Animal Spotlight: Sarcastic Fringehead


Ken Bondy via Flickr
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Chaenopsidae
  • Genuss: Neoclinus
  • Species: blanchardi
  • Average Body Length: 3-8 in (7.6-29 cm)
  • Lifespan: 6 years

Although usually less than 10 inches long, sarcastic fringeheads are fearless and extremely aggressive, charging at anything that approaches their burrows. The sarcastic part of their common name is attributed to their temperament and the fringehead to the distinctive appendages over their eyes.

They can be found along the Pacific coast from San Francisco Bay to central Baja California, Mexico on sand or hard mud bottoms and depths of 10 to 240 ft (3 to 73 m). It will use anything it can fit in for shelter such as empty clam, snail shells, abandoned burrows, and cracks in clay or rock outcropping. Whatever the shelter used, a sarcastic fringehead claims it as its home territory, fiercely defending it against intruders. The larger the container, the larger the fringehead occupying it.

Physical Appearance:

Sarcastic fringeheads is elongate, slender, and moderately compressed. The long dorsal fin extends from the rear of the head almost to the rounded caudal fin, a characteristic of the clinid family. Their color is typically brown to gray, often with a red tinge and green or pale blotches.

17mxqvh34zgu7jpgFringeheads are specifically known for their extremely large mouths. This is due, in part, to their characteristically long maxillary that extends nearly to the back edge of the gill cover.

Heads are very large, with bluntly rounded snouts and prominent lips. The huge jaw extends back well past the eye and is larger in males than females. These fish have numerous needle-like teeth and wavy, fringe-like appendages called cirri, probably used to help it ensnare slippery, moving prey.

Males can be almost black with the rear of their giant jaw a bright yellow. Usually there are pale spots or patches on the cheeks.

The dorsal spines possess two ocelli (eye-like spots), one between the first and second spines, and the other between the fifth and ninth spines. These ocelli are generally a metallic blue and outlined by a yellow golden ring


Fringeheads are ambush predators, jumping out from their shelter to surprise prey swimming. However, what they eat in the wild is not well known. Closely related fish to the sarcastic fringehead such as pike-blennies, tubeblennies, and flagblennies are known to feed primarily on crustaceans and very small planktonic prey.

It is likely that sarcastic fringeheads eat a variety of prey. During squid spawning season, sarcastic fringeheads can be observed eating large numbers of squid eggs, a valuable food source for many species. But scientists expect that the grossly oversized mouths of the males may negatively affect their ability to feed.  


Sarcastic fringeheads are extremely temperamental. They are fiercely territorial creatures that aggressively protect their homes from all intruders, regardless of size. The majority of the time, sarcastic fringeheads rest in their homes with only their heads protruding. However, upon the first sign of danger, they will employ their enormous mouths and needlelike teeth for defense. Initially, they emit only a warning accomplished by the flexing and snapping of their jaws. If the intruder ignores the warning, they will use their ferocious teeth to attack.


Despite their small size, their swimming movements are rather complex. Many combinations of fin manipulations are used in their frequently erratic movements. Their dorsal and anal fins are long and unbroken and are used together with their pectoral and caudal fins for swimming. Most swimming consists of short, rapid, darting movements, frequently involving quick changes in direction. Long periods of sustained swimming are not part of this species usual movement pattern.

Spawning usually occurs from January to August. A female will deposit about 3,000 eggs in a male’s shelter and swim awhile while the male guards the eggs from potential predators and other threats until this hatch. Upon hatching, larvae are about 3.0 mm or 0.12 inches long.

This sexual selection by females drives a system of intense male competition and territoriality.  Male sarcastic fringeheads display to each other by opening their very large mouths in the direction of their rivals.  The mouth’s intimidating coloration, combined with the extreme nature of it size (which may be as much as four times its closed size) allow the larger male to establish dominance over the smaller.  Oftentimes, the rivals’ mouths are thrust very near to each other, sometimes touching.  The smaller individual typically surrenders and leaves the area, without the pair actually fighting.

Conservation and Threats:

Fringehead in a plastic tube

There are no known major threats to this species as it is unlikely that anyone intentionally fishes for this tiny, pugnacious fish. Sometimes accidentally caught, sport and commercial fishers are usually not comfortable handling the fish because there is a good chance of being bitten by the needle-sharp teeth of an angry fringehead unwilling to let go. Divers have reported damage to their wet suits by these grumpy little fish.

Because it occurs in deep water where threats are typically not severe, scientists believe that it not currently at risk of extinction. The species is listed as ‘of least concern’ by the IUCN Red List.

Interesting Facts:

  • The ocean bottom in Redondo Canyon in southern California is littered with discarded bottles, jars, cans, and similar containers. Divers have observed that many of these littering items house a sarcastic fringehead.
  • Sarcastic fringeheads are the largest of all fringeheads
  • They consume roughly 13.6 times their body weight per year
  • With the exception of attacking humans that intrude into their space, sarcastic fringeheads are considered harmless
  • Instead of entering a hole or burrow head-first; fringeheads frequently back into it, eliminating the need to turn around.

References + For More Reading:

Aquarium of the Pacific: Sarcastic Fringehead

Meet the Sarcastic Fringehead

Oceana: Sarcastic Fringehead

The Sarcastic Fringehead is One of the Ocean’s Strangest Fighters

Animal Diversity Web: Neoclinus blanchardi

Arkive: Sarcastic fringehead (Neoclinus blanchardi)

IUCN: Neoclinus blanchardi


Conservation News: Animal Abuse Records, Ivory Ban, and Tiger Temple

USDA Brings Back Animal Abuse and APHIS Records, But Not All

Following the public outcry after animal abuse records were wiped, the U.S. government posted a fraction of the tens of thousands of animal welfare data that were removed earlier this month.

In this announcement, the agency says that it is “posting the first batch of annual reports of research institutions and inspection reports” resulting from a “comprehensive review” that began with the complete removal of previously public documents that are generated by the agency as it enforces the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and the Horse Protection Act.

However, those familiar with the records say that USDA has so far restored only a small number. Among the documents still unavailable are the vast majority of reports from regular inspections of animal-holding facilities that are monitored under AWA, including puppy mills, private research facilities, and zoos. A number of groups have sued USDA to pressure the agency to repost all the records once again.

Continue reading “Conservation News: Animal Abuse Records, Ivory Ban, and Tiger Temple”


Animal Spotlight: Bateleur Eagle


Via National Aviary
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Accipitriforme
  • Family: Accipitridae
  • Genus: Tetrathopius
  • Species: ecaudatus
  • Body Length: 21-28 inches (54-70 cm)
  • Wingspan: 5.5 – 6 ft (1.6 – 1.8 m)
  • Weight: 4 – 6.5 lbs (1.8-2.9 kg)
  • Lifespan: 25 years

Bateleur eagles are striking, medium-sized eagles with impressive flying displays and nicknamed as the African Snake Eagle. They can spotted in the air with their distinctive rocking flight and low, searching passses while hunting. They are related to other snake eagles like the Black-Chested Snake Eagle (Circaetus pectoralis) and Short-Toed Snake Eagle (Circaetus gallicus).

These eagles live across regions of sub-Saharan Africa and as north and east as the Arabian Peninsula, occupying open regions of open woodland, savanna, coastal plains, and semi-deserts. Countries they can be found in are southern Mauritania, Senegambia east to Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, south to Namibia, and South Africa. Sadly, they only inhabit in protected areas and have been eliminated from and/or abandoned 80% of their former range. It is estimated that there are only 10,000 to 100,000 individuals.

Physical Appearance:

Bateleurs are uncommon among raptors in that males and females are physically very different from each other. This characteristics is known as sexual dimorphism. Both sexes are mainly black with a rusty chestnut back and ashy grey wing coverts. Each have black eyes bordered with a red eye ring. Its bare face is bright red and its hooked bill is yellowish with a black tip. Stocky legs and short stubby toes are bright bred.

Photo Credit: Jamie Pham

In adult males, it has a black head, neck, breast, greater wing coverts, belly and thighs. Shoulders are pale grey. Mantle, rump and tail are chestnut. Underwings are black and white with broad and thick black trailing edges.

In females only, bateleurs have greyer shoulders and grey secondary flight feathers with a trailing black edge. Females are also slightly larger. Underwings are black and white, with narrow black trailing edge. This makes it every easy to differentiate males from females, whether they are perching or in flight.

Juveniles, or immature Bateleur eagles, are a reddish brown, almost a chestnut color, on its head and underparts with dark primary feathers while its upperparts are darker brown. According to its sex, underwings show broad or narrow dark brown trailing. Its feet are pale pink. The face is bluish-gray, almost green, and the eyes are brown. As it matures, its face and legs will turn orange before it turns red like an adult.

Interesting, the bright skin on this raptor’s face and legs gives hints as to how the bird is feeling, much like a mood ring. When this eagle is relaxed, its skin is generally an orange-red color. When it gets excited, the bare skin can quickly turn bright red.


The Bateleur mainly consumes small mammals and birds, but will also take reptiles and fish if available. Many small animals make up the bird’s diet, including rodents, birds (such as pigeons, doves, hornbills, and even other raptors), lizards, fish, insects, and frogs.  It is also a scavenger, feeding on carrion and roadkill.

Via South Africa Explored

Based off of its nickname as the African Snake Eagle, it also commonly consumes venomous snakes. When it attacks a snake, it raises its crest feathers and spreads its wings. It has scaly legs to protect it against the venom. If a snake strikes it, any venom will pass into bird’s bloodstream.


The Bateleur spends most of time of the day on the wing, soaring effortless. It may takes off when the warmth starts, and it flies almost the entire day, until the cooler hours of the evening. It may fly over 320 km every day, during 8 to 9 hours. During the day, it sometimes perches in a tree, close to carrion, where it may try to pirate smaller raptors. When not in flight, the Bateleur perches or stands on the ground near water.

Bateleur adults are territorial and are often residents in most parts of the range. The juveniles may perform nomadic movements. Adults are monogamous, preferring to stick with a single mate.

Breeding season varies depending on where the eagle resides. In western Africa, mating season is from September to May. In eastern Africa, it is year-round and in southern Africa, they breed from December to August.

During the breeding season, the Bateleur’s wonderful flight displays are exhibited. It can execute 360 degrees rolls, displaying amazing turns and somersaults in the air. Male also performs steep dives to female. Then, she rolls on her back and presents her claws to the male, and they hurtle each other. When birds perform their “barrel-rolls”, this display is often accompanied by very loud slapping of the wings. This noise can be heard for great distance. Courtship flight displays are accompanied by loud crowing calls.

They will also perform a kind of mating dance on the ground, exposing its beautiful colored plumage.


Just like they pair for life, they also prefer to reuse the same nest year after year. Both adults will help build the nest in an open fork in a high tree. Their preferred trees are thorny Acacia and Baobab. Nests are usually constructed with heavy sticks and are lined with green leaves.

Usually a single egg is laid and is incubated by both parents for 52 to 59 days. The parents also take turns caring for the offspring, defending them from potential predators. Fledgling will take 93 to 194 days but the young will continue to remain dependent for the next four months. It will not reach full maturity until after five to six years, typically around seven years.

Unpaired, immature Bateleurs will sometimes hang around a nest site if the breeding pair tolerates their presence. The bird may be from the previous clutch that has not yet left the nest yet. Typically they will help defend and guard the nest but it does not feed the young.

Conservation and Threats:

Currently, the Bateleur eagle is listed as ‘near threatened’ by both the IUCN and BirdLife International and is listed under Appendix II by CITES.

Although they have a wide range throughout Africa, their population and suitable habitat has been decreasing. They are now restricted to protected areas having been eliminated from farmland in South Africa. The primary causes of their decline is believed to be deliberate poisoning by large-scale commercial farms, pesticides, poisoned bait left for jackals and other predators, and trapping for international trade. Other threats include persecution, nest disturbances, and habitat loss.

Despite these threats, the eagle is not necessarily particularly imperiled. Nevertheless, in Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Zimbabwe, parts of Zambia, and possibly parts of Tanzania the Bateleur has undergone significant declines in population and range.

Via South Africa Exposed

Currently, there is no conservation measures in place for the Bateleur but there are organizations working in many areas of Africa where birds of prey have shown declines. Their efforts are ensuring that adequate research is conducted in order to develop effective conservation strategies for these birds. Some actions include awareness campaigns to reduce the use of poison baits and continued monitoring throughout the Bateleur’s native ranges.

Recent studies suggest that as long as individual Bateleurs remain in protected areas, such as national parks, they will do okay. But, as soon as they leave the boundaries of the park, they become vulnerable to poisoning. In some countries, people are even trapping or poisoning these birds in order to collect their feathers and other body parts, which are sometimes used in superstitious rituals.

Interesting Facts:

  • Bateleurs are primarily silent, except when threatened or anxious.  When they do call out, typically when excited, their voices can be loud and carrying, uttering a short “kau-kau-kau” repeatedly followed by a two mostly long “koaagh.” While calling, it raises its half spread wings, giving the bird a threat posture, used in territorial displays.
  • The word “bateleur” is French for “street performer.”
  • Some African Tribes revere Bateleur, believing that they will win a battle if the eagle flies over the enemy.
  • Bateleur enjoy the sun, standing upright and holding wings straight out to the sides. The bird turns to follow the sun.
  • During the day, it may fly at speeds of up to 50 mph (80kmh).
  • This species is part of the national emblem of Zimbabwe.

References + For More Reading

National Aviary: Bateleur Eagle

Terathopius ecaudatus

Eagle Directory: Bateleur

Photo of the Month: Bateleur eagle

Arkive: Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus)

South Africa Explored: Bateleur

Peregrine fund: Bateleur eagle

Focusing on Wildlife: Bateleur eagle

IUCN: Terathopius ecaudatus (Bateleur)

Global Raptor: Bateleur Eagle


Conservation News: Climate Change, Antelopes, and Abalone

Republicans Release a Plan to Fight Climate Change Just As Antarctica Takes A Hit

The latest daily figures have shown that Antarctica’s sea ice has hit a worrisome milestone, reaching its lowest recorded extent this week, according to data from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center. This recent Tuesday had the all-time low since 1997: 2.22 million square kilometers (858,691 square miles).

Unlike the Arctic sea ice, which has shown a relatively steady decline over the past three decades as global temperatures rise, the Antarctic sea ice has yielded more erratic and controversial data since monitoring began the late 1970s.

In 2012, Antarctic sea ice actually hit a record monthly high, with scientists theorizing that melting ice shelves were contributing to the growth. Since then, further evidence of Southern Hemisphere ice melt has accumulated.

Via British Antarctic Survey/NASA

Melting ice is one of the biggest indicator of global warming and causes concern about the following sea-level rise and other climate impacts. Though the timing and the extent of those impacts have been highly debated, the trends are another set of data to pressure countries to curb greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to a warmer climate.

Continue reading “Conservation News: Climate Change, Antelopes, and Abalone”


Feline Genetics: Types of Feline Coat Patterns and Colors (Part 2)

This is a continuation of the series about feline genetics. If you haven’t read part 1, click here! In this post, I will be covering the remaining coat patterns: tortoiseshell, calico, and color-point as well as some other miscellaneous facts!



Tortoiseshell cats, also affectionately named “torties”, have a consistent mix of orange/red and black, creating a unique coat unlike the ticked tabby pattern. The patches can range from being very mingled or they may be more distinct blocks of color. Other types of tortoiseshell cats include the “blue-cream” (also known as the blue tortie) is randomly patched all over with blue and cream. It is the dilute version of the more common red and black coat. Another is the “brown patched tabby” looks almost like autumn leaves, covered with patches of brown tabby and patches of red tabby. This color is often called the “torbie” because it is a tabby tortie.

Not only can the colors of the tortoiseshell cats vary between each individual cat, but the patterns of the colors can as well. In general, there are two main patterns: brindled and patched. Brindled patters give a more fluid appearance, as the colors are woven together. Patched patterns feature solid patches of the black or red hair.

Continue reading “Feline Genetics: Types of Feline Coat Patterns and Colors (Part 2)”


Animal Spotlight: Fennec Fox


Credit: San Diego Zoo
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Canidae
  • Genus: Vulpes
  • Species: zerda
  • Average Length: 9-16 in (29-41 cm)
  • Average Tail Length: 7-12 in (18-30 cm)
  • Average Weight: 3.5 lbs (1.6 kg)
  • Average Lifespan: 10 years

Smaller than the average domestic cat, the fennec fox is the world’s smallest fox, but it’s oversized and large ears, measuring up to 6 inches, appear to have been borrowed from a bigger relative. It inhabits sandy deserts and semi-deserts, preferring stable sand dunes in which it can burrow. It’s region spans the deserts of the Sahara and throughout North Africa to the Sinai Peninsula and Arabia. These are the following countries in which this species can be found: Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sudan, and Tunisia.

Continue reading “Animal Spotlight: Fennec Fox”


Conservation News: Animal Abuse Records, Coral Reefs, and Parasites

Lack of Transparency After USDA Animal Abuse Records Went Offline

Two weeks into the Trump Administration, thousands of documents detailing animal welfare violations nationwide have been removed from the website of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which has been posting them publicly for decades. These include the inspection records and annual reports for every commercial animal facility in the U.S.—including zoos, breeders, factory farms, and laboratories.

They also reveal many cases of abuse and mistreatment of animals, documenting violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Incidents if the reports had not been publicly posted, would most likely to have remained hidden. This recent federal action plunges journalists, animal welfare organizations, and the public at large into the dark about animal welfare at facilities across the country.

The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which has maintained the online database, cites privacy concerns as justification for the removal.

However, critics question that reasoning.

Continue reading “Conservation News: Animal Abuse Records, Coral Reefs, and Parasites”


Animal Spotlight: Marbled Cat

Via Big Cat Rescue


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Felidae
  • Genus: Pardofelis
  • Species: marmorata
  • Average Weight: 4.5-11 lbs (2-5 kg)
  • Average Body Length: 18-25 in (45-62 cm)
  • Average Tail Length: 14-22 in (36-55 cm)
  • Longest Captivity: 12 years

A rare and little-known marbled cat possesses an unusual mixture of small and big cat characteristics. It is primarily thought to be an inhabitant of moist tropical forest but its specific habitat requirements are poorly known, with only anecdotal information available. It has been reported in mixed deciduous-evergreen forests and secondary forests as well as other habitats from sea level up to 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) above sea level.

Reports have shown that the marbled cat’s range can be from northern India and Nepal, through south-eastern Asia, to Borneo and Sumatra. This distribution includes areas of northern India, Nepal, Sikkim, Assam, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, and Borneo. In the Malay area they are rare and confined to the mainland.

Continue reading “Animal Spotlight: Marbled Cat”


Conservation News: Donkeys Aren’t Exempted from Eastern Medicine

In the Global Skin Trade, Chinese Medicine is Fueling Demand for Donkey

Ejiao on sale in a factory shop in Dong’e. Photo: George Knowles

Ejiao, also known as donkey-hide gelatin, is, as the name suggests, gelatin obtained from the skin of the donkey by soaking and stewing. It is an ingredient frequently used in traditional Chinese medicine and an entire industry has emerged to meet its demand.

The emergence of the global trade in donkey hide is attributed to the rise of China’s affluent middle class and increased perception of the medicine’s efficacy. Ejiao can sell for up to $375 per kilo.

“It’s what we refer to as a blood tonic. It’s good for building up the body and helps with what is known in Chinese medicine as ‘blood deficiency’, for conditions such as anaemia and heavy periods, as well as irritating dry coughs,” says Emma Farrant, president of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine. “It usually comes in blocks of dried pieces which are melted down into a concoction of herbal mixture to drink.”

The rural backwater of Dong’e, in Shandong province where more than a 100 factories produce ejiao, is the epicenter of a multibillion-dollar industry that is having a devastating effect on donkey numbers worldwide. Four million young animals – 2.2 million of them outside China – are being killed every year for their skins, which are boiled, liquefied and turned into health snacks, powders and face creams that the Chinese believe are the key to long life and lasting beauty. This industry alone has halved China’s donkey population and is threatening to expand to other continents’ populations.

Continue reading “Conservation News: Donkeys Aren’t Exempted from Eastern Medicine”


Feline Genetics: Types of Feline Coat Patterns and Colors (Part 1)

Felines come in many shapes and sizes. Well, maybe not as diverse as its fellow rival the dog, but cats do have an extensive range of colors and patterns. And it’s all thanks to genetics. This is the first installment of a three part series.

Coat Patterns

In general, there are six basic patterns, or combinations of colors in a specific layout: solid, tabby, bi-color, tortoiseshell, tricolor, and color-point. This post will cover the first three patterns.


The easiest one to recognize is the solid pattern, which is, for the most part, a single-colored coat that is evenly distributed all over the body. It is key that a solid-colored cat has no recognizable stripes, spots, ticking, patches, or shading. For example, a “solid-blue” cat or a “maltese” is blue-gray all over, whether it may be a dark slate gray, a medium gray, or a pale ash gray. Or, a “solid-black” cat is black all over and includes shades such as coal black, grayish black, or brownish black. (Fun Fact: Black cats can “rust” in the sunlight; the coat will turn into a lighter brownish shade.)

Continue reading “Feline Genetics: Types of Feline Coat Patterns and Colors (Part 1)”


Animal Spotlight: Red Junglefowl

Photo By: David Blank


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Galliformes
  • Family: Phasianidae
  • Genus: Gallas
  • Species: gallas
  • Average Male Length: 2.1-2.5 ft (65-75 cm)
  • Average Female Length: 1.4-1.5 ft (42-46 cm)
  • Average Male Weight: 1.5-3.2 lbs (0.7-1.45 kg)
  • Average Female Weight: 1.1-2.3 lbs (0.5-1.05 kg)
  • Expected Lifespan: 10 years

The red junglefowl is a tropical member of the Pheasant family and is the direct ancestor of all domestic poultry. It is believed that they were first domesticated at least 5,000 years ago in India. Since then, the domesticated form has been taken all around the world as a very productive food source for both meat and eggs, which some breeds have been specifically developed to produce more.

This species is native to Southern Asia, particularly the Indian jungles. Its range stretches from northeast India, where the pure species has been diluted with back-crosses from domestic breeds, eastwards across southern China and down into Malaysia and Indonesia. Throughout its extensive range, the red junglefowl occupies most tropical and subtropical habitats, including mangroves, scrubland, and plantations. Although, it seems that it prefers flat or gently sloping terrain, forest edges, and secondary forest. It has also been recorded being found in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Continue reading “Animal Spotlight: Red Junglefowl”


Conservation News: Forests, Snow Leopards, and Lions

Will Rainforests be a Thing of the Past 100 Years From Now?

Thirty years ago, a wide belt of rainforest circled the earth, covering Latin America, southeast Asia, and Africa. However, today, it is being rapidly replaced by great swathes of palm oil trees and rubber plantations, land cleared for cattle grazing, soya farming, expanding cities, dams, and logging. At current rates of deforestation, scientists are estimating that rainforests will vanish altogether in a century unless poor nations are helped to preserve them.

For thousands of years, people have been deforesting the tropics for timber and farming, but that is nothing compared to how humans have been physically transforming the Earth these past few centuries. Every year, about 18 million hectares of forest – an area the size of England and Wales – is felled. It is estimated that in the past forty years, possibly 1 billion hectares has been cleared. That’s equivalent to the size of Europe.

Based off of the latest satellite analysis, half the world’s rainforests have been razed in the past century. Particularly in the last 15 years, new hotspots have emerged globally from Cambodia to Liberia.

Deforestation in Bhutan. Forests are vital stocks of carbon and water resources (Flickr/ World Bank)

Continue reading “Conservation News: Forests, Snow Leopards, and Lions”


Watch Your Step: A Look Into Feline Paws and Claws

Feline Paws

Cat paws are amazing and despite our curiosity to touch, cats are quick to shy away. This is because their paw pads are exceptionally sensitive and packed with receptors because they are vital to feline’s survival and hunting skills.

They also function as shock absorbers and to help regulate body temperature. Paw pads are soft and cushion-like, with one in the center of the paw and at the tips of each toe. They provide cushion when running and the ridges may provide traction. These are extremely useful characteristics when hunting as the cat may need to sprint suddenly to surprise its prey.

Furthermore, it is also known for cats who live in extreme climates like the snow leopard have fur-covered foot pads to insulate the bottom of their feet because the paw pads are so sensitive to temperature, pain, and pressure. The pads themselves are not insulated and can be severely injured by hot pavements, frozen sidewalks, and ragged surfaces.

Continue reading “Watch Your Step: A Look Into Feline Paws and Claws”


Animal Spotlight: Ring-Tailed Cat



  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Procyonidae
  • Genus: Bassariscus
  • Species: astusus
  • Average Body Length: 24.4-32 in (62-81 cm)
  • Average Tail Length: 12.2-13.4 cm (31-44 cm)
  • Average Shoulder Height: 6.3 in (16 cm)
  • Average Weight: 1.8-2.9 lbs (0.8-1.3 kg)
  • Average Lifespan: 7 years

Also known as the ring-tailed cat, the ringtail is not a part of the feline family. Although they are not related to cats, people have referred to this mammal as “miner’s cat” because of its role as companions and mousers to early American settlers and in prospectors’ camps. Other nicknames include civet cat because of its pungent secretion from anal glands and cacomistle, an Axtec Nahuatl term meaning half mountain lion. The ringtail, whose name comes from the seven to eight black rings on the animal’s tail, is actually a member of the Procyonidae (raccoon) family.

This species is common and widespread across most of Mexico and southern North America from California to Texas. It is known to occur from Oaxaca in southern Mexico to the desert region of Baja California, as well as on the three islands of Tiburón, San José and Espíritu Santo in the Gulf of California. There are outlier populations in northern California, Nebraska, Missouri, and southwest Wyoming.

They occur in a variety of habitats, including semi-arid oak forest, pinyon pine or juniper forest, montane conifer forest, chaparral, desert, rocky areas, and canyons. It also adapts well to disturbed areas and is frequently found inside buildings.

Continue reading “Animal Spotlight: Ring-Tailed Cat”


Conservation News: Tigers and Primates

Massive Tigers Could Once Again Roam Central Asia

Artist’s depiction of a Caspian tiger. Credit: Heptner and Sludskiy 1972

Caspian tigers, some of the largest cats that ever lived that can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh more than 300 pounds, met a grim end in the middle of the 20th century. Before the mid-1960s when they were declared extinct, they were found from modern-day Turkey through much of Central Asia to northwestern China. This disappearance followed after poisoning and trappings promoted by the former Soviet Union until the 1930s and irrigation projects during the Soviet era destroyed the tugay woodlands, a riparian and coastal ecosystem of trees, shrubs, and wetlands, and reed thickets that were critical habitat for tigers and their prey.

It has long since thought that these tigers would never return. But, by reintroducing a subspecies that is nearly identical genetically to ideal locations, the extinct Caspian could be restored to Central Asia. In a study published in the journal Biological Conservation, researchers from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and State University of New York (SUNY) say they have found two spots in Kazakhstan to reintroduce the extinct enormous cat. And by using Amur tigers, better known as Siberian tigers, scientists may be able to accomplish this feat.

“The idea of tiger reintroduction in Central Asia using the Amur tiger from the Russian Far East as an ‘analog’ species has been discussed for nearly 10 years,” explained study co-author Mikhail Paltsyn, in a statement. “It met with considerable support from the government of Kazakhstan in 2010 during the Global Tiger Forum in St. Petersburg, Russia.”

Continue reading “Conservation News: Tigers and Primates”


Animal Spotlight: Blue Whale



  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Artiodactyla
  • Family: Balaenopteridae
  • Genus: Balaenoptera
  • Species: musculus
  • Average Length: 82-105 ft (25-32 m)
  • Average Weight: 200 tons (180,000 kg)
  • Estimated Average Lifespan: 80-90 years

Blue whales are the largest animals ever known to have lived on Earth. These magnificent marine mammals can live in all oceans of the world, feeding in high latitudes and later migrating to the tropics to breed and give birth. The only one it does not is the Arctic, with a range that extends from the periphery of drift-ice in polar seas to the tropics. It is also absent in some seas such as the Mediterranean, Okhotsk, and Bering. Most individuals will follow a seasonal migration pattern between summering and wintering areas. However, some individuals may remain in certain areas year-round.

There are at least three distinct subspecies: B. m. musculus of the North Atlantic and North Pacific, B. m. intermedia of the Southern Ocean, and B. m. brevicauda (also known as the pygmy blue whale) found in the Indian and South Pacific Ocean. It is possible that B. m. indica, also found in the Indian Ocean, may be another subspecies.

Continue reading “Animal Spotlight: Blue Whale”


Conservation News: Polar Bears, Bees, and Lemurs

Polar Bear’s Conservation Management Plan Blames Climate Change as Primary Threat

One of the iconic images of climate change is the iceless Arctic Ocean, the polar bear’s home melting away. This picture illustrates the vital connection polar bears have to their marine environment and the importance of having stable sea ice. During the late spring and summer months when the ocean freezes over, polar bears use sea ice to travel, hunt their primary prey, and rear their young. During the late summer and early fall when the sea ice melts away, polar bears are unable to hunt, using the stored up fat from their summer feast as energy until the sea ice returns come spring.

However, climate change is shifting this cycle. The days in summers and falls are increasing with no enough time for sufficient sea ice to form in the spring. As such, polar bears need to go without their primary prey. As a result, polar bears to remain travelling along the coast and wander into local villages to scour for food, leading to conflicts between the humans and bears.

The area of the Arctic covered by sea ice in October and November 2016 was the lowest on record for those months since record-keeping began in 1979. The current global polar bear population is estimated to be 26,000. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at the current rates throughout the 21st century, polar bears will likely disappear from much of their present-day range.  

Continue reading “Conservation News: Polar Bears, Bees, and Lemurs”


Tickle My Whiskers: A Look Into Feline Whiskers

fotolia_55143213_xsFelines possess many physiological attributes that give them their astounding athletic abilities. But one of their most prominent characteristic that all cats share that helps them maneuver gracefully is the whiskers. They have about 24 movable whiskers on their muzzle, twelve on either side of the nose, arranged in four rows in a pattern as individual as our fingerprints. There are also small groups of whiskers situated on other parts of the body as well: high on the outer edges of the cheeks, and above the eyes.

Shorter whiskers, also known as tylotrich, are specialized hair for sensation and are the large single hairs scattered over the skin and body acting like short whiskers. One example of where the tylotrich can be located are on the back of the front legs. There are many throughout the cat’s body but outside of the knowledge we have for whiskers, little is known about how these are used.

A common mistake people make is assuming that cat whiskers and human hair are alike. However, the facial whiskers, unlike human hair, are actually touch receptors and are twice as thick as the hair on its coat. They are also known as vibrissae, embedded more deeply in the cat’s body than the shorter top-fur coat, are connected to the sensitive muscular and nervous systems under the skin. Being connected to muscle, the whiskers can be moved backwards and forwards at will.

Continue reading “Tickle My Whiskers: A Look Into Feline Whiskers”


Animal Spotlight: Perentie Monitor

Via Australia Zoo


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Order: Squamata
  • Family: Varanidae
  • Genus: Varanus
  • Species: giganteus
  • Average Length: 5.8 – 6.6 ft (1.8 – 2 m)
  • Average Weight: 33 lbs (15 kg)
  • Oldest Known: 19.7 years

Perentie monitors only occur in the Australian deserts: from the central coast of Western Australia to arid western Queensland and into northern half of Southern Australia. Preferring arid habitats, the perentie digs its burrows in sandy ground and are most abundant around rocky outcrops as well as gorges and ranges. It also inhabits rocky ranges, flat-topped elevated land, semi-arid savanna, caves, sand ridges, and rock crevices. The monitor is also common on Barrow Island, off the coast of Western Australia, where it is an ecologically significant top predator.

Continue reading “Animal Spotlight: Perentie Monitor”


Conservation News: Global Consumption, Elephants, and Owls

Maps Reveal Just How Much Global Consumption Is Hurting Wildlife

In a world driven by a globalized economy, the biggest threat to an endangered species is often fueled by consumer demand thousands of miles away. The things we consume, from iPhones to cars, have costs that go well beyond their purchase price. It is possible that the soybeans used to make tofu for last night’s dinner were grown in fields after burning down tropical rainforests or a t-shirt that was bought came from an industrial area that had been carved out of high-value habitat in Malaysia. It is impossible to know if the products and goods we buy are truly sustainable and this makes protection of wildlife and biodiversity an even more daunting task.

And unfortunately, many of the most economically lucrative regions are also hotspots of biodiversity, harboring species close to the brink of extinction. It’s the classic division between economic and environmental preservation.

But Daniel Moran from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and his colleague Keiichiro Kanemoto from Shinshu University in Japan tackled this issue in their recent paper, which was published in Nature Ecology & Evolution. They developed a technique that allows them to identify threats to wildlife caused by global supply chains that fuel our consumption. By tracing these economic pressures back to their origins, the scientists mapped the spots where major consuming countries are threatening biodiversity around the world. After analyzing the data, they created a series of world maps that show the species threat hotspots across the globe for individual countries.

This map shows the species threat hotspots caused by US consumption. The darker the color, the greater the threat caused by the consumption. The magenta color represents terrestrial species, while the blue represents marine species. Photo: Daniel Moran and Keiichiro Kanemoto.

Continue reading “Conservation News: Global Consumption, Elephants, and Owls”


All The More To Eat With: A Look Into A Feline’s Sense of Taste

Cat Eating

Based on past posts, it seems logical to assume that cats have extremely fine tuned and heightened senses compared to those of humans. Their sense of balance, hearing, smell, and vision (to some extent) is better than what humans could be. However, one sense that falls short of a human’s is a cat’s sense of taste. Humans have approximately 9,000 taste buds compared to the paltry 470 of a feline’s.

A Feline’s Sense of Taste

The tongues of most mammals hold taste receptors, proteins that bind to incoming substance. These receptors are attached to what is known as gustatory cells which are scattered all over the tongue. Through their pores, the cells send filaments to the outside which collect and transmit tastes to the underlying nerves. On a side note, these nerve fibers will also respond to thermal stimuli in addition to taste. Prolonged cooling of the tongue with ice water was found to abolish all responses to gustatory stimuli.

Like humans, cats are responsive to four basic tastes: sour, bitter, salty, and sweet, decreasing in sensitivity in that order. But felines have evolved to exclusively eat meat and as such, sugar  and carbohydrates (which is turned into sugar) means very little. As such, they lack the sweet receptor, which is made up of a coupled protein generated by two separate genes known as Tas1r2 and Tas1r3, and the necessary conduction fibers in the glossopharyngeal nerve from the tongue to the cerebrum which is required to taste sweetness. As obligate carnivores, their response to sweet is much weaker, almost non-existent in comparison to other mammals.

Many people will observe that their cats are attracted to sugary processed foods like candies, ice cream, pudding, etc. This might seem that their cats have a “sweet tooth” but in reality, it is probably because the fat content, which they can easily detect, is what attracts them.

Continue reading “All The More To Eat With: A Look Into A Feline’s Sense of Taste”


Animal Spotlight: Snow Leopard


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Felidae
  • Genus: Panthera
  • Species: uncia
  • Average Height: 1.8-2.2 ft (55-65 cm)
  • Average Body Length: 3-4 ft (0.9-1.2 m)
  • Average Tail Length: 2.5-3.4 ft (0.8-1 m)
  • Average Weight: 66-110 lbs (30-50 kg)
  • Average Lifespan: 10-20 years

These rare, beautiful gray leopards live in the mountains of Central Asia. The populations are extremely fragmented throughout the harsh, remote, mountainous regions, with the majority of snow leopards located in the Tibetan region of China. Generally found at elevations between 1,000 to 1,500 feet (3,000 to 4,500 meters), snow leopards thrive in the alpine and subalpine ecological zones where it frequents the steep terrain broken by cliffs, ridges, gullies, and rocky outcrops.

However, in some parts of Mongolia and on the Tibetan Plateau, they occur in relatively less precipitous landscape, especially if there are suitable travel routes along ridges and where sufficient cover is found. In the mountains of Russia and parts of Tian Shan, the snow leopard occurs in open coniferous forests, generally avoiding dense forests.

A snow leopard’s’ range accompanies 12 countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Continue reading “Animal Spotlight: Snow Leopard”


Conservation News: Elephants, Cheetahs, and Birds

China Announces the Details To Ban the Ivory Trade by the End of 2017

Earlier this month, China stated that they will finally implement plans to ban the ivory trade. State media reported last Friday that China will ban all domestic ivory trade and processing by the end of 2017, setting a deadline. Thereby, shutting the door to the world’s biggest end-market for poached ivory.

“China will gradually stop the processing and sales of ivories for commercial purposes by the end of 2017,” the official Xinhua news agency said, citing a government statement, and will affect “34 processing enterprises and 143 designated trading venues.” The State Council also mentioned that the first batch of factories and shops will need to close and hand in their licenses by March 31, 2017.

elephant ivory.PNG
Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

People with ivory products previously obtained through legal means can apply for certification and continue to display them in exhibitions and museums, the government announcement said. The auction of legally obtained ivory antiques, under “strict supervision”, will also be allowed after obtaining authorisation. It also mentioned that the government will also crack down on law enforcement and boost education.

China’s announcement follows Beijing’s move in March to widen a ban on imports of all ivory and ivory products acquired before 1975 after pressure to restrict the trade, which more than 20,00 elephants are killed annually for.

Conservation groups applauded the ban, with WildAid’s wildlife campaigner Alex Hofford calling it “the biggest and best conservation news of 2016”.

And Aili Kang, executive director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Asia, praised the announced in a statement. “This is great news that will shut down the world’s largest market for elephant ivory. “I am very proud of my country for showing this leadership that will help ensure that elephants have a fighting chance to beat extinction. This is a game changer for Africa’s elephants.”

WWF Hong Kong’s Senior Wildlife Crime Officer Cheryl Lo said the bold timeline “shows determination to help save Africa’s elephants from extinction”.

But he also calls on Hong Kong to bring forward a plan to end its ivory trade by 2021. “With China’s market closed, Hong Kong can become a preferred market for traffickers to launder illegal ivory under cover of the legal ivory trade,” he explains.

China to Ban Domestic Ivory Trade by End of 2017

China to ban ivory trade by the end of 2017

Cheetahs No Longer Safe, Latest Census Suggests Possible Extinction

A cheetah family rests together in Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. Photo By: Frans Lanting

The world’s fastest land mammal is racing toward extinction, with the latest cheetah census suggesting that the big cats, which are already few in number, may decline by an additional 53% over the next 15 years.

“That’s really perilous,” says Luke Hunter, president and CCO for Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization. “That’s a very active decline, and you have to really step in and act to address that.”

According to a new study, which appeared this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, there are just 7,100 cheetahs left in the wild. That’s down from the estimated 14,000 cheetahs in 1975, when researchers made the last comprehensive count of the animals across the African continent, Hunter says.

In addition, the cheetah has been driven out of 91 percent of its historic range—the big cats once roamed nearly all of Africa and much of Asia, when the global population numbered over 100,000. Since 1900, the feline has gone extinct in more than 20 countries and their population is now confined predominantly to six African countries: Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, and Mozambique. The species is already almost extinct in Asia, with fewer than 50 individuals remaining in one isolated pocket of Iran.

“Given the secretive nature of this elusive cat, it has been difficult to gather hard information on the species, leading to its plight being overlooked,’ said Sarah Durant, the report’s lead author and researcher at the Zoological Society of London and the Wildlife Conservation Society says in the press release.

“Our findings show that the large space requirements for the cheetah, coupled with the complex range of threats faced by the species in the wild, mean that it is likely to be much more vulnerable to extinction than was previously thought. Governments are often required to monitor their wildlife inside protected areas, but not outside them,” Durant continues. “And monitoring is harder to do outside, because cheetah are shy and their densities are lower. We have no data.”

An Asiatic cheetah crosses the Miandasht Wildlife Reserve in Iran. Photo By: Frans Lanting

Based on these results, the study authors and the organizations supporting the study – Zoological Society of London, Panthera, and Wildlife Conservation Society – are calling for the cheetah’s status to be upgraded from “vulnerable” to “endangered” on the IUCN Red List.

“These large carnivores, when they are declining at that sort of rate, then extinction becomes a real possibility,” Hunter comments.

Perhaps unsurprising, humans are the man reason that cheetahs are in peril. Like other carnivores, cheetahs face habitat loss driven by conversion of wilderness areas into managed land dedicated to agriculture or livestock. In addition, illegal poaching and the trafficking of cheetahs as exotic pets as well as humans overhunting their prey for bushmeat have all driven the cheetahs out of 91% of their historic range across Africa and Asia.

“Cheetahs are facing a double whammy: They are getting killed directly, and then also their prey species are getting killed in these savannah areas, so the cheetahs having nothing to subsist on,” Hunter argues.

Furthermore, according to the study, 77% of cheetahs live outside of non-protected areas, which are more vulnerable to human threats. This is due to the animals need to have room to roam; individual cheetahs can have a range as large as Manhattan. Because many live in non-protected areas, they often come into conflict with humans and their livestock, which will lead to retaliation and hunting of cheetahs.

“We can’t have any more cheetahs in [current] protected areas … the density is already the maximum it can be,” Durant says. “The key to the survival of the cheetah is its survival outside of protected areas.”

A cheetah and two cubs gaze across the landscape in Kenya. Photo By: Frans Lanting

Hunter adds that it is likely too late to grow and protect the species in areas like West or Central Africa, where these big cats have long been on the decline. But, there is enormous potential for the population to rebound quickly in other areas. With a new conservation status, the cheetahs would have a platform for conservation groups to try and reverse the trends affecting cheetahs. For instance, such a change can create openings for funding streams that are available only to endangered species, and they might allow for conversations with African governments about cheetah conservation programs.

“What we are really hoping,” Durant says, “is this will catalyze action to start thinking outside the box for cheetah and landscape conservation, to start looking beyond the protected-area system and looking at how we can get communities engaged in and supportive of conservation, and make sure we have the policy and financial policy framework in place so that they will benefit from conservation.”

Cheetahs Are Dangerously Close to Extinction

Cheetah Populations Plummet as They Race Toward Extinction

Cheetahs are dropping fast and are in danger of extinction

Research Reveals that Climate Change Might Be Driving Birds to Migrate Early

Migrating birds are responding to the effects of climate change by arriving at their breeding grounds earlier as global temperatures rise, research has found.

The University of Edinburgh study, which looked at hundreds of migratory species across five continents, found that birds are reaching their summer breeding grounds on average about one day earlier per degree of increasing global temperature. The researchers also examined records of migrating bird species dating back almost 300 years, drawing upon records from amateur enthusiasts and scientists, including notes from the 19th century American naturalist Henry David Thoreau.

The main reason that birds take flight is changing seasonal temperatures and food ability. So the time they reach their summer breeding grounds is significant. If the birds arrive at the wrong time, even by a few days, this may cause them to miss out on vital resources such as food and nesting places. This in turn will affect the timing of offspring hatching and their chances of survival.

It is the hope of the researchers that their study, published in the Journal of Animal Ecology and supported by the Natural Environment Research Council, would help scientists to better predict how different species will respond to environmental changes. Long-distance migrants, which are shown to be less responsive to rising temperatures, may suffer most as other birds gain advantage by arriving at breeding grounds ahead of them.

Climate change driving birds to migrate early, research reveals

STUDY – Temporal shifts and temperature sensitivity of avian spring migratory phenology: a phylogenetic meta-analysis


Animal Spotlight: Nurse Shark


Credit: George Grall, National Aquarium
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Chondrichthyes
  • Order: Orectolobiformes
  • Family: Ginglymostomatidae
  • Genus: Ginglymostoma
  • Species: cirratum
  • Average length: 12 ft (3.7 m)
  • Average Weight: 200-330 lbs (90-150 kg)
  • Average Lifespan: 25-35 years

Nurse sharks are slow-moving bottom-dwellers with small mouths. For the most part, they are harmless to humans. Because of their small mouths, they are unable to consume large fish. Instead, they will catch their prey on the seafloor, mostly by sucking their prey into their mouths. While doing this, the shark will make an unmistakable “slurping” or sucking sound, which is completely unique to this species.

Continue reading “Animal Spotlight: Nurse Shark”


Conservation News: Roads, an Oil Drill Ban, and Great Apes

Road-Building Just Might Be Behind Why Our Wild is Disappearing

When one considers which of the many human threats to nature have the most damaging effect, global warming, overhunting, and loss of habitat comes to mind. However, a new study suggests that it is in fact, road-building.

Many of us have been trained to see road-building as something positive, conjuring images of promoting economic growth, after multiple history lessons. However, an unprecedented spate of road building is happening now. It is expected that by 2050, 25 million kilometers or 15.5 million miles of new paved roads will be laid. And that’s causing many environmental researchers to perceive roads about as positively as a butterfly might see a spider web that’s just fatally trapped it.

Continue reading “Conservation News: Roads, an Oil Drill Ban, and Great Apes”


Animal Spotlight: Uguisu


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Cettiidae
  • Genus: Cettia
  • Species: diphone
  • Also known as: Japanese Bush Warbler
  • Average Weight: 15g – 22g (0.5oz – 0.7oz)
  • Average Length: 14cm – 16.5cm (5.5in – 6.5in)
  • Average Wingspan 20cm – 22cm (7.9in – 9in)
  • Lifespan: 2-5 years

Known for its beautiful song, the Uguisu, also known as the Japanese bush warbler, is distributed throughout the Far East. While it is most common in regions throughout Japan where it is found all year round, populations exist in northeastern China, southern Russia, Korean peninsula, Taiwan, and northern Philippines.

Continue reading “Animal Spotlight: Uguisu”


Animal Spotlight: Galapagos Penguin


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Sphenisciformes
  • Family: Spheniscus
  • Genus: mendiculus
  • Average Weight: 5.5 lbs (2.5 kg)
  • Average Height: 20 in (51 cm)
  • Average Lifespan: 15 – 20 years

Endemic to the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador and named after where it lives, the Galapagos penguin is the smallest of the South American penguin species. It is also the smallest population of a penguin species. It is estimated that there are fewer than 2,000 individuals with less than half of the estimate able to breed.

Approximately 95% of the population occurs on the western islands of Fernandina and Isabela Islands. There are smaller colonies are also found on other nearby islands and in the general vicinity.

They are the only known species of penguin that is able to successfully live so close to the equator. The intense rays of sunshine are a known problem for the Galapagos penguins but the nights and waters, due to the currents that come into the area, are cool and provide shade. It nests in cracks, caves and depressions in the island’s lava flows.

Continue reading “Animal Spotlight: Galapagos Penguin”


Conservation News: Hippos, Sharks, and Dogs

The Illegal Hippo Ivory Trade Overshadowed by the Illegal Elephant Ivory Trade is Continuing to Suffer

Investigators suspect an illicit trade in hippo teeth in Uganda is feeding Asia’s ivory markets. But it is extremely difficult as they can only arrest the middlemen, unable to find the poachers.

“We have not got the real kingpins—we’ve mainly arrested Ugandans who don’t even know the traders because it is a chain,” says Charles Tumwesigye, deputy director of conservation with the Uganda Wildlife Authority. He says it’s probable that elephant ivory traders are also involved in smuggling hippo ivory because it’s used in similar ways but is cheaper.

Continue reading “Conservation News: Hippos, Sharks, and Dogs”


Animal Spotlight: Spectacled Bear


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Ursidae
  • Genus: Tremarctos
  • Species: ornatus
  • Other Name: Andean Bear
  • Average Height: 5 to 6.5 ft (1.5 to 2 m)
  • Average Male Weight: 220 to 440 lbs (100 to 200 kg)
  • Average Female Weight: 77 to 180 lbs (35 to 82 kg)
  • Lifespan: 20+ years

One of the smallest members of the bear family, the diminutive spectacled bear is also South America’s only bear species. The intensely shy bears prefer the lush, dense, isolated cloud forests on the slopes of the Andes, climbing as high as 14,000 feet (4,3000 meters). They will descend to search for food though and have been seen in widely differing habitats, from rainforests, steppe lands, and coastal deserts, to the high Andean moorland.

The spectacled bear is found from Venezuela to Northern Argentina, including Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. According to some researchers, the greatest number of bears is to be found on the borders between Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.

Physical Description:

The bear has a robust and stocky build, with a short and muscular neck as well as short but strong leg. Its head is rounded, with small round ears, and the snout is relatively short compared to other bear species. As with all bears, it can also walk on the soles of their feet. Medium sized, the bear also have a longer front than rear legs, making it an excellent climber. Overall, the male spectacled bear is much larger than the female, up to 50% bigger.


A spectacled bear’s dense fur is usually black, although it can have dark red-brown tones. It will also have white to pale yellowish rings that encircle its eyes, resembling large eyeglasses, as well as around the muzzle, neck, and chest. However, these lines don’t always have to encircle the eyes and some individuals will lack the distinctive markings altogether.

Its long, curved, sharp claws are used for climbing trees and digging into insect mounds for food. The bear also has a very strong jaw and wide, flat molars to help them chew through tough vegetation such as tree bark. Because of the warm climate where they live, their fur is reasonable thinner than most other bear species and they do not have to hibernate. Its short tail, about 3 inches or 70 mm long, is completely hidden by the fur.


Spectacled bears have an omnivorous diet, although they are fairly specialized in fruit and different parts of several plants. Besides the giant pandas, they are probably the most herbivorous bear species. They feed high up in trees as well as on plants growing on the ground. They seem to have a strong preference for bromeliad and fruits, but have also been observed eating moss, cacti, orchids, bamboo, honey, tree wood, and palms.

spectacled-bear-4Occasionally, they will supplement their diet with meat, eating insects, small rodents, birds, and even small cows. This makes them the largest carnivores in South America.

Spectacled bears have been known to raid farmers crops, especially maize, which often results in the bears being shot. Despite this, they have rarely been observed killing livestock and will readily scavenge from a carcass.



Though generally diurnal, spectacled bears are shy, elusive, and peaceful creatures, avoiding contact with humans. In general, they are usually solitary, but may be found occasionally in relatively high concentrations, when favorite food items are abundant.

As highly agile climbers, the bears have been known to spend their time sitting in a tree for days on a platform they formed from broken branches, waiting for fruit to ripen. They will also form these nests to rest as well.

Pairs are formed only for reproduction between March and October, indicating an ability to reproduce at different times of the year. Females are capable of planning their pregnancy and labor to make sure their food supply is ample at the time of giving birth. Like most bears, the pregnancy of the spectacled bear can be delayed implantation where the fertilized ovum floats in the uterus for a period of time before attaching to the wall of the uterus and continuing developing. If there is a season when food is extremely scarce, the embryos can simply be absorbed into the mother’s body and she will not give birth that year.

After a gestation period of 5.5 to 8.5 months, the female will usually give birth to one to three cubs between December and February. The tiny and helpless cubs will weigh between 10 to 18 ounces at birth and their eyes shut for the first month. They are born black in color, already sporting the white or yellowish ‘spectacle’ markings. For the next six to eight months, the cubs will hitch a ride on the mother’s back. The cubs will remain with the mother for at least a year and will not sexually mature until between four to seven years old.

Via ZooBorns

Conservation and Threats:

Population data are sketchy, but some estimates suggest fewer than 3,000 spectacled bears may remain in the wild today. Their numbers suffer primarily from the destruction and fragmentation of their habitat due to the construction of roads and infrastructure development as well as destruction of forests for illicit crops such as coca and opium poppy. Habitat has also been destroyed for the use of grazing areas for cattle farming. Current land use patterns include the felling of trees, land clearing, and extraction of timber and firewood for farms in the higher mountainous areas. Because of these developments, the original habitat of the spectacled bear has fragmented into at least 113 patches of wilderness in the mountainous region between Venezuela and northern Peru.

Hunting is also another major cause of population reduction of this species. Local inhabitants kill these unique bears for diverse reasons including: subsistence hunting, protection against attacks to livestock and crops, and fear of the animal due to cultural reasons. They are also hunted for their parts for the wildlife trade. There is local demand for items such as its fat, skin, claws, and meat. Particularly, its gall bladders are valued in traditional oriental medicine, fetching a high price on the international market. Recent estimates put the price at US $150 for one, which is five times the average monthly wage in Ecuador. There is also a large market for bear paws, with one paw bringing in between US $10 to $20. It is calculated that around 200 bears are hunted down annually in the region.

Spectacled Bear Territory (Source IUCN Red List)

Lack of knowledge about the distribution and status is a problem throughout the region. In many areas, information about the status of spectacled bears is outdated, or particularly in the southern portion of the range, simply non-existent. The absence of knowledge makes it difficult to develop realistic management plans for the conservation of this species or to monitor changes in its distribution. Despite this, the species is legally protected, though enforcement is underfunded. International trade is banned after being listed under Appendix I of CITES. It is also listed as ‘vulnerable’ to extinction on the IUCN Red List.

There are also a number of national parks that contain spectacled bears. But like legal enforcement, these often vast areas are massively understaffed and therefore, ineffective for their conservation. Some of these protected areas have populations not large enough for the species’ survival throughout its range. Kölner Zoo in Germany coordinates the International Studbook for this species, and a captive breeding programme is also underway in Venezuela.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has led the development of a regional conservation strategy for the species in the Northern Andes, with the support of other international organisations and local NGOs from the region. The Andean Bear Conservation Project of Ecuador also directs a program of reintroduction into the wild for spectacled bears that have been rescued from hunters or kept in captivity, while in Venezuela the Andígena Foundation is carrying out a series of environmental education and research projects for spectacled bear conservation in the Venezuelan Andes, and advising conservation initiatives in other countries within the range of this charismatic bear

Interesting Facts:

  • Protecting the habitat of the forest’s largest animal automatically benefits other forest dwellers, bringing advantages to the whole ecosystem. For this reason, the spectacled bear is considered a flagship or umbrella species.
  • The fictional children’s character Paddington Bear is a spectacled bear, having come all the way from “darkest Peru”.
  • The spectacled bear is thought to be the best climber of all the bear species.
  • They are the most vegetarian of bears; only roughly 5% of their diet is meat.
  • All other types of bear have 14 pairs of ribs, however, the spectacled bear only has 13.
  • The spectacled bear is the second largest terrestrial mammal in South America.

References + For More Reading

WWF: Spectacled bear

Animal NatGeo: Spectacled Bear

IUCN: Tremarctos ornatus

San Diego Zoo: Andean (Spectacled) Bear

Spectacled Bear Fast Facts

Arkive: Spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus)

Animal Corner: Spectacled Bear

Bears of the World: Spectacled Bears

The Animal Files: Spectacled Bear

Our Endangered World: Spectacled Bear

Bear Life: Spectacled Bear

Animal Diversity: Tremarctos ornatus


Conservation News: Elephants, Pangolins, and Groupers

With Poaching at an All Time High, Elephants are Fleeing to the Last Stronghold in Africa

With ivory poachers hunting elephants in neighboring countries Namibia, Zambia, and Angola, these large pachyderms are fleeing in astounding numbers to Chobe National Park of Botswana where illegal hunting is mostly kept in check.

“Our elephants are essentially refugees,” says Michael Chase, founder of the Botswana-based conservation group Elephants Without Borders, which works to create transboundary corridors for elephants to travel safely between countries.

While it has become a safe haven, offering some protection, the Chobe is not the most welcoming stronghold. The Kalahari Desert’s dry ecosystem is not capable of supporting so many elephants, which each can eat up to 600 pounds of food daily. Chase describes the environment as a “seemingly endless terrain of desiccated trees and brush” with “only a few spots of green.” Forced to eat bark, some elephants have already died from blocked intestinal tracts. Water resources for the elephants are also scarce in the parched land. The animals settle for remote watering holes around the park, instinctively steering clear of rivers where the risk of poachers catching them off guard is likely.

“The irony of elephants seeking refuge in the Kalahari Desert, an environment not compatible to sustaining these numbers of elephants, is a tragedy,” Chase declared. “Unfortunately, this time of peace was not to last.”

Elephants in Botswana’s Chobe National Park race down a dry, dusty hill toward the Chobe River. The animals regularly cross the water to reach the richer vegetation of Namibia. Photo By: Christine Dell’Amore

Due to poaching and rapid development, African elephant numbers have plummeted by 30% in recent decades, according to the 2016 Great Elephant Census. Once ranging from the coastal plains of Cape Town to the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, the species has fallen from 1.3 million in the 1970s to about 352,000 today. Because of this sudden decrease, the International Union for Conservation of Nature listed the African elephant as vulnerable to extinction on the Red List. Approximately 130,000 of the survivors now live in Botswana as the biggest elephant population in any country.

But as elephants fleeing to Botswana, the poachers are following. Already 55 have been killed illegal in Chobe National Park in recent months, according to Chase.

“These animals are highly intelligent,” he says. “They know where they’re persecuted.”

George Wittemyer, scientific chair of the Kenya-based nonprofit Save the Elephants, and his colleagues have found that elephants can identify and navigate what ecologists call “a landscape of fear.” As in Botswana, Kenyan elephants can discern boundaries of protected areas such as Samburu National Reserve and Amboseli National Park without the aid of fences or other markers.

In a recent study, Wittemyer and his colleagues found that elephants living in a patchwork of protected and human-dominated land will shift their circadian rhythm to rest more during the day, which they’ve learned means fewer encounters with people. In such places, the animals will also choose less populated areas to rest, even if they are farther away from water. Then, under the cover of darkness, the elephants make a beeline for the water holes, quickly passing through places where people or poachers may lurk. However, in protected areas, elephants will switch this behavior and hang out at water holes all day.

elephant-refugee-2“It’s been remarkable to see the way they will identify areas they see as safe and move rapidly through areas they don’t see as safe,” says Wittemyer.

The herbivores’ evasive skills are due in large part to their highly sophisticated spatial memory.

Satellite data from collared elephants in Namibia’s Etosha National Park show that the animals travel the fastest, most direct route possible to water holes, according to a 2015 study co-authored by Wittemyer. Their ability to take the most efficient path to water sources regardless of where they are starting from suggests that they maintain detailed, wide-ranging maps in their heads.

The elephants’ intelligence also includes their communication skills. Joyce Poole, cofounder of the conservation group ElephantVoices, has studied elephants in the wild for 41 years and has identified hundreds of posture and gestures that reveal the creatures capability to consciously make decisions and act on them. Experiments and studies have shown that elephants can distinguish different languages and discern one people group as more dangerous than another.

Wittemyer also adds that “elephants can smell chemical stress levels in other elephants’ dung and feces, which could communicate which areas are safe.”

“Elephants use their cognitive and sensory abilities to avoid poachers as well, but they aren’t always successful, especially when poachers use sophisticated equipment,” says Poole. “How do we protect these elephants and not end up with refugees running from one tiny safe haven to another? We’ve got to stop the demand for ivory.”

But, poaching shows no sign of stopping. Illegal killing for ivory is so intense that in ten years scientists expect to lose 50% of Africa’s remaining elephants, Chase says.

Even if anti-poaching and park management improved, in some cases, there’s not much left for the elephants to return to. Across much of Africa, ill-maintained parks have become overrun with domestic livestock that have denuded the land. And countries are expected to double in population by 2050, leaving less space for wildlife and fueling the growth of large-scale development, fragmenting suitable habitat.

There have been some victories worth celebrating. Uganda, Namibia, and Gabon have stable or recovering elephant populations. And in Botswana, ecotourism is the second largest foreign exchange earner. Which Chase describes as “reaping the rewards of successful conservation.”

Perhaps most importantly, “the world is listening to the plight of elephants,” he says, citing the growth of wildlife documentaries like Savage Kingdom as one example. “We’ve shocked people out of apathy and into action.”

Elephant Refugees Flee to Last Stronghold in Africa

Tragedy: Nowhere to Go, Elephants Seek Refuge at the Kalahari Desert

The Largest Ever Release of Rescued Pangolins Give Them a Second Shot

A pangolin waiting to be released. Photo By: Rachel Nuwer

On Monday, 46 pangolins rescued from traffickers were put back into the wild at a reserve on the Vietnam-Laos border, unidentified to preserve secrecy. But while it is worth celebrating, there is no guarantee that some, if not all, will fall victim again to poachers and end up back in the illegal wildlife trade in the wildlife.

“I feel very good about the release, but we know that no place is 100 percent safe from poachers,” says Thai Van Nguyen, founder and executive director of Save Vietnam’s Wildlife, the nonprofit organization that undertook the release. “That animals can wind up back in the trade is always a concern for us,” he said. “If pangolins are just trapped again, then it doesn’t mean anything if we rehabilitate and release them.”

Most of the pangolins Nguyen and his colleagues set free this week were discovered in September, packed in boxes of ice on the back of a truck in northern Vietnam. Of the 61 the police confiscated, 12 died from trauma and injuries and several are still recovering at Nguyen’s facility, the only rehab center in Vietnam capable of caring for those animals.

But they represent barely a drop in the total illegal trade. More than a million pangolins are estimated to have entered into the black market during the past decade, making the species the most trafficked mammal in the world.

In September, pangolins were given the highest level of global protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the body of nations that regulates the international wildlife trade. Vietnam’s legislation also strictly protects pangolins, yet the country remains a hub for both pangolin consumption and trafficking to China.

“We are aware of our roles and responsibility in controlling the illegal wildlife trade,” Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh, Vietnam’s vice president, said yesterday in Hanoi at the start of a two-day conference on illegal wildlife trade. The meeting, hosted by Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, drew delegates from more than 40 countries, including Prince William from the U.K. “Without responsible actions to be put into practice right now, our future generations will no longer have the chance to see diverse wildlife,” she said.

A newly released pangolin clings to Thai Van Nguyen’s leg, possibly mistaking it for a tree trunk. Photo By: Rachel Nuwer 

Vietnam has long professed in words and writing its commitment to tackle wildlife crime, but action on the ground has lagged. According to case reviews from 2010 to 2016 conducted by the Hanoi-based nonprofit group Education for Nature-Vietnam (ENV), the country has yet to arrest or prosecute a single high-level wildlife criminal, despite widely available evidence indicating who these alleged traffickers are.

These shortcomings were heard at the public hearing in November held by the Wildlife Justice Commission, an NGO made up of criminal justice experts, which highlighted Vietnam’s failure to follow through on its commitments to crack down on the trade. The group’s year-long investigation, mainly conducted at Nhi Khe, a town near Hanoi, revealed significant amounts of illegal wildlife products for sale such as ivory and tiger products. According to the findings, corruption and lack of political will are the primary factors allowing this illegal commerce to continue.

Minimal action has followed. Vietnamese officials declined invitations to attend the hearing and instead a single Vietnamese observed attended.

“There have been declarations aplenty this year, but pledges must be backed by action on the ground,” says Olivia Swaak-Goldman, the commission’s executive director. “Do remember that while the Hanoi Illegal Wildlife Trade conference is taking place, just 20 kilometers away is Nhi Khe, one of the world’s worst wildlife-trafficking hubs.”

Pangolins Released Into Wild May Be Recaptured and Eaten

Scaling the Odds at Vietnam’s Pangolin Rehab

A Clash of Interests Over the Protection of the 800-Pound Groupers

Not all hold such a reverential view of the Atlantic goliath grouper. Fished to near extinction in its western north Atlantic habitat by 1990, U.S. states and the federal government banned catching the gigantic fish. Since then, the population has been making a comeback and scientists are celebrating.

However, some Florida fishermen have been frustrated, arguing that the groupers have been eating too many fish and stealing from them. Several videos online show the goliath grouper’s antics, which, includes a grouper dragging a fisherman and stealing his catch.

Via Lak-ai Blogspot

“There are a lot of spots we don’t go to anymore because you won’t catch anything,” says Brice Barr, a charter boat skipper and president of the Key West Charter Fishermen’s Association. “The goliaths will catch every single fish that you hook. They hear the sound of our boats and that’s the dinner bell. They know they are going to get fed.”

Barr and others also blame the groups for decimating fish stocks on the Florida reef, including snapper and smaller grouper species. “If you ask most fishermen, they say we need to get rid of the goliath. These top predators are becoming so protected, they are starting to prey more and more on the rest of the fish.”

But Chris Koenig, a retired University of Florida marine biologist who has studied goliaths for decades, fights back. “People make up all kinds of reasons why the fish must be destroyed. This is a native species. They were part of the natural environment. They have been here for millions of years, much longer than we have.” He and his wife refuted claims and clarified the groupers’ dining habits and biology with a paper online.

“We’ve been trying to knock down these arguments for years,” Koenig says. “People think because it is big, it has to eat a lot. But in the Gulf of Mexico, the snapper fishery has been below sustainable levels for 20 years.”

Nor is the grouper especially ferocious.

“The longest teeth in their mouth are an eighth of an inch. Sure, they are sharp, but you have to provoke them, and then, the worst they can do is give you a rash,” Koenig says. “Sharks, will take your hand off. Goliath suck their prey, they have such a weak bite.”

Instead, Koenig says the push to lift the ban on catching goliath grouper has more to do with sports. Among trophy fish caught in the Florida Keys historically, the goliath grouper has long held special distinction because of its large size. Growing up to eight feet, it stands taller than the catcher. Catching one is the ocean equivalent of hunting big game. Only sharks, which are rarely caught, are bigger.

grouper 2.PNG
© Walt Stearns

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has conducted three population counts – in 2004, 2010, and 2015 – in the past in an effort to determine if the grouper has recovered enough to lift the fishing ban. Each time, the counts have not convinced the officials to repoen the goliath grouper fishery so far. And Amanda Nalley, the commission’s spokesperson adds that there are no plans currently to reconsider the status.

Dan DeMaria, a commercial diver who used to hunt goliaths when they were plentiful, now supports ecotourism, believing that the fish are worth more alive than dead. “One fish can be seen hundreds of times,” he says.

Koenig agrees. “Nowhere else in the world can you swim up to a fish that is the size of a small Volkswagen and pet it on the face and see about 30 of them around you,” he says. “That is a thrilling thing.”

But ecotourism can only help so much. Groupers are still being killed illegally and left to sink to the bottom to avoid being fined. Koenig suggests a plan for reopening the juvenile goliath grouper to fishing on a limited, sustainable basis which might better protect the goliath.

“If you come to some kind of compromise where the fishing group gets their piece of the pie and the diving group gets their piece of the pie, and we don’t see any changes in the population density, everybody’s happy.”

800-Pound Groupers Making a Comeback—But Not Everyone’s Happy


Is That Dinner? A Look Into a Cat’s Sense of Smell

More so than sight, smell dictates a feline’s behavior and is one of the most important ways it receives feedback about its environment. A cat’s sense of smell is superior to any human’s. Felines have 200 million odor-sensitive receptors, much higher than the 5 million for humans. Even most dog breeds fall short to that number.

Cats are born with a great sense of smell. From the moment they are born, a kitten already has a highly developed sense of smell. This provides them the ability to distinguish their mother’s smell and locate its preferred nipple to nurse from even when their eyes are shut. Until their vision becomes a kitten’s main guide after 3 weeks of age, it relies on its olfactory, the medical term for the sense of smell, cues for navigation. Even then, felines rely on their olfactory senses in order to determine edible prey. It is known that cats with the inability to smell may refuse to eat. Cats with upper respiratory infections and have congested nasal cavities often lose their appetites.

Cats use their sense of smell to smell food and guide them to prey, locate a mate, recognize enemies and dangers, establish territorial lines, and discover where an individual has been.

Continue reading “Is That Dinner? A Look Into a Cat’s Sense of Smell”


Conservation News: Kenya Against Ivory Trade

Kenya’s Fight Against the Ivory Trade

Today, on April 30, the government of Kenya burned 105 tons of seized elephant ivory and 1.35 tons of rhino horns, the biggest ever burning of wildlife contraband. Government officials have been assembling the ivory from an estimate of 6,000 to 8,000 poached elephants and horns from 450 rhinos into a dozen pyres. These captured tusks have been gathering dust but authorities decided to destroy them as a message to poachers.

President Kenyatta gave a statement on the burn, summarizing its purpose: “For us, ivory is worthless unless it is on our elephants”.

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Animal Spotlight: Leatherback Sea Turtle


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Order: Testudines
  • Family: Dermochelyidae
  • Genus: Dermochelys
  • Species: Coriacea


  • Average Size: 7 ft (2 m)
  • Average Weight: 660 to 1,100 lbs (300 to 500 kg)
  • *Heaviest recorded weight was 2,00 lbs or 900 kg
  • Length of Front Flippers: 8.9 ft (2.7 m)
  • Maturity At: 15 to 20 years
  • Estimated Average Age: 45 years

Leatherbacks have the widest global distribution of all reptile species. Primarily located in the open ocean, they can be found in the tropic and temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian Oceans, and Mediterranean Sea but will also travel as far north as Canada and Norway and as far south as New Zealand and South America. They are the largest of all living sea turtles and the fourth largest modern reptile behind three crocodilians.

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Conservation News: Tigers, Rhinos, and Coral Reefs

Are There Really That Many Tigers?

Two weeks ago, the World Wildlife Fund and the Global Tiger Forum announced that “for the first time in 100 years, tiger numbers are growing” on April 10. They reported that the population jumped from 3,200 in 2010 to 3,890 today, with a high possibility to double within a decade. However, within days, tiger biologists issued a joint “statement of concern” countering this celebration with criticism about the report’s accuracy and conclusions.

This wasn’t the first time. In 2008, the census stated that 60% of India’s tigers vanished during the previous five years. However, instead of there being an actual significant decrease in population, it was because their previous estimates of tiger populations have been vastly overestimated. The 2008 census was the first time the Indian government used scientifically sound camera-trapping methods to count individual animals by their unique stripe patterns. Previous methods included using spoor (paw prints and scat) to count the tigers, which often led to the same animal being counted multiple times.

Continue reading “Conservation News: Tigers, Rhinos, and Coral Reefs”


Conservation News: Ocean Acidification

What is Ocean Acidification?

Ocean acidification is the process of CO2 being absorbed by the ocean changing the chemistry of the seawater. The term is also used to describe the impacts that the increasing carbon dioxide concentrations are having on the ocean and marine organisms.

oceancarbonstor.jpg (1023×572)

Is it like Global Warming?

Yes and no. Ocean acidification and global warming are two different problems, but are caused by the same reason, human CO2 emissions.

Continue reading “Conservation News: Ocean Acidification”


Animal Spotlight: Zebra Duiker


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Cetartiodactyla
  • Family: Bovidae
  • Genus: Cephalophus
  • Species: Zebra
  • Other Common Names: Banded Duiker, Zebra Antelope
  • Average Body Length: 85-90 cm (2.8 to 3 feet)
  • Average Shoulder Height: 45 cm (1.5 feet)
  • Average Tail Length: 15 cm (6 inches)
  • Average Weight: 17.5 kg (39 lbs)
  • Male Horn Size: 4-5 cm (1.5 to 2 inches)
  • Female Male Horn: 2-3 cm (approx 1 inch)

The Zebra duiker is one of the 21 duiker species. Most duikers are small, with the largest being the Yellow-backed duiker, and are forest-dwellers. Duikers can be characterized as stout, compact bodies with arched backs and thin legs. They probably closely resemble the ancestors of all bovids, which includes the antelopes, cattle, sheep, and goats.

Unlike other duikers, the Zebra duiker males and females sport the short, stout, and very sharp horns. The horns are positioned where the ears are located, pointing to the rear.

Continue reading “Animal Spotlight: Zebra Duiker”


Conservation News: Rhinos, Tigers, and Turtles

Does Hope Still Exist for the Sumatran Rhino?

This is an update of the captured Sumatran Rhino. To learn more about the story, read here!

After her capture, the Sumatran rhino, named Najaq, succumbed to infection just days after. According to Arnold Sitompul, conservation director of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) – Indonesia, early evidence suggests that the cause of the infection was by a snare from an earlier poaching attempt.01sumatranrhino-adapt-1190-1

“The sad death of this rhino reminds us of the tremendous challenges associated with protecting the Sumatran rhino population in the Indonesian part of Borneo,” says Sitompul.

Continue reading “Conservation News: Rhinos, Tigers, and Turtles”


Animal Spotlight: Irrawaddy Dolphin


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Cetartiodactyla
  • Family: Delphinidae
  • Genus: Orcaella
  • Species: Brevirostris


  • Weight: 250-290 lbs (114-143 kg)
  • Length: 4.9-9 ft (1.5-2.75 m)
  • Oldest Known Age: estimate of 28 years old

Irrawaddy dolphins’ skin coloration varies from slate-blue to slate-gray with a lighter underside. As a marine mammal, they are warm-blooded and homoiothermic, having a constant body temperature regardless of its surroundings.

Continue reading “Animal Spotlight: Irrawaddy Dolphin”


Conservation News: Whales, Rhinos, and Bisons

Japan’s Controversial Antarctic Hunt

Photograph by Kyodo/AP

Japan’s Fisheries Agency announced on Thursday that the target number of “scientific research” kills have been achieved, 333 minke whales. Of the 333, approximately 200 were pregnant according to the country’s Institute for Cetacean Research. Japan killed these whales under Article VIII of the International Whaling Commission which states that each contracting government can kill, take, and treat whales for scientific purposes. The environmental campaign group Greenpeace labelled the hunt as “unnecessary” and that it violated the United Nations’ court ruling.

Continue reading “Conservation News: Whales, Rhinos, and Bisons”


Animal Spotlight: Aardvark


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Tubulidentata
  • Family: Orycteropodidae
  • Genus: Orycteropus
  • Species: Afer


  • Average Weight: 40 – 54 kilograms
  • Shoulder Height: 0.4 – 0.64 meters
  • Total Length: 1.4 – 2.2 meters
  • Tail Length: 0.45 – 0.6 meters
  • Approx. Lifespan: 13 years

The aardvark is the only mammalian order that contains a single species. The name Tubulidentata means “tube of teeth”, referring to the unique microstructure of the creature’s teeth. Its genus name – Orycteropus – means “digging foot”. Its range is covers much of central and southern Africa, south of the Sahara Desert, and is prey for animals like lions and hyenas.

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Conservation News: Pangolin and Amargosa Vole

More Protection for the Pangolin

Check out my animal spotlight for information about the pangolin!

The US Fish and Wildlife Service may be adding seven pangolin species to its Endangered Species Act list and Vietnam is beginning to crack down on illegal reselling of the pangolins and reintroducing them back into their habitat.

In July 2015, conservation groups petitioned to list the remaining pangolin species under the Endangered Species Act because of their endangered or threatened status from being illegally traded. The eighth, the Temnick’s ground pangolin, is already protected. And on March 15, the agency has opened the case to the public to weigh in on the proposal for the next 60 days.

Continue reading “Conservation News: Pangolin and Amargosa Vole”


Conservation News: Rhinos and Black Bears

2015 Rhino Poaching Numbers 

The International Union for Conservation of Nature reported that over 1,300 rhinos were poached across Africa in 2015, a record since 2008.

“The number of African rhinos killed by poachers has increased for the sixth year in a row with at least 1,338 rhinos killed by poachers across Africa in 2015,” ICUN said in a statement. Up to 6,000 rhinos have been killed since 2008, though scientists fear that the number is actually much higher.

Continue reading “Conservation News: Rhinos and Black Bears”


Pantherinae Skull and Larynx Comparison

Not much is known about the skeletal structure of the big cats outside of what scientists can infer based off of what we know from the domestic cat. The cat family is remarkable and unique because despite populating all over the world, their skeletal system, among other systems, are extremely similar. In fact, when comparing the skeletal structures, the skeletons of the Pantherinae subfamily are just a larger-scaled version of the Felinae subfamily with a few minor adaptations.

Top views at same size (from left, American lion, African lion, Siberian tiger, African leopard, jaguar, cougar and clouded leopard).

However, we can compare the skulls of the big cats. The skull’s function is to protect the eyes and the brain. But for cats, it is also built to allow the feline to have maximum strength in its jaw, which is essential considering its hunting methods and carnivorous diet. Short and rounded, majority of the support and power in the skull are in the teeth and jaws. In addition, a tiger’s septum is made up of hard, compared to human’s which are made out of membrane, that separates the cerebrum and cerebellum, protecting the brain more effectively.

Continue reading “Pantherinae Skull and Larynx Comparison”


Animal Spotlight: Pink Fairy Armadillo


Photo: Mariella Superina
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Cingulata
  • Family: Dasypodidae
  • Genus: Chlamyphorus
  • Species: Truncatus
  • Other Names: Lesser Fairy Armadillo, Pichiciego


  • Height: 90mm – 115mm (3.5 in – 4.5 in)
  • Weight: 120 g (4.2 oz)
  • Estimated Average Lifespan: 5 – 10 years

The pink fairy armadillo is the smallest out of twenty armadillo species that is only found in central Argentina. They are nocturnal species that are found in dry grassland and sandy plains with shrubby vegetation. This armadillo lives a solitary life and stays underground to stay protected, only feeding at night. Their diet consists of ant larvae and ants, but will also feed on worms, snails, and other insects. Plants and roots are also supplemented into these creatures’ diets.

Continue reading “Animal Spotlight: Pink Fairy Armadillo”


Conservation News: Addax and Grizzly Bears

Decreasing Wild Addax Numbers

The addax’s most iconic feature is its elongated, corkscrew horns. It is also a desert creature adapted to the harsh conditions of the desert Sahara. They are one of the largest mammals of the desert but rarely need to drink. Their coats can change colors from brown in winter to white in summer to help in cooling their bodies. The addax’s flat hooves keep them from sinking in the sand.

Since 2000, the ICUN has identified the addax as critically endangered. But the addax has listed as endangered since 1986. Alongside the Dama Gazelle, this species is considered as the Saharan bovid species with the highest risk of extinction in the near future.

Continue reading “Conservation News: Addax and Grizzly Bears”


Animal Spotlight: Polar Bears


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Ursidae
  • Genus: Ursus
  • Species: Maritimus


  • Average Shoulder Height: 3.5 to 5 ft (1 to 1.5 meters)
  • Average Male Weight: 775 to 1,200 (351 to 544 kg)
  • Average Female Weight: 330 to 650 (50 to 295 kg)
  • Lifespan: 20 – 30 years
  • Status: Vulnerable
  • Estimate Population: 20,000 – 25,000

Polar bears are solitary, nomadic, Arctic carnivores that live within the Arctic Circle which includes the countries: Canada, Russia, United States (Alaska), Greenland, and Norway. Around 60% of Polar bears can be found in northern Canada. They are found at low densities throughout the circumpolar Arctic and are more abundant in shallower, ice-covered waters nearby the continental shelf where currents or upwellings increases biological productivity. In the summer open water season, Polar bears may be found on land in higher densities. cater_cute_polar_bear-k2v-458111

Continue reading “Animal Spotlight: Polar Bears”


Conservation News: Manatees, Whales, and Snow Leopards

The Return of the Manatees?

PC: Todd Pusser

The Florida manatees returned now that spring is approaching, giving the researchers an ideal opportunity to count an aerial study.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation said that the numbers reached a new peak of at least 6,250 individuals, slightly higher than the 6,063 counted last year. Including those living in the Caribbean and along the coasts of Colombia, Brazil, and Venezuela, there is an estimated amount of 13,000 manatees left.

Continue reading “Conservation News: Manatees, Whales, and Snow Leopards”


The Feline Skeletal Anatomy

Anatomy is always discussed in the context of internal systems and physical characteristics. With felines, it is the same way. Though there are many differences within the Felidae family, there are many similarities that define and classify these species to belong where they are. Their lithe, muscular, flexible bodies are well-adapted for stalking, leaping, running, and climbing.

Ask Einstein the Cat: My Mouth Hurts — Do I Have Dental Issues? @Catster

The specialized morphological characteristics shared with all felines are associated with being a hypercarnivore. A hypercarnivore is an animal that has a diet that majority consists of meat (<70%). Species in the Felidae family do not need the crushing or grinding function of their teeth to consume plant material but need the lacerating and tearing ability to consume meat. Their teeth reflect this need. Compared to other species in the order Carnivora, felines have an increase in the relative length of shearing edges of dentition in their teeth.

Continue reading “The Feline Skeletal Anatomy”


Animal Spotlight: Pangolin

©African Pangolin Working Group
A pangolin @African Pangolin Working Group


  • Domain: Eukarya
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata:
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Pholidota
  • Family: Manidae
  • Genus: Manis

# of Known Species: 8

Pangolins are solitary and nocturnal insectivores, easily identified by their scaly armor. The only vulnerable features of pangolins are their faces and underbellies. Though nicknamed the scaly anteater, pangolins are not related to the order Xenarthran that includes anteaters and armadillos. This mistake is due to the similar body shape, diet, and behaviors that pangolins and anteaters share. Instead, they are more closely related to the order Carnivora.

Continue reading “Animal Spotlight: Pangolin”