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22 Animals You Didn’t Know Exist

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22 Animals You Didn’t Know Exist.

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Giant Ant Hill Excavated

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Giant Ant Hill Excavated.

Hummingbirds

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Many people enjoy watching hummingbirds. All across the US one can find hummingbird feeders in any neighborhood throughout the spring and summer. These tiny birds (which are only found in the western hemisphere) are not only fun to watch, they are fascinating creatures in how they have adapted to the challenges of life.

Throughout the eastern United States the most common hummingbird is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. The mature males have a brilliant reddish/orange throat patch. These birds winter  along the northern edge of South America. The most amazing part of this is that recent studies have found these tiny birds actually cross the Gulf of Mexico. In fact these amazing critters can carry enough fat to travel 1000km in 26 hours. This is more than enough to cross the Gulf unaided and travel several miles inland before stopping to refuel.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Another North American species that conducts extreme migrations is the Rufous Hummingbird. These birds are debatably the champions of long distance migration, migrating 3900 miles each way between Alaska and central Mexico. While they are by no means the champions in terms of distance they are certainly the champions in terms of body lengths. These birds travel over 78 million times their own body length, where as the Arctic Tern (the champion in terms of distance) only travels 51 million body lengths.

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

As hummingbirds are a family of birds only found in the western hemisphere I would be remiss to not mention a South American species. Especially since South America has far more hummingbird species than than North America (compare ~150 species in Ecuador alone to only 18 species throughout all of North America, including the tropical climates of central American countries).

Probably the most impressive species from South America is the Ecuadorian Hillstar. These amazing little birds live at the highest elevations for any species of hummingbird. Found in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador, these birds live between 3,500 and 5,200 meters (11,500 to 17,100 feet) above sea level. These birds face great energy demands. Living at such high elevations nights can be freezing, and as hummingbirds they naturally have high metabolisms and body temperatures. If they were to maintain these body temperatures over night, when conditions are often freezing, they would quickly burn their energy stores. However, these birds have evolved to enter a state of torpor overnight in which they lower their core temperature to decrease the difference between their body temperature and the environment. This adaptation allows them to burn much less energy to keep their core body temperature steady. The next day they will increase their body temperature and metabolism and resume normal behavior. This amazing behavior has allowed them to thrive in an extreme environment.

Ecuadorian Hillstar

Ecuadorian Hillstar

Extreme Survival: How animals have adapted to life in deserts

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Before my trip to Tanzania and Kenya I spent a lot of time in Arizona visiting family. We spent several days hiking through local parks and reserves. On one of these such trips to Estrella Mountain Regional Park while I was enjoying the hidden beauty of such a harsh landscape I found myself thinking about how animals manage to survive in such unforgiving landscapes. This period of contemplation may also have been triggered by having just finished “Cry of the Kalahari” by Mark and Delia Owens in which they spent seven years studying how animals survive in the Kalahari desert.

While the word desert comes from the latin word “desertus” meaning abandoned, it is truly amazing how much life there is hidden within deserts. These extreme ecosystems can be found all around the world. Even the most barren and harsh environments can still support some form of life, although this is typically not seen by the average visitor to these landscapes. Animal life is usually nocturnal in these environments and plants may lay dormant for months or years waiting for those rare and brief periods of rainfall to conduct their life cycles.

Possible source of shade for desert dwelling creatures.

Possible source of shade for desert dwelling creatures.

Desert dwelling animals have adapted to living conditions that are both fierce and beautiful. With searing daytime temperatures very little animal life is found during the day. That being said some critters have developed habits that allow them to stay active during daylight hours. Kangaroos for example have developed the behavior of licking their forearms to coat them in saliva. These areas of their arms have clusters of blood vessels close to the surface of the skin to allow heat to quickly escape as their saliva evaporates. Many other species have developed ways of dispersing heat. These species typically will still lie up in the shade during the hottest times of the day and resume activity in the mornings and evenings when it is cooler.

As night falls deserts come to life. Owls, foxes and other predators begin their hunt by the light of the stars. This is also when most foraging by rodents occurs.

Even as midday temperatures rise these little critters were still active

Even as midday temperatures rise these little critters were still active

Along with the heat a lack of water is the other great challenge for desert dwelling species. For many rodent species metabolic water is their greatest source of moisture. That is they receive the bulk of their water through what is realized during digestion of food. Similarly, brown hyenas in the Kalahari rely heavily on ostrich eggs for water during periods of drought. Cactus can be a very important source of water for many desert ecosystems in the Americas, with many species adapted to feed on cactus. In one of the most extreme deserts of South America the only moisture comes in the form of fog rolling off the coasts which is then trapped in vegetation such as cactus to make it available to animals.

The Lewa Conservancy: Kenya’s crown jewel

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I have mentioned it several times of the last few weeks and now it is finally time to talk about it. The Lewa Conservancy in northern Kenya is often held as the pinnacle of wildlife conservation in Kenya. Out of all the areas I visited in Kenya this area was the best for wildlife viewing. From the moment our bush plane touched down on Lewa’s airstrip we were surrounded by wildlife. In fact we had to run off a greeting party of reticulated giraffes, Giraffa camelopardalis reticulate, and plains zebras, Equus grevii, from the landing strip.

From the airstrip we headed to Lewa’s security compound. Along the way we spotted 4 species of the Northern 5 (Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe, beisa oryx, and Somali ostrich) species only found in northern Kenya. The elusive gerenuk,the fifth member, was not located until the following day. At the compound we had the distinct pleasure of meeting with John Pommeri, the head of security, who spoke with us about the history of Lewa and their current conservation efforts.

Reticulated giraffe in Lewa

Reticulated giraffe in Lewa

Lewa was founded in 1983. The original conservancy covered 10,000 acres but has since expanded to 45,000. This area is fenced to avoid conflicts with humans which occur when the animals leave the conservancy. As John says, it is not to keep humans out of the conservancy, but to protect them and the wildlife. Lewa tries to maintain good relations with the local community to gain the support of the community for their conservation efforts. They hope that through providing water sources for the community and education to empower women and children they can foster change within how the community views wildlife and deter poaching. Originally grazing of cattle was allowed within the conservancy as part of their community relations campaign. This is no longer allowed as the conservancy has switched to a more natural management approach. To maintain relations the conservancy is teaching local communities how to manage their lands for wildlife rather than cattle so that they can earn income through tourism.

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Lewa has several species which it works to conserve, but the bulk of their efforts are focused on three species: rhinos, elephants, and Grevy’s zebra. As I stated in my post about the Grevy’s there are only 2,000 individuals left including juveniles as well as mature animals. With 400 of the remaining 2,000 calling Lewa home, the conservancy is an area of vital importance to this species. The Grevy’s at Lewa seem to be breeding very well.

Rhinos have been another success story. Lewa has worked extremely hard to protect their rhinos using a combination of technological advancements and old fashioned foot patrols they have been able to protect their rhinos so well that they are now at carrying capacity for the conservancy. As such they intend to relocate excess rhinos at some point in the future to neighboring reserves to start rebuilding other populations. Sadly rhinos are still poached in the conservancy on occasion, but the security personnel swiftly catch up to any poachers that manage to enter the conservancy. Of the three incidents this year one group was forced to flee without rhino horn, the second group of four men was killed when they engaged security personnel in a firefight, and the third group of poachers were captured and convicted.

Grevy's Zebra in Lewa

Grevy’s Zebra in Lewa

Along with rhinos, elephants were the other species that John focused most of his time on. In the past Lewa and the surrounding area have had trouble with the local elephants. Lewa elephants would often brake fences as they tried to migrate to other areas for food and water. Also, the local community has grown so much that they have blocked the path for elephants living in the nearby mountains to mingle with the Lewa herd. This genetically isolation could have led to serious problems in time. So the folks from Lewa came up with a plan. Gaps in the fence were created to allow the elephants and other species of Lewa to migrate in and out as they historically would have. These gaps are built along sections of fence which do not border local communities that may have a problem with wildlife entering their crop fields. Concrete barricades in the gaps prevent rhinos from leaving and entering areas where they cannot be protected but are still short enough that elephants can get over them. The second step of the Lewa plan helped the isolated mountain herd. A fenced corridor was built, including a tunnel to allow elephants to travel under a major road along Lewa’s border, to allow the mountain elephants to mingle with Lewa elephants preventing genetic isolation.

Lewa is really the paragon for wildlife conservation in Kenya. Their efforts have shown many local communities that wildlife is to be valued and conserved rather than eradicated to make way for cattle and settlement. Lewa teems with wildlife and as such has been incorporated into the Mt. Kenya World Heritage Site. This is a wildlife lover’s utopia and I highly recommend anyone traveling to Kenya must see it.

Animal Rights vs Conservation and Human Rights

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A friend of mine posted this recently and I thought it would appropriate to share here.

Animal Rights vs Conservation and Human Rights
17 Sep 2012

The debate on animal rights vs conservation has seen a third contender rising from the ashes – human rights.

In reaction to an article in last week’s Pot-Shot, reader “Johan” posed the question whether some people “would rather support saving rhinos than helping an orphaned human life”. It is fine to look after animals, but “not neglect

ing our accountability in looking after each other.”Tanya Jacobsen, campaign manager of RhinoDotCom, says animal rights vs conservation “emerges as a ‘war’ between the two schools of thought and one that has degenerated to aggression, violence, disrespect and blatant hatred. We would like to clarify some aspects of the main concepts.

Essentially, the two views are literally worlds apart with Animal Welfare featuring somewhere in between:

The Wildlife Society maintains that anyone who has an understanding of social issues in Africa will know that Animal Rights principles simply cannot work here. Where it has been attempted to a large degree, for example in Kenya, it has failed miserably and many of the local people’s livelihoods have been severely negatively affected. This in turn led to disastrous consequences for indigenous wildlife.

Regarding SA’s rhino situation, :calls against legal trade in horn and rhino farming are often heard from various groups and individuals, based on animal rights principles. We respond as follows:

“Our rhinos have the right to be worth more alive than dead. They have the right not to be brutally and indiscriminately slaughtered for their horn when we can keep them healthy and happy and provide their horn to those who want it, without having to harm the animals.

“Our rhinos have the right to be protected by us.

“They have the right to breed and live in safety.

“They have the right to be afforded any measure, as long as it is not cruel, that will save them from joining the ranks of the many species that have already gone extinct, due to the unwise, misguided and ill-informed practices of humans. “

An interesting write-up on Animal Rights vs Animal Welfare has been posted here: http://www.ncraoa.com/AR_VS_AW.html. A great amount of detail and statistics are offered on this website to enhance knowledge by questioning and cross-referencing data.

An opposing viewpoint by Animal Rights Africa (ARA) is offered here: http://www.animalrightsafrica.org/EthicalConservation.php
ARA uses extreme language to denounce people who promote sustainable use, saying that “it is elements within the WUM that consistently resort to violence, including murder, to achieve their objectives. And, all too often, ethical environmentalists and animal rightists are the victims of this violence.”

They involve politics in their arguments, alleging that: “Sustainable utilisation is also a smokescreen, used by recreational animal-killers and others who, for reasons of political expediency, job security or greed, wish to win favour with human communities and populations that were previously oppressed under apartheid or colonialist rule, and who now hold the fate of wildlife and environmental conservation in their hands.”

In the book, Game Changer, award-winning environmental reporter Glen Martin finds that the policies championed by animal welfare groups could lead paradoxically to the elimination of the very species – including elephants and lions – that are the most cherished. Martin revisits the debate between conservationists, who believe that people whose lives are directly impacted by the creation of national parks and preserves should be compensated, versus those who believe that restrictive protection that forbids hunting is the most effective way to conserve wildlife and habitats.

Focusing on the different approaches taken by Kenya, Tanzania and Namibia, Martin vividly shows how the world’s last great populations of wildlife have become the hostages in a fight between those who love animals and those who would save them.

Martin builds a convincing case… But the real value of Martin’s book is in showing how hard it is to find any conservation strategy that works in the complex reality of today’s Africa… Walking the fine line between unregulated killing and managed hunting will not be easy, it may be the only hope for Africa’s wild creatures. Martin emphasises that measures such as ecotourism and protection for iconic species have backfired dramatically.

Read more on this subject by clicking the Kalahari link here.

• It seems that sustainable hunting takes humans into account, while ARA and its ilk seem to claim to the idea that animals should be conserved in their natural state without taking into account human needs, especially in Africa that is plagued by poverty and the lack of employment opportunities. – Editor

Evil personified is destroying the landscape of the human soul

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Evil personified is destroying the landscape of the human soul.

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