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Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About The Gorilla

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About The Gorilla

The gorilla is a large ape that lives in Africa. There are two types of gorilla. The first sub species lives in the mountain regions located in central Africa and is commonly known as the mountain gorilla. The other subspecies is known as the lowland gorilla and lives in the dense and flat forests of western and central Africa. Whilst both types of gorilla have a lot of similarities, there are also some key differences:

  • The lowland gorilla is a little bit lighter than its mountain cousin.
  • Both species measure between 4 to 6 feet.
  • Mountain gorillas have longer hair.
  • The gorilla is the world’s largest primate.

Habitat

The mountain gorilla can be found on green volcanic mountains located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. Lowland gorillas on the other hand dwell in the forests of western and central African countries such as Gabon, Congo, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Angola and Equatorial Guinea. According to National Geographic, the territory of a gorilla group can range up to 16 square miles.

What do gorillas eat?

In general the gorilla is a herbivore and has a diet consisting of tree pulp, tree bark, fruit, roots, shoots and wild celery. They have also been known on occasion to eat insects and small animals. An adult male gorilla is able to eat as much as 40 lbs of vegetation each day.

The exact diet of a gorilla depends on where they live. Roughly two thirds of a lowland gorillas diet consists of fruit, 17 per cent of their diet is made up of stems, seeds and leaves whilst 3 per cent comes from caterpillars and termites. In contrast a mountain gorilla’s diet consists of 86 per cent stems, shoots and leaves. 7 per cent comes from roots and 3 per cent flowers.

Habits

Gorillas are social animals that live in groups known as troops or bands. A gorilla troop can contain as many as 50 members, though it is possible for some troops to have as few as two members. Gorilla troops are typically led by a single dominant male known as a silverback, which is distinctive because he has a streak of grey hair on his back.

Gorilla troops have a routine over the course of the day. The evenings and mornings are usually designated as feeding time. Nap time is during the middle of the day, when they also play with and groom one another. At night time the gorillas goes to sleep on beds made from twigs and leaves.

Offspring

As is the case with humans, female gorillas gestate for nine months and tend to give birth to a single infant at a time. A newly born gorilla weighs approximately 4 lbs when they are born. Baby gorillas ride on their mothers back from about 4 months to 2 or 3 years.

When they reach 7 to 10 years the gorilla reaches sexual maturity and is able to have its own offspring. When this happens, the gorilla will usually leave the group to find its own mate. Gorillas have a lifespan of around 35 years in the wild and over 50 years in captivity.

Conservation status

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies both types of gorilla as endangered on its Red List of Threatened Species. Both types of gorilla have suffered from habitat destruction and hunting. It is estimated that there are approximately 680 mountain gorillas left located in two different population groups.

The low land gorilla is also critically endangered though it is not known exactly how many of these gorillas are left. It is thought that their population has fallen by more than 80 per cent over three generations and it is estimated there are about 100,000 lowland gorillas left.

Image Credit:Derek Keats, on Flickr

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Acidifying Oceans Affect Sharks in Strange Way

Acidifying Oceans Affect Sharks in Strange Way

A new study suggests that acidified ocean water produced by carbon emissions is causing sharks to swim much longer compared to when they swim in more typical less acidic water, especially during the night time. The findings of the study are particularly worrisome considering the effects of fossil fuel consumption by human beings will only serve to make ocean water more acidic. If the consumption of fossil fuels continues, sharks and other marine species are going to face even more challenges in the future, particularly when nearly 25 per cent of all shark species are already at risk of extinction.

“Usually when you expose a fish to some kind of environmental stressor, they acclimate to that stressor, and that makes them less vulnerable to that stressor, but here, it seemed like this high CO2 [carbon dioxide] continued to be a stressor to these sharks for quite a long time.” said study researcher Fredrik Jutfelt,

Acidifying Oceans

The earth’s ocean absorbs atmospheric carbon dioxide which decreases the pH level of ocean water and makes it more acidic. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that on a 14 point scale, the pH of surface ocean water has declined by 0.1 since the start of the Industrial Revolution. What that effectively means is that surface ocean water has seen its acidity spike by as much as 30 per cent.

According to the results of a study of bony fish, a number of species have had a catastrophic reaction to the quickly acidifying oceans, whilst other species have seemed to be able to tolerate it. Dr. Jutfelt adds that hardly anyone had taken a close look at the effects of acidification on rays and sharks, which are species of marine life that are known for their cartilaginous bones.

Strange Swimming

The research team took 20 spotted cat sharks from an aquarium as part of their study. This species of shark is small but common throughout the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. Half of the sharks were placed in tanks containing typical ocean water with a pH of 8.1 and the other half were placed in acidified ocean water with a pH of 7.7.

After a four week period the researchers then examined the sharks to test for a variety of physiological responses such as oxygen consumption and blood pH levels. They also recorded the night time behaviour of the sharks when they are most active. What the researchers found was some odd night time behaviour exhibited by the sharks placed in acidic water.

“The control sharks, they would have these many starts and stops throughout the night. They would swim for a few seconds, or up to a minute, maybe, and then stop, but the CO2-exposed sharks, they kept swimming for longer time periods. Some of them swam for an hour continuously.” Dr. Jutfelt said.

Evolution Won’t Have A Chance To Work

The researchers thinks that the continuous swimming behaviour could be the product of changed ion concentrations in the brain of these sharks. Another explanation the researchers proposed was that the sharks were able to sense their water was too acidic and just continued swimming into order to reach water of a better quality which may be elsewhere.

The researchers say they do not know what this kind of behaviour would mean for sharks that live in the ocean, What they do know is that sharks take many years to reach sexual maturity and that means they reproduce slowly, so there will only be a few generations of sharks before the species is exposed to highly acidic water by 2100. That in turn means evolution will not have the chance to take its course and have a moderating effect which could be catastrophic for the species as a whole.

Image Credit:Shark by Allan Lee, on Flickr

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Dog Refuses To Leave Dead Owners Side

Dog Refuses To Leave Dead Owners Side

It is often said that the dog is man’s best friend, and here is a story that illustrates that saying. Recently a dog refused to be parted from his dead owners side and stayed by his grave for over two weeks in Chennai India.

Tommy the dog became heartbroken after his owner Bhaskar Shri died in a car accident on August 2nd. Bhaskar adopted Tommy five years ago and since then, the pair became inseparable. According to Bhaskar’s mother, Tommy used to accompany Bhaskar to the various construction sites where he used to work.

Following Bhaskar’s death Tommy stayed by his side and did not consumer any food or water for 15 days. Blue Cross worker Dawn Williams was passing by one day and saw Tommy and after seeing him by the grave a couple of days later, decided he needed rescuing.

Mr. Williams and his team fed and attempted to rescue Tommy a number of times but he refused to leave his owner’s side.

“When we attempted to rescue the dog, it stubbornly resisted and refused to budge. It just scratched the grave and whined.” Mr. Williams said.

The Blue Cross team then began asking around about Tommy and learned that Bhaskar’s mother lived close by and decided to contact her. When Tommy saw her, he jumped up on her and licker her face.

Tommy did not seem to mind leaving with her and Ms. Sundari said she will care for Tommy as a reminder of her son.

“I’m sure Tommy will help Shrimati with her grief, dogs are amazing in times of emotion,” Ms. Williams said.

Image Credit:Road Dog by Mary, on Flickr

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Chinese Zoo Welcomes Rare Birth Of Panda Triplets

Chinese Zoo Welcomes Rare Birth Of Panda Triplets

A southern Chinese Zoo has celebrated the extremely rare birth of surviving panda triplets which is the first time this has ever happened.

The triplets were born to a mother named Juxio and arrived on July 29th but the Chimelong Safari Park where the triplets were born only announced the birth on August 13th because they were worried the triplets may not survive. Panda cubs have very high rates of mortality the zoo said in a statement.

Births of singles and twins are very common for pandas however it is extremely rare for triplets according to San Diego Zoo’s Christina Simmons.

“In the wild, it is rare for a panda mother to be able to raise more than one infant, and so multiple births result in mortality of the additional youngsters. This occurs because baby pandas are very small and undeveloped and need constant attention. It is difficult for the mother to be able to provide this care for more than one [cub].” Ms. Simmons said.

Chinese zoos traditionally wait 100 days before they name the baby pandas so as to avoid people becoming too attached to the tiny creatures who are born blind and who need their mothers to survive. The zoo has not announced the genders of the cubs yet and is also waiting before making an announcement.

After the birth of the triplets, their mother was so exhausted, workers at the zoo placed the cubs in incubators enabling Juxiao to rest. Fortunately the three cubs are now nursing from their mother the zoo said.

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland also shared some good news recently announcing the pregnancy of a female panda named Tian Tian through artificial insemination.

Tian Tian was inseminated by a team of experts in mid April during the period when pandas usually mate. Experts will continue to monitor her pregnancy and will examine protein and hormone levels present in her urine, though they cannot be completely sure Tian Tian is pregnant until she gives birth.

Image Credit:panda by ~Jane, on Flickr

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Killing For Ivory Could Drive African Elephant Into Extinction

Killing For Ivory Could Drive African Elephant Into Extinction

Demand for ivory has resulted in a drastic reduction in the number of African elephants with poachers hunting more elephants faster than they can reproduce according to a new study. The study also found that poaching deaths have affected over half of all elephant families in the Samburu National Reserve in Kenya.

In 2011 eight per cent of the African elephant population was wiped out, or an estimated 40,000 elephants making it the worst year on record since 1998. In the absence of poaching, the elephant population in Africa would grow by about 4.2 per cent each year.

The African elephant is an intelligent animal with individuals regularly cooperating with one another and in times of distress offering consolation to compatriots. Unfortunately ivory is still very popular says Dr. George Wittemyer the lead researcher from Colorado State University.

Dr. Wittemyer has closely studied elephant populations in Kenya for nearly 20 years. In 2009, drought resulted in a decline of 12 per cent of the elephant population in Kenya. Numbers fell further as a result of poaching which has been continuing since that year.

“Sadly, in 2009, we had a terrible drought, and we started seeing a lot of illegal killing of elephants as well as natural deaths. We’ve been struggling to respond. We’ve been trying to find solutions to dampen the illegal killing.” Dr. Wittemyer said.

Dr. Wittemyer’s team looked at natural death data and compared it with poaching related deaths in the Samburu National Reserve. The team then applied their numbers to a database that spans the continent called MIKE (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants). The database was started in 2002 and is supported by African communities that report when, where and how elephants die.

Over the last decade elephant populations at 12 locations have fallen by 7 per cent which also takes into account the fact that until 2009, elephant numbers were mostly increasing. Over the last 10 years elephant numbers in central Africa have fallen by as much as 60 per cent. Poaching is so endemic that 75 per cent of elephant populations have fallen since 2009 with only 25 per cent having a stable or increasing population Dr. Wittemyer said.

Peter Leimgruber, a conservation biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute who did not participate in the study said that the African elephant is being rapidly driven into extinction as a result of alarming increases in killing for ivory

He adds that ivory poaching rates are simply unsustainable and outstrip the natural population growth rate for wild African elephants which means that every decade, elephant populations will fall between 60 to 70 per cent and in the near future if the illegal trade in ivory is not stopped the species will go extinct.

Image Credit:Elephant by Doug Wheller, on Flickr

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Study Tries To Understand How To Improve Captive Rhino Breeding

Study Tries To Understand How To Improve Captive Rhino Breeding

European Zoo’s may be about to experience a renaissance in rhino reproduction as researchers seek to improve the success rate of these animals mating in captivity according to a new study.

The Black Rhino is endangered because it is illegally hunted for its horn and also has a very low birth rate in captivity the researchers said.

In order to find out why some species of captive rhinos breed very easily whilst others never reproduce, English researchers undertook a detailed study of 39 captive rhinos which constitute roughly 90 per cent of the European rhino population.

“This species is of high conservation importance, so understanding what could be limiting breeding in certain individuals and how we could make improvements is a priority,” Katie Edwards, who led the research as part of her Ph.D. studies at the University of Liverpool, said in a statement.

The researchers needed to obtain biological samples so they used rhino droppings taken from 11 zoos across Europe. Samples were collected every other day for as long as 6 years. The study’s authors looked at hormone levels in  samples that were used to examine the rhino’s reproductive cycles.

Of the rhinos that were part of the study, 15 failed to give birth whilst 17 bore offspring. 7 rhinos were not sexually mature and it was found that in female rhinos who had not reproduced, irregular ovulation cycles were more common.

“Our analyses showed that females who had never bred were more likely to exhibit irregular oestrus [ovulation] cycles, indicating that underlying physiology is involved in differences in breeding success,” Ms. Edwards said.

Observations of behaviour yielded very little information because female rhinos which were not breeding do not necessarily display when they are ready to mate which makes the management of breeding very difficult Ms. Edwards added. Instead zoos could use hormone analysis to predict when females are more receptive to mating.

Hormone analysis has already been a factor in the birth of three rhinos over the last three years in England. Additionally the study identified a number of other factors which might also increase the success rate of breeding.

Rhinos which do not participate in breeding tend to weigh more than rhinos that do breed which suggests that zoos should think about exercise and diets for animals held in captivity. Non breeding females also tended to be more temperamental.

Increasing the birth rate of rhinos held in captivity may well help the species survive experts say. Poaching is an existential threat to rhinos which means it is very important for scientists to understand the factors which may make reproduction successful.

Image Credit:Rhino Mother and Daughter by Mikel Hendriks, on Flickr

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New Study Finds Grizzly Bears Able To Use Tools

New Study Finds Grizzly Bears Able To Use Tools

A new study has made some startling revelations about bear intelligence. The study undertaken by Washington State University, placed some doughnuts on a string that were deliberately out of reach of grizzly bears. Of the eight bears that were tested, six pushed stumps or plastic boxes under the treats to boost themselves up to receive their prize.

Whilst this kind of use of tools is primitive, it does show that bears have cognitive thinking skills and are able to creatively problem solve.

“Cognition is really describing the part of the brain that actually thinks, rather than reacting based on instinct or emotion. In this case, it’s thinking about solving a problem by manipulating an inanimate object.” said veterinarian Lynne Nelson, assistant director of the Washington State University (WSU) Bear Research Education and Conservation Centre.

Before beginning the test to see if the bears were able to manipulate objects, the researchers treated the bears to doughnuts placed on a string swaying on a stump. Doughnuts do not form a regular part of their diet, so the initial training enabled the bears to make the mental connection between a sweet reward and standing on the stump.

Then, the researchers took away easy access and replaced the doughnut.

Eight bears were tested, three female grizzlies and five males. Six bears were raised at the centre itself whilst two bears had problems and came from other locations. Only the six bears who were born at WSU managed to pass the test. A few of the bears chose bulky items in their play area in order to reach the treat whilst one bear even tried to stack objects.

“Their timing in getting this down has been very quick. It has rivalled that of primates.” Dr. Nelson said.

Dr. Nelson added that whilst scientists have seen other bears use tools, they have never studied the behaviour in a research setting.

Image Credit:Bears and Bipedalism 2831 by Daniel D’Auria, on Flickr

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Bats Make Use Of Polarized Light To Navigate

Bats Make Use Of Polarized Light To Navigate

Many people wear sunglasses to avoid polarized light, however this type of light for bats is actually pretty useful and they use it to find their way.

According to new research the greater mouse eared bat is the first mammal known to use polarized light to navigate. The bats make use of polarized rays that are scattered at sunset to adjust their internal compass so that they end up flying in the right direction.

“Every night through the spring, summer and autumn, bats leave their roosts in caves, trees and buildings to search for insect prey,” Stefan Greif, a biologist at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland and co-author of the study, said in a statement.

Bats are known to fly hundreds of kilometres in a single night and usually return home before the sun rises so that they avoid predators. However, according to Dr. Greif until now it was not clear how they achieved their feats of navigation.

It is a well known fact that bats make use of echolocation to communicate with others and sense prey, however this ability only reaches 50 meters, so it is obvious that these animals are making use of another sense in order to look much further ahead the researchers said.

The researchers showed two types of polarization patterns at sunset to a group of 70 adult females. They then released them at two different sites at 1 in the morning when there was no polarization visible. The bats were released roughly 25 kilometres from their roosts and the researchers attached a small radio transmitter to the bats in order to monitor their movements.

The group that was shown shifted polarized light ended up flying at right angles to the direction of the group that were shown non shifted polarized light. This suggests that the bats make use of polarization to navigate. Bats probably make use of a combination of the position of the sun or stars, echolocation, sight and the earth’s magnetic field to find their way.

Image Credit:Flying fruit bat by Tambako The Jaguar, on Flickr

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Seals May Forage For Food At Off Shore Wind Farms

Seals May Forage For Food At Off Shore Wind Farms

New research suggests that offshore wind farms may be adopted by seals for hunting. As the number of these type of wind farms continues to rise there may be an effect on both seals and their prey, however scientists are unable to tell whether the effects will be positive or negative.

Wind farms are rows of wind turbines that make use of the wind to generate electricity. They tend to be located offshore so they can easily benefit from the strong coastal winds and can generate large amounts of electricity without any carbon emissions. Denmark for example gets 30 per cent of its energy needs from wind power.

In order to understand what the potential impact is environmentally of these wind farms, researchers tagged grey and harbour seals that reside on the Dutch and British coasts in the North Sea.

When they took a look at GPS data the scientists found that harbour seals tend to move in a “in a very striking grid pattern,” said Deborah Russell from the University of St. Andrews who led the study. The grid patterns showed the seals swam in straight lines between two wind farms.

“We could actually pinpoint where the wind turbines were by looking at the paths the seals travelled,” Russell said.

The researchers also noticed that both harbor and grey seals visited offshore oil and gas pipelines.

What the scientists think is happening, is that man-made structures are behaving like artificial reefs which provide shelter to potential prey which attracts the seals to hunt. Ms. Russell added that this is the first time sea mammals have shown they make use of such types of artificial structures for hunting.

It is still not clear what the environmental impact of these type of wind farms will be for their seals and the marine life they hunt. The effects may be positive if the farms increase the amount of prey available for these marine mammals. However Russell added that if the farms are simply aggregating existing prey, that could result in a depletion of populations.

Researchers in the future plan on tagging more seals in order to find out what percentage of the population source food from offshore wind farms and pipelines.

Image Credit:Seal pup by Tambako The Jaguar, on Flickr

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Fun Facts About The Gazelle

Fun Facts About The Gazelle

The gazelle is a type of antelope that lives in both Asia and Africa. They closely resemble deer but come from the same family as sheep, cattle and goats. You can tell a gazelle by it s ringed curved horns, their white rumps and tan or reddish brown coats.

Habitat

There are 19 different species of gazelle and most live in the hot dry deserts and savannas of Asia and Africa. In order to maintain proper hydration in these harsh environment, the gazelle shrinks its liver and heart. Breathing can result in a loss of water and a smaller liver and heart means there is less of a requirement for oxygen, which means the gazelle needs to breathe less and loses less water in the process.

Habits

In order to escape predators, the gazelle relies on its speed and they are fast animals reaching speeds of 60 mph for short bursts and sustained speeds of 30 to 40 mph.. The gazelle uses a bounded leap whilst running which involves springing into the air with all four of their feet.

These are social animals with some herds numbering as many as 700 though some herds are small and divided by sex. Female Thomson gazelle’s live in herds of between 10 to 30 females with their young. Males in contrast live alone or in very small groups with other males.

Offspring

Mating season usually takes place during the rainy season so that newly born fawns will have lots of water to drink.

The gestation period is roughly six months and gazelles usually have one or two young at a time.

In order to keep their fawns safe from predators, females will hide their babies in the tall grass. Whilst young gazelles still nurse they remain with their mother’s herd. When they reach the age when they are ready to take care of themselves, male calves transition to the male herd. The lifespan of a gazelle is 10 to 12 years

Diet

Gazelles are herbivores. This means they are strictly vegetarian and subsist on shoots of plants, leaves and grasses. Some gazelles can go their whole lives without drinking any water.

Image Credit:Gazelle by Rex Boggs, on Flickr

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