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.
Seahorses are marine fish belonging to the genus Hippocampus of the family Syngnathidae. They are found in temperate and tropical waters all over the world.
Seahorses range in size from 16 mm to 35 cm. They are notable for being the only species where the males get pregnant.
The seahorse is a true fish, with a dorsal fin located on the lower body and pectoral fins located on the head near their gills. Some species of seahorse are partly transparent.
Sea dragons are close relatives of seahorses but have bigger bodies and leaf-like appendages which enable them to hide among floating seaweed or kelp beds. Sea dragons feed on larval fishes and amphipods, such as small shrimp-like crustaceans called mysids (sea lice), sucking up their prey with their small mouths. Many of these amphipods feed on red algae that thrives in the shade of the kelp forests where the sea dragons live.
Seahorses reproduce in an unusual way: the male becomes pregnant. Most seahorse species pregnancies last approximately two to three weeks.
The male seahorse has a brood pouch where he carries eggs deposited by the female. The mating pair entwines their tails and the female aligns a long tube, called ovipositor, with the male's pouch. The eggs move through the tube into the male's pouch where he then fertilizes them. The embryos will develop between ten days and six weeks, depending on species and water conditions. When the male gives birth, he pumps his tail until the baby seahorses emerge.
The males pouch regulates salinity for the eggs, slowly increasing in the pouch to match the water outside as the eggs mature. Once the offspring hatch, the male releases them and is done caring for them.
Once released, the offspring are independent of their parents. Some spend time among the ocean plankton developing before settling down and hitching as their parents do. Other species (H. zosterae) hitch immediately and begin life in the benthos.
Seahorses are frequently monogamous, though several species (H. zosterae and H. abdominalis) are highly gregarious. In monogamous pairs, the male and female will greet one another with courtship displays in the morning, and in the evening to reinforce their pair bond. They spend the rest of the day separate from each other hunting for food.
THREATS TO SEAHORSES
Seahorse populations have been endangered in recent years by overfishing. The seahorse is used in traditional Chinese herbology, and as many as 20 million seahorses may be caught each year and sold for this purpose.
Import and export of seahorses is controlled under CITES since May 15, 2004.
There are nearly 100 species of lemurs. All are endangered. Hunting and habitat destruction threaten their future.
Lemurs share many common primate traits, such as divergent digits on their hands and feet, and nails instead of claws (in most species). Their brain-to-body size ratio is smaller than that of anthropoid primates, and they have a "wet nose". They range in size from 1.1 oz to 20 lb and can reach 30 years old or more.
Lemurs are found naturally only on the island of Madagascar and some smaller surrounding islands, including the Comoros (where it is likely they were introduced by humans). Fossil evidence indicates that they made their way across the ocean after Madagascar broke away from the continent of Africa. While their ancestors were displaced in the rest of the world by monkeys, apes, and other primates, the lemurs were safe from competition on Madagascar and differentiated into a number of species. The larger species have all become extinct since humans settled on Madagascar. Until shortly after humans arrived on the island around 2,000 years ago, there were lemurs as large as a male gorilla. Typically, the smaller lemurs are active at night (nocturnal), while the larger ones are active during the day (diurnal).
The small cheirogaleoids are generally omnivores, eating a variety of fruits, flowers and leaves (and sometimes nectar) as well as insects, spiders and small vertebrates. The remainder of the lemurs, the lemuroids, are primarily herbivores, although some species supplement their diet with insects. They inhabit highland country and thinly wooded forests.
Lemurs are social and live in groups that usually include less than 15 individuals. Nocturnal lemurs are mostly solitary but social, foraging alone at night but often nesting in groups during the day. In many nocturnal species, the females, along with their young, will share nests with other females and possibly one male, whose larger home range happens to overlap one or more female nesting groups. In sportive lemurs and fork-marked lemurs, one or two females may share a home range, possibly with a male. In addition to sharing nests, they will also interact vocally or physically with their range and mate. Diurnal lemurs live in relatively permanent and cohesive social groups. Multi-male groups are the most common. True lemurs utilize this social system, often living in groups of ten or less. Dwarf lemurs are solitary but social, foraging alone but often sleeping in groups. Some lemurs exhibit female philopatry, where females stay within their natal range and the males migrate upon reaching maturity, and in other species both sexes will migrate. The presence of female social dominance sets lemurs apart from most other primates and mammals; in most primate societies, males are dominant unless females band together to form coalitions that displace them.
Lemur communication can be transmitted through sound, sight and smell (olfaction), using complex behaviors such as scent-marking and vocalizations. Lemurs have demonstrated distinct facial expressions including a threat stare, pulled back lips for submission, and pulled back ears along with flared nostrils during scent-marking. They have also been observed using yawns as threats. Their tails communicate distance, warn off neighboring troops and help locate troop members. Olfaction can communicate information about age, sex, reproductive status, as well as demarcate the boundaries of a territory. Small, nocturnal lemurs mark their territories with urine, while the larger, diurnal species use scent glands located on various parts of their anatomy. The ring-tailed lemur engages in "stink fights" by rubbing its tail across scent glands on its wrists, and then flicking its tail at other male opponents. Some lemurs defecate in specific areas, otherwise known as latrine behavior. Although many animals exhibit this behavior, it is a rare trait among primates. Latrine behavior can represent territorial marking and aid in interspecies signaling. Some of the most common calls among lemurs are predator alarm calls.
Lemurs not only respond to alarm calls of their own species, but also alarm calls of other species and those of non-predatory birds. The ring-tailed lemur and a few other species have different calls and reactions to specific types of predators. Lemur calls can also be very loud and carry long distances. Both ruffed lemurs and the indri exhibit contagious calling, where one individual or group starts a loud call and others within the area join in. The song of the indri can last 45 seconds to more than 3 minutes and tends to coordinate to form a stable duet. Tactile communication (touch) is mostly used by lemurs in the form of grooming, although the ring-tailed lemur also clumps together to sleep (in an order determined by rank), reaches out and touches adjacent members, and cuffs other members. Reaching out and touching another individual in this species has been shown to be a submissive behavior, done by younger or submissive animals towards older and more dominant members of the troop. Unlike anthropoid primates, lemur grooming seems to be more intimate and mutual, often directly reciprocated.
THREATS TO LEMURS
The habitat of lemurs is disappearing because of fires, overgrazing of domestic livestock and logging. Lemurs are also threatened by hunting. All lemurs are endangered species, due mainly to habitat destruction (deforestation) and hunting. Although conservation efforts are under way, options are limited because of the lemurs' limited range and because Madagascar is desperately poor. In some remote areas of Madagascar, the cultural motivation behind posting lemur hunting traps is that of indigenous superstition that lemurs are omens and harbingers of bad fortune.
The lemur pet trade is threatening the survival of many lemur species. Despite being illegal, thousands of lemurs are stolen from the wild in Madagascar. Lemur breeders peddle the animals through the internet to unqualified individuals who fail to realize that baby lemurs grow into sexually mature and aggressive adults. These animals are denied their wild nature, strong family bonds and social interaction with their own kind. They are destined to live a sad and lonely life in a cage.
Lemurs are also put on display by many zoos. Like "pet" lemurs, they are confined to tiny spaces and denied a natural life for the sake of human entertainment. Captive lemurs often become obese resulting in coronary heart disease and diabetes. They become inactive and lethargic, further threatening their health. Like all zoo animals, they face constant stress and boredom, often resulting in mental illness.
The cougar (Puma concolor), also commonly known as the mountain lion, puma, or catamount, is a large felid of the subfamily Felinae native to the Americas. Its range, from the Canadian Yukon to the southern Andes of South America, is the greatest of any large wild terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere. An adaptable, generalist species, the cougar is found in most American habitat types. It is the second heaviest cat in the New World, after the jaguar. The cougar is more closely related to smaller felines, including the domestic cat, than to any subspecies of lion, of which only the jaguar is native to the Western Hemisphere.
The cougar is an ambush predator and pursues a wide variety of prey. Primary food sources are ungulates, which include deer, such as mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, and moose. Other ungulates it preys on are bighorn sheep, as well as domestic cattle, horses and sheep, particularly in the northern part of its range. Cougars will also hunt species as small as insects and rodents.
This cat prefers habitats with dense underbrush and rocky areas for stalking, but can also live in open areas. The cougar is territorial and survives at low population densities. Individual territory sizes depend on terrain, vegetation, and abundance of prey. While large, it is not always the apex predator in its range, yielding to the jaguar, gray wolf, American black bear, and grizzly bear. It is reclusive and mostly avoids people.
Female cougars reach sexual maturity between one-and-a-half to three years of age. They typically average one litter every two to three years throughout their reproductive lives, though the period can be as short as one year. Females are in estrus for about 8 days of a 23-day cycle; the gestation period is approximately 91 days. Females are sometimes reported as monogamous. Copulation is brief but frequent.
Only females are involved in parenting. Female cougars are fiercely protective of their cubs, and have been seen to successfully fight off animals as large as American black bears in their defense. Litter size is between one and six cubs; typically two. Caves and other alcoves that offer protection are used as litter dens. Born blind, cubs are completely dependent on their mother at first, and begin to be weaned at around three months of age. As they grow, they begin to go out on forays with their mother, first visiting kill sites, and after six months beginning to hunt small prey on their own. When cougars are born they have spots, but they lose them by the age of 2 1/2 years.
Young adults leave their mother to attempt to establish their own territory at around two years of age and sometimes earlier; males tend to leave sooner. Life expectancy is reported at eight to 13 years, though they have been known to live as long as 30 years. Causes of death in the wild include disability and disease, competition with other cougars, starvation, accidents, and, where allowed, human hunting. Feline immunodeficiency virus, an endemic HIV-like virus in cats, is well-adapted to the cougar.
Like almost all cats, the cougar is a solitary animal. Only mothers and kittens live in groups, with adults meeting only to mate. They are secretive and crepuscular, being most active around dawn and dusk. Estimates of territory sizes vary greatly, from 10 to 386 square miles, with female ranges half the size of males. Male ranges may include or overlap with those of females but, at least where studied, not with those of other males, which serves to reduce conflict between cougars. Ranges of females may overlap slightly with each other. Scrape marks, urine, and feces are used to mark territory and attract mates. Males may scrape together a small pile of leaves and grasses and then urinate on it as a way of marking territory. Home range sizes and overall cougar abundance depend on terrain, vegetation, and prey abundance.
Because males disperse farther than females and compete more directly for mates and territory, they are most likely to be involved in conflict. Where a subadult fails to leave his maternal range, for example, he may be killed by his father. When males encounter each other, they hiss, spit, and may engage in violent conflict if neither backs down.
THREATS TO COUGARS
Conservation threats to the species include persecution as a pest animal, environmental degradation and habitat fragmentation, and depletion of their prey base. Wildlife corridors and sufficient range areas are critical to the sustainability of cougar populations.
The cougar's total breeding population is estimated at less than 50,000 by the IUCN, with a declining trend. Prolific hunting following European colonization of the Americas and the ongoing human development of cougar habitat has caused populations to drop in most parts of its historical range. In particular, the cougar was extirpated in eastern North America in the beginning of the 20th century, except for an isolated Florida panther subpopulation. However, in recent decades, breeding populations have moved east into the far western parts of the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. Transient males have been verified in Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and Illinois. They have been observed as far east as coastal Connecticut. Eastern cougars (Puma concolor cougar) are commonly sighted, despite being declared extirpated in 2011.
Cougar hunting is prohibited in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, French Guiana, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and Uruguay. The cat has no reported legal protection in Ecuador, El Salvador, and Guyana. Regulated cougar hunting is still common in the United States and Canada, although they are protected from all hunting in the Yukon; it is permitted in every U.S. state from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Mountain lions may be killed in California if “a depredation permit is issued to take a specific lion killing livestock or pets; to preserve public safety; or to protect listed bighorn sheep.” Texas is the only state in the United States with a viable population of cougars that does not protect that population in some way. In Texas, cougars are listed as “nuisance wildlife” and any person holding a hunting or a trapping permit can kill a cougar regardless of the season, number killed, sex or age of the animal.
Bats are often unappreciated but are actually beneficial by providing controls of insects that may spread diseases or are annoying and harmful to our outdoor activities. They are vitally important in agricultural settings as well by controlling potential insect crop pests and the spread of plant diseases.
Bats are the only mammals capable of true flight. The bat's wing anatomically resembles the human hand, with extremely elongated fingers and a wing membrane stretched between. Over 1,000 bat species can be found worldwide. In fact, bats make up a quarter of all mammal species on earth. Thirteen species of bat are listed as endangered.
Because their wings are much thinner than those of birds, bats can maneuver more quickly and more precisely than birds. The surface of their wings are also equipped with touch sensitive receptors on small bumbs called "Merkel cells", which is found in most mammals, including humans. But these sensitive areas are different in bats as there are tiny hairs in the center, making it even more sensitive and they detect and collect information about the air flowing over the wings. Another kind of receptor cells are found in the wing membrane in species who are using their wings to catch prey, and is sensitive to the stretching of the membrane. These cells are concentrated in the areas of the membrane where insects hit the wings when the bats capture them.
Bats are divided into two suborders: Megachiroptera, meaning large bat, and Microchiroptera, meaning small bat. The largest bats have a 6 foot wing span. The bodies of the smallest bats are no more than an inch long. While some bat populations number in the millions, others are dangerously low or in decline. Most bats live longer than most mammals of their size. The longest known lifespan of a bat in the wild is 30 years for a little brown bat. Bats can be found almost anywhere in the world except the polar regions and extreme deserts. They find shelter in caves, crevices, tree cavities, and buildings.
Bats specialize in different foods. Seventy percent of all bats consume insects. There are also fruit-eating bats; nectar-eating bats; carnivorous bats that prey on small mammals, birds, lizards, and frogs; fish-eating bats; and the blood-eating vampire bats of South America. Some of the smaller bat species are important pollinators of some tropical flowers. Indeed, many tropical plants are now found to be totally dependent on them, not just for pollination, but for spreading their seeds by eating the resulting fruits.
Some bats have evolved a highly sophisticated sense of hearing. They emit sounds that bounce off of objects in their path, sending echoes back to the bats. From these echoes, the bats can determine the size of objects, how far away they are, how fast they are traveling, and even their texture — all in a split second.
Bats vary in social structure, with some bats leading a solitary life and others living in caves colonized by more than a million bats. The fission fusion social structure is seen among several species of bats. The fusion part is all the individuals in a roosting area. The fission part is the breaking apart and mixing of subgroups by switching roosts with bats, ending up with bats in different trees and often with different roostmates. Studies also show that bats make all kinds of sounds to communicate with each other. Scientists in the field have listened to bats and have been able to identify some sounds with some behavior bats will make right after the sounds are made.
For their size, bats are the slowest reproducing mammals on earth. The vast majority of bats bear only one offspring a year. A baby bat at birth weighs up to 25 percent of its mother's body weight, which is like a human mother giving birth to a 31-pound baby. Offspring typically are cared for in maternity colonies, where females congregate to bear and raise their young. A baby bat is referred to as a pup. Pups are usually left in the roost when they are not nursing. However, a newborn bat can cling to the fur of the mother like a pouch and be transported, although they soon grow too large for this. It would be difficult for an adult bat to carry more than one young, but normally only one young is born. Bats often form nursery roosts, with many females giving birth in the same area, be it a cave, a tree hole, or a cavity in a building. Mother bats are able to find their young in huge colonies of millions of other pups. Pups have even been seen to feed on other mothers' milk if their mother is dry. Only the mother cares for the young, and there is no continuous partnership with male bats. The ability to fly is congenital, but after birth the wings are too small to fly. Young microbats become independent at the age of 6 to 8 weeks, megabats not until they are four months old. At the age of two years bats are sexually mature.
Most bats hibernate from November through March because their food source (insects) is relatively scarce during the winter months.
THREATS TO BATS
The greatest threat to bats is people. Habitat destruction and fear are a lethal combination for bats. In some areas, people have even been known to set fires in caves, destroying thousands of roosting bats.
Bat populations are declining worldwide, some due to habitat loss, but mainly due to a relatively new disease called White-Nose Syndrome (WNS). This disease kills many hibernating bats annually by sapping their energy reserves that have been stored up to survive the long winter months. WNS causes the bats to awaken, possibly several times during the winter, which further drains the bat’s energy reserves. The disease may also damage their air passages and wings.
Protecting areas where bats hibernate (hibernacula) and staying out of caves in the winter months helps to avoid the potential spread of WNS. Creating habitat by retaining shaggy bark trees like white oak and shagbark hickory provides roosting sites during summer months for many bats. Restoring or creating areas like ephemeral pools and wetlands also create potential food sources in the summer.
The most common snake of the Anaconda genus is the green anaconda. These snakes are found in the tropical forests of South America and have the scientific name, Eunectes murinus. All members of the Eunectes genus are aquatic and found in South America; namely Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia Venezuela and Trinidad & Tobago.
The green anaconda is considered the largest snake in the world. Its cousin, the reticulated python, rivals the anaconda in length, but the anaconda’s girth makes it nearly twice as heavy. The green anaconda can grow to be 29 feet in length and 12 inches in girth. It is not uncommon for them to weigh in at 550 pounds. Females tend to be significantly larger than males. The yellow, dark spotted and Bolivian anaconda species are all a good deal smaller than the green anaconda.
Being aquatic, anacondas prefer to live in the swamps, marshes and slow moving rivers of the Amazon and Orinoco basins. On land in the tropical rainforests, anacondas are slow and clumsy, but in the water they are deadly. With their eyes and nasal slits located directly on top of their heads, anacondas can lay in wait for prey while almost completely submerged and hidden from sight. Their dark green color and body pattern affords them effective camouflage.
The green anaconda preys upon deer, birds, fish, turtles, capybara, caimans and the occasional jaguar. They can go weeks or even months without eating after a particularly large meal. Anacondas are nonvenemous and dispatch their prey by wrapping their thick, muscular body around it and constricting until the animal asphyxiates. Since the majority of their hunting is done in water, the anaconda’s prey is as likely to die from drowning as from constriction. Their jaws are attached by stretchy ligaments which allow them to swallow their kill whole. They are able to consume prey up to 50% of their own body size. A myth about anacondas is that they “unhinge” their jaws in order to swallow large prey. In reality, their jaws are not hinged like those of humans at all.
Anacondas sense nearby prey through a series of vibrations. They also detect chemical cues in the air with their forked tongues and Jacobson’s organs. Males of the species use these mechanisms to sense female pheromones during breeding season. Anacondas also have pit organs along their upper lip that allow them to detect heat signatures given off by potential prey. Their visual and auditory senses are poorly developed in comparison, but likely play a small role in hunting for prey.
Predation upon the anaconda is dependent upon the age and health of the individual snake. Young anacondas experience a high mortality rate, and are therefore very aggressive. Jaguars and caiman prey upon young snakes. Snakes in dryer areas experience higher levels of predation than those living in river basins. Large anacondas experience far fewer instances of predation, especially females who sometimes kill and eat males during mating season. When under attack, green anacondas burrow into the mud or flee into the water where they are much faster and more agile. If unable to escape an attack, they will coil into a ball to protect their head and emit an odor from their cloacal glands.
A group of anacondas is referred to as a bed or knot. During mating season, a knot of competing males will surround a female forming a breeding ball that can last up to four weeks. The males coil around the female and fight to gain access to her cloaca. The female may breed with several of these males during this period, and sometimes will eat the males after mating. It is not uncommon for a pregnant female to feed on nothing else until after birth, so this behavior ensures her survival. Competing males rarely fight with one another over a mate, and after breeding migrate back to their home territory or continue on in search of other females.
Unlike other snake species, the female anaconda retains her eggs until the time of birth. She delivers two to four dozen live young at the end of her seven month gestation period. Females mate during the dry season, usually March – May, then remain mostly inactive for the following seven months. They give birth in shallow water in the late afternoon or evening during the wet season. The group of live young is referred to as a clutch. Scientists have found that clutch size is proportional to the size of the snake, with larger females having larger clutches. This may be due to larger females having greater fat reserves than smaller females. Breeding usually occurs every other year allowing the females to recuperate from the trying tasks of breeding, pregnancy and birth. The average lifespan of the anaconda is approximately ten years in the wild and up to thirty years in captivity.
Anacondas are extremely adaptable to their environment, aiding in their survival in harsh tropical environments. During the dry period, the anaconda must either migrate in search of water or burrow into the mud for survival. Those that burrow underground enter a state of dormancy for the duration of the dry period. Anacondas living in direct proximity to river basins are usually spared this survival technique.
Anacondas are most active in the early evening when the oppressive tropical heat is less intense. They are able to cover long distances in short periods of time, especially when searching for water in the dry season, or when males are seeking females for breeding. Anacondas are poikilotherms, meaning they cannot regulate their own body temperature. They strategically position their bodies into the path of the sun for heat regulation.
THREATS TO ANACONDAS
Anacondas have little impact on the indigenous people of South America. They are one of the only snakes capable of killing and consuming a human, but since humans do not typically live in areas where anacondas thrive, these deaths are rare. Some Brazilians and Peruvians believe that the anaconda possesses magical and spiritual powers. They kill snakes and sell their body parts for use in rituals.
Majestic sea dwellers, superb hunters and socially complex beings, orcas (also known as killer whales or blackfish) are the largest members of the oceanic family Delphinidae, which includes dolphins, pilot whales, melon-headed whales and false killer whales. They’re found in every ocean in the world and most seas as well, including the Arctic and Antarctic regions and the warmer seas of the Mediterranean and Arabian, but have been counted in highest densities in the North Atlantic and Pacific oceans, in the Gulf of Alaska and Southern Ocean. Although they can have an enormous range, they typically tend to prefer to stay closer to coastal areas versus swimming in deeper ocean waters.
Their striking coloration is what makes the orca most recognizable; they have a black back with a white chest and sides, and a distinctive white area above and behind their eye. Large, paddle-like pectoral fins assist in fine manoeuvring , while sharp teeth and strong jaws allow them to firmly hang on to thrashing prey. With a robust skeletal frame, an orca’s body is much heavier and larger than a dolphin’s, and they have an erect dorsal fin that can stand as tall as 2 meters in height for some males, over 6 feet. Males are generally larger, and can range from 7 to 9 meters long (20 to 30 feet) and may weigh as much as 6 tons. Female orcas are smaller in size, around 6 to 8 meters (20 to 26 feet) in length and weighing between 3 and 4 tons, with a shorter, more triangular dorsal fin. Their size and strength make them capable of swimming at some of the fastest speeds among all marine mammals; some whales can actually reach swimming speeds of over 55 km/hour.
Unlike some other oceanic residents, orcas have excellent eyesight both above and below water, as well as well developed senses of hearing and touch. In addition, they use echolocation (a series of audible clicks) to locate their prey and navigate around obstacles in the water. Orcas are also adaptable to a variety of water temperatures. Although they have an average body temperature between 36 to 38 °C (97 to 100 °F), they also have a thick layer of blubber that acts as insulation between them and the elements. Orcas swimming close to the surface have a faster average heartbeat than when submerged – 60 beats per minute versus 20 beats per minute. Their lifespan in the wild depends on a number of factors, but females tend to live an average of 50 years, and males around 29 years.
Interestingly, there are three to five different subgroups (perhaps even subspecies) of orcas themselves, with variances in appearance, prey preference and hunting behavior that make each subgroup unique. Resident orca populations tend to have rounded dorsal fin tips ending in a sharp corner, eat mainly fish and squid, live in strongly bonded family groups (pods), and visit the same areas on a consistent basis. Transient orcas, on the other hand, are far more migratory and travel in smaller groups. They tend to have less complex dialects of vocalizations, too. In appearance, they have a distinctive solid grey area around their dorsal fins, which are more triangular and pointed than resident orcas’. Finally, offshore orca populations travel further from shore, feeding mainly on schooling fish, but also hunting other mammals and sharks. They tend to gather in much larger groups ranging from 20 to 75 in number, and they tend to be smaller in size than both resident and transient orca populations. The lifestyle of these different populations seems to be closely linked with their diet preference – for example, fish-eating whales in northern waters have close social structures, while orcas in Argentina that prefer to eat mammals behave more like transient whales.
While orcas may appear to look similar, their prey preference can be tremendously varied, though often specific to a certain population. Fish, squid, mammals, sea birds, sea turtles, rays, and even larger whales and sharks may be on the orca prey menu. Unfortunately for their chosen food, they’re also skilled and cooperative hunters that travel in packs to capture their prey. Different types of orcas also use different and specialized hunting techniques; Norwegian killer whales use a method called carousel feeding, for example, where they herd herring into a ball with nets of bubbles, then slap the fish with their tails to stun or kill them. Whale and shark hunting orcas will stalk their prey as a group, separating them and forcing them into immobility (in the case of sharks) or not allowing them to surface, causing them to drown. Finally, mammal-feeding orcas (who feed on seals, penguins, sea lions and sea otters) disable their prey by throwing it, slapping it with their tails, ramming it or breaching and landing on it.
More than their unique hunting techniques, however, the rich and complex social structure of orcas is what fascinates most scientists and enthusiasts. In resident orca populations, pods typically consist of one to four related matriarchs and their descendants. Offspring live with their mothers for their entire lives, and as many as four generations may migrate and hunt together, using the same dialect to communicate with each other. Several pods may come together to form clans, which are groups that share similar dialects (languages) of vocalizations. Transient orca societies tend to be smaller, however; usually made up of a single female and one or two of her offspring, though males tend to stay with their mothers for a longer period of time.
Orcas usually only leave their societal groups for short periods of time, either to hunt, or to mate. Female orcas reach sexual maturity at around age 10, and gestation of orca calves lasts anywhere from 15 to 18 months long, with a single offspring birthed around once every five years for a fertile female. The first seven or eight months are critical for calves; 37% to 50% of all orca calves die before they reach their first birthday. Females begin weaning their calves at around 12 months, and most calves are completely weaned by age two. All the members in a pod (both male and female) help to care for the young orcas, playing with them, teaching them hunting skills, and using particular family calls to help familiarize new calves with the pod dialect. The females tend to reach the end of their breeding years around age 40, but many go through menopause and continue to thrive for decades after they’re no longer fertile.
THREATS TO ORCAS
Recent studies have found that orcas are among the most contaminated marine mammals in the world. Pollution and chemical contamination make orcas more susceptible to disease and likely cause reproductive difficulties.
Human activity is the largest threat to populations of orcas, although the IUCN has lately recognized that they need more data on individual orca types, as they may actually be separate (and potentially endangered) species. Human fishing practices have resulted in the reduction of available prey for many orca populations, while pollution, oil spills, and noisy habitat disturbances (like military sonar use, shipping and drilling) are significant concerns for orcas all over the world. The southern resident community, made up of three pods that live in the Georgia and Haro Straits and Puget Sound, has been listed as an endangered population under the EDA in the last decade, while The Alaska and Prince William Sound resident orca pods were so devastated by the Exxon Valdez spill that the entire population in that region is expected to eventually die out.
Hundreds of orcas, dolphins and other members of the dolphin family are held in captivity in the United States. While the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), passed in 1972, makes it more difficult to capture marine mammals from the wild, aquariums can still apply for permits or import animals caught in other countries. Whether wild caught or captive born, orcas and dolphins in captivity are sentenced to a life of confinement deprived of normal social and environmental interaction. Captured orcas and dolphins are confined to tanks as small as 24 feet by 24 feet wide and 6 feet deep. In tanks, the reverberations from their own sonar bouncing off walls drives some orcas and dolphins insane. Tanks are kept clean with chlorine, copper sulfate, and other harsh chemicals that irritate animals' eyes, causing many to swim with their eyes closed. Captured dolphins and orcas are often forced to learn tricks through food deprivation. Marine parks may withhold up to 60 percent of food before shows so that the animals will be "sharp" for performances. The stress of captivity is so great that some commit suicide.