Posted in Bizarre Land Beasts

Prehensile Tail Porcupine

My Run-ins with the Prehensile Tail Porcupine

I first learned about prehensile tail porcupines when I was sixteen. I was on a class trip to Busch Garden’s where my classmates and I got to spend three days working behind the scenes in Tampa, Florida with the zookeepers. The keepers had this critter perched on a wooden platform where people could come up and pet it. I was reluctant, thinking the quills would be painful to touch, but they actually weren’t that bad! The featured photo on this post is from that experience (please excuse me while I cringe over that picture!) I later worked with these guys again at my internship at Wildlife World Zoo where I managed to snag a few of the quills they shed for a scrapbook.

 

Overview of the Species

Prehensile tail porcupines are very unique looking. They almost remind me of a cartoon character. Their bodies are covered in short black and white quills that defends against predators. They also have a velvety soft nose and a prehensile tail for which they were named. This tail is made up entirely of muscle and is used as a fifth limb to assist in navigating their habitat as arboreal animals (tree-dwelling) in South America.

The prehensile tail porcupine is classified in the rodent order by scientific taxonomy, according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. They traditionally weigh about four to eleven pounds and are approximately twelve to twenty-four inches in length. This species of porcupine is nocturnal and an herbivore, consuming any vegetation easily found in treetops. Females reach sexual maturity around nineteen months and can continue reproducing until about twelve years of age. Babies are born with soft quills in order to prevent injury to the mother, these quills harden within an hour after birth.  The baby prehensile tail porcupine also has the ability to climb immediately after being born.  The average lifespan of a prehensile tail porcupine is twelve to seventeen years.

Any Threats?

Fortunately, the prehensile tail porcupine is well adapted to fend off potential threats from predators! They stiffen their quills when threatened, but no species of porcupine can shoot their quills out of their body which is a common misconception. However, porcupines do shake their quills in order to intimidate potential predators which is most likely where the misconception originated. This porcupine does have some natural predators, such as large birds or big cats native to South America. Sometimes the porcupines forage for food on farms and are potentially hunted and killed by humans. As of right now, the prehensile tail porcupine is listed as least concern according to the Cincinnati Zoo. 

 

 

To learn more about the prehensile tail porcupine, please check out the video below from Discovery!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Bizarre Land Beasts

Pronghorn

What is a pronghorn?

That is a great question! Although the pronghorn is similar to deer or antelopes, they belong to a family all their own. They live across North America, spanning from southern Canada to Mexico, according to the National Wildlife Federation. They prefer to dwell in open fields, plains, grassy areas, and desert type environments. According to National Geographic, pronghorns are the second fastest mammal in the world only second to the cheetah. Clocking speeds of up to sixty miles per hour! Pronghorns are also known for having one of the longest land migration of any animal in the United States! Trekking in large herds about one-hundred and fifty miles one way between the Upper Green River Basin in Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park. Because of their speed, they are able to to easily outrun predators such as coyotes or bobcats, but also can run great distances at half of their maximum speed.

Physical Characteristics and Behavior

The pronghorn’s coloring is a reddish brown with distinct white patches on their stomach and throat. Some subspecies can have patches or stripes of black as well. They also have a unique white warning patch on their rear end that  can be seen for miles and is raised when startled. Both sexes have large, black horns that split off into forward pointing prongs, which is where their name originates. Defenders of Wildlife says that pronghorns are commonly referred to as “Ghosts of the Prairie” due to their elusive behavior.

I had the opportunity to interact with a Sonoran pronghorn named Mario (pictured above) during my internship at Wildlife World Zoo. I reached out to his former zookeeper, Ashley Korenblitt, who I have remained in contact with in order to get some fun facts about this unique species. Ashley told me about the warning patch and how they fluff up their tail when on alert, which she says she finds cute. They actually show off this white patch in order to warn other pronghorns about potential danger.  They have strong vision which is relied upon to avoid predators. Ashley also told me about their intelligence, and how they have the ability to recognize barriers and avoid them.

Pronghorns are herbivores and eat various grasses and shrubs found in their natural habitat. They migrate during the winter in order to have access to better feeding grounds. They reproduce in the late summer or early fall and the females have one or two offspring. The average lifespan of a pronghorn is about ten years.

Conservation Status

According to arkive.org,  before the European settlers came to North America, pronghorn numbers were in the millions. By the 1920s, the population had crashed to a mere 20,000 individuals. The Conservation Planning Specialist Group says that the pronghorn was one of the first species declared endangered in the United States. However, thanks to the tireless efforts of conservationists, we have managed to bring the numbers of pronghorns back up to about 700,000 across North America. They are currently listed as least concern by the World Wildlife Federation. Although their populations are thriving, they do face some threats. Urbanization, new fences, roads, cars, shopping malls, and people all threaten the safe migration of the pronghorn. These animals take the same routes during migration as their ancestors, but with habitat destruction for the benefit of humans, the pronghorn has to face change in migration route and separation of herds. There are currently efforts by various organizations, including WWF, that are advocating for keeping migration routes clear to keep the pronghorns safe.

Subspecies of Pronghorn that are Endangered

The Sonoran pronghorn, which is the subspecies pictured above, is listed as endangered. In 2002, this species was almost completely wiped out by drought. Climate change, habitat loss, and human activities are listed among the many threats that have caused this species to become endangered. The good news however, is that the Sonoran is on the road to recovery thanks to conservation plans put in place by the United States and Mexican governments in the 1980s and 90s.

Posted in Bizarre Land Beasts

Addax Antelope

A Dying Breed

The addax antelope is one of the most critically endangered species of antelope. No one is certain of the exact amount of addax left in the wild with numbers ranging from only three to fewer than one hundred individuals.  One thing however is certain, this species is critically endangered and extremely close to extinction in its natural habitat. Although on the verge of being wiped out in its native habitat in northern Africa, the species is fortunately thriving in captivity with approximately two thousand individuals in zoos and sanctuaries worldwide. I was fortunate enough to get to experience the addax antelope up close and personal during my internship at Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium, and Safari Park in the summer of 2016. As you can see from the featured photo, quite a few babies were born to the addax that summer.

Overview of Addax Characteristics

Both the male and female addax have long, spiraled horns and a bright white coat. The coat color actually reflects light keeping them cool in their desert habitat. Arkive.org describes the addax as also having a have brown coloration and tufts of brown fur (that in my opinion resemble a toupee) around their forehead. The males are generally ten to twenty percent larger than the females, weighing up to three hundred pounds and standing up to forty-five inches tall measuring to the shoulder. The addax is very adapted to the extreme heat with specially adapted splayed hooves to help them through the sand. Addax antelopes are herbivores and actually receive most of their water through the plants in their diet.  They produce highly concentrated urine to help conserve water and excrete dry feces, says livescience.com. They actually absorb and use every drop of water they consume! When addax populations were abundant, females generally produced one offspring a year which were born a light beige color for camouflage with their sandy environment.

Endangerment and Conservation

At one point in history, the addax roamed the entire northern region of Africa but now the minuscule number of individuals left only exist in the Termit & Tin Toumma National Nature Reserve in Niger, Africa (IUCN). A social creature, addax naturally form herds with about twenty individuals with a strong male taking the role of leader.  Before the significant decline of the addax, the antelopes would migrate each season between the Sahara and the Sahel with groups seen in the thousands.

What happened?

The main reason for the rapid decline in addax population is overhunting. The meat and leather produced from the animal is valuable to the indigenous people. The addax is also slow-moving making it easy prey and no match for the modern weapons used for hunting today. Some other reasons for the near-extinction of the species is drought, desertification (the process of fertile land becoming inhabitable due to a variety of factors), as well as habitat destruction for agricultural use and expansion.

Is there hope?

The short answer? Yes! Fortunately, the species is highly protected due to its critically endangered status. International trade is prohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) agreement and the individuals left in the wild are located in a protected nature reserve through the Sahara Conservation Fund. The other upside to the tragic circumstances of the addax is that they are thriving in captivity. Many activists criticize keeping animals in zoos or sanctuaries but this is one of the many cases in which captivity has saved a species from extinction. Many organizations that keep some of the two thousand individuals in captivity are working on reintroduction programs in order to build up the wild populations.

 

Posted in Bizarre Land Beasts

Three-Banded Armadillo

Wildlife Encounters

Recently I attended an event put on by a local farm in Kingston, New Hampshire. While there, I came across an organization called Wildlife Encounters. This New Hampshire-based program provides education and outreach through live animal interactions. As I observed the various animals, one interesting little critter caught my eye. Quickly running back and forth within an enclosed area, was a small armadillo about the size of a softball. There are over twenty species of armadillos, all of which, aside from one, live in Latin America. These omnivores can vary in size and characteristics, but have one very distinct feature in common. They are the only mammal covered with a shell. This unique adaptation, which provides protection from predators, is where they get their name, which means “little armored one” in Spanish. This armor is made up of boney plates that cover most of their body including the back, head, legs, and tail. The armadillo on display through Wildlife Encounters was a three-banded armadillo named Athena, after the greek goddess of war who is often depicted in armor of course!

Three-Banded Armadillo

The three-banded armadillo is native to the South American rainforest, particularly Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay. They are approximately nine inches long, weigh about three pounds, and consists of a light brown color. This type of armadillo is unique in that it is the only species that can curl itself into a complete ball. The armadillo will often leave a small opening when curled up, and will sharply close around any predator claw or snout that attempts to explore the opening, making this a powerful defense mechanism. They also have the ability to run very quickly to escape predation. This armadillo differs from others in that they don’t dig their own burrows, but rather find a home in abandoned ones. Although they prefer a solitary, there have been groups of up to twelve individuals sharing a burrow in the winter. They can live up to fifteen years in the wild and twenty years in captivity.

I don’t know about everyone, but I think these guys are just the cutest! Athena reminded me of a small bug, not only in appearance but in the way she quickly scurried around her enclosure as well. I also observed her nuzzle her long snout into the blankets in her pen in what appeared to be an attempt to get comfortable, very adorable! Her handler Meghan, demonstrated the ability to close into a ball and it was fascinating to be able to see how nature has a way of working so perfectly. Her head and tail closed together like pieces of a puzzle. Athena is only about three, so hopefully she will be educating and entertaining people around New England for years to come!

 

Conservation Status

The three-banded armadillo is listed as near-threatened due to habitat loss and overhunting for use of food. As of right now, the populations are declining and there are no significant endeavors to preserve this species, although many organizations are making efforts. The three-banded armadillo gained significant attention from conservationists in 2014 during the FIFA world cup. The species is commonly seen as a mascot for soccer in Brazil which was where the world cup was held that year. Many organizations urged FIFA to partake in conservation efforts.

What can you do to help?

So you’ve been inspired to save the armadillos! The biggest thing that can be done for the three-banded armadillo is to work on rainforest conservation efforts. Their biggest threat is habitat loss so getting connected with organizations dedicated to preserving the rain forests of South America is a great start!

 

Please check out Wildlife Encounters linked below for more information and a special thanks to their staff Jenica and Meghan for taking the time to talk to me about the organization and this amazing species!

http://www.wildlifeencountersnh.com

 

Sources:

http://www.arkive.org/southern-three-banded-armadillo/tolypeutes-matacus/image-G46861.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Southern_Three-banded_Armadillo

http://cincinnatizoo.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Three-Banded-Armadillo-complete1.pdf

https://forcechange.com/127381/save-endangered-armadillo/

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/group/armadillos/

http://kids.sandiegozoo.org/animals/mammals/3-banded-armadillo

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140506120038.htm