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.
Pandas are famous for their black and white markings. The legs, shoulders, ears and oval patches around the eyes are black, and the rest of the coat is white. Good tree climbers, pandas can also swim to escape predators. Pandas use an enlarged wrist bone that looks like a thumb to grasp objects like bamboo. They weigh an average of 200 to 300 pounds and reach six feet in length.
The shrinking range of the panda is limited to parts of Szechuan, Shensi and Kansu provinces in central and western China. Only around 1,000 pandas exist in the wild, and about 60 in zoos. The panda’s lifespan in the wild is unknown but in captivity averages more than 20 years.
The panda lives in thick bamboo and coniferous forests (evergreens with seed cones) at 8,500 to 11,500 feet elevation. The panda’s digestive system does not absorb the fiber, so it must eat a lot. Despite being taxonomically a carnivore, the panda has a diet that is overwhelmingly herbivorous. The giant panda eats shoots and leaves, living almost entirely on bamboo. Pandas are also known to eat eggs, the occasional fish, and some insects along with their bamboo diet. These are necessary sources of protein.
These solitary animals spend most of their days feeding. Although they live in cold forests, pandas do not hibernate. They move to lower elevations during winter to keep warm and to higher elevations in summer to stay cool. They do not have permanent homes but sleep at the bottom of trees and under stumps and rock ledges.
After a gestation period of 125 to 150 days, a mother panda gives birth to one or two young, but only one survives. Eyes open at six to eight weeks, and the cub starts to move around at three months. Weaned at six months, the cub becomes independent after a year.
For many decades the precise taxonomic classification of the panda was under debate as both the giant panda and the distantly related red panda share characteristics of both bears and raccoons. However, genetic testing seems to have revealed that giant pandas are true bears and part of the Ursidae family. Its closest bear relative is the Spectacled Bear of South America.
The giant panda has long been a favorite of the public, at least partly on account of the fact that the species has an appealing baby like cuteness that makes it seem to resemble a living teddy bear. The fact that it is usually depicted reclining peacefully eating bamboo, as opposed to hunting, also adds to its image of innocence. Though the giant panda is often assumed docile because of their cuteness, they have been known to attack humans, usually assumed to be out of irritation rather than predatory behavior.
THREATS TO PANDAS
The future of pandas is threatened due to habitat loss from increasing human populations; poaching; and periodic bamboo die-offs. Giant pandas are an endangered species. Their main threat is habitat destruction. As the population of China continues to grow, panda habitat, and the bamboo they feed on, is lost to development. Mining and agriculture also threaten panda habitat, as well as tourists.
Since pandas reproduce so infrequently, it is difficult for their population to recover. Wildlife reserves in parts of China seek to maintain habit for pandas, though China has been criticized for showing little interest in true conservation. The Chinese government rents pandas to zoos around the world.
Few pandas have been born in zoos, and only a handful of those have been released into the wild; the majority of which did not survive. The enormous amount of money spent on panda breeding programs has been criticized, as the money could be used much more effectively by saving wild habitats.
Zoo pandas suffer the same stresses all wild animals face in captivity. They are moved from zoo to zoo, usually more for political and economic reasons rather than genetic management. Their natural habitat can never be truly simulated, leading to changes in behavior, prolonged inactivity, health problems, stereotypical behavior and lower levels of immunity creating higher susceptibility to illness and disease. Putting pandas' welfare above propaganda and profits, pandas should be put in refuges out of the public eye to eliminate the stress they endure due to such exposure.
The elephant is the largest land mammal on earth and perhaps one of the most intelligent. The trunk of the elephant has two finger-like structures at its tip that allow the animal to perform both delicate and powerful movements. Its remarkable tusks first appear when the animal is two years of age and continue to grow throughout life. Elephants use tusks for peeling bark off trees, digging for roots, herding young, “drilling” for water and sometimes as a weapon.
Male African elephants reach a length of 18 to 21 feet and weigh up to 13,200 pounds. Females are about two feet shorter and weigh half as much.
Asian elephants are usually smaller than African elephants and have the highest body point on the head. Their backs are convex or level, and their ears are small with dorsal borders folded laterally. Their feet have more nail-like structures than those of African elephants—five on each forefoot, and four on each hind foot.
Elephants can live 50 to 60 years. Elephants are capable of surviving in nearly any habitat that has adequate quantities of food and water. They spend about 16 hours a day eating. Their diet is varied and includes grass, leaves, twigs, bark and fruit.
Elephants form deep family bonds and live in tight social units. A family is led by an older matriarch and typically includes three or four of her offspring and their young. Males leave the family unit between the ages of 12 and 15 and may lead solitary adult lives. Elephants live in a very structured social order.
The social lives of male and female elephants are very different. The females spend their entire lives in tightly knit family groups made up of mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts. These groups are led by the eldest female, or matriarch. Adult males, on the other hand, live mostly solitary lives. The social circle of the female elephant does not end with the small family unit. In addition to encountering the local males that live on the fringes of one or more groups, the female's life also involves interaction with other families, clans, and subpopulations. Most immediate family groups range from five to fifteen adults, as well as a number of immature males and females. When a group gets too big, a few of the elder daughters will break off and form their own small group. They remain very aware of which local herds are relatives and which are not.
The life of the adult male is very different. As he gets older, he begins to spend more time at the edge of the herd, gradually going off on his own for hours or days at a time. Eventually, days become weeks, and somewhere around the age of fourteen, the mature male, or bull, sets out from his natal group for good. While males do live primarily solitary lives, they will occasionally form loose associations with other males. These groups are called bachelor herds. The males spend much more time than the females fighting for dominance with each other. Only the most dominant males will be permitted to breed with cycling females. The less dominant ones must wait their turn. It is usually the older bulls, forty to fifty years old, that do most of the breeding. The dominance battles between males can look very fierce, but typically they inflict very little injury. Most of the bouts are in the form of aggressive displays and bluffs. Ordinarily, the smaller, younger, and less confident animal will back off before any real damage can be done. However, during the breeding season, the battles can get extremely aggressive, and the occasional elephant is injured. During this season, known as musth, a bull will fight with almost any other male it encounters, and it will spend most of its time hovering around the female herds, trying to find a receptive mate.
Elephant social life, in many ways, revolves around breeding and raising of the calves. A female will usually be ready to breed around the age of thirteen, at which time she will seek out the most fit male to mate with. Females carry their young for almost two years. At birth, the calf weighs about 250 pounds. A cow may give birth every three to four years.
Elephants have a very long childhood. They are born with fewer survival instincts than many other animals. Instead, they must rely on their elders to teach them the things they need to know. The ability to pass on information and knowledge to their young has always been a major asset in the elephant's struggle to survive. Today, however, the pressures humans have put on the wild elephant populations, from poaching to habitat destruction, mean that the elderly often die at a younger age, leaving fewer teachers for the young.
All members of the tightly knit female group participate in the care and protection of the young. Since everyone in the herd is related, there is never a shortage of baby sitters. In fact, a new calf is usually the center of attention for all herd members. All the adults and most of the other young will gather around the newborn, touching and caressing it with their trunks. The baby is born nearly blind and at first relies, almost completely, on its trunk to discover the world around it. After the initial excitement dies down, the mother will usually select several full time baby sitters, or "allomothers", from her group. They walk with the young as the herd travels, helping the calves along if they fall or get stuck in the mud. The more allomothers a baby has, the more free time its mother has to feed herself.
THREATS TO ELEPHANTS
Habitat loss and the ivory trade are the greatest threats to the elephants’ future. The threat to the African elephant presented by the ivory trade is unique to the species. Another threat to elephant's survival in general is the ongoing cultivation of their habitats with increasing risk of conflicts of interest with human cohabitants.
Lacking the massive tusks of its African cousins, the Asian elephant's demise can be attributed mostly to loss of its habitat. Elephants need massive tracts of land because, much like the slash and burn farmers, they are used to crashing through the forest, tearing down trees and shrubs for food and then cycling back later on, when the area has regrown. As forests are reduced to small pockets, elephants become part of the problem, quickly destroying all the vegetation in an area, eliminating all their resources.
Larger, long lived, slow breeding animals, like the elephant, are more susceptible to overhunting than other animals. They cannot hide, and it takes many years for an elephant to grow and reproduce.
Elephants in captivity lead miserable lives. In stark contrast to their natural tendency to roam several miles each day, they are bound in shackles and chains and forced to perform tasks that are the antithesis of their innate instincts. For a short time, it was illegal to capture a wild elephant for use in a circus or zoo, but the CITES decision in 1997 changed all of that. 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. It is not uncommon for an elephant to be tied down and beaten for several days while being trained to perform.
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. Most animals in zoos were either captured from the wild or bred in captivity for the purpose of public display, not species protection.
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.
A booby is a seabird in the genus Sula, part of the Sulidae family. The bird family Sulidae also includes gannets. Collectively called sulids, they are medium-large coastal seabirds that plunge-dive for fish and similar prey. Sulids are distributed mainly in tropical and subtropical waters. Gannets are also found in temperate regions. They usually stay close to the coasts.
Sulids measure about 24 to 33 inches in length and have a wingspan of about 4.59 to 5.74 feet. They have long, narrow and pointed wings, and a quite long, graduated, lozenge-shaped tail with outer feathers shorter than the central ones. Their flight muscles are small to allow for the small cross section required for plunge-diving, and thus their wing loading is high. Consequently, they are very streamlined, reducing drag. Their bodies are "torpedo-shaped" as well as somewhat flat.
Boobies have stout legs and webbed feet, with the web connecting all four toes. In some species the webs are brightly colored and used in courtship displays. Booby bills are usually conspicuously colored, long, deep at the base, and pointed with saw-like edges. The upper mandible curves down slightly at the tip and can be moved upward to accept large prey. To keep water out during plunges, their nostrils enter into the bill rather than opening to the outside directly. Boobies eyes are angled forward, and provide a wider field of binocular vision than in most other birds.
The plumage of boobies is either all-white (or light brownish or greyish) with dark wingtips and tail, or at least some dark brown or black above with white underparts. Gannets have a yellowish hue to the head.
Booby faces usually have some sort of black markings. They have a well-developed preen gland whose waxy secretions they spread on their feathers for waterproofing and pest control. They moult their tail feathers irregularly, and molt their flight feathers in stages, so they always have some old feathers, some new feathers, and some partly grown feathers.
Different species of booby have their own uniquely distinguishable features. The different species of booby are the blue-footed booby, the red-footed booby, the Peruvian booby, the masked booby, the brown booby and the Nazca booby.
The blue-footed booby is easily recognizable by its distinctive bright blue feet, which can range in color from a pale turquoise to a deep aquamarine. Males and younger birds have lighter feet while females have darker feet. Their blue feet play a key role in courtship rituals and breeding, with the male visually displaying his feet to attract mates during the breeding season by stamping them on the ground in a dance-like fashion. The brightness of their feet decreases with age, so females tend to mate with younger males with brighter feet who have higher fertility and increased ability to provide paternal care than do older males.
The red-footed booby has bright, red feet that are a pinkish color when the booby is young. The Peruvian booby is not as elaborate in appearance as other booby species. The masked booby has a distinguishable black color around it's eyes and is the largest species of booby. The brown booby is a smaller booby and with a black head and back, a white belly, short wings and a long tail. The Nazca booby has a more rounded head than the other species of booby, with a white body and a beak that is yellow or orange.
Boobies hunt fish by diving from a height into the sea and pursuing their prey underwater. Facial air sacs under their skin cushion the impact with the water. All species feed entirely at sea, mostly on mid-sized fish and similarly-sized marine invertebrates. Many species feed communally, and some species follow fishing boats to scavenge discarded bycatch and chum. The typical hunting behavior is a dive from mid-air, taking the bird under water. If prey manages to escape the diving birds, they may give chase using their legs and wings for underwater swimming.
Before taking off, sulids will point their bills upwards (gannets) or forward (boobies). After landing again, they point downwards with the bill. In response to a threat they will not attack but shake their heads and point the bill towards the intruder.
Boobies are colonial breeders on islands and coasts. They normally lay one or more chalky-blue eggs on the ground or sometimes in a tree nest. Males examine the colony area in flight and then pick a nest site, which they defend by fighting and by territorial displays. Males then advertise to females by a special display and call. The display behavior typically includes the male shaking his head. Females search the colony in flight and on foot for a mate. Once they select males, pairs maintain their bonds by preening each other and by frequent copulation.
The clutch is typically two eggs. The eggs are unmarked (but may become stained by debris in the nest), whitish, pale blue, green or pink, and have a coating that resembles lime. Incubation lasts 42 to 55 days, depending on the species. Both sexes incubate; their feet become vascularized and hot, and the birds place the eggs under the webs. Eggs lost during the first half of incubation are replaced.
At hatching, parents move the eggs and then the hatchlings to the tops of their webs. The young hatch naked, but soon develop white down. They beg by touching the parent's bill and take regurgitated food straight from their gapes. At first at least one parent is always in attendance of the young; after two weeks, both parents leave the nest unguarded at times while they go fishing. The amount of time for the chicks to fledge and become independent of their parents depends greatly on the food supply.
Boobies communicate with grunts or shouts and whistling noises. The males of the species have been known to throw up their head and whistle at a passing, flying female. Mates can recognize each other by their calls.
THREATS TO BOOBIES
Boobies are threatened by habitat loss and egg collecting. Booby food sources are also over-fished by the commercial fishing industry.
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.
Pangolin are unusual looking animals covered in armor with long snouts and even longer tongues. Often called scaly anteaters, they are the only mammals that are covered in scales.
Pangolins inhabit grasslands, savannah woodlands, rocky areas and dry and sandy habitats. There are eight species of pangolins – four in Africa and four in Asia. African pangolins include the Three-Cusped or African White-Bellied pangolin, the Giant Ground pangolin, the Cape or Temminck’s pangolin, and the Long-Tailed or Black-Bellied pangolin. Asian pangolins include the Thick-tailed or Indian pangolin, the Phillipine pangolin, the Sunda pangolin and the Chinese pangolin.
Pangolin bodies have hard, brown scales made of keratin – the same as human hair and nails, rhino horns and lion claws. Their scales cover their entire body except their bellies, foreheads and the inner sides of their legs. Pangolin males are usually much larger than female pangolins.
Pangolin feet have five toes. The first and last digits on their front feet are smaller than their other toes. The middle three toes are well developed. Their front legs are shorter than their back legs. Pangolins have sharp, curved, front claws used for excavating ant and termite nests, and for removing bark from trees and logs to expose prey. A few pangolin species also have long claws on their back feet.
Some pangolins have prehensile tails that they use for hanging in trees and to balance. Pangolins have an excellent sense of smell. They have poor vision. Pangolins do not have external ears, but they are able to hear. Pangolins do not have teeth. They swallow stones and sand to help grind their meals and aid digestion. Pangolins are bipedal, walking on their hind legs.
Pangolins are insectivores, feeding only on insects. They eat 19 different species of ants and termites. Pangolins eat about 90 times each night, up to 70 million insects each year. Each feeding last about one minute. Their long, rod-shaped, sticky tongues are longer than their entire bodies. Unlike human tongues, pangolin tongues are not connected in their mouths but at the bottom of their rib cage. When not in use, their tongues are stored in their chest cavities. Pangolins stick their tongues into insect tunnels to extract their prey. They are able to keep their ears and nostrils closed to protect themselves from the insects.
Pangolins are nocturnal, active at night. Most pangolins live a solitary life. They sleep during the day in underground burrows or in trees, depending on the species. Pangolins usually use abandoned warthog, aardvark and porcupine burrows, rather than digging their own. Some pangolins live in caves, termite holes, between rocks, or in shrubs or piles of debris. Pangolins are capable swimmers.
Males pangolins attract female pangolins by marking their territory with urine and waiting for a female to find them. Mother pangolins give birth to one baby pangolin following an up to 150 days gestation period. Baby pangolins spend their first days in their mother's den, often alone while the mother searches for food. If the mother pangolin senses danger, she will move her babies to a different den. The soft scales of baby pangolins harden rapidly. When old enough, baby pangolins travel on the base of their mother's tail. Baby pangolins drink their mother's milk until they are three to four months old. They begin to also eat insects at about one month old. Pangolins reach sexual maturity at about 2 years old.
Pangolins are naturally preyed upon by tigers, lions and leopards. They defend their sensitive body areas by curling into balls exposing their sharp scales. Like skunks, pangolins can also spray predators with a smelly substance produced in their anal glands. This scent is also used to mark their territories, along with feces and urine. If caught by a predator, pangolins will thrash around using their tail muscles. Pangolin mothers will ball themselves up around their babies to shield them.
Pangolins can live up to 20 years in the wild.
THREATS TO PANGOLINS
Pangolins are endangered due to extensive hunting for folk medicine ingredients in Africa and China. They are also hunted for their meat, and their skin is used in the fashion industry. Loss of habitat due to increasing development is also taking its toll on pangolins. All pangolin species are thought to be in rapid decline. Pangolins are the most trafficked mammal in the world. Over 100,000 pangolins are captured every year from the wild.
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.
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.
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 pygmy hippopotamus is a medium-sized herbivorous mammal inhabiting the humid forests and swamps of West Africa. The pygmy hippopotamus is very rare and is severely threatened by hunting and habitat loss.
Pygmy hippopotamuses inhabit Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia in western Africa, with small populations in neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone. The pygmy hippopotamus prefers swampland and dense, lowland tropical forests. They spend most of their time foraging for food and resting on land.
The pygmy hippopotamus is closely related to the common hippopotamus, but is better adapted to dense forest environments. Pygmies are much smaller in size – weighing just a fifth of their cousin's weight. The pygmy hippopotamus has a sleeker body and narrower mouth and spends much less time in the water than the common hippopotamus. While the pygmy hippopotamus is semi-aquatic, they have fewer webbed toes to aid them in moving effectively on land. Their eyes are on the sides of their head, instead of on the top, to see better in the forest.
The pygmy hippopotamus has smaller canines, or tusks, than the common hippo. Their bodies are long and barrel-shaped, covered in slate-gray skin that lightens towards the underside. The head of the pygmy hippopotamus is small in relation to the body, and the mouth is narrow.
The pygmy hippopotamus does not live in herds like the common hippopotamus. They are mostly solitary or live in pairs. Pygmy home ranges often overlap and they are known to tolerate others in their territory. Males, called bulls, have larger territories than females, called cows. They both mark their homes with their droppings. Pygmy hippopotamuses spend most of the day resting in cool mud or in the burrow of animals. Being mostly nocturnal, the pygmy hippopotamus forages in the forest at night.
Pygmies are herbivores, feeding on a variety of plants and fruits. While the common hippopotamus eats mostly grasses, the pygmy hippopotamus has a much more varied diet including ferns, shrubs, leaves, grasses and fruits that have fallen to the forest floor. Pygmy hippos have multi-chambered stomachs that function like hoofed land animals, but they are more closely related to whales. Like the common hippopotamus, they do not chew their cud.
Pygmy hippopotamuses follow well-trodden trails and established tunnels when foraging, and can run at incredible speeds to escape danger. Spending most of their time on land, pygmy hippos enter the water when threatened. Pygmy hippos are excellent swimmers and have strong muscular valves that close off their ears and nostrils when they are in water.
Pygmy hippos are shy and quiet. They communicate primarily through body language. If alarmed, they release their breath with a loud huff. Signs of submission include lying and urinating while wagging their tails.
Pygmy hippopotamuses cannot sweat and their skin easily dries up. A pink, oily substance is secreted through their skin glands to prevent sunburn. It also has anti-bacterial properties that keeps wounds clean and prevents infections in dirty water.
Pygmy hippopotamuses can be more aggressive during the breeding season. Males will bare their teeth and sometimes fight to win females. Gestation lasts for six to seven months. The mother pygmy hippopotamus gives birth to a single baby in a den or in the water. Pygmy hippopotamus babies are weaned by eight months old. They then join their mothers on foraging trips.
Being large animals, the pygmy hippopotamus has few natural predators. They are sometimes stalked by leopards. Calves are preyed on by large snakes and wildcats when the mother is foraging. Unlike their larger cousins, pygmy hippos prefer to flee from danger rather than fight. They also use lunging, rearing, head shaking and water scooping tactics to scare off predators.
THREATS TO PYGMY HIPPOPOTAMUSES
The biggest threat to the pygmy hippopotamus is humans. Despite being protected by law, pygmy hippopotamuses are hunted for their meat and teeth. Their habitats are quickly being destroyed for animal agriculture. Their rivers are now polluted. Logging is illegal in many parts of their natural range, but continues to happen. There are fewer than 3,000 pygmy hippopotamuses left in the wild.
The pygmy hippopotamus is listed as Endangered in its natural environment and is severely at risk of extinction. The sub-species in Niger is Critically Endangered, and may already be extinct.
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.
Giraffes are one of the world's tallest mammals. They are well known for their long necks, long legs, and spotted patterns. Giraffes have small "horns" or knobs on top of their heads that grow to be about five inches long. These knobs are used to protect the head in fights.
Male giraffes are larger than females. Males weigh between 2,400 and 3,000 pounds and stand up to 19 feet tall. Female giraffes weigh between 1,600 and 2,600 pounds and grow to be 16 feet tall.
Giraffes can be found in central, eastern and southern Africa. They live in the savannas of Africa, where they roam freely among the tall trees, arid land, dense forests and open plains. Giraffe populations are relatively stable.
Their long necks help giraffes eat leaves from tall trees, typically acacia trees. If they need to, giraffes can go for several days without water. Instead of drinking, giraffes stay hydrated by the moisture from leaves.
Giraffes are non-territorial, social animals. They travel in large herds that are not organized in any way. Herds may consist of any combination of sexes or ages. Female giraffes typically give birth to one calf after a fifteen-month gestation period. During the first week of its life, the mother carefully guards her calf. Young giraffes are very vulnerable and cannot defend themselves. While mothers feed, the young are kept in small nursery groups.
Giraffes have spots covering their entire bodies, except their underbellies, with each giraffe having a unique pattern of spots. Giraffes have long necks, which they use to browse the leaves of trees. They also have slightly elongated forelegs, about 10% longer than their hind legs. Like nearly all mammals, a giraffe has seven neck vertebrae, which are extremely elongated. These bones produce bud like horns called ossicorns.
Modifications to the giraffe's structure have evolved, particularly to the circulatory system. A giraffe's heart, which can weigh up to 24 lb, has to generate around double the normal blood pressure for a large mammal in order to maintain blood flow to the brain against gravity. In the upper neck, a complex pressure regulation system called the rete mirabile prevents excess blood flow to the brain when the giraffe lowers its head to drink. Conversely, the blood vessels in the lower legs are under great pressure (because of the weight of fluid pressing down on them). In other animals such pressure would force the blood out through the capillary walls; giraffes, however, have a very tight sheath of thick skin over their lower limbs which maintains high extravascular pressure in exactly the same way as a pilot's suit.
Male giraffes determine female fertility by tasting the female's urine to detect estrus in a multi step process known as the Flehmen response. Giraffe gestation lasts between 14 and 15 months, after which a single calf is born. The mother gives birth standing up and the embryonic sack actually bursts when the baby falls to the ground. Within a few hours of being born, calves can run around and are indistinguishable from a week old calf; however, for the first two weeks, they spend most of their time lying down, guarded by the mother. While adult giraffes are too large to be attacked by most predators, the young can fall prey to lions, leopards, hyenas, and African Wild Dogs. It has been speculated that their characteristic spotted pattern provides a certain degree of camouflage. Only 25 to 50% of giraffe calves reach adulthood; the life expectancy is between 20 and 25 years in the wild and 28 years in captivity.
The giraffe browses on the twigs of trees, preferring plants of the Mimosa genus; but it appears that it can, without inconvenience, live on other vegetable food. A giraffe can eat 140 lb of leaves and twigs daily. The pace of the giraffe is an amble, though when pursued they can run extremely fast. They cannot sustain a lengthened chase. Their leg length compels an unusual gait with the left legs moving together followed by right (similar to pacing) at low speed, and the back legs crossing outside the front at high speed.
The giraffe defends itself against threats by kicking with great force. A single well placed kick of an adult giraffe can shatter a lion's skull or break its spine. The giraffe has one of the shortest sleep requirements of any mammal, which is between 20 minutes and two hours in a 24 hour period.
A giraffe will clean off any bugs that appear on their faces with an extremely long tongue (about 18 inches). The tongue is tough on account of the giraffe's diet, which includes thorns from the tree it is making a meal of. In Southern Africa, giraffes are partial to all acacias — especially Acacia erioloba — and possess a specially adapted tongue and lips that appear to be immune to the vicious thorns.
Giraffes are thought to be mute. However, recent research has shown evidence that the animal communicates at an infrasound level.
THREATS TO GIRAFFES
Giraffes are threatened by hunting for their meat, coat and tails. The tail is prized for good luck bracelets, fly whisks and string for sewing beads. The coat is used for shield coverings. Habitat destruction and fragmentation are also threats to giraffe populations.
Giraffes are also victims of captivity for human entertainment. Even under the best of circumstances, captivity is cruel for giraffes. Confined to tiny areas and gawked at by crowds, animals in exhibits 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 and aquariums 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 and aquariums 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 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.
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.
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.
Lumbering members of the family Rhinoerotidae, rhinoceroses (or rhinos) are some of the largest land animals on earth today, aside from elephants. These gigantic herbivores are spread over a mere five species and are native to only a few places in the world. Two species originate in Africa (the black and white rhinos), and three in Southern Asia (the Sumatran, Indian, and Javan rhinos). Although they all fall under the same family classification, the divergence that emerged in each rhino species actually occurred between 5-14 million years ago, shown by their very genetic makeup. In fact, the black rhino is the only one to have 84 chromosomes, while all other species have 82. Their preferred habitat depends on their species and diet – they can be found on open savannah, in scrub or bush land, wooded areas, and lowland rainforests.
In spite of their differences, the basic structure a rhino is similar between species; all have large, heavy bodies, three toes, and an elongated skull that encases a relatively small brain. Rhinos can range significantly in weight and size (though all weigh well over 500kg), with the smallest (Sumatran) rhinos weighing around 700kg (1500lb) and standing around 1.3m (just over 4 ft) at the shoulder, and the largest (white) rhinos weighing in as heavy as 2400kg (5000lb) and standing from 1.8 to 2 meters (5.9 to 6.6 ft) in height – more than an average compact car. Their thick, tough, and textured skin tends to fall in folds over their body, making it seem as if they’re wearing armor, and usually ranges from yellowish to gray in color, with bristly hair on their tail and ears. Sumatran rhinos tend to be more reddish brown, however, and are often hairier than their African relatives. Most species usually live, on average, up to 40 years, though illegal poaching is an enormous danger for all wild rhino species.
The most well-known rhino feature is their horn, of course (though white, black, and Sumatran rhinos have two), which is made up of a durable substance called keratin – the same material that’s found in our fingernails. Males of each species have larger horns than the females. Sumatran females have only stubby horns or occasionally no horn at all. The two African rhino species look most alike. Despite their name, it’s not the appearance of black and white rhinos that offers a clue to their separate classification; the black rhino is much smaller than the white, and has a pointed, beak-shaped mouth that’s perfect for browsing on twigs and leaves, while white rhinos are almost exclusively grazers, using their square, wide lips to munch on grass.
Although their massive size might give the impression of sluggishness, rhinos are far from lazy. They can run at speeds reaching up to 55km an hour (34 mph) for short distances, charging with surprising agility if they feel threatened. And though they tend to have poor eyesight, their senses of smell and hearing are excellent. Rhinos also have a wide range of vocal sounds that they use for communication; pants, grunts and snorts are usually heard during courtship or mating, while shrieks, bellows and squeals are used for threat displays and territorial posturing. Male rhinos will often scrape their horn across the ground as well before charging.
These enormous plant eaters spend most of their day browsing for food to power their immense frames, though some species limit most of their feeding to the cooler hours of the early morning and evening. Grass, shoots, leafy plants, branches, aquatic plants, thorny bushes and fruit may make up a meal. Rhinos can be creative about how they access their food; the Indian rhino, for example, tramples grass and plants until they’re pushed down to mouth level, or use their lips to grab grass stems, bending them to bite the top off and eat the shoot. They’ll normally only drink once or twice a day for a few minutes at a time, but wallowing in mud holes, lakes or rivers to cool down is definitely a favorite occupation for all rhinos.
Although most rhino species tend to be solitary dwellers, usually only coming together to mate or gather at water holes, white rhinos tend to gather in larger herds called crashes. Both male and female rhinos use urine spraying and dung dropping to mark their territorial ranges, especially around popular browsing areas, water sources, and trails. While male rhinos are the most territorial, often battling other males who enter their range, all rhinos can be extremely fast to perceive threats and charge. Rhinos have even been known to attack cars, trees and termite mounds.
Because of the time they take to reach maturity and the length of gestation, rhinos are not prolific producers of offspring. Reaching maturity around age five, females are able to reproduce, but males of some species mature later, around seven years of age, and often can’t mate until they’re even older and larger and can achieve sexual dominance over other males in the region. After a short courtship, breeding pairs will stay together for days or even weeks, mating several times a day. Rhino calves are born around 15 to 16 months later, able to stand, walk and follow their dam after only a few days. Calves generally stay with the female until they’re around 2-3 years of age. Most rhinos have no specific seasonal pattern for mating season, though the majority of rhino calves in drier regions tend to be born near the end of a rainy season.
THREATS TO RHINOS
The daunting size, thick skin, and aggressive nature of the rhino means that it has very few natural predators, though big cats and hyenas will sometimes hunt young calves. Human activity is above and beyond the biggest threat to rhino populations everywhere. In spite of ever-increasing restrictions and protections for rhinos, illegal poaching for the purpose of harvesting their horns has decimated rhino populations, placing many subspecies on the list of critically endangered animals, and has even caused total extinction of some subspecies in certain areas (such as the disappearance of the Javan rhino in Vietnam). Movement of agricultural development onto rhino habitat, and the introduction of invasive plant species in other regions has also been a contributing factor in the decline of some rhino populations.
Some zoos attempt to breed rhinos in captivity, however reproductive rates are low due to medical problems likely caused by improper diet and unnatural living conditions. Like all captive wildlife, rhions face constant stress and are denied their wild nature and social structures. The needs and desires of humans comes before the needs of the animals in the animal entertainment industry. Captive bred zoo animals are rarely released in the wild.
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.