A Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Tanzania – book review

August 5th, 2014

By Gabriel Thoumi

Cover art courtesy of Princeton University Press.

A Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Tanzania provides the most up-to-date guidebook for trekking in Tanzania. It includes detailed species accounts and delightful photos of 135 of the larger mammals of Tanzania. It is the first book to include both marine mammals and recently discovered species of Tanzania. While Tanzania has over 340 recorded mammal species, over 200 of these are rodents, bats, and shrews. For the most part, these smaller mammals are not included in this guidebook.

In 1961, when Tanzania became independent, it had one national park. Now over 20 percent of Tanzania has some form of conservation management. Yet, recently, the larger mammals of Tanzania are declining due to poaching, habitat destruction, illegal logging, charcoal production, mangrove degradation, and other activities.

For example, Tanzanian elephant populations have decreased 50 percent from 2009 to 2013, while Tanzanian black rhinoceros require 24-hour armed guard.

Yet Tanzania is challenging these trends by growing hectares under conservation, increasing national parks, expanding maritime reserves, and working with hand-in-hand with local communities and stakeholders to improve the state of their nation’s natural heritage.

A Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Tanzania organizes species descriptions with detailed analysis and many color photos. The book provides a detailed guide on how to observe these species with the least impact on their environment and in the most successful manner. Species checklists are provided for Tanzania’s national parks. Species are also organized by Tanzania’s 18 major vegetation zones.

A Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Tanzania is a great book that is part of the recent series of mammal and bird guides to Kenya and Tanzania by WildGuides.

All author royalties from the sale of A Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Tanzania will be donated to the Wildlife Conservation Society to support conservation projects in Tanzania.

How to order:
A Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Tanzania
Publisher:            Princeton University Press
ISBN:                    9781400852802
Authors:                Charles Foley, Lara Foley, Alex Lobora, Daniela De Luca, Maurus Msuha, Tim R. B. Davenport, and Sarah Durant

Gabriel Thoumi, CFA, Certified Ecologist, is a frequent contributor to Mongabay.com. 

World’s largest (harmless) bat inspires Halloween-worthy tales in the Philippines

October 31st, 2013

By Simon Bradley and Tammy Mildenstein

It’s Halloween time again, and around much of the world people are decorating with images of ghosts, vampires, witches, black cats, and, of course, bats.

For the superstitious, there may be nothing scarier than the flying foxes of the Philippines, whose 2-meter wingspans make them the largest bats in the world!

In keeping with a popular fear and mistrust of nocturnal animals, Philippine flying foxes (which are actually fruit bats) are associated with a rogue’s gallery of eerie spirits that haunt Philippine nights and minds. While entertaining and spine-tingling, the lingering power of these associations can present challenges for bat conservation, but can also open up opportunities for engaging with the public. Tammy Mildenstein of SOS – Save Our Species project Filipinos for Flying Foxes, describes some of the legends she has encountered in her time working to protect these creatures.

The evening departure of thousands of flying foxes overhead could send the superstitious running for cover. Credit Tammy Mildenstein, Filipinos For Flying Foxes

Perhaps, most closely resembling this magnificent bat is Manananggal whose legend mirrors the same distribution pattern throughout Southeast Asia as flying foxes. This “aswang” – a Filipino term for a variety of vampire-like creatures – is a woman by day, but transforms into a fearsome predator after dark. As families prepare to slumber, Manananggal’s torso detaches in the middle, while the upper half grows bat wings allowing her to fly through the night in search of her prey: unborn babies. According to the myth, Manananggal lands on the roof of a home and drops her long, needle-thin tongue into the belly of a pregnant woman in her sleep to feast. Grisly and chilling? Yes. True? Unlikely, but a great ice-breaker for talking about flying foxes and setting the record straight on the true cultural and economic value of flying foxes, according to Tammy Mildenstein.  Flying foxes are fruit bats, she explains, they don’t feed on human blood much less unborn babies.

Indeed there are others in the menagerie of mythological and winged menaces – all seemingly drawing inspiration from the Philippines’ rich diversity of bat species. For example there is  Tik-tik and Wak-wak – both similar to Manananggal, named respectively, for their “tik-tik” nocturnal calls and the “wak-wak” sound of their airy flapping wings, both of which are reminiscent of the sounds made by flying foxes in flight at night. Yet another is Tiyanak – a creature in the form of a human baby, but with fangs and sharp claws that flies away as a black bird. Capre and Tikbalang take on other animal forms, and are said to be found in fig trees at night with red reflective eyes just like fruit bats.

Meanwhile, aside from inspiration for scares at bedtime, scientific research has shown these amazing creatures are vital to human survival. As pollinators and seed dispersers, flying foxes for example, are essential for maintaining natural forests, often the only source of fresh water, air, and timber and non-timber forest products. Flying foxes are also known to pollinate hundreds of agriculturally important crops for the region, explains Mildenstein.

Ironically, being nocturnal it is flying foxes which can become easily stressed by diurnal human presence near their nest sites. That is why a central component of the Filipinos for Flying Foxes project is to establish six roost sanctuaries to boost species populations allowing the bats and local communities to live in harmony.

So the legends may live on, and keep a couple of kids awake at night, but maybe if Filipinos for Flying Foxes is successful, staying up past bedtime will be to marvel at the sight of the world’s largest bat taking to the sky as darkness falls….all around you! Mwuhahaha! Happy Halloween!

Endangered Malayan tapir baby born at Minnesota zoo

July 25th, 2013

Photo courtesy of Josh Le / Minnesota Zoo.

Last Saturday, a female Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus) was born at the Minnesota Zoo, the first baby tapir for the zoo in over 20 years.

“Malayan Tapirs are an endangered species and every birth is important to the population,” said Tom Ness supervisor of the zoo’s Tropics Trail at the Minnesota Zoo, located in Apple Valley.

The only tapir species found outside of Central and South America, Malayan tapirs are currently listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List. The shy, elusive mammals–weighing as much as 450 pounds–are imperiled by massive deforestation, hydroelectric projects, and the illegal wildlife trade. Unfortunately, the unmistakable animals inhabit some of the most endangered forests in the world in Sumatra (Indonesia), Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand.

However, a recent study found that the Malayan tapir may actually be doing better than expected, at least on the Malaysian mainland.

Although the baby can not yet be seen by visitors at the zoo, there is a webcam.




Photo courtesy of Josh Le / Minnesota Zoo.

Oh deer: world’s smallest deer born at Queen’s Zoo

July 25th, 2013

By Alexander Holmgren

An endangered southern pudu, (Pudu puda), the world’s smallest deer. Photo by Julie Larsen Maher © WCS

The first week of July marked one of the as the World’s cute as the worlds smallest deer was born in the Wildlife Conservation’s Society Queen’s Zoo. The doe, a member of the endangered Pudu species (Pudu puda) weighs approximately one pound at birth and will only grow up to be twenty pounds as an adult.

The Pudu are one of nature’s most extraordinary creatures. The Pudu is the smallest deer species in existence measuring at thirteen to seventeen inches high and up to thirty three inches long, roughly the same size as a miniature poodle, but it manages to thrive in the rainforest’s of south America. Pudu’s are herbivores eating sprouts, leaves, and almost any other form of shrubbery that they can find.  Because of their small size however this wonderful animal has developed some very unique behaviors in order to obtain it’s food, being known to sprint, jump, or even climb up trees, all the more impressive given that these animals have hooves. This whimsical little animal has even been known to bend saplings or bamboo shoots into a makeshift bridge in order to reach higher branches, as well as running in zig-zag formation in order to evade predators.

Pudu’s are currently listed as endangered primarily due to extensive deforestation in Chile and Argentina. Due to a growing human population the Pudu’s native habitat is slowly being whittled away by a combination ranching, agricultural development, and logging rendering many of these animals homeless. Another threat to the Pudu is from hunting and poaching. Often used as sport for dogs, the Pudu is hunted down in order to feed these domesticated animals, and because of their extremely cute nature they have been widely targeted victims of poaching to be illegally exported as pets.

Photo by Julie Larsen Maher © WCS

 

Eats, shoots and leaves, an essay on giant pandas

June 30th, 2011


Giant panda in Chengdu in South Western China. Photo by: Shubhobroto Ghosh.

By: Shubhobroto Ghosh

Please note : The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not representative of the viewpoints of any organization.

“We have to remember that what we observe is not nature herself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning” – Werner Heisenberg, Nobel Prize winner in Physics (1932) in Physics and Philosophy (1958).

Among the hundreds of images and descriptions of what is possibly the cutest living animal, the giant panda, one particularly sticks in my mind, the anecdote about an animal that goes to eat in a restaurant. The animal looks at a dictionary lying on the table and finds the entry on giant panda saying : “Giant Panda – Bearlike animal found in China. Eats, shoots and leaves.” The animal takes out a revolver slung around its waist, shoots in the air twice, startles customers and leaves. The epithet is meant to serve as a lesson in English language syntax. It is not known if real Giant Pandas raid restaurants for food or carry revolvers around their waists, but there were plenty of offerings connected to this animal during a recent trip to China.

When I heard that my participation in a conference on animal protection was confirmed in early June 2011, I drove everyone around me and the organizers into a tizzy because I spoke of nothing but giants pandas till the time I actually landed in China. I forgot about everything else apart from the obsession to see a live giant panda in person, the symbol of World Wildlife Fund that is meant to serve as a beacon for conservation worldwide. I harried my co passenger Rohit Gangwal, of a wildlife protection group from Jaipur named Raksha that we would rush for the zoo as soon as we set foot in Chengdu in South Western China.

No sooner had the plane landed that my giant panda dream erupted vociferously and made me impatient with each passing moment. Rohit put up with a lot of unreasonable demands from me and sacrificed a well earned rest to accompany me to the Chengdu Zoo. We went in and the first signboard that caught my eye was that of the giant panda. My heart was racing at the prospect of seeing the animal alive, but the first sighting was disappointing to say the least. I came across a sleeping animal with his bum pasted to a glass pane. But it was a sighting after all and my excitement remained all the same as I ran to the other end of the enclosure only to find a second animal inside in a similar position. I was riveted anyway, and waited for the animals to wake up and almost ignored the smaller and just as cute red pandas eating lunch in an adjacent enclosure. I could have waited for eternity just to see the animals awake, but time was not of the essence and I had to move on.

Chengdu Zoo is a large one and the commentary I had heard prior to my visit had not been very charitable. And it did appear in real life that the facility lived up to the rather checkered reputation it had garnered for itself. It is a large facility, by any standards and the grounds are quite beautiful and tastefully decorated but what you see inside the enclosures really do depress you. Most large animals are in small, unfurnished enclosures that do not provide them any enrichment in their lives. And large animals there are many.

Among the notable large mammals displayed at Chengdu Zoo are white rhino, Asian elephant, lions, tigers( some of them white), northern lynx, giraffe, takin, addax, scimitar horned oryx, Pere David’s deer, Bactrian camel, chimpanzee, orangutan, sun bears and moon bears. Some of these species were seen by me for the first time and although it is always a thrill to see a new animal species, the enjoyment is compromised by the fact that they are in small barren enclosures that offer them little privacy. Among the more disturbing facets of the zoo are a cockatoo fed and being made to perform tricks by the public, a pony and a Bactrian camel huddled in small pens and turtles, goldfishes, hamsters and rabbits in tiny cages to be sold outside the zoo gate. It was also disconcerting to see live animals being fed to reptiles in the reptile house and a very distinct overcrowding in the aviaries.

Chengdu Zoo is an astonishing place for birdwatching with light vented bulbuls and rufous capped babblers flitting around everywhere. The zoo has been helped by Animals Asia Foundation in instituting better enrichment measures for their inmates and this is an endeavor that ought to continue.

It would be remiss of me not to mention my parting memory of Chengdu Zoo because they involve giant pandas. It was nearing closing time when I cajoled Rohit to accompany me for a final glimpse of the sleeping beauties. And lo and behold! They obliged by sitting upright in front of us, munching their bamboo sticks, the classical giant panda pose that has beguiled many a conservationist and the general public in countries throughout the world. It was indeed a sight to cherish and I stood like a statue for half an hour savoring the animal going about its dinner. It was an unforgettable sight, but I repeat that the giant pandas in Chengdu Zoo are not in the best of conditions. Their dens are featureless and they are forced to be in public gaze, and although this is how I managed to see the mythical creature for the first time, I would rather have them getting access to their outside enclosures (filled with greenery and of a modest size) for twenty four hours a day. The irony is heightened by the fact that the zoo has loudspeakers in front of the giant panda enclosure playing songs like, “I see skies are blue…..” Well, the skies are maybe blue but in a coop, it is certainly not a wonderful life for the inmates and this practice ought to be stopped in the facility.

Part of my dream realized, I returned to the hotel feeling satiated and replete with memories of the day. Friends and colleagues from across the world were met and accosted and courtesies, pleasantries, hugs and kisses exchanged. Some of them whetted my appetite for seeing more giant pandas by showing me pictures of the animals in the famed Chengdu Giant Panda Research and Breeding Base (winner of the United Nations Global 500 Environmental Award).

So another round of desperate requests and pleadings followed and this time I found three companions to visit the place : Arvind Sharma from Himachal Pradesh, Sashanka Dutta from Assam and Jiban Das from Orissa. The Giant Panda centre does make you feel the magic of the natural habitat of the animal. The moment you enter, you well and truly imbibe the spirit of the Giant Panda and evoke memories and descriptions of the animal as portrayed by George Schaller, Desmond Morris and the French missionary Pere David who is credited with having brought this creature to the notice of Westerners (This element of discovery has a dubious aspect that is increasingly being taken note of by many).

There are several trails that lead one to different enclosures housing the animals. The first one only revealed a sleeping animal and a specimen ambling in the bush far away. But again, luck was on our side and just as we were about to depart for another enclosure, one animal came walking within visible range and started feasting on bamboo. Again the classical pose, and the cameras started clicking. I guess one can never ever tire of seeing a Giant Panda in that position, the cuteness of the animal is extraordinary. The animal, due to its neotenic features spontaneously solicits a bond and connection bordering on profound spirituality. Observing the animal in his home country, in his home state, in surroundings that do approximate the wild state although the animal is in confinement, does fill one with a sense of awe and respect. The sight of a living giant panda can make even the most hard nosed scientist or biologist forget objectivity. As many field biologists are now tending to acknowledge, it is well nigh impossible not to get emotionally involved in the lives of individual animals that one observes as part of a study, the compassionate component is as important as the scientific element.

There are many young giant pandas on display in the Chengdu centre and there are always hordes of people ogling over them. The centre has 96 giant pandas under its custody, 22 of them loaned to zoos in China and abroad. I had the great good fortune of having a personal session with Sarah Bexell, head of Conservation Education at the Giant Panda Center. Sarah demonstrated many conservation initiatives that have been instituted in Sichuan province to help protect this animal in the wild by taking into account needs of the local populace.

Although this article is principally about giant pandas and my absolute and childish fascination for seeing an animal in flesh that I had read tomes about, the narrative would be incomplete without paying a tribute to the Animals Asia Foundation founder Jill Robinson and her energetic team at the Moon Bear Rescue Center in Chengdu. I had the privilege of visiting this place with several luminaries of wildlife conservation and welfare and can state unequivocally that it stands out as one of the best captive animal facilities I have seen anywhere. Here, bears that have endured a lifetime of abuse in captivity in bear bile farms are accorded a second chance to live.

But I must get back to the pandas, especially because I also saw the beautiful and cute red pandas at the Giant Panda Center in Chengdu. I saw only one animal, clambering through the dense foliage and his scarlet pelage seemed as brilliant and attractive as the piebald colouring of his larger cousin.

The most enduring image of the symbol of World Wildlife Fund remains a cliche, but one I do not resent writing. An animal sitting upright, holding its food in its pseudo thumb, eating shoots and leaves. The imagery given by the animal in the restaurant anecdote is well justified in real life on all grounds.


Red panda in Chengdu in South Western China. Photo by: Shubhobroto Ghosh.

About the author: Shubhobroto Ghosh is a former journalist for the Telegraph newspaper whose work has also been published in the Times of India, New York Times, The Statesman, The Asian Age, and the Hindu. He has worked on conservation issues in India and UK for several organisations and was project coordinator of the Indian Zoo Inquiry project. He did his Masters thesis on British zoos. He currently works in the NGO sector and maintains a keen interest in environmental issues.

Update: interview on toxic pesticide used to kill wildlife (and endangering people) in Kenya

June 30th, 2011

An interview in four parts with Paula Kahumbu, Executive Director of WildlifeDirect, provides detail and context on the use of the neurotoxic pesticide Furadan to kill lions and birds en masse in Kenya. Lions are down to around 2,000 individuals in Kenya. Kahumbu, recently awarded an Emerging Explorer by the National Geographic, and WildlifeDirect are working to pressure the government to estimate the environmental and human cost of Furadan.

Also known as Carbofuran, Furadan is manufactured by the Farm Machinery and Chemicals Corporation (FMC) in the United States. As of May 2009, the US banned Furadan from being used on any crop for human consumption due to its lethal toxicity. Still, FMC says it will continue to manufacture the pesticide for use abroad.

For more information: Stop Wildlife Poisoning

For more on the fight to stop Furadan in Kenya:

Lion poisonings decimating vultures in Kenya

(01/19/2011) It’s a common image of the African savanna: vultures flocking to a carcass on the great plains. However, a new study has found that vulture populations are plummeting in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, a part of the Serengeti plains, due to habitat loss as well as the illegal killing of lions. Increasingly farmers and livestock owners have targeted lions and other big predators by poisoning livestock carcasses with toxic pesticides, such as Furadan. Not only illegal, such poisonings take their toll on other Serengeti wildlife, including vultures that perish after feeding on the laced carcasses.

Updated: East Africa’s lions falling to poison

(05/11/2010) Eight lions have been poisoned to death in a month in Kenya, according to conservation organization WildlifeDirect. Locals, frustrated by lions killing their livestock, have taken to poisoning the great cats using a common pesticide in Kenya called carbofuran, known commercially as Furadan.

Prime Minister of Kenya urged to ban lion-killing pesticide after child dies from ingestion

(11/10/2009) On Monday October 26th a three-year-old girl mistakenly ate the pesticide Furadan (also known as carbofuran) in western Kenya. Her father, a teacher at a primary school, said that he had no knowledge of how dangerous the pesticide was, which he had purchased to kill pests in his vegetable garden.

Toxic pesticide used to kill birds by the thousands (warning: video is graphic)

June 29th, 2011

A new video from WildlifeDirect shows the brutal impacts of the neurotoxic pesticide Furadan being used intentionally to kill entire flocks of birds, which are later sold as meat. Ducks, pigeons, and storks are often targeted. The process is brutal.

“Based on a survey I did in 2009, 6,000 birds were killed every month. Tens of thousands are killed every year. I’m very concerned and I think man is at risk too–that is the greatest concern,” says researcher Martin Odino in the video. In 2009 a three year old Kenyan boy perished after consuming the pesticide, which his father had purchased for use in the family’s vegetable garden.

Furadan is also used in revenge-killings against lions. Farmers and ranchers lace cattle carcasses with the pesticide and when lions feed, they die. Declines in vulture populations have also been linked to the deadly toxin.

Also known as Carbofuran, Furadan is manufactured by the Farm Machinery and Chemicals Corporation (FMC) in the United States. As of May 2009, the US banned Furadan from being used on any crop for human consumption due to its lethal toxicity. Still, FMC says it will continue to manufacture the pesticide for use abroad.

For more information: Stop Wildlife Poisoning

For more on the fight to stop Furadan in Kenya:

Lion poisonings decimating vultures in Kenya

(01/19/2011) It’s a common image of the African savanna: vultures flocking to a carcass on the great plains. However, a new study has found that vulture populations are plummeting in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, a part of the Serengeti plains, due to habitat loss as well as the illegal killing of lions. Increasingly farmers and livestock owners have targeted lions and other big predators by poisoning livestock carcasses with toxic pesticides, such as Furadan. Not only illegal, such poisonings take their toll on other Serengeti wildlife, including vultures that perish after feeding on the laced carcasses.

Updated: East Africa’s lions falling to poison

(05/11/2010) Eight lions have been poisoned to death in a month in Kenya, according to conservation organization WildlifeDirect. Locals, frustrated by lions killing their livestock, have taken to poisoning the great cats using a common pesticide in Kenya called carbofuran, known commercially as Furadan.

Prime Minister of Kenya urged to ban lion-killing pesticide after child dies from ingestion

(11/10/2009) On Monday October 26th a three-year-old girl mistakenly ate the pesticide Furadan (also known as carbofuran) in western Kenya. Her father, a teacher at a primary school, said that he had no knowledge of how dangerous the pesticide was, which he had purchased to kill pests in his vegetable garden.

Activism: funds needed to replant forest for nearly-extinct loris

June 28th, 2011

Note: as a news organization mongabay.com does not endorse the action below, but believes its readers may be interested in taking action or discussing the issue in comments.


Horton Plains slender loris. Photo courtesy of EDGE.

Researchers estimate that only 80 Horton Plains slender loris (Loris tardigradus nycticeboides) survive in the world. After believed to be extinct ZSL EDGE rediscovered the subspecies in a dwindling Sri Lanka forest in 2009. Now EDGE is working to raise money to fund reforestation of a vital corridor for the Horton Plains slender loris. Already, the loris has lost 80% of its habitat.

From the EDGE blog: “This project will not only benefit the endangered loris, but also a host of other species found within the threatened montane forest environment such as the leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya), the ‘shaggy bear monkey’ (Trachypithecus vetulus monticola), the endemic Nillu rat (Rattus montanus), and the Sri Lanka spiny mouse (Mus ohiensis) amongst others.”

To donate money to the project: Reforestation Project in Sri Lanka for Horton Plains slender loris.

What does a baby moose look like? (photos)

June 12th, 2011

Moose and mom are doing fine. Photo courtesy of ZSL's Whipsnade Zoo.
Moose and mom are doing fine. Photo courtesy of ZSL’s Whipsnade Zoo.

It’s true that moose, also known as European elk (Alces alces), are odd looking animals, yet that doesn’t prevent their babies from being as endearing as any others. This baby moose, named Chocolate (get it?), was born at Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) Whipsnade Zoo in late May.

The moose are apart of the European Breeding Program. Photo courtesy of ZSL's Whipsnade Zoo.
The moose are apart of the European Breeding Program. Photo courtesy of ZSL’s Whipsnade Zoo.

A closer look at Chocolate, the moose. Photo courtesy of ZSL's Whipsnade Zoo..
A closer look at Chocolate, the moose. Photo courtesy of ZSL’s Whipsnade Zoo.

Antelope release! (photos)

June 7th, 2011

Red hartebeest release. Photo courtesy of Colchester Zoo: Action for the Wild.
Red hartebeest release. Photo courtesy of Colchester Zoo: Action for the Wild.

Three antelope species were recently released at the Umphafa Private Nature Reserve in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa in an ongoing effort to restore an over-cultivated area. In all 7 impala, 21 red hartebeest, and 22 blue wildebeest were released.

“These recent releases are exciting developments for UmPhafa. The releases of the wildebeest represent the first for this species on UmPhafa and the new populations of red hartebeest and impala will serve to top up our existing herds. It is hoped that these species will go on to breed in the future and help us on our way to reaching carrying capacity for these species,” said Rebecca Perry, Conservation Director, in a press release.

The reserve was opened in 2006 by Action for the Wild, the conservation organization of Colchester Zoo. To date, 13 species have been released in the 5,000 hectare protected area, including giraffe, zebra, blesbok, servals, African rock pythons, common reedbuck, nyala, waterbuck, leopard tortoises and white rhinos.

Impala release. Photo courtesy of Colchester Zoo: Action for the Wild.
Impala release. Photo courtesy of Colchester Zoo: Action for the Wild.

Blue wildebeest release. Photo courtesy of Colchester Zoo: Action for the Wild.
Blue wildebeest release. Photo courtesy of Colchester Zoo: Action for the Wild.