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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Red Panda


Despite their name, red pandas aren't actually closely related to giant pandas, but it wasn't until the last fifteen years that scientists settled upon just where red pandas fit on the evolutionary tree of life. It was clear that red pandas were members of the taxonomic group placed with bears, pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, and walrus), raccoons, and mustelids (weasels, skunks, otters, and badgers). The red panda is slightly larger than a domestic cat with a bear-like body and thick russet fur. The belly and limbs are black, and there are white markings on the side of the head and above its small eyes. Red pandas are very skillful and acrobatic animals that predominantly stay in trees.


It has reddish-brown fur, a long, shaggy tail, and a waddling gait due to its shorter front legs. It is a solitary animal, mainly active from dusk to dawn, and is largely sedentary during the day. Red pandas have a taste for bamboo but, unlike their larger relatives, they eat many other foods as well—fruit, acorns, roots, and eggs. Like giant pandas, they have an extended wrist bone that functions almost like a thumb and greatly aids their grip.


Relative Size

             The head and body length of a red panda measures 50 to 64 cm (20 to 25 in), and its tail is 28 to 59 cm (11 to 23 in). Males weigh 3.7 to 6.2 kg (8.2 to 13.7 lb) and females 3 to 6.0 kg (6.6 to 13.2 lb).


Did You Know

As a member of the Order Carnivora, the red panda is a carnivoran. But unlike most carnivorans, it's not actually a carnivore. That is, the red panda is a mostly an herbivore. It's actually one way in which the red panda is more like the giant panda than its genetic relatives: its diet consists almost entirely of bamboo leaves, plus bamboo shoots when in season, and the occasional fruit, flower, and (rarely) an odd egg or bird.


Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Carnivora
Family
Ailuridae
Genus
Ailurus
Species
fulgens
Other Names

English
Red Panda, Lesser Panda, Red Cat-bear
French
Panda roux, Panda éclatant, Petit panda
Spanish
Panda Chico, Panda Rojo
Status

Red Panda is listed as Endangered because its population has plausibly declined by 50% over the last three generations (estimated at 18 years) and this decline is projected to continue due to the habitat loss throughout their range, for timber extraction, agriculture and development.


Population

Worldwide population estimates ranges between 16,000 and 20,000 individuals. In 1999, the total population in China was estimated at between 3,000 and 7,000 individuals. In 2001, the wild population in India was estimated at between 5,000 and 6,000 individuals. Estimates for Nepal indicate only a few hundred individuals. No records from Bhutan or Burma exist.


Habitat

Red pandas only live in temperate forests in the foothills of the Himalayas. The southern slopes of the mountains trap the water from seasonal monsoons, supporting forests of firs, deciduous hardwood, and rhododendrons. A bamboo understory grows in these forests and provides the bulk of the red panda’s diet. However, these swaths of bamboo are only found in narrow bands throughout the red panda’s range. Thus, although red pandas are distributed across thousands of miles of territory, they are restricted to these small, fragile areas because of their dependence on the bamboo plants.


Range

Red pandas have a large range that extends from western Nepal to northern Myanmar. The species also lives throughout mountainous areas of southwestern China (Yunnan, Sichuan and Xizang provinces) at elevations between 4,900 and 13,000 feet.


Biology

The red panda’s diet is very unusual for a mammal and consists mostly of bamboo. When the weather is warm enough, they also eat insects and fruit. Although the giant panda eats almost every part of the bamboo plant (except the roots), the red panda only eats the youngest, most tender shoots and leaves. Their gut is not specialized to handle plant matter and can only extract about one quarter of the nutrients from bamboo, and food passes through their digestive tract quite quickly causing the animal to lose as much as 15 percent of their body weight during the winter. To cope with the lack of food during the winter months, red pandas have evolved several ways of meeting their energy demands including extremely slow metabolism, consumption of other foods such as roots and fruit as well as small lizards and bird’s eggs.

 Red pandas are generally solitary and territories of both sexes are marked with anal secretions. They mate on the ground but the female gives birth, usually to two young, within a hollow tree nest cavity. Red pandas have a long gestation period (roughly 135 days) for an animal that weighs only 11 pounds at maturity. Despite the amount of food that red pandas eat, they grow quite slowly, reaching adult size after 12 months. The young become sexually mature at 18 months. As a result of this, red pandas have a slow rate of reproduction and have a great deal of difficulty recovering from population declines.


Predators

Snow Leopards who go after adults -- and yellow throated martens, who prefer nesting cubs are the only real predators of the Red Panda along with Birds of Prey and small carnivores that prey on the smaller and more vulnerable cubs.


Threats

            The primary threats to red pandas are direct harvest from the wild, live or dead, competition with domestic livestock resulting in habitat degradation, and deforestation resulting in habitat loss or fragmentation. Deforestation can inhibit the spread of red pandas and exacerbate the natural population subdivision by topography and ecology, leading to severe fragmentation of the remaining wild population. In China the species is thought to have undergone a decline of around 40 percent over the last 50 years primarily due to hunting and poaching.  In south-west China, red pandas are hunted for their fur, especially for the highly valued bushy tails from which hats are produced. In these areas, the fur is often used for local cultural ceremonies.


Conservation Measures

The red panda is protected in all of the countries in which it is found with the exception of Myanmar, and it is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Currently there is a Global Species Management Plan (GSMP) for Red Pandas held in zoos around the world. The aims of the GSMP are to contribute both directly and indirectly to Red Panda conservation by: providing a genetically and demographically sustainable and behaviorally competent back-up population for the wild population; holding the potential to supply individuals for genetic or demographic supplementation or reintroduction programmes; educating and the raising of public awareness of Red Panda, its uniqueness and conservation needs; and providing financial, technical, scientific and other support and expertise to the planning and implementation of in situ conservation and research.


References


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Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Blue-footed Booby


            The blue-footed booby is a large and rather comical-looking seabird, instantly recognizable by its bright blue webbed feet. Blue-footed boobies, are famous for two reasons: their link to Charles Darwin’s expedition to the Galapagos Islands, and their name. The appellation does in fact have a somewhat silly meaning: The word "booby" comes from the Spanish "bobo," meaning "stupid fellow," and was probably inspired by the bird's clumsiness on land and apparently unwarranted bravery (as they don’t fear human).


            Boobies are large sea bird that have webbed toes, have a characteristic long and pointed bill that is thick at the base, and have long, wedge-shaped tails. The Blue-footed Booby is named for the bright blue color of its tarsi and toes. Otherwise The Blue-footed Booby has a brown back and wings; the head and neck are white, with numerous short, narrow, dusky streaks; and the breast and belly are white. Its eyes are placed on either side of its bill and oriented towards the front, enabling excellent binocular vision. Its eyes are a distinctive yellow, with the male having more yellow in its irises than the female. Blue-footed booby chicks have black beaks and feet and are clad in a layer of soft white down.


Relative Size

            The Blue-footed Booby bird is a little under three feet long and its wingspan is about five feet and weighs 1.5 kg (3.3 lab).


Did You Know

            The Blue-footed Booby bird plunges head first into the ocean, with its wings partly folded, to catch fish. For this reason, they have permanently closed nostrils made for diving and they breathe through the corners of their mouths.  It even catches flying fish when they are still in the air.


Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Pelecaniformes
Family
Sulidae
Genus
Sula
Species
nebouxii
  Status

            The Blue-footed boobies are evaluated as Least ConcernThis species has a very large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion. The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion. The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion.


Population

In the 1960s, the Galapagos Islands were home to almost half of the world’s breeding population of blue-footed boobies, with a population of around 20,000 breeding birds. However, research suggests that blue-footed booby populations in the Galapagos have suffered large declines in recent years, with an estimated population of just 6,400 birds in 2012.


Habitat

The blue-footed booby is a coastal species, foraging in cool, offshore waters, and nesting on open ground on rocky coasts, cliffs or islands. It is strictly a marine bird. Its only need for land is to breed and rear young, which it does along the rocky coasts of the eastern Pacific.



Range

            This species is found on the western coast of the Americas, ranging from north-west Mexico and Panama to north Peru and the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. When food is scarce, it can be seen as far north as California (USA) and northern Chile.


Biology

The blue-footed booby's diet consists mainly of fish. It is a specialized fish eater, feeding on small school fish such as sardines, anchovies, mackerel, and flying fish. It also feeds on squid and offal. It spends much of it time at sea searching for congregations of shoaling fish, on which it feeds by plunge-diving from great heights allowing them to access fish at greater depths.  These birds hit the water around 97 km/h (60 mph) and can go to depths of 25 m (82 ft) below the water surface.


The blue-footed booby is monogamous and an opportunistic breeder. It is perhaps best known for its ritualized courtship displays, especially the "foot-rocking" display in which it alternatively lifts its bright-blue feet for its mate to see, a comical spectacle, but evidently highly attractive to the species.


The female blue-footed booby lays two or three eggs. Eggs are laid about four to five days apart. Both male and female take turns incubating the eggs, while the non-sitting bird keeps watch, usually the incubation period is 41–45 days. Since the blue-footed booby does not have a brooding patch, it uses its feet to keep the eggs warm.


Predators

On the Galápagos Islands, the Galapagos Hawk is the only predator of Blue-footed Boobies. This predator attacks nestling boobies when their parents begin to leave them unattended during parts of the day. The hawk mainly attacks the smaller and younger (second hatched) of the two nestlings. Nestlings are typically attended by at least one parent at night, offering protection from the nocturnal predator, the Short-eared Owl.


Threats

Little information is available on the potential threats to the blue-footed booby from human activities such as fishing, or from the effects of global warming on the marine ecosystem. However, in the Galapagos this charismatic species may be vulnerable to a number of threats facing the islands, including introduced predators, increasing tourism and urbanization, unsustainable fishing, pollution, and habitat degradation. The latest research confirms the decline in population, and suggests that it may be closely tied to a decline in clupeid fish, especially sardines, in the boobies’ diet. The results of this project, suggest that the Blue-footed Booby population is having trouble breeding, resulting in a slowly declining population that is experiencing typical adult mortality but little replenishment from new young adults.


Conservation Measures

           No specific conservation measures are known to be in place for the blue-footed booby throughout most of its range. However, it is protected in the Galapagos Islands, where its numbers, breeding success and population are regularly monitored, and where various conservation efforts are underway to protect the unique wildlife of these fascinating islands.


References

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