Linda and I are scheduled to take three morning and three evening safari rides in the area around Laikipia Wilderness Camp. In the last 18 months, special cameras have managed to photograph the elusive African black leopard in the area. Perviously believed to be completely absent in Kenya, a team of biologists have managed to shot rare footage of the sleek big cat after spending months watching and waiting.
About 11 percent of leopards globally are black. These beautiful leopards, with their sleek black coats, are more commonly found in tropical and humid Southeast Asia. Black panthers in Africa are extremely rare. We now know that melanism, the cause of the leopard’s dark coloring, can also be found in leopards who live in semiarid climates, like that of Laikipia.
Despite being called black leopards, they are usually very dark brown and have the same pattern of spots as other leopards.
The total extent to which the leopard population has declined is unknown. Three subspecies of the leopard are classified as “critically endangered,” and two others as “endangered.”
In recognition of Mother’s Day, National Geographic posted twenty-one photos of Beautiful Moments Between Animal Mothers and Their Babies in their Photo Gallery. Included with each photo was a short explanation of some of the more unique and varying mothering methods found in the animal kingdom.
“Every animal can thank a mom for making life possible,” writes the author. “Some mothers lay eggs, in treetops or on the seafloor, while others labor through long pregnancies and live births. Many moms are on their own, but a fortunate few get help from babysitters or nursemaids. Mother-child bonding runs the gamut of relationship styles.”
Among the twenty-one animals featured in the photo gallery, five live on African soil.
And despite the heart-warming topic, not all the photos conjure up warm and cuddly thoughts.
Emperor scorpion mothers give birth to an average of nine to 32 fully formed young. Here, an emperor scorpion, one of the world’s largest scorpions, carries her immature offspring on her back.
Lion moms may live with their daughters for life. The African lions live in prides dominated by related females, like this cub-wrangling mom in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.
During the early weeks of her cubs’ lives, the mother must move them every few days to avoid predators. If all goes well, cheetah siblings stay with their mom for about a year and a half, learning to hunt. Some cheetahs are supermoms, not only raising their own young but fostering the cubs of others.
Hippo calves are often born underwater. It’s up to Mom to push her calf to the surface to take its first breath.
Mothers are fiercely protective of their young, but they also have a softer side, cleaning and doting on their calves. If its baby dies, mothers even display what some scientists interpret as grief.
Giraffe calves stand within 30 minutes of birth. It’s critical that they do so, as newborn calves are a favorite meal of many African predators. Before they are born, mom has to endure a 15-month pregnancy, which allows for the development of a six-foot-tall baby with strong muscles and nervous system.
Lions live in grasslands and plains. They do not live in the jungle.
The lion is the only member of the cat family that displays obvious markings (its mane) that distinguish the male from the female. A male’s mane grows darker as it ages. Female lions prefer males with fuller, thicker, darker manes.
The roar of a lion can be heard from 5 miles away. Lions use their roar as a form of communication. It identifies individuals, strengthens the pride’s bond, and lets other animals know of the pride’s domain.
A new-born lion has dark spots, which fade as the cub reaches adulthood.
Daughters stay with their mothers for life and may eventually have their own cubs. Sons will leave the pride at maturity in search of a pride of their own.
Unlike most other cat species, lions live in large groups called prides. A pride consists of multiple related females, their dependent offspring and two or three unrelated males. In the wild, lions rest for around 20 hours a day.
Female lions are the pride’s primary hunters. The males are first to eat when the female lions return with their kill. The kill is not shared equally within a pride, and at times of prey scarcity, cubs might experience higher mortality rates as hungry females may not even share with their offspring. A pride isn’t formed primarily for catching dinner or sharing parenting chores. They also need each other to ward off the dangerous advances of other lions.
A tuft at the end of the tail is a distinct characteristic of the lion.
African Lions May Be Extinct by 2050.
African lions may be facing extinction by the year 2050. The reason for the decline of the king of beasts can be summed up in one word: people. As more East Africans take up farming and ranching, they push farther into lion country. In just two decades, populations decreased by 43 percent. It’s estimated that as few as 23,000 remain today.
Linda and I have plans to join Jacob Rothschild and his son for breakfast in late August. Lord Jacob, 4th Barron and member of the prominent Rothschild banking family, lives here in his palatial manor, 35 minutes outside of Nairobi, Kenya.
No, wait! This is not his home, and he and his son are not the Rothschilds we’ll be joining for breakfast. We’ll be eating breakfast with the Rothschild’s giraffes at Giraffe Manor.
The manor house was built in 1932 as a hunting lodge. In 1974, the lodge and surrounding grounds were turned into a giraffe sanctuary when the new owners learned that Rothschild’s giraffes were in danger of extinction. (The apostrophe is in the right place, by the way.) Since then, Rothschild’s giraffes have thrived, with 140 acres of indigenous forest to make their home, alongside warthogs, dik diks, waterbucks and over 180 species of bird.
There are more than ten giraffes on the property these days. They’re very used to the manor’s guests. In the morning, they put their heads through the open windows in order to eat the pellets that are served alongside each guest’s breakfast order.
Rothschild’s giraffes are one of the most endangered populations of giraffe, with 1,669 individuals estimated in the wild in 2016. They display no markings on the lower leg.
They are the only giraffes to be born with 5 ossicones. Two of these are the larger and more obvious ones at the top of the head, which are common to all giraffes. The third ossicone can often be seen in the center of the giraffe’s forehead, and the other two are behind each ear.
The Rothschild’s giraffe was named after Walter Rothschild, the above mentioned Jacob Rothschild’s great uncle. Walter Rothschild, 2nd Barron was a London banker, politician and zoologist. One hundred fifty-three insects, 58 birds, 17 mammals, three fish, three spiders, two reptiles, one millipede and one worm also carry his name.
Edited from The New York Times, April 8, 2020 By Annie Roth
Threatened and endangered animals are becoming casualties of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Rhino 911 is a nonprofit organization that provides emergency helicopter transport for rhinoceroses. Since South Africa announced a national lockdown on March 23, Rhino 911 has had to respond to a rhino poaching incident nearly every single day.
In neighboring Botswana, at least six rhinos have been poached since the country closed its borders.
These recent incidents are unusual because they occurred in tourism hot spots that, until now, were considered relatively safe havens for wildlife. South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, and Kenya rely on tourism to fund wildlife conservation, but thanks to border closures and crackdowns on international travel, foreigners can’t visit national parks or conservancies.
This shines a light on the fact that Africa’s wild animals are not just protected by rangers, they’re also protected by the presence of tourists.
Poachers have normally avoided places where there are lots of tourists, but now they are feeling free to move into locations they’ve previously avoided.
Besides empty parks, no tourists means no money. National lockdowns have severely constricted Africa’s $39 billion tourism industry, which funds wildlife conservation all across the continent.
Without revenue from tourism, many parks, private reserves and community conservancies are finding it difficult to pay employees. Paid protection has dwindled. Rangers and private game guards have found their jobs in jeopardy. Many are being laid off. Those that are still employed are working alone.
If the economic situation doesn’t improve, not only will the poaching of rhinoceros, elephants and other iconic animals escalate, but poaching for the purpose of obtaining bushmeat will increase as well.
In the hopes of alleviating the situation, the Nature Conservancy, a U.S.-based environmental organization, recently began raising money for cash-strapped parks, conservancies and private reserves in Africa that need help paying rangers and guards.
In 2008, Africa’s Northern White Rhinos were considered extinct in the wild. In the years that followed, the situation got worse. But scientists had a plan.
PHASE 1: GATHER UP THOSE THAT REMAIN
The Ol Pejeta Conservancy, at the base of Mt. Kenya, houses the only 2 remaining Northern White Rhinos in the world: Fatu, 30, and her daughter Najin, 19.
They live there under 24-hour armed guard.
In 2009, they were moved to Ol Pejeta, along with two males, Suni and Sudan, from a zoo in the Czech Republic. Of the eight Northern Whites left in the world, these four rhinos were thought to be the most fertile.
The rhinos were packed in special wooden crates built to support their weight for the flight to Kenya.
But first they had to be crate trained so that they’d enter the crates on their own. Those of us with dogs know how easy that must have been!
The rhinos were moved to the conservancy in hopes that a natural environment would encourage them to mate and reproduce. They did mate. They did not reproduce.
It was discovered that neither of the females were able to carry a calf. Fatu has degenerative lesions in her uterus and Najin has weak hind legs which could cause complications if she became pregnant.
A final blow was delivered in 2018 when Sudan, the last remaining male, had to be euthanized.
While Sudan’s death was devastating, scientists were prepared. An international consortium of scientists and conservationists had been collecting and freezing semen from Northern White Rhino bulls for years.
At the same time, the team was devising an in vitro fertilization process for the endangered whites (where an egg and sperm are fertilized outside the body).
This was an amazing undertaking. Artificial insemination had successfully produced white rhino calves, but in vitro fertilization had never been completed with rhinos before.
PHASE TWO: HARVESTING THE EGGS
In August of last year, the team was able to harvest a total of 10 oocytes (immature eggs), five from Najin and five from Fatu. Both the technique and the equipment had to be developed entirely from scratch. The cost in time and research was in the millions of euros.
The eggs, which cannot be frozen, were immediately flown to a laboratory in Italy to eventually be fertilized with the frozen sperm from four deceased males.
PHASE THREE: FERTILIZING EGGS
From the ten eggs, two embryos were created in September 2019, and the third was created in December. The embryos are being stored in liquid nitrogen, with conservationists planning to implant them in a southern white rhino surrogate mother in the future.
PHASE FOUR: SET THE STAGE FOR A ROMANTIC ENCOUNTER
One of the things the scientists are struggling to work out is the timing to implant the embryo. They need to know exactly when the female’s body is best ready for the embryo to attach to the uterus lining.
Scientists are hoping that the chances of the surrogate carrying the pregnancy through to birth may be increased if they implant the embryo right after she has mated.
This hunch has led them to set the scene for the next stage in their elaborate plan. Four wild female southern white rhinos have been enclosed with their offspring in their natural habitat.
The next step is to put a sterilized southern white rhino in with the females (would-be surrogates). As soon as they see the sterilized bull mounting, they dart the female, put the embryo in and hope for the best.
In the best case scenario, only a handful of calves may be born from Najin and Fatu’s eggs, and the lack of genetic diversity between the half-siblings could make it impossible to create a viable breeding population. To tackle that problem, stem cell research will have to be done, and that brings up the question of medical ethics. Nothing is easy about this entire operation.
If all this work miraculously produces babies, the first northern white rhino to be born should be named Lazarus.
Rhinoceroses are large herbivorous animals identified by their characteristic horned snouts.
They have been living on Earth for nearly 12 million years. Although they were probably a lot woollier back then.
There are five species of rhino. Two species, the Black Rhino and the White Rhino, are native to Africa.
There is actually very little color difference between black rhinos and white rhinos. They are both dark grey in color. The color of both species can vary greatly depending on local soil conditions, as all rhinos tend to roll about in the dust and mud.
Rhinos like to wallow in mud in order to create a protective layer on their sensitive skin. This prevents sunburn and insect bites, and helps to keep them cool.
The white rhino is the larger of the two African species. They can grow to 6 feet in height and weigh more than 5,000 lbs. Appropriately, a group of rhinos is called a crash.
Typically, rhinos live in crashes of 3 – 10, relying on each other for protection. Black rhinos are solitary animals and must take responsibility for their own well-being. They tend to be the more aggressive of the two species.
African rhinos only have hair on their ears, tail tips and eyelashes.
Rhinos have three toes, making their closest relatives tapirs, zebras and horses. They have poor eyesight, but a heightened sense of smell and an excellent sense of hearing.
While out on safari, one of the ways to distinguish between the black rhino and the white rhino is by looking at the animal’s top lip.
A black rhino has a specialized (prehensile) upper lip that is capable of grasping and browsing.
A browser is a herbivore that specializes in eating leaves, fruits of high-growing woody plants, soft shoots and shrubs. A browser doesnot feed on grass or other low growing vegetation.)
The white rhino has a wide, flat upper lip that’s perfect for grazing. (A grazer is a herbivore that feeds on plants such as grass and other low-lying vegetation. You know, they graze just like cows and sheep.)
Both species have two horns which are made of tightly woven filaments of keratin, not bone. Keratin is a protein found in human hair, fingernails and animal hooves. The horns are not attached to its skull.
The longest horn on record belonged to a white rhino and measured just under five feet.
Rhinos need to drink once a day, so they stay within 5 km of water. In very dry conditions, they can dig for water using their forefeet.
Rhinos have been hunted nearly to extinction. Their horns are sometimes sold as trophies or decorations, but more often they are ground up and used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Remarkable recoveries have been seen over the past ten years for several species, including the black rhino in Africa but poaching remains the largest threat. Until just months ago, only two Northern White Rhino remained in the world.
Stripes are clearly one of the zebra’s most innovative adaptations. Every pattern is unique. Climate may have something to do with the patterns. Zoologist have found that zebras living in the cooler climates of southern Africa have stripes that are broader and farther apart than zebras living near the equator.
But why do they have stripes in the first place? Zebra stripes are one of evolution’s great mysteries.
Over the years, scientists have suggested zebras developed stripes for camouflage in order to confuse their predators. They’ve also suggested that the stripes help lower body temperature, while some believe the striped coat evolved to repel insects.
The Bug Repellent Theory
There is some evidence to support the insect repellent theory. Using sticky plastic models with surfaces painted differently, researchers showed that zebra stripes painted onto the body can protect against biting insects. Relative to the striped mannequin, the dark brown mannequin attracted 10 times more horseflies, while the beige one lured in twice the number as the striped figure.
Researchers concluded that the stripes likely make the skin less attractive to bloodsucking horseflies. This leads scientists to support the idea that zebras developed stripes to help them avoid death by disease.
The Temperature Control Theory
A study published in June 2019 reported that biologists measured the temperatures of black and white hair stripes on zebras in Kenya. The researchers found a 12- to 15-degree-Celsius difference in temperature between the two different coat colors.
In theory, the currents of air that flow over the zebra’s body are faster over the black parts and slower over the white. At the junction of these two air flows, the different speeds may create little air swirls that cool the zebra.
Moreover, zebras can actually raise the black stripes separately from the white stripes. Perhaps this is their way of regulating their temperatures by adding more turbulence to the airflow over their coats.
Last year, an extremely rare zebra with partial albinism was spotted in Serengeti National Park. Partial albinism means that the animal has significantly less melanin than typical zebras. As a result, stripes appear pale in color.
A few dozen partial albino zebras live on a private reserve in Mount Kenya National Park, but this sighting confirmed that at least one “golden” zebra also lives in the wild. Zebras with this condition may be more widely distributed in and around Kenya than was previously believed.
Early last fall, a newborn zebra foal with bizarre polka-dot markings was photographed in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve.
The rare black zebra foal was first spotted in early September 2019 by Antony Tira, a Maasai tour guide and wildlife photographer. At first, Tira thought it was a zebra that had been captured and painted for purposes of migration research.
After carefully studying the foal, he realized he was looking at a newborn zebra with a pigment disorder.
The zebra foal has been given the name “Tira.”
The name “Tira” was coined by the Maasai guide who first found him. There is a general rule within the park; whoever finds an animal of significance gets to name it. No need to wonder why Mr. Tira chose that particular name.
Zebras are native to Africa. They are social animals and live in herds. Zebras can be found in a variety of habitats, such as grasslands, savannas, woodlands, mountains and coastal hills.
Their black and white stripes make them a safari goer’s favorite. No two stripe patterns are alike.
Zebras can rotate their ears 180 degrees, and can turn them separately so that one ear faces front, while the other listens for sounds back of them. They have excellent eye sight, a dangerously strong kick and can run up to 35 miles per hour.
Zebras are very closely related to horses and donkeys. Although they’ve been ridden, they are small, with rather weak backs and cannot support very much weight. They’re much wilder and more aggressive than horses or donkeys, which makes domestication difficult.
Zebra’s are herbivores and can survive for a week without water. Peak birth periods for the Grevy’s are usually July through August, so I should be seeing a few babies when we go on a game drive.
Of the three species of zebra (Plains, Mountain and Grevy’s), both the Plains and Grevy’s reside in Kenya.
The Grevy’s Zebra
Grevy’s Zebras are the largest of the three zebra species. They have short manes and thin stripes that do not go all the way around their stomachs.
Grevy’s Zebras have large, round Mickey Mouse-like ears.
In the late 1800s, Kenya was home to between 20,000 and 30,000 Grevy’s Zebras. In the early 1980s, there were 15,000. Loss of habitat has dwindled their population to less than 2,500, making them one of the most endangered of wild animals.
Ninety percent of Grevy’s are found in Kenya. They are hunted for their striking skins.
The Plains Zebra
The Plains Zebra is the commonest of Africa’s three species and the one familiar to most safari goers.
The Plains Zebra has a striped belly. The stripes on its neck continue onto its mane, which has stiff, erect hairs.
Zebras nibble each other’s mane and neck to reinforce social bonds during mutual grooming.
They live in small family groups consisting of a male (stallion), several females, and their young. These units may combine with others to form awe-inspiring herds thousands of head strong, but family members will remain close within the herd
NAIROBI, Kenya — A white female giraffe and her 7-month-old calf, whose rare pigmentation mesmerized wildlife enthusiasts around the world, were discovered to have been killed by poachers in Kenya on March 11 of this year. Conservationists estimated from the state of the carcasses that the animals had been killed four months ago. This tragedy illustrates the challenges of conservation and the persistent and devastating impact of poaching.
Twiga Nyeupe White Giraffe
With the deaths of the mother and her baby, only one white giraffe is left roaming freely in Kenya’s wild. Mohammed Ahmednoor, conservancy manager in northeastern Kenya, said “We are the only community in the world who are custodians of the white giraffe.” He added, “This is a very sad day for the community … and Kenya as a whole.”
The killing of the white giraffes highlighted the threats facing these animals. They were most likely killed for their meat and hide.
These imposing creatures look like giraffe ghosts!
With this worldwide pause, a travel ban has been implemented which will restrict hunters from North America to fly to Botswana. Thus, it is possible that the majority of the hunting permits will go unused.
Siobhan Mitchell, UK Director of Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, reported; “We welcome the fact that foreign trophy hunters cannot kill elephants in Botswana, and hope that the government takes the time to reflect on and rethink its deadly strategy towards elephants and shake off this colonial pastime altogether.”
“As our city streets quiet, as people hang back from parks and paths, and the busy noise of daily life recedes, listen for the birds.” David Arnold, President of the Nat’l Audubon Society
Cattle Egret *
The cattle egret has a relatively short, thick neck, a sturdy bill, and a hunched posture. It spends most of its time in fields rather than streams. The cattle egret’s breeding plumage highlights its beautiful peach feathers, and it often appears to be wearing spiked topknots. Its legs and feet even change from black to a dramatic orange.
Cattle egrets feed on a wide range of prey, particularly insects, especially grasshoppers, crickets, flies (adults and maggots), and moths, as well as spiders, frogs, lizards and earthworms. They forage at the feet of grazing cattle, heads bobbing with each step, or ride on their backs to pick at ticks.
* Why feature the Cattle Egret?
This is the last day of what has turned out to be Elephant Week, and elephants have a special relationship with the cattle egret. The cattle egret, while relieving the elephant of parasites, receives a free meal and a free ride as the elephant walks along. But the egret enjoys this same kind of relationship with a number of different mammals. Elephants, on the other hand, aren’t involved in any other symbiotic relationships except that of the cattle egret. For the elephant, it’s the cattle egret only.
I am thrilled to share with you a new film, released today, which takes you into the heart of our extensive wildlife conservation projects in Kenya.
As a foster parent, you perhaps know us best for our Orphans’ Project, which has over many decades seen us rescue and raise more than 262 orphaned elephants, as well as rhinos, antelopes, giraffes and a plethora of other species. As our orphans gravitate towards a life in the wild once more, keeping them and Kenya’s wild herds safe is of equal importance, ensuring a viable long term future for all.
We are proud to be able to showcase in this film the many indispensable aspects of the SWT’s work, each so important to the whole.
During these unprecedented times for us all, I hope you feel as inspired as we do seeing what we can achieve together. We humans are facing one of our greatest global challenges ever, however, the wild world has been facing challenges created by us for thousands of years and the threats they face are as real today as they were a few months ago.
Despite all that is unfolding, our teams are out there in the field right now, walking with the orphans, flying our planes, patrolling to prevent illegal activity, and seeking out and treating injured animals. You help make all this happen and I would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to you all. Your steadfast support is hugely appreciated.
Gardeners of Eden is about the operations of Kenya’s David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust , the vision of its founder Dame Daphne Sheldrick and the dedication of the keepers who raise the orphaned babies. The film covers some of the successes and the tragic losses that occur while trying to save these fragile babies. (Yes, it’s hard to imagine “fragile” as being a descriptive word for an elephant.)
Gardeners of Eden exposes the slaughter of elephants for the valuable ivory they can provide and the reluctance of countries to stop trading in ivory trinkets. There is a plea at the end of the film that goes something like this: “We will either be a witness or the solution to the unfolding of an ecological disaster. What will we say to our grandchildren when they ask us why there are no elephants remaining in the wild? Will they be proud of us when we say it was more important for us to own beautiful things than for beautiful things to roam in spectacular places?”
There is no storybook ending here. These magnificent animals are in serious trouble.
Daphne Sheldrick passed away April 2018. Linger long enough to listen to the closing song during the credits.
The following was taken from a Change.org email dated March 25, 2020
– Welcome to Botswana – Where Rich People Can Kill Elephants
Kenya has banned the practice of trophy hunting. Botswana had formally joined in the ban, but has now chosen to reinstate elephant hunting. Foreign hunters will be allowed to kill 202 of its elephants.
Most of the foreign hunters who go to Africa are from the United States. The average cost for foreign trophy hunters to purchase hunting rights, travel, hire a professional to accompany them and pay for taxidermy is approximately $71,000.
Elephants help support the health of our planet. They spread the seeds from the plants they have eaten, dispersing plant life to other areas. They dig water holes in dry river beds that other animals use as a water source as well as creating trails that serve as fire breakers. Elephants help the local economies through eco-tourism. Eco-tourism is a $2 billion-dollar industry, while reintroducing hunting contributes to only 1.9% of tourism.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has held Crush Ivory Days in various sites over the years.
In Colorado, U.S. officials destroyed more than 6 tons of confiscated ivory tusks, carvings and jewelry — the bulk of the U.S. “blood ivory” stockpile — and urged other nations to follow suit to fight a $10 billion global trade that slaughters tens of thousands of elephants each year.
There are two bills that have been introduced in U.S. Congress (the CECIL and Protect Acts) that will ban trophy hunting imports from crossing American borders. The fate of these bills is unknown at the time of this posting.
Change.org is asking everyone to consider contacting his/her representative in support of these bills.
*facts and images collected from all over the internet
The African Elephant
1. It’s true that elephants never forget (sort of).
Elephants can remember the locations of water holes hundreds of miles apart, and return to them every year. Their brains are very advanced, like humans, dolphins and chimpanzees.
2. African elephants are the largest land mammals on the planet. One of the largest known elephants was Jumbo, whose name is thought to be derived from the Swahili word for “boss” or “chief.” He is the reason we now use the word “jumbo” to mean “huge.”
3. Elephants commonly show humor, compassion, cooperation, self-awareness, tool use, playfulness, sharp learning abilities and frustration.
According to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, temper tantrums are common among baby elephants, who are known to throw fits by throwing themselves down into mud when upset.
4. Elephants demonstrate concern for members of their families and take care of weak or injured members of the herd.
They greet each other by hugging with their trunks.
5. No matter what you’ve heard, elephants don’t care much for peanuts.
6. Elephant herds are matriarchal. The oldest female elephant will decide where and when the herd moves and rests, day to day and season to season. She will only leave the group if she dies or is captured. Males leave the herd around the age of 12.
7. Elephants can have babies until the age of 50. The gestation period for elephants is 22 months. Female elephants have been known to induce labour by self-medicating with certain plants.
8. Baby elephants are initially blind and some take to sucking their trunk for comfort in the same way that humans suck their thumbs.
9. Elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror, joining only humans, apes and dolphins as animals that possess this kind of self-awareness.
10. Elephants are very good swimmers. They move all four legs to swim and use their trunk to breathe like a snorkel in deep water.
11. As important an appendage as an elephant’s trunk is, it has no bones!
Its trunk, capable of lifting 700 pounds or plucking a single blade of grass, contains over 40,000 muscles, divided into 150,000 individual muscle units.
12. Elephants are herbivores and can spend up to 16-hour days collecting and eating tough, fibrous foods, most of which pass through their bodies undigested. All that undigested fiber can produce as much as 300 pounds of poop each day! Some of the poop can be harvested to help produce sellable products.
13. Elephants are one of a few (possibly the only) animals who can understand human pointing, without any training.
14. The total global elephant population is currently estimated at 650,000, and they are very much in danger of extinction. The main risk to elephants is from humans through poaching and changes to their habitat.
Poachers in Kenya have enjoyed lenient sentences and few have been successfully prosecuted. The global ivory trade was worth an estimated $1 billion over the past decade, with 80% of ivory from illegally killed elephants. The street value of elephant ivory is now greater than gold, running to tens of thousands of dollars per tusk.
Tim, one of the last surviving super tusters, died in Amboseli National Park early last month. According to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), he died of natural causes. There was evidence that his wild animal friends had tried hard to resurrect him.
Famous for his rare majestic tusks, Tim was a very popular sighting for tourists who visited Amboseli National Park. He was considered an ambassador for his species.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which helped save Tim from a swamp in 2018, sent out a statement saying, “Kenya lost a giant today. Our hearts are heavy as we remember a magnificent elephant who we grew to know and love.”
“Our hearts are broken,” said Wildlife Direct, a Nairobi-based conservation campaign group. “Tim was one of Africa’s very few Super Tuskers, and an incredible elephant whose presence awed and inspired many. He was one of Kenya’s National Treasures.”
Tim was 50 years old. He called the Amboseli ecosystem (which spreads across the Kenya-Tanzania border) his home. His body was found not far from the Kimana Gate.
Elephant tusks never stop growing, so enormous tusks are usually a sign of an old elephant. Both male and female African elephants grow tusks. African elephants are referred to as “tuskers” when their tusks grow so long that they reach the ground. Due to poaching, conservationists estimate only a few dozen such animals with tusks that size are now left on the continent.
Tim’s tusks were said to weigh more than 100 lbs each.
Tim’s body was moved to a taxidermist in Nairobi so that it can be preserved for display in the national museum for exhibition and education purposes.
On the 2nd of January, the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust rescued a calf from the Masai Mara. The little female baby was about six months old. They named her Naleku.
After the trauma of losing her mother, followed by the noise and handling necessary for the rescue, Naleku was very restless, and paced her room all night.
The following day she sensed the presence of the other elephants in the Nursery and constantly cried out while pacing in her stable.
Although still weak and a resident for only a single day, the decision was made to let her out with the other orphans.
Naleku was greeted with reassuring trunk cuddles and showered with love and affection. It’s amazing when one considers that the older elephants giving comfort and emotional support are only babies themselves, yet instinctively they know to offer a tender trunk hug.
I adopted Maktao in order to get a closer look at SWT’s elephant babies, in a less crowded setting. I adopted Naleku because I couldn’t resist.
This is part of an edited phone conversation. The journalist’s questions appear in bold text.
Jane Goodall is in isolation these days along with everyone else, since a fund-raising tour was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. She is staying at her family home in England, not in Tanzania, her primary home when not on the road.
Dr. Goodall changed the way the world views chimpanzees with research that began when she first went to Africa 60 years ago this July.
She later became a tireless advocate for chimps in captivity. When she began her work, chimps were routinely used in medical research, a practice Dr. Goodall helped stop in the U.S.
So this pause has let you step back a bit? It’s catching up, you know. But there are some things that are so unbelievably worrying. In the U.S. you have people who can apply for unemployment or something. But what about in Tanzania, for example? The people running the bars, the restaurants, selling food at the side of the road — all banned now. And they make just enough to keep alive for a week and pay the rent and there’s no social security, nothing for them.
Being isolated has made me think of what it must be like for chimpanzees who were isolated in captivity, who depend on physical closeness and touch. I think about it all the time. I’ve thought about it ever since I saw secretly filmed footage of these social beings in medical research labs in 5-foot by 5-foot cages. The first time I went into one of those labs. It was horrendous. And solitary confinement. As you say, it’s bad enough for us, but we have all these other ways of distracting. And what about these animals who have nothing? But you know the other thing is, it has reactivated the discussion about animal trafficking – selling wild animals for food or for medicine. Everybody’s pointing fingers at China, but already the government’s made a total ban on the markets, selling animals for food and on trafficking – importing wild animals. So we just have to hope that because of the magnitude of this pandemic they will keep that ban. At the moment it’s temporary, but let’s hope they enforce it forever.
Animals, although not chimps, will be used in testing treatments and vaccines for Covid-19. What is your stance on animal experimentation?
My stance is that ultimately there will be a time with no animal experimentation. What pleased me about the chimp situation is that I was in it from the ethical point of view, but the fact that the chimps were put in sanctuaries because the research was not useful was a far better outcome than if it had been done on ethical grounds. It’s like fossil fuel. People say we want to stop using fossil fuel now. Well that’s clearly impossible. You can’t just suddenly stop something. And this medical research on animals won’t suddenly stop, although I wish it would. The trouble is that people working on alternatives just don’t get the right support.
It was nice to receive something other than a Coronavirus Alert in my inbox this morning.
Why is this rhino hanging upside down?
David Chancellor found out while photographing a wildlife veterinarian receiving a black rhino from a hovering helicopter in South Africa’s Eastern Cape.
“Rhinos will suffocate if their body weight is supported on their chests, such as in a body harness, and this would also result in undue pressure being placed on their hearts and associated organs,” Chancellor says. “So despite appearances, this is medically preferable—to support them by the legs for short distances.” Obviously, it’s best not to move the rhinos at all, unless their habitat has become unsafe. Sadly, Chancellor says, “to preserve these extraordinary creatures, intervention is often unavoidable.”
I certainly know one when I see one. They eat . . .ummm . . plants, I think. They’re big guys. They can walk on the bottom of a riverbed. It’s fun to say the plural — hippopotamuses. They have twitchy ears.
Even though my bank of knowledge was already pretty impressive, I suspected there was more to learn. Here’s what a little bit of googling got me.
Hippos are gregarious, living in groups of up to thirty animals. A group is called a pod, herd, dale, or bloat.
You should worry less about lions and Nile crocodiles and instead keep an eye out for hippos.They’re the biggest people-killers on the continent. And they give no hint as to when or why they might attack.
There are two species of hippos — the large/common hippo and the smaller relative, the pygmy hippo.
The process of surfacing every 3 – 5 minutes from the river’s floor to breathe is automatic. Even a hippo sleeping underwater will rise and breathe without waking!
Hippos can open their mouths to a massive 150 degrees to show their razor-sharp teeth, capable of biting a small boat in half.
Hippos mate in the water — with the female sometimes fully submerged. (Female hippos need a #MeToo movement.) Hippo calves are born underwater.
Their closest living relatives are cetaceans (whales, porpoises, etc.) from which they diverged about 55 million years ago. (Never would have guessed that.)
There are a number of very informative videos on YouTube, two of which I have embedded here. The second video (1 minute in length) will be of particular interest to any 7-year-old boys you may know.
There are two species of oxpecker, the yellow-billed and the red-billed. The Yellow-billed Oxpecker (image 1) is the more common of the two in Kenya. Both species, also called tickbirds, have olive-brown or grey-brown bodies, wide bills, stiff tails and sharp claws. They cling to cattle and big-game animals to remove ticks, flies, and maggots from their hides. When alarmed, the birds hiss, alerting their hosts to possible danger. Though they rid animals of pests, oxpeckers also take blood from the sores, which may be slow to heal.
The oxpecker populations have been adversely impacted by relentless poisoning, but they live in such a wide range across Africa that they have not approached the classification of Vulnerable.
The Curious Case of the Giraffe and the Oxpecker
Oxpeckers are commonly seen riding along on large mammals while they search their hosts for ticks or open wounds. What’s not so common are the camera-trap images of giraffes at night with these birds using them as movable roosting spots. It is thought that this habit is an adaptation to save the birds time looking for the right animal the following day.
Night images of giraffes show that yellow-billed oxpeckers seem to prefer settling between the hind legs of the giraffe. This may be because it’s a warm spot in winter and keeps them safe from any nocturnal predators.
*Why feature the Oxpecker?
This week’s posts have a sort of Giraffe Week feel to them. Oxpeckers, having a rather important connection to giraffes, fit the theme.
For Homo sapiens, the word “necking” has a somewhat romantic connotation. But for giraffes, it’s just the opposite.
Male giraffes fight with their necks because it’s the most powerful and maneuverable weapon they have. This type of fighting, known as necking, is unique to their species, as most hoofed animals kick, bite or head-butt with lowered horns.
The giraffe bull will fight to establish dominance or to win the right to mate with the females in a particular area. Sometimes the fight is short-lived; on rare occasions, it’s to the death.
Their spot patterns and their super-long dark tongues make giraffes a curiosity, but it’s their long necks that make them the subject of wonder and amazement. Although their necks measure up to eight feet in length and weigh over 600 pounds, they contain only seven cervical vertebrae (neck bones) – the same number as we humans have. The difference is, each giraffe vertebra can be up to one foot in length.
An seven-foot-long neck means that a giraffe’s heart must pump blood 7 feet straight up. Such work is hard on an animal’s heart, and is partly responsible for a 20 – 25 year life span, which might otherwise be longer.
The conservation of giraffes has been overlooked for decades and as a result giraffes are in the midst of what some call a “silent extinction.”
Unlike the attention lavished on the disappearance of great apes and elephants (There are four times as many African elephants as giraffes.), people have ignored the disappearance of giraffes and assumed they are doing just fine in the wild.
Mercifully, the world is beginning to wake up. Last December, the State of New York became the first in the nation—and the world—to ban the trade in their body parts.
Kenya is the only country in Africa that hosts three different species of giraffe. (See their markings below.) Of the three, the Reticulated and the Masai are endangered.
Across Africa, the general giraffe population has declined by almost 40 percent over the past three decades. Estimations as of 2016 indicate that there are approximately 97,500 giraffes in the wild, down from 155,000 in 1985.
While a great deal of this decline is due to disease and both legal and illegal hunting, the loss of large-scale habitat plays a greater role, fragmenting and degrading the giraffe’s preferred habitat.
I love the woman who loves giraffes. Who wouldn’t after watching the documentary The Woman Who Loves Giraffes.
The film shines a light on Anne Innis Dagg’s foundational research which was previously hidden from most of the world because of her gender. In doing so, it brings awareness to the devastating reality that giraffes are facing today: Extinction.
In 1956, four years before Jane Goodall studied the chimpanzee and seven years before Dian Fossey worked with mountain gorillas, 23-year-old biologist Anne Innis Dagg journeyed solo to South Africa to study giraffes in the wild. Her story is one of far-reaching scientific discovery, sexual discrimination and environmental alarm.
The Woman Who Loves Giraffes will appeal to zoologists, environmentalists, ecologists, animal lovers, dreamers, bravehearts, human rights activists, feminists, adventurers, and every female, young or old, who has ever been told, “Sorry, no. You’re a girl.”
Prepare to be inspired.
A 30 minute interview with the film’s remarkable star and its director, Alison Reid, and can be seen on YouTube. YouTube also offers a way to view the film (for a fee), if it doesn’t play in a theater near you.
(Find a list of screenings for The Woman Who Loves Giraffes in New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and elsewhere on the film’s website.
The day after I viewed The Woman Who Loves Giraffes, National Geographic emailed the following short article to subscribers. The article doesn’t speak to safaris or giraffes, but it aligns perfectly with one of documentary’s themes.
TODAY’S BIG QUESTION: WHEN WILL SCIENCE CELEBRATE EVERYONE EQUALLY? Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Science, as a discipline, is somewhat obsessed with the notion of due credit. Woe betide the news writer who does not note which person is the lead author on a study. That’s one reason I’ve been personally fascinated with recent efforts to bring so-called hidden figures in science into the spotlight.
Stories highlighting marginalized people’s contributions to science have been trickling out for decades, but the term “hidden figures” leapt into our shared consciousness thanks to the incredible 2016 book, and subsequent movie, about the Black women who made vital calculations to send early NASA astronauts into space. Both works catapulted NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson (pictured above) into international stardom in her mid-90s—even though she made her contributions to the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space programs decades earlier. Johnson, who died this week at the age of 101, was a true pioneer, and her story will resonate for decades to come.
The exponential increase in stories about other hidden figures can be inspiring stuff, although sometimes the patterns that emerge are heartbreaking. The more I read, the more I see two common narrative arcs: People who did the work loud and proud and were persecuted for it (looking at you, Hypatia), and people who did the work quietly and went consistently unrecognized for far too long (over to you, Eunice Foote and Rosalind Franklin).
Still, I have hope for scientists working today, thanks to the efforts of people like Jessica Wade. A woman working in physics, Wade has been adding biographies of notable women and people of color to Wikipedia’s bounty of scientist biographies. And writers such as Angela Saini are really hitting science where it hurts, uncovering the dark history of inaccuracies, biases, and downright bad research practices that led to so many good scientists being stifled. Maybe, as more people like them champion inclusion in science, the need to celebrate hidden figures will become a thing of the past.