctic fox have thick fur to help in moving across snow and ice.
Arctic foxes live in underground burrows with as many as 100 entrances. These arctic fox burrows can be hundreds of years old and are passed on through the generations of arctic foxes. Arctic fox territories are about 9.6 square miles, but they look for food in a much larger range.
Arctic foxes feed on lemmings, fish, voles, sea birds and their eggs, and seal pups. They also take advantage of leftovers from polar bears. The number of arctic foxes in the wild often depends on the number of lemmings. A lot of lemmings means a lot of arctic foxes.
A fox is a member of any of 27 species of small omnivorous canids. The animal most commonly called a fox in the Western world is the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), although different species of foxes can be found on almost every continent. With most species roughly the size of a domestic cat, foxes are smaller than other members of the family Canidae, such as wolves, jackals, and domestic dogs.
Recognizable characteristics also include pointed muzzles and bushy tails. Other physical characteristics vary according to their habitat. For example, the Desert Fox has large ears and short fur, whereas the Arctic Fox has small ears and thick, insulating fur. Unlike many canids, foxes are not pack animals.
Foxes are solitary, opportunistic feeders that hunt live prey (especially rodents). Using a pouncing technique practiced from an early age, they are usually able to kill their prey quickly. Foxes also gather a wide variety of other foods ranging from grasshoppers to fruit and berries. Foxes are nearly always extremely wary of humans, and are not kept as pets. However, foxes are to be readily found in cities and domestic gardens.
Foxes do not come together in chorus like wolves or coyotes do. Fox families, however, keep in contact with a wide array of different sounds. These sounds grade into one another and span five octaves; each fox has its own characteristically individual voice. Fox noises can be divided, with a few exceptions, into two different groups: contact sounds and interaction sounds. The former is used by foxes communicating over long distances, the latter in close quarters.
"Wow-wow-wow": The most well-known vulpine noise is a sort of barking that spans three to five syllables. Conversations made up of these noises often occur between widely spaced foxes. As their distance decreases, the sound becomes quieter. A cub is greeted with the quietest version of this sound.
The alarm bark: This monosyllabic sound is made by an adult to warn cubs of danger. From far away it sounds like a sharp bark, but at closer range it resembles a muffled cough, like a football rattle or a stick along a picket fence.
Gekkering: This is a stuttering, throaty noise made at aggressive encounters. It is most frequently heard in the courting season, or when kits are at play.
The vixen's wail: This is a long, drawn-out, monosyllabic, and rather eerie wail most commonly made during the breeding season; it is widely thought that it is made by a vixen in heat summoning dog-foxes. Contrary to common belief, however, it is also made by the males, evidently serving some other purpose as well. This noise fits into neither the contact nor the interaction group.
THREATS TO ARCTIC FOXES
Foxes are at risk from habitat loss, inhumane trapping, hunting and vehicle deaths. Fox penning is an indefensible and barbaric blood sport in which dozens of dogs compete in a fenced-in area to chase - and sometimes rip apart - foxes and coyotes taken from the wild.
Foxes are senselessly tortured and killed to satisfy the dictates of fashion. Wild-caught fox fur is obtained by setting traps or snares. Once an animal is caught, it may remain in the trap or snare for several days starving or slowly strangling. Farm-raised fox fur comes from animals kept in tiny, filthy cages, deprived of adequate protection from the elements. As a result, animals develop stereotypical behavior, including pacing, head bobbing and self-mutilation. On fur farms, foxes are electrocuted by placing a metal clamp on the snout and forcing a rod into the anus, and then connecting the metal to a power source. Some animals are forced into bags or boxes and gassed with carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide.
Coati are medium-sized mammals found only on the American continent. The coati is widely distributed in a variety of different habitats across North, Central and South America.
Coati primarily live in dense forests and wet jungles. Most coati spend the majority of their time in the safety of the trees. Some coati populations do inhabit mountains, grasslands and even deserts.
There are four different species of coati. Two species of coati, the Mountain coati and the Ring-tailed coati, live in South America. The Cozumel Island coati lives in Mexico. The White-nosed coati lives in Central America and North America.
The Mountain coati inhabits areas of South America in the Andes Mountain range. The Mountain coati is sometimes called the Dwarf Coati as it is the smallest species of coati.
The Ring-tailed coati lives in tress and on the ground in jungles and rainforests of South America. The Ring-tailed coati has thick, tan colored fur with black bands running along the tail.
The Cozumel Island coati inhabits only the Mexican island of Cozumel. It is believed they were taken there by the Mayans. The Cozumel Island coati and the White-nosed coati are very similar but are considered separate species.
The White-nosed coati inhabits parts of Central America, including Mexico, and North America. The White-nosed coati is the largest species of coati.
Male coati are solitary animals and only come together with other coati during mating. Female coatis live in tribes, called bands, of 10 to 30 animals.
Coati are nocturnal animals, active during the night. They are omnivorous, feeding on both plants and animals. The coati eats a variety of seeds, nuts, fruits, insects, birds eggs, reptiles and rodents.
Coati breeds at the beginning of rainy seasons occurring at different times throughout the year depending on the region. This time of year provides an abundance of food. Female coati leave their band and construct nests in trees or on rocky ledges. Mother coatis give birth to 2 to 7 coati babies following a 3 month gestation period. Baby coatis join their mother's band when they are about 6 weeks old.
Coatis are small and therefor easy prey for a variety of predators including pumas, jaguars, wildcats, snakes, crocodiles and birds of prey.
THREATS TO COATIS
Coati are threatened by habitat loss and hunting. Coati are hunted throughout their range for skin and food. In the United States coati are often caught in traps set for other species, killed by hunters ostensibly looking for other species, or fall victim to 'predator' control campaigns. They disappeared from the Burro Mountains in New Mexico following a Coyote Canis latrans poisoning campaign.
In addition, the coati population in the United States is suspected to be losing genetic contact with populations further south, potentially leading to coati extirpation in the United States.
Hyena are dog-like mammals native to parts of Asia and Africa. Once ranging across Africa, Asia and Europe, hyenas are mostly limited to the African Savannah today, with the exception of the striped hyena inhabiting the jungles of India and western Asia. Hyenas live in savannas, grasslands, forests and sub-deserts. They are one of the most abundant large carnivores in Africa.
There are four known species of hyena: the striped hyena, the spotted hyena, the brown hyena and the aardwolf. All four hyena species have a bear-like stance. Their front legs are longer than their back legs. The brown hyena, the striped hyena and the aardwolf have striped manes on top of their neck that stand erect when the hyena is frightened. The spotted hyena's mane is much shorter than the other hyena species and stands erect most of the time.
Male and female hyenas appear very similar and have similar genitals, but they are not hermaphrodites (animals that are both male and female). Only female hyenas give birth.
The largest hyena is the spotted hyena. The smallest hyena is the aardwolf.
Most hyenas are carnivorous, often eating another animal's kill rather than catching their own prey. Hyenas also hunt in packs. Hyenas will fight with each other over food sources. Hyenas will hide extra food in watering holes. They eat every part of the animal, including hooves and bones. Aardwolves are insectivores, feeding only on termites.
Hyenas are incredibly intelligent animals. They are nocturnal, active at night.
Hyenas communicate with various postures, sounds and signals. They are well known for their cackling laugh-like screams. It is believed hyenas use this laughter to alert other hyenas of food sources. Hyenas can hear this call up to three miles away. The pitch and tone of a hyena’s laugh can indicate its social status and age.
The hyena has exceptionally strong jaws in relation to its body size. The female spotted hyena is more dominant and larger than the male hyena. Female spotted hyenas always rank higher than males in the clan. Brown hyenas, striped hyenas and aardwolves have male-dominated clans.
Most hyenas form packs, communities of up to 80 members. The hyena den is the center of their pack territory. Hyena packs hunt for food as a group. Aardwolves, however, are solitary hyenas and usually only gather during the mating season.
Mothers in a clan share the responsibility of nursing each others' babies. Clan members bring food to the den for the cubs. Gestation lasts for 90 to 110 days, with 2 to 4 cubs being born. The mother raises her babies in a natal den, a special place reserved only for mothers and babies. Cubs battle to establish dominance and to win over the best feeding positions because female hyenas have only two nipples. Fights between cubs can sometimes be fatal. Weaker and smaller cubs can die of starvation. Mother hyenas milk their cubs for 12 to 18 months. Cubs begin to also eat meat in about 5 months.
Hyenas have no natural predators. They live up to 21 years in the wild.
THREATS TO HYENAS
Hyenas are threatened by habit loss caused by animal agriculture. They are often killed by ranchers. Populations of hyenas are declining due to poaching, loss of habitat and food sources and persecution by humans. Hyenas have also been hunted for traditional medicine ingredients. The brown hyena is in danger of extinction. The striped hyena is threatened.
The polar bear rivals the Kodiak bear as the largest four-footed carnivore on earth and can live up to 25 years. Although the polar bear’s coat appears white, each individual hair is actually a clear hollow tube that channels the sun’s energy directly to the bear’s skin and helps it stay warm. The polar bear’s entire body is furred, even the bottom of its paws. That helps prevent bears from slipping on the ice. The polar bear is classified as a marine mammal. Its feet are partially webbed for swimming, and its fur is water-repellent. A formidable predator, it has extremely sharp claws.
Males are 8 to 11 feet long and weigh 500 to 1,100 pounds but can reach as much as 1,500 pounds. Females are smaller, measuring 6 to 8 feet long, and weigh from 350 to 600 pounds, occasionally reaching 700 pounds.
Worldwide there are thought to be 22,000-27,000 polar bears in 19 separate populations. They can be found in the United States, Canada, Russia, Greenland and on the Arctic islands of Norway. There are estimated to be about 3,000 to 5,000 polar bears in Alaska.
Polar bears are found throughout the Arctic and are the most nomadic of all bear species. They travel an average of 5,500 miles a year or 15 miles a day. In the United States, polar bears are located in two Alaskan populations: the Chukchi/Bering Seas of western Alaska and the Beaufort Sea off northern Alaska. The entire circumpolar Arctic region is polar bear habitat. They are equally comfortable in the water and on land. Polar bears can be found on pack ice, coastal islands, coastlines and even out in Arctic waters. They are exceptional swimmers and have been observed in the sea more than 100 miles from the nearest land or pack ice.
Polar bears are strictly carnivores and feed or scavenge only meat. Their primary prey is the ringed seal though they also take bearded, harp and hooded seals and the occasional walrus youngster. They will also scavenge walrus and whale carcasses. That sometimes results in temporary aggregations of polar bears at such sites. Other species, such as the Arctic fox, rely entirely upon "polar bear left-overs" after the bears have eaten their fill of seal skin and blubber, leaving the remaining meat for such scavengers.
The two main focuses of this solitary creature's life are to conserve energy and to hunt. Only pregnant females dig dens and hibernate in the traditional sense for extended periods. The other bears may enter into what is referred to as "walking hibernation" where they remain active and continue to hunt and feed, even though some of their metabolic processes may slow (decreased heart rates, respiration, lowered temperatures, etc.). Polar bears depend mostly on their sense of smell to determine the location of prey. Their white coats make great camouflage for hunting seals, and they will wait patiently for hours next to a seal’s air hole waiting for the seal to take a breath. Once the seal arrives, the polar bear will use its immense strength and sharp claws to clutch the seal and drag it through the small blowhole.
Females are able to breed at the age of five years. They dig dens either on the coastal mainland or out on the drifting pack ice in late October or early November, and then remain denned until the next spring. An average of two cubs are born, each weighing about 1 pound at birth and growing to about 15 pounds by the time they emerge in the spring. The cubs have much to learn and usually remain with their mothers for more than two years.
Polar bear populations must have pack ice to survive and can travel thousands of miles over the course of a year, following the advance and retreat of sea ice. Seal populations are abundant on pack ice, where currents and wind interact with the ice, continually melting and refreezing the edges, making it accessible to both predator and prey.
Older, stable pack ice is essential to the polar bear’s continued existence. It is where polar bears hunt, mate and den. Pregnant females make dens in the soft deep snows of the ice. They will give birth in these dens and the snow will insulate both mother and cubs over the harsh Arctic winter. Without a stable ice pack to accumulate sufficient snow, there can be no dens. The ice is also the seal’s habitat. Polar bears are strong swimmers, but they are not adept at catching seals in open water. The ice is necessary for successful hunts, where the bears stalk the seals using their breathing holes. Changes in the conditions of the ice have forced seals to move and give birth in different areas, making it more difficult for the polar bears to find and feed on them. Without ready and plentiful food, pregnant female polar bears cannot build the fat reserves they need to survive a denning period.
THREATS TO POLAR BEARS
With shrinking ice and inaccessibility to prey, polar bears could be extinct by 2050. Their habitat is melting away. When animals lose their natural habitat they will seek other means to secure food. Just as black bears will come into towns and communities in search of food, polar bears, attracted by garbage or animal carcasses, will enter areas of human population. When they do so, they can be killed. Although it is illegal to kill a polar bear, human caused mortality still remains a factor in the decline of this endangered animal.
To help save the polar bear, we must support strengthening of the Endangered Species Act and include the polar bears’ prey base, suspend new Arctic gas and oil development until the bear population and their sea-ice habitat are fully protected and eliminate all trophy hunting throughout the Arctic. Laws against poaching must be strictly enforced and programs implemented that offer rewards for information leading to their conviction.
Seahorses are marine fish belonging to the genus Hippocampus of the family Syngnathidae. They are found in temperate and tropical waters all over the world.
Seahorses range in size from 16 mm to 35 cm. They are notable for being the only species where the males get pregnant.
The seahorse is a true fish, with a dorsal fin located on the lower body and pectoral fins located on the head near their gills. Some species of seahorse are partly transparent.
Sea dragons are close relatives of seahorses but have bigger bodies and leaf-like appendages which enable them to hide among floating seaweed or kelp beds. Sea dragons feed on larval fishes and amphipods, such as small shrimp-like crustaceans called mysids (sea lice), sucking up their prey with their small mouths. Many of these amphipods feed on red algae that thrives in the shade of the kelp forests where the sea dragons live.
Seahorses reproduce in an unusual way: the male becomes pregnant. Most seahorse species pregnancies last approximately two to three weeks.
The male seahorse has a brood pouch where he carries eggs deposited by the female. The mating pair entwines their tails and the female aligns a long tube, called ovipositor, with the male's pouch. The eggs move through the tube into the male's pouch where he then fertilizes them. The embryos will develop between ten days and six weeks, depending on species and water conditions. When the male gives birth, he pumps his tail until the baby seahorses emerge.
The males pouch regulates salinity for the eggs, slowly increasing in the pouch to match the water outside as the eggs mature. Once the offspring hatch, the male releases them and is done caring for them.
Once released, the offspring are independent of their parents. Some spend time among the ocean plankton developing before settling down and hitching as their parents do. Other species (H. zosterae) hitch immediately and begin life in the benthos.
Seahorses are frequently monogamous, though several species (H. zosterae and H. abdominalis) are highly gregarious. In monogamous pairs, the male and female will greet one another with courtship displays in the morning, and in the evening to reinforce their pair bond. They spend the rest of the day separate from each other hunting for food.
THREATS TO SEAHORSES
Seahorse populations have been endangered in recent years by overfishing. The seahorse is used in traditional Chinese herbology, and as many as 20 million seahorses may be caught each year and sold for this purpose.
Import and export of seahorses is controlled under CITES since May 15, 2004.
Bats are often unappreciated but are actually beneficial by providing controls of insects that may spread diseases or are annoying and harmful to our outdoor activities. They are vitally important in agricultural settings as well by controlling potential insect crop pests and the spread of plant diseases.
Bats are the only mammals capable of true flight. The bat's wing anatomically resembles the human hand, with extremely elongated fingers and a wing membrane stretched between. Over 1,000 bat species can be found worldwide. In fact, bats make up a quarter of all mammal species on earth. Thirteen species of bat are listed as endangered.
Because their wings are much thinner than those of birds, bats can maneuver more quickly and more precisely than birds. The surface of their wings are also equipped with touch sensitive receptors on small bumbs called "Merkel cells", which is found in most mammals, including humans. But these sensitive areas are different in bats as there are tiny hairs in the center, making it even more sensitive and they detect and collect information about the air flowing over the wings. Another kind of receptor cells are found in the wing membrane in species who are using their wings to catch prey, and is sensitive to the stretching of the membrane. These cells are concentrated in the areas of the membrane where insects hit the wings when the bats capture them.
Bats are divided into two suborders: Megachiroptera, meaning large bat, and Microchiroptera, meaning small bat. The largest bats have a 6 foot wing span. The bodies of the smallest bats are no more than an inch long. While some bat populations number in the millions, others are dangerously low or in decline. Most bats live longer than most mammals of their size. The longest known lifespan of a bat in the wild is 30 years for a little brown bat. Bats can be found almost anywhere in the world except the polar regions and extreme deserts. They find shelter in caves, crevices, tree cavities, and buildings.
Bats specialize in different foods. Seventy percent of all bats consume insects. There are also fruit-eating bats; nectar-eating bats; carnivorous bats that prey on small mammals, birds, lizards, and frogs; fish-eating bats; and the blood-eating vampire bats of South America. Some of the smaller bat species are important pollinators of some tropical flowers. Indeed, many tropical plants are now found to be totally dependent on them, not just for pollination, but for spreading their seeds by eating the resulting fruits.
Some bats have evolved a highly sophisticated sense of hearing. They emit sounds that bounce off of objects in their path, sending echoes back to the bats. From these echoes, the bats can determine the size of objects, how far away they are, how fast they are traveling, and even their texture — all in a split second.
Bats vary in social structure, with some bats leading a solitary life and others living in caves colonized by more than a million bats. The fission fusion social structure is seen among several species of bats. The fusion part is all the individuals in a roosting area. The fission part is the breaking apart and mixing of subgroups by switching roosts with bats, ending up with bats in different trees and often with different roostmates. Studies also show that bats make all kinds of sounds to communicate with each other. Scientists in the field have listened to bats and have been able to identify some sounds with some behavior bats will make right after the sounds are made.
For their size, bats are the slowest reproducing mammals on earth. The vast majority of bats bear only one offspring a year. A baby bat at birth weighs up to 25 percent of its mother's body weight, which is like a human mother giving birth to a 31-pound baby. Offspring typically are cared for in maternity colonies, where females congregate to bear and raise their young. A baby bat is referred to as a pup. Pups are usually left in the roost when they are not nursing. However, a newborn bat can cling to the fur of the mother like a pouch and be transported, although they soon grow too large for this. It would be difficult for an adult bat to carry more than one young, but normally only one young is born. Bats often form nursery roosts, with many females giving birth in the same area, be it a cave, a tree hole, or a cavity in a building. Mother bats are able to find their young in huge colonies of millions of other pups. Pups have even been seen to feed on other mothers' milk if their mother is dry. Only the mother cares for the young, and there is no continuous partnership with male bats. The ability to fly is congenital, but after birth the wings are too small to fly. Young microbats become independent at the age of 6 to 8 weeks, megabats not until they are four months old. At the age of two years bats are sexually mature.
Most bats hibernate from November through March because their food source (insects) is relatively scarce during the winter months.
THREATS TO BATS
The greatest threat to bats is people. Habitat destruction and fear are a lethal combination for bats. In some areas, people have even been known to set fires in caves, destroying thousands of roosting bats.
Bat populations are declining worldwide, some due to habitat loss, but mainly due to a relatively new disease called White-Nose Syndrome (WNS). This disease kills many hibernating bats annually by sapping their energy reserves that have been stored up to survive the long winter months. WNS causes the bats to awaken, possibly several times during the winter, which further drains the bat’s energy reserves. The disease may also damage their air passages and wings.
Protecting areas where bats hibernate (hibernacula) and staying out of caves in the winter months helps to avoid the potential spread of WNS. Creating habitat by retaining shaggy bark trees like white oak and shagbark hickory provides roosting sites during summer months for many bats. Restoring or creating areas like ephemeral pools and wetlands also create potential food sources in the summer.
The most common snake of the Anaconda genus is the green anaconda. These snakes are found in the tropical forests of South America and have the scientific name, Eunectes murinus. All members of the Eunectes genus are aquatic and found in South America; namely Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia Venezuela and Trinidad & Tobago.
The green anaconda is considered the largest snake in the world. Its cousin, the reticulated python, rivals the anaconda in length, but the anaconda’s girth makes it nearly twice as heavy. The green anaconda can grow to be 29 feet in length and 12 inches in girth. It is not uncommon for them to weigh in at 550 pounds. Females tend to be significantly larger than males. The yellow, dark spotted and Bolivian anaconda species are all a good deal smaller than the green anaconda.
Being aquatic, anacondas prefer to live in the swamps, marshes and slow moving rivers of the Amazon and Orinoco basins. On land in the tropical rainforests, anacondas are slow and clumsy, but in the water they are deadly. With their eyes and nasal slits located directly on top of their heads, anacondas can lay in wait for prey while almost completely submerged and hidden from sight. Their dark green color and body pattern affords them effective camouflage.
The green anaconda preys upon deer, birds, fish, turtles, capybara, caimans and the occasional jaguar. They can go weeks or even months without eating after a particularly large meal. Anacondas are nonvenemous and dispatch their prey by wrapping their thick, muscular body around it and constricting until the animal asphyxiates. Since the majority of their hunting is done in water, the anaconda’s prey is as likely to die from drowning as from constriction. Their jaws are attached by stretchy ligaments which allow them to swallow their kill whole. They are able to consume prey up to 50% of their own body size. A myth about anacondas is that they “unhinge” their jaws in order to swallow large prey. In reality, their jaws are not hinged like those of humans at all.
Anacondas sense nearby prey through a series of vibrations. They also detect chemical cues in the air with their forked tongues and Jacobson’s organs. Males of the species use these mechanisms to sense female pheromones during breeding season. Anacondas also have pit organs along their upper lip that allow them to detect heat signatures given off by potential prey. Their visual and auditory senses are poorly developed in comparison, but likely play a small role in hunting for prey.
Predation upon the anaconda is dependent upon the age and health of the individual snake. Young anacondas experience a high mortality rate, and are therefore very aggressive. Jaguars and caiman prey upon young snakes. Snakes in dryer areas experience higher levels of predation than those living in river basins. Large anacondas experience far fewer instances of predation, especially females who sometimes kill and eat males during mating season. When under attack, green anacondas burrow into the mud or flee into the water where they are much faster and more agile. If unable to escape an attack, they will coil into a ball to protect their head and emit an odor from their cloacal glands.
A group of anacondas is referred to as a bed or knot. During mating season, a knot of competing males will surround a female forming a breeding ball that can last up to four weeks. The males coil around the female and fight to gain access to her cloaca. The female may breed with several of these males during this period, and sometimes will eat the males after mating. It is not uncommon for a pregnant female to feed on nothing else until after birth, so this behavior ensures her survival. Competing males rarely fight with one another over a mate, and after breeding migrate back to their home territory or continue on in search of other females.
Unlike other snake species, the female anaconda retains her eggs until the time of birth. She delivers two to four dozen live young at the end of her seven month gestation period. Females mate during the dry season, usually March – May, then remain mostly inactive for the following seven months. They give birth in shallow water in the late afternoon or evening during the wet season. The group of live young is referred to as a clutch. Scientists have found that clutch size is proportional to the size of the snake, with larger females having larger clutches. This may be due to larger females having greater fat reserves than smaller females. Breeding usually occurs every other year allowing the females to recuperate from the trying tasks of breeding, pregnancy and birth. The average lifespan of the anaconda is approximately ten years in the wild and up to thirty years in captivity.
Anacondas are extremely adaptable to their environment, aiding in their survival in harsh tropical environments. During the dry period, the anaconda must either migrate in search of water or burrow into the mud for survival. Those that burrow underground enter a state of dormancy for the duration of the dry period. Anacondas living in direct proximity to river basins are usually spared this survival technique.
Anacondas are most active in the early evening when the oppressive tropical heat is less intense. They are able to cover long distances in short periods of time, especially when searching for water in the dry season, or when males are seeking females for breeding. Anacondas are poikilotherms, meaning they cannot regulate their own body temperature. They strategically position their bodies into the path of the sun for heat regulation.
THREATS TO ANACONDAS
Anacondas have little impact on the indigenous people of South America. They are one of the only snakes capable of killing and consuming a human, but since humans do not typically live in areas where anacondas thrive, these deaths are rare. Some Brazilians and Peruvians believe that the anaconda possesses magical and spiritual powers. They kill snakes and sell their body parts for use in rituals.
Majestic sea dwellers, superb hunters and socially complex beings, orcas (also known as killer whales or blackfish) are the largest members of the oceanic family Delphinidae, which includes dolphins, pilot whales, melon-headed whales and false killer whales. They’re found in every ocean in the world and most seas as well, including the Arctic and Antarctic regions and the warmer seas of the Mediterranean and Arabian, but have been counted in highest densities in the North Atlantic and Pacific oceans, in the Gulf of Alaska and Southern Ocean. Although they can have an enormous range, they typically tend to prefer to stay closer to coastal areas versus swimming in deeper ocean waters.
Their striking coloration is what makes the orca most recognizable; they have a black back with a white chest and sides, and a distinctive white area above and behind their eye. Large, paddle-like pectoral fins assist in fine manoeuvring , while sharp teeth and strong jaws allow them to firmly hang on to thrashing prey. With a robust skeletal frame, an orca’s body is much heavier and larger than a dolphin’s, and they have an erect dorsal fin that can stand as tall as 2 meters in height for some males, over 6 feet. Males are generally larger, and can range from 7 to 9 meters long (20 to 30 feet) and may weigh as much as 6 tons. Female orcas are smaller in size, around 6 to 8 meters (20 to 26 feet) in length and weighing between 3 and 4 tons, with a shorter, more triangular dorsal fin. Their size and strength make them capable of swimming at some of the fastest speeds among all marine mammals; some whales can actually reach swimming speeds of over 55 km/hour.
Unlike some other oceanic residents, orcas have excellent eyesight both above and below water, as well as well developed senses of hearing and touch. In addition, they use echolocation (a series of audible clicks) to locate their prey and navigate around obstacles in the water. Orcas are also adaptable to a variety of water temperatures. Although they have an average body temperature between 36 to 38 °C (97 to 100 °F), they also have a thick layer of blubber that acts as insulation between them and the elements. Orcas swimming close to the surface have a faster average heartbeat than when submerged – 60 beats per minute versus 20 beats per minute. Their lifespan in the wild depends on a number of factors, but females tend to live an average of 50 years, and males around 29 years.
Interestingly, there are three to five different subgroups (perhaps even subspecies) of orcas themselves, with variances in appearance, prey preference and hunting behavior that make each subgroup unique. Resident orca populations tend to have rounded dorsal fin tips ending in a sharp corner, eat mainly fish and squid, live in strongly bonded family groups (pods), and visit the same areas on a consistent basis. Transient orcas, on the other hand, are far more migratory and travel in smaller groups. They tend to have less complex dialects of vocalizations, too. In appearance, they have a distinctive solid grey area around their dorsal fins, which are more triangular and pointed than resident orcas’. Finally, offshore orca populations travel further from shore, feeding mainly on schooling fish, but also hunting other mammals and sharks. They tend to gather in much larger groups ranging from 20 to 75 in number, and they tend to be smaller in size than both resident and transient orca populations. The lifestyle of these different populations seems to be closely linked with their diet preference – for example, fish-eating whales in northern waters have close social structures, while orcas in Argentina that prefer to eat mammals behave more like transient whales.
While orcas may appear to look similar, their prey preference can be tremendously varied, though often specific to a certain population. Fish, squid, mammals, sea birds, sea turtles, rays, and even larger whales and sharks may be on the orca prey menu. Unfortunately for their chosen food, they’re also skilled and cooperative hunters that travel in packs to capture their prey. Different types of orcas also use different and specialized hunting techniques; Norwegian killer whales use a method called carousel feeding, for example, where they herd herring into a ball with nets of bubbles, then slap the fish with their tails to stun or kill them. Whale and shark hunting orcas will stalk their prey as a group, separating them and forcing them into immobility (in the case of sharks) or not allowing them to surface, causing them to drown. Finally, mammal-feeding orcas (who feed on seals, penguins, sea lions and sea otters) disable their prey by throwing it, slapping it with their tails, ramming it or breaching and landing on it.
More than their unique hunting techniques, however, the rich and complex social structure of orcas is what fascinates most scientists and enthusiasts. In resident orca populations, pods typically consist of one to four related matriarchs and their descendants. Offspring live with their mothers for their entire lives, and as many as four generations may migrate and hunt together, using the same dialect to communicate with each other. Several pods may come together to form clans, which are groups that share similar dialects (languages) of vocalizations. Transient orca societies tend to be smaller, however; usually made up of a single female and one or two of her offspring, though males tend to stay with their mothers for a longer period of time.
Orcas usually only leave their societal groups for short periods of time, either to hunt, or to mate. Female orcas reach sexual maturity at around age 10, and gestation of orca calves lasts anywhere from 15 to 18 months long, with a single offspring birthed around once every five years for a fertile female. The first seven or eight months are critical for calves; 37% to 50% of all orca calves die before they reach their first birthday. Females begin weaning their calves at around 12 months, and most calves are completely weaned by age two. All the members in a pod (both male and female) help to care for the young orcas, playing with them, teaching them hunting skills, and using particular family calls to help familiarize new calves with the pod dialect. The females tend to reach the end of their breeding years around age 40, but many go through menopause and continue to thrive for decades after they’re no longer fertile.
THREATS TO ORCAS
Recent studies have found that orcas are among the most contaminated marine mammals in the world. Pollution and chemical contamination make orcas more susceptible to disease and likely cause reproductive difficulties.
Human activity is the largest threat to populations of orcas, although the IUCN has lately recognized that they need more data on individual orca types, as they may actually be separate (and potentially endangered) species. Human fishing practices have resulted in the reduction of available prey for many orca populations, while pollution, oil spills, and noisy habitat disturbances (like military sonar use, shipping and drilling) are significant concerns for orcas all over the world. The southern resident community, made up of three pods that live in the Georgia and Haro Straits and Puget Sound, has been listed as an endangered population under the EDA in the last decade, while The Alaska and Prince William Sound resident orca pods were so devastated by the Exxon Valdez spill that the entire population in that region is expected to eventually die out.
Hundreds of orcas, dolphins and other members of the dolphin family are held in captivity in the United States. While the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), passed in 1972, makes it more difficult to capture marine mammals from the wild, aquariums can still apply for permits or import animals caught in other countries. Whether wild caught or captive born, orcas and dolphins in captivity are sentenced to a life of confinement deprived of normal social and environmental interaction. Captured orcas and dolphins are confined to tanks as small as 24 feet by 24 feet wide and 6 feet deep. In tanks, the reverberations from their own sonar bouncing off walls drives some orcas and dolphins insane. Tanks are kept clean with chlorine, copper sulfate, and other harsh chemicals that irritate animals' eyes, causing many to swim with their eyes closed. Captured dolphins and orcas are often forced to learn tricks through food deprivation. Marine parks may withhold up to 60 percent of food before shows so that the animals will be "sharp" for performances. The stress of captivity is so great that some commit suicide.