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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 produced 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 animals 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 closes studied elephant populations in Kenya for close to 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 to 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 9.743 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 had born 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 behavior 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 donuts on a string that was 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 them 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 Center.

Before beginning the test to see if the bears were able to manipulate objects the researchers treated the bears to donuts placed on a string swaying on a stump. Donuts 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.

Before trying to get the bears to “manipulate objects,” as it’s put in research jargon, researchers treated the animals to a doughnut on a string swaying over a stump. The pastries aren’t a regular part of their diet, so the training helped the grizzlies make the mental connection between standing on the stump and a sweet reward.

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 center 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 rivaled that of primates.” Dr. Nelson said.

Dr. Nelson added that whilst scientists have seen other bears use tools, they have never studied the behavior 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 kilometers 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 kilometers 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 gray and harbor 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 harbor 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 traveled,” Russell said.

The researchers also noticed that both harbor and gray 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.


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.


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.


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


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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Fun Facts About The Chinchilla

Fun Facts About The Chinchilla

The chinchilla is a species of rodents that reside in the northern Chilean mountain range of the Andes. Chinchillas are prized for their fur, something which almost lead to the extinction of the species.

The species first popped up some 41 million years ago and the ancestors of the chinchilla were the first rodents to inhabit South America. The fur of the species became popular in the 18th century and by the 20th century the species had been nearly hunted to extinction. By 1900 most South American countries banned the practice of hunting wild chinchilla.

Physical characteristics

The chinchilla is closely related to porcupines and guinea pigs. This means they have long muscular hind legs and short forelimbs. Chinchillas look like rabbits though their ears are rounder and much shorter. They have bushy tails and large black eyes with four toes on each foot.

Chinchillas measure between 9 to 15 inches long though their tail can add a further 3 to 6 inches to their length. The average weight of a chinchilla ranges from between 1.1 to 1.8 pounds.


There is a reason chinchillas have a thick coat of fur. They usually reside at altitude of between 9,800 to 16,400 feet in the Andes. At those kind of heights it goes without saying that it can get very cold. Whilst the Chinchilla can survive freezing temperatures they are not able to survive at temperatures higher than 27 C.; high temperatures and humidity can cause these rodents to suffer from heat stroke.

The chinchilla is both nocturnal and crepuscular and this means they are at their most active during dusk or dawn and sleep throughout the day. Their homes are usually constructed by nestling in rock crevasses or burrowing down in underground tunnels. They are a very social species and a colony of chinchillas can number in the hundreds.

Female tend to be aggressive towards one another and can be aggressive towards males when they are ready to mate so it comes as no surprise they are the dominant gender. The female chinchilla for the most is monogamous whilst males tend to have a number of female mates.


Chinchillas breed between November to May in the Northern Hemisphere whilst in the Southern Hemisphere the breeding season is between May to November.

The gestation period lasts for about 111 days and the female tends to have babies twice a year and give birth to litters of between one to six babies. The babies are called kits and a new born kit is born with its eyes open and with fur. The nursing period is between six to eight weeks and by the time they reach eight months old the chinchilla is sexually mature and able to reproduce. The lifespan of a chinchilla is between 8 to 10 years, though they have been known to live as long as 20 years.


The chinchilla is omnivorous which means they eat both meat and plants. Their diet mainly consists of seeds and grass but they also eat birds eggs and insect when they have the chance. When they eat, the food is held between their front paws and nibbled on.

Image Credit:baby chinchilla by Michelle Tribe, on Flickr

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It Takes 21 Seconds On Average For Mammals To Pee


The bladder of an elephant can hold almost 18 litres of fluid but the elephant has the remarkable ability to pee just as fast as a cat.

According to the results of a new study, most mammals greater in size than rats take the same amount of time to urinate, for approximately 21 seconds. This is because urethras are scaled up to become a flow enhancing device the researches said.

It is hoped that the efficient natural design for a system that quickly empties the bladder will serve as an inspiration for smarter engineering of reservoirs, water tanks and fire hoses.

From toddlers to zoo animals

Dr. David Hu of the Georgia Institute of Technology said he has a little child and when changing her diaper began thinking about the amount of urine that an elephant would have which was the inspiration behind the research.

Dr. Hu and his team looked at the two places it is easy to find fauna so that they could compare peeing rates across the animal kingdom. The researches visited zoos and looked at 28 videos of animals urinating on YouTube.

The researchers found that smaller animals who weighed less than 3 kilograms are unable to urinate in streams and instead peeid in a series of quick drops. In contrast, larger animals would release jets of urine and most took roughly 21 seconds to pee.

Dr. Hu said what was most interesting is that larger animals such as elephants took just as much time to relieved themselves as smaller animals such as a cat whose bladder capacity is just 5 millilitres.

How it all comes out

The most important factor is the how long the urethra is according to the researchers. As the size of an animal gets larger, the urethra gets longer at a predictable ratio.

“All animals have urethras of the same aspect ratio: a length-to-width ratio of 18. This is rare among animals. Usually, body parts change in relative size, such as the eyes and brain.”Dr. Hu said.

A longer urethra means an increased effect of gravity that causes more pressure in the bladder which pushes out the urine faster the researchers said.

Image Credit:Elephant by Doug Wheller, on Flickr

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Highland Zoo Welcomes Litter Of Six Pallas’s Kittens

Highland Zoo Welcomes Litter Of Six Pallas’s Kittens

Recently at a Scottish Zoo, there were six rare kittens that were born whose first steps outside the nest box were caught by hidden cameras.

The baby Pallas’s cats look a little like Persian cats however they are more suited to the mountainous parts of central Asia.

Highland Wildlife Park’s new additions are just under three months old. Though handlers have still not been able to capture up close images of the new offspring, cameras positioned both inside and outside of the nest box have captures images of the kitten’s playing and exploring their home.

This breed of cat is actually quite mysterious in the wild and are notoriously difficult to breed in capacity because the kittens tend to be prone to toxoplasmosis which is parasitic disease that is often fatal.

In their efforts to protect the new litter from becoming sick, keepers at Highland Wildlife Park set up cameras and sound recorders to learn exactly when the kittens parents were mating.

“Monitoring the vocalizations of the cats helped us to identify when mating had taken place and this is the key time that a prevention treatment for toxoplasmosis needs to begin, in the early days of a potential pregnancy. Unlike other treatment programs that can be very intensive and stressful to the cats, our work here has allowed us to implement our veterinary protocol in a completely stress free environment,” David Barclay, senior keeper for the Highland Wildlife Park, said.

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) lists the Pallas’s cat as very nearly threatened. This is because they felines are threatened by loss of habitat and hunted by poachers who target them for their fur as well as fat and organs for traditional medicines.

Image Credit:Cat by Isabelle Puaut, on Flickr

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Dogs Are Not Quite Colour Blind

Dogs Are Not Quite Colour Blind

Despite what you may have heard in the past, the vision of a dog is not simply black and white. In fact dogs just like their human owners have multi coloured vision. The only difference is they cannot see as many different colours as their handlers. The reason for this is because the retina of a dog has only two types of colour detecting cells (cones).

In contrast the human retina for the most has three types of cones which allows us to see more wavelengths along the visible spectrum.

Jay Neitz of the University of Washington found that the colour perception of the canine is very similar to a red-green colour blind person. These people just like dogs only have two cones with which to detect colour.

Dogs perceive colour quite differently to humans who have normal vision. Dogs perceive red as darkish brown, whilst green orange and yellow all appear to be yellowish in colour. Something which seems to be blue green to humans such as a pool of water or the ocean just seems grey to a dog whilst purple objects appear to be blue.

The research by Dr. Neitz suggests that just like colourblind people, dogs may use certain types of cues to tell one colour from another.

“A lot of the time there are good cues to help them figure it out; for example, red objects tend to be darker than green objects. So, if it’s a dark apple, a red-green color-blind person would know that it’s probably a red one, and if it’s a lighter apple, it may be a Granny Smith.”Dr. Neitz said

Despite the fact they may be colour blind it does not mean a human’s eye sight is better than their canine counterpart. Researchers have found that dog sight has evolved in such a manner that they are able to see clearly even when light is absent.

Image Credit:DOGS VIZSLA by Robert Hall, on Flickr

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