This is the introduction to a series on animals that are endangered or in decline, giving them a name so that we can give them a voice.
A.E. (Anthony) Lovell
Bushbucks are one of the most widespread kinds of African antelopes. Their small size, coloring, and reclusive behavior help them survive close to human settlements and in very small habitats. Bushbuck horns have a single twist and smooth edges. This design is well-suited to their preference for dense habitat, as the horns do not hinder their escape from predators.
Although bushbucks usually live alone, they occasionally spend time in pairs or even in small groups of adult females, adult females with young, or adult males. A unique social structure is exhibited by bushbucks In Uganda. There, the female young remain with their mothers throughout their lives, and adult females organize themselves into matrilineal clans. Each related group maintains and defends a home range against unrelated females. Related females also engage in grooming and other social activities. Males leave their mother’s home range to join a bachelor herd when they are six months old and fight other male groups to gain territory.
Bushbucks spend most of their time eating, ruminating, resting, and moving. They are most active at dawn and dusk, though this varies based on season, age, and sex. Males are often combative. A male will first feign an attack by lowering his horns to the ground, but if he and his opponent are closely matched, they will lock horns and try to stab each other’s sides. While female bushbucks can be aggressive toward other females, they tend to fight much less than males. Bushbucks have a keen sense of smell. When either a male or a female senses a predator in the distance, they freeze and drop to the ground, keeping their head and neck against the earth until the danger passes.
If the predator is close, a bushbuck will emit a bark and flee into the bush with its tail raised.
Bushbucks are solitary creatures that communicate mainly through scent-marking rather than vocalization, although they occasionally emit a bark to warn of danger. A male bushbuck signals a challenge to another male by adopting a rigid walk, raising his head, arching his back, and lifting his tail. If the opponent is an equal match, he takes up a similar posture and the two circle one another; if the opponent submits, he keeps his head low and licks the dominant male. Some researchers think males may bark to indicate their status to another bushbuck.
Bushbucks are browsers. They eat a range of herbs and young leaves from both shrubs and trees throughout the day and night. They also raid farms and plantations to eat crops.
During courtship, the male nuzzles and licks the female, strokes her back with his cheeks, and presses his head or neck against her. If the female accepts his advances, the male guards her against any other eager males. Female bushbucks gestate for 24 to 35 weeks and usually bear a single calf, though occasionally they have twins. Females give birth in dense thickets, where the calves remain for up to four months while their mothers leave to graze. A male’s horns begin to emerge at seven months. Males reach sexual maturity at ten months, but most do not breed until they are two years old. Females reach maturity between 14 and 19 months and can give birth every year. @GodfreyT
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Bigodi wetland sanctuary, Uganda, 2017.
The Village Weaver is one of the most common, widespread weaver species. It is larger than most weavers, with red eyes in both sexes and a heavy black bill. The breeding male has the head mainly black, the nape, hindneck and breast below the black throat are chestnut. The back is spotted yellow. The breeding female is yellow below, and whiter on belly. The non-breeding birds are duller than the breeding female.
The Village Weaver inhabits bushy savanna, riverine woodland, wetlands, cultivated areas, rural villages, urban and suburban gardens, and villages and clearings in the forest. It is frequently associated with human habitation in west and central Africa. It is absent from arid regions, dense forests, and miombo woodland.
Its diet is seeds, including grass seeds and cultivated cereals. It is regarded as a pest in rice-growing areas, and also damages maize, sorghum and durra crops. It also feeds on fruit, nectar, and insects, such as beetles, ants, termites and their alates, grasshoppers, mantids, caterpillars, and bugs. It forages by gleaning vegetation, including tree trunks.
The Village Weaver is gregarious, being found in large flocks and in the non-breeding period joins large communal roosts.
It is highly colonial, with more than 200 nests in a single tree and colonies in excess of 1000 nests. The Village Weaver is polygynous, with up to five females simultaneously on the territory of a male, and up to seven during a season. Females may change mates in a season. Larger colonies appear to be more attractive to females, with a higher proportion of females per male.
When females enter a colony, males hang below their nest entrances while giving nest-invitation calls and flapping their wings to show the yellow underwings. The nest is spherical, sometimes with a very short entrance tunnel. The nest is woven by the male within a day, generally from strips torn from reed or palm leaves.
The male often includes a ceiling layer of broad leaves. The female lines an accepted nest with leaves, grass-heads and some feathers. Nests are suspended from drooping branches. A single male may build more than 20 nests in a season, and unused or old nests are regularly destroyed to make space for new nests. Empty nests may be occupied by other animals, including snakes, wasps, mice and bats, and nests may be used for breeding by a wide variety of species including Cut-throat Finches.
The eggs are white, pale green or blue, either plain or variably marked with red-brown speckling. Incubation is by the female only, for about 12 days. The chicks are usually fed by the female alone, but males in some parts help. Female Village Weavers recognize their own egg pattern, which is constant throughout her life, and discriminate against non-matching eggs. Nest predators include snakes, especially boomslang Dispholidus typus, monkeys and baboons, crows and raptors.
The longevity record is 14 years in the wild.
Today many birds were seen, but many will soon be forgotten. Yet one master African hunter is indelibly etched on every African child's mind, the Long-crested eagle.
Growing up in the Gorilla Highlands, this is the bird that children asked whether they would die one day or live forever. Its the one that village belles asked whether they would be married in the East or in the West.
With just a flick of its long crest, downwards or up, this way or that way, one's fate was sealed.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Kamushungushungu, the African bird of prophecy, the "sit and wait" hunter which waits on a perch, scanning the ground and swoops on prey with a gliding flight.
Here are its 7 behavioral facts:
1. It mostly feeds on rodents, which is a big part of its conservation story. Its pest control reputation in Agricultural Africa is only shrouded by its prophetic myth. It however also feeds on other birds, including owls and the young of other raptors, frogs and lizards, invertebrates and even fish and fruit.
2. The long-crested eagle is territorial. Thats why they dont flock.
3. The male displays during courtship, performing steep dives and also using a rocking, level display flight, calling frequently during these displays.
4. Both sexes build the nest, constructing a stick platform lined with green leaves. The nest is normally situated in the mid-canopy and very close to the trunk of a tree near the forest edge.
5. It breeds all year but most eggs are laid in July to November season. The female lays 1-2 eggs which are laid asynchronously, as much as two weeks apart.
6. The female takes most of the burden of incubating the eggs and the female begins incubation as soon as the first egg is laid which means that hatching is also asynchronous. Incubation lasts 42 days (twice that of domestic hens).
7. Interestingly, during incubation, the male provides the female with food.@Godfrey
The death of hundreds of elephants in Botswana has been an unsolved mystery for a long time during this pandemic in Botswana. Most of these have shown the symptoms of dizziness and walking in circles before dropping dead face-first. Government officials quote that 281 elephants have been verified to be dead with this bizarre behavior, but the conservationists and the NGOs claim that the death toll is much higher.
Initially, wild life experts have omitted the possibility of tuberculosis and believe that the cause is beyond the known diseases. Though the death number does not sound serious in population perspective, it is absolutely critical to complete the diagnosis and have accurate results in order to avoid any foul play or before elephants succumb to more of such mysterious deaths.
Botswana has an estimated 130,000 Savanna elephants and is considered to be one of the last strongholds of species in Africa. The earlier estimations were to be around 350,000 and ivory poaching in 20th century has reduced the species to one third of them today. The thousand-square-mile to the northeast of Okavango Delta, which has witnessed the deaths of elephants has around 18,000 elephants roughly. The wildlife experts and veterans believe that the possible causes could be the ingestion of toxic bacteria into the water, viral infection from rodents in the area or a pathogen infection. Conservationists are also considering the possibility of poisoning by humans.
The investigating officials of the Botswana government had sent for the testing to the laboratories in Zimbabwe, South Africa, US and Canada as well. The wild life department made a press release that the deaths are probably due to natural toxins.
However, the officials have confirmed that the conclusion could not be made about the cause yet. Authorities have so far ruled out anthrax, as well as poaching, as the tusks were found intact. They believe that some bacteria can naturally produce poison, particularly in stagnant water.
Elephants Without Borders (EWB) is a wildlife conservation charity that first flagged about these mysterious deaths. Their confidential report with references to 356 dead elephants was leaked to the public media in early July. The charity suspected that the deaths were not restricted to any specific age group or gender and has also highlighted that many live elephants have shown signs of weakness, lethargy and even disorientation.
Presence of green lush vegetation and the fact that waterholes in the vicinity are still full of rainwater eliminates the possibility of deaths due to dehydration or starvation. Though the blue green algae can be deadly when consumed along with water, elephants generally drink water from the middle of the water bodies, but not edges. But there has been a pre-historic mass elephant deaths due to Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and this cause could only be substantiated with the laboratory results, which is still underway. The neurological symptoms like walking in circles suggests that anthrax poisoning is also a possibility.
The Anthrax bacteria occurs naturally in soil and elephants become infected if they have ingested contaminated soil or breathed in. Anthrax is known to be affecting wild life and domestic animals around the world.
Experts opinionated that it requires a detailed sampling of carcasses, soil and water in the delta area for an accurate explanation. But the challenge is the remoteness and the hot weather in the area which could have degraded the body, erasing important evidences, and scavenging animals which may eat organs making it extremely challenging for the examination. Despite the wildlife conservationists’ huge cry worldwide, there is still no confirmation on the absolute cause for the hundreds of elephant deaths.
The primary threat to most pangolin species is illegal hunting and poaching for local use and illicit international trade. Recent estimates based on seizure data suggest that more than 895,000 pangolins were trafficked globally between 2000 and 2019. This trade mainly involves pangolin scales and meat, which are primarily trafficked to East and Southeast Asia, and to a lesser extent other body parts.
Scales for Traditional Medicines
Pangolin scales are used as an ingredient in Traditional Asian Medicine, particularly in China and Vietnam. They are believed to be a cure for ailments ranging from heart disease to cancer, and to help lactating women produce milk. Like rhino horn and human fingernails, pangolin scales are made of keratin and there is no scientific evidence that they are efficacious in medicine. Similarly, pangolin scales are used to treat myriad medical conditions in Traditional African Medicine, especially in West and Central Africa.
Meat consumed locally or as a luxury product
Pangolins have been consumed as a source of protein in virtually every range country throughout human history. In Asia, this continues, but in many places local consumption has been foregone in favor of selling the animals into illicit, international trade because of the high prices pangolins can fetch. The majority of this trade is destined to China and Vietnam, as well as other countries in Southeast Asia, where pangolins are consumed as a delicacy. The high price and perceived rarity means consumers eat pangolins as a luxury product to demonstrate their wealth and reinforce social status. In Africa, pangolins are eaten as wild meat, especially in West and Central Africa, where local rather than international trade is predominant. Estimates suggest that at least 400,000 pangolins are hunted and consumed locally in Central Africa each year.
Ongoing illegal trade despite international protection
Illicit international trade in pangolins and their parts takes place despite international protection afforded to the species. Pangolins have a long history in CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Each pangolin species was included in CITES Appendix II in 1995, meaning trade should be closely regulated, and in the year 2000, zero export quotas for wild-caught specimens traded for primarily commercial purposes were established for the Asian pangolins, in effect, a proxy trade ban. Due to ongoing concerns about the overexploitation of pangolin populations, each species was included in CITES Appendix I at CoP17 in 2016, establishing an international trade ban on commercial trade in wild-caught pangolins and their derivatives. Pangolins are also protected species in most of their range countries under national legislation, but illegal harvest and trade continues unabated.
The impact of overexploitation on pangolin populations
High levels of off take have resulted in steep declines in pangolin populations, especially the Chinese, Sunda and Philippine pangolins in China and Southeast Asia in recent decades. In some places this has resulted in the commercial extinction of the species, or the loss from some sites altogether.
Since 2008, there has been an apparent increase in the trafficking of African pangolin scales, mainly from West and Central Africa to Asian markets, which appears to be placing greater exploitative pressure on tropical African pangolin populations. Quantifying the impact of illicit, international trade and disentangling it from local use is challenging, as in Asia, in part because there is a lack of standardized population monitoring methods for pangolins. Based on the best available evidence, the IUCN Red List assessments for pangolins were updated in December 2019, resulting in the species being categorized as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable, based on past, ongoing and future population declines attributed to actual or potential levels if exploitation.
In this two-part series, read on to learn some interesting facts about the 10 most endangered animals in the world and how we, as a race, should be more cognizant of the plight of these beautiful creatures.
Gorillas share close to 97% of their DNA with humans! They are capable of feeling emotions and even behave like us sometimes – did you know they can laugh? There are two species, the Eastern Gorilla and the Western Gorilla, and they both have two subspecies. Three out of four are Critically Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. The only one that isn’t is the Mountain Gorilla, a subspecies of the Eastern Gorilla.
Rhinoceros comes from two Greek words Rhino and Ceros, which when translated into English mean nose horn. Human beings are almost entirely responsible for this beautiful creature nearing extinction. Poaching for their distinctive horns is their biggest threat. Three of the five species of rhinoceros are among the most endangered species in the world: the black rhino, Javan rhino and the Sumatran rhino. The Javan rhino is the closest to extinction with only about 50 left, of which most are in the Ujung Kulon National Park in Indonesia.
8. Sea Turtles
Hawksbill Turtles and Kemps Ridley Turtles are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Hunting is one of the biggest threats to sea turtles, with poachers targeting their eggs, shells, meat and skin. They are also at risk from habitat loss and pollution as well as climate change. Sand temperature determines the sex of hatchlings with eggs developing as females in warmer temperatures. That means even small temperature changes could skew the sex ratio of populations.
The Saola is one of the rarest large mammals on Earth. It was first discovered in 1992 in the Annamite Range in Vietnam. The Saola is elusive and so rarely seen it’s known as the Asian unicorn.
6. North Atlantic Right Whale
They are gentle giants that stay close to coasts and spend a lot of time at the surface skim feeding on zooplankton, all of which makes them an easy target for hunting. They were almost wiped out by hunters for their blubber and are now one of the most endangered large whales. They are now protected, and hunting is illegal, but population recovery is slow. They are only about 400 left, out of which, only 100 are breeding females. Females don’t breed for the first ten years of their life and then will give birth to a single calf every six to ten years. Vessel traffic also creates noise that interferes with their ability to communicate. Whales use sound to find mates, locate food and avoid predators, as well as to navigate and talk to each other.
Stay tuned for the Top 5 World’s Most Endangered Animal Species in the second part of the blog series. Can you guess which animals will feature on the IUCN Critically Endangered List?
*All Images for this blog sourced from Google and WWF