A Species Of Giant Rat Native To Africa Is Being Used To Keep People Safe. Photo: USFWS
This Huge Rodent Is Better Than A Metal Detector At Sniffing Out Deadly Land Mines
In some parts of sub-Saharan Africa, hidden land mines are a major threat to the civilian population. Left over from military conflicts that periodically sweep the continent, they often injure or even kill children at play and adults who are trying to work farmland or otherwise go about their daily business.
Finding and disposing of buried mines is usually a slow, difficult, and dangerous process because, while they can be located with electronic metal detectors, the devices constantly give out false alarms caused by such non-lethal pieces of lost or discarded metal as nails, screws, and machine parts. So, mine hunters in the formerly war-torn country of Angola are increasing relying instead on the Gambian rat, a native rodent with a cat-sized body and an exquisite nose for buried items that emanate odors, including explosives.
The Gambian rat, also called the African rat, or the pouched rat, is a common sub-Saharan species that has been domesticated. The animals are sold around the world in the pet trade—in fact, they’ve become an invasive species in Florida, where enough of them have escaped or been released to form a breeding population. [click to continue…]
There Are More Wild Pandas Now Than There Have Been In Several Decades (Although This Photo Is Of A Captive Panda)
The Population Of Wild Pandas Has Gone Up Since The Animals Last Were Counted
Good news is often hard to come by in the world of endangered species conservation. So when we hear something positive we like to celebrate. What we’re most happy about right now is a report from the Chinese government that the number of giant pandas in the wild has undergone a sizable increase in the last dozen years.
According to Chinese wildlife officials, there are now 1,864 pandas living in the bamboo forests of Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu provinces in southern China, up from a population of 1,596 in 2003. This is an increase of nearly 17 percent. [click to continue…]
The wildlife field is full of interesting careers, including—but certainly not limited to—veterinary work, environmental writing, field biology, conservation law enforcement, and hands-on work with captive wildlife. These sorts of jobs are extremely exciting to a lot of kids—but also seemingly about as attainable as the moon. In fact, a lot of young people might think they’d have as much chance of becoming an astronaut as they would a zookeeper or a zoologist.
So it’s terrific that a new book called Zoology for Kids: Understanding and Working with Animals has come along to demystify and demythologize the wildlife professions and make them seem more like something that, with the right amount of time, effort, and desire, any kid could end up doing for a living. The entire second half of this well-written, informative, and beautifully designed book is called “Working on the Wild Side—Zoology in Real Life”—and it discusses an array of jobs studying, caring for, and protecting wild animals, from being a zookeeper or a professional aquarist to becoming a scientist or a wildlife conservationist. Topics covered include the kinds of daily activities that are involved in each of these careers, as well as some of the requirements for getting there. The authors, the husband and wife team of Josh and Bethanie Hestermann, offer their young readers a lot of practical career encouragement, including the terrific advice to begin gaining experience and building their resumes through volunteer work at a wildlife center or veterinarian’s office. [click to continue…]
The Academy Award-nominated film, Virunga, released in November, 2014, is one of the most important wildlife films in decades. It chronicles the effects of corporate greed, government corruption, poverty, and war on the people and wildlife in and around Congo’s Virunga National Park. While the movie’s charismatic stars are the eastern Congo’s rare mountain gorillas, its heroes are the rangers and park officials who look after the gorillas and other wildlife, fending off disturbing threats of increasing seriousness until they end up risking their own lives to protect them even as heavily armed troops battle all around. [click to continue…]
A Critically Endangered Sumatran Rhinoceros. Photo: Willem V. Strien
The Obama Administration Announces New Action Against Illegal Traffickers In Wildlife
The Obama Administration announced February 11 that it was taking new action to protect endangered species and other wildlife currently being decimated by growing and increasingly powerful international networks of illegal wildlife traffickers. Poachers and traffickers are destroying populations of elephants, rhinos, tigers, gibbons, pangolins, and many other species of birds, reptiles, and mammals in order reap huge profits by satisfying demand for wild animal parts and products in Asia, the U.S., and other illegal markets. Poaching and wildlife trafficking have become the main factor driving many species toward extinction.
According to a report published in The New York Times, U.S. actions will include using American intelligence agencies to track the operations of international criminals involved in trafficking, an activity estimated to generate $20 Billion in black-market profits each year. For the first time, U.S. agents will be dispatched to other countries in the fight against trafficking. In addition, the U.S. will put diplomatic pressure on the governments of countries where illegal wildlife products are sold. The Administration also plans action to curb U.S. imports of banned products. By some estimates, the U.S. is the second largest consumer after China of illegal wildlife and wildlife products. [click to continue…]
When it comes to wildlife, kids frequently are told, “Look, but don’t touch.” Spiders and bees can sting or bite, butterflies and moths are easily injured, wild mammals—even if they allow people to approach—have to be observed from a distance that is safe for the child, and of course, inquisitive little fingers must be discouraged from handling the eggs and young of birds. And while frogs are fun to catch, in most places they’re only available for part of the year, even to that fortunate minority of kids who enjoy ready and open access to a brook or a swamp. . . .
Many of us older folks don’t fully remember how frustrating this no-hands policy can be to a child—kids like to do things, not just observe them. But author Monica Russo and photographer Kevin Byron are two adults who clearly have not forgotten. Their new book, Birdology: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring the World of Birds, not only teaches kids about avians all kinds, but it offers them an array of options for participating in the natural world at the same time they’re learning from it. [click to continue…]
An Upswing In The Population Of This Appealing Spotted Cat. Photo: USFWS
Ocelots: Although They’re Still A Rare Cat, The Texas Trend Is Looking Better
Along with its much larger cousin, the jaguar, the ocelot is listed as Endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). The last remaining U.S. populations of the spotted, bobcat-sized ocelot all inhabit enclaves near the Mexican border in Texas, where the animal holds a spot on that state’s own list of endangered and threatened species.
However, the official estimate of south Texas ocelot numbers recently was elevated from fewer than 50 to fewer than 80 due to sightings by wildlife officials of some younger cats they had not known existed. Officials attribute the increase to some much-needed rains, which have boosted the numbers of birds and rodents that ocelots select as prey animals. [click to continue…]
This video of a baby short-tailed fruit bat and his human caretaker will make you see bats in a whole different light. Who knew a bat could be as cute as a kitten . . . ?
Hairy Frogfish Hunts. Watch!
The hairy frogfish lives in tropical and subtropical waters of both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It hunts shallow, sandy areas by disguising itself as a weed-covered rock. As you will see from the video, the hairy frogfish is a voracious predator capable of swallowing prey as large as itself.
Baby Gorilla Gets Tough
Adult male mountain gorillas drum their chests with their open hands in order to make a popping noise that resounds through the forest. This drumroll warns other male gorillas to stay off their territory and away from their families. Young gorillas also drum in an attempt to show how tough they are. In this video, a baby mountain gorilla in Rwanda fails hilariously when he tries to prove himself to a group of tourists. There are fewer than 1,000 mountain gorillas left in the wild.
World's Weirdest Creature?
Nto only are naked mole rats naked, but even though they are mammals, their family structure more closely resembles that of bees, ants, wasps, and other social insects. All the mole rats living in each underground mole rat colony serve the needs of their giant mole rat queen—who, like a queen bee or a queen ant does all the reproducing and is therefore the mother of all her subjects. Naked mole rats are native to the grasslands of East Africa.
Honeybees: Bugs That Give Directions
We all know that insects can't talk. However, some species can communicate nonetheless. Ants for instance lay down a trail of chemical markers called pheromones to tell other members of their colony where to find a food source. Because bees fly to and from their food, a chemical trail is not an option for them. Instead, honeybees are able to give their hive mates precise directions to a distant patch of flowers using an amazing form of dance. In this video, scientists tell us exactly how the bees accomplishing this incredible feat of nonverbal communication.
Ooctopi are widely know to be the most intelligent of all invertebrates. They can learn such relatively complex tasks as undoing latches and opening jars—and they are infamous for their ability to escape from tanks and other enclosures. But the recently discovered mimic octopus of the South Pacific adds a strange, new twist to octopus intelligence with its ability to disguise itself as any number of other sea creatures in order to scare off would-be predators.
Baby Kangaroos: Born Twice
A baby kangaroo first leaves its mother's body while it is still an embryo. It doesn't even have fully developed hind legs at this stage. The hairless, jellybean-sized creature makes its way to its mother's pouch, where it develops into a real kangaroo—and the first time it jumps from the pouch is almost like a second birth.
Deadly Aim With A Stream Of Water
The archer fish, which is native to southern Asia, Polynesia, and Australia, employs one of the world's most unique methods of hunting. The fish knocks bugs off of overhanging vegetation by blasting them with a powerful stream of water from its mouth. Once the insect falls into the water it's helpless, and the archer fish can eat it at its leisure. These amazing fish can spit water up to two meters (six feet), and they almost always hit their mark.
Ants That Make Slaves Of Other Ants
It's one of the weirdest things that happens in nature: One species of ant making slaves of another. The slave-makers are known as Polyergus ants, and they are native to North America. Periodically, Polyergus will raid the colonies of another species, where they use an array of deceptive chemical signals to overcome the other ants. They then carry eggs of the conquered species back to their own colony, where they they raise them and put them to work. One of the most interesting aspects of this slaving behavior is that, not only does the Polyegus queen participate in the raid, but she is key to its success. The queens of all other species of ants never leave the nest. . . .
Deep Sea Anglerfish: DON'T Go Into The Light!
Deep sea anglerfish live so far down in the ocean that there is very little light in their environment. Creatures at that depth are drawn to any illumination, and the anglerfish takes advantage of that fact by using its natural headlamp to attract prey. But that's not the weirdest thing about the anglerfish: Wait till you see how they mate!
Blood Lust And The Vampire Bat
Vampires are real—but they're only as big as your thumb. In Central and South America, vampire bats emerge at night to sneak up on mammals such as cattle, shave a little skin off of them while they sleep, and drink their blood. In fact, vampire bats at the only mammal species that subsists entirely on a blood diet. Although few vampire victims die of blood loss, some do get rabies from these furry parasites.
The Interior Decorator Of The Bird World
Some animals go to great lengths to attract a mate. But no creature puts more effort or artistry into courtship than the male bowerbird of New Guinea. Not only does this amazing avian acquire hundreds of objects of art in order to impress the female of his species, but he builds an entire structure in which to house his collection.
The Father That Gives Birth
In most animal species, it is the female that carries and gives birth to the young. Seahorses, however, are different. The male seahorse sports a pouch like a kangaroo's, and during mating the female deposits her eggs in it. The male carries the eggs until they hatch, after which he gives "birth" to a brood of young seashores.
A Spider That Fishes
Most species of spiders are insectivorous, meaning that they survive by catching and eating insects. The European fishing spider, however, is piscivorous, which, as its name implies, means that it prefers prey with scales and fins. Watch as this spider detects and then attacks an unwitting stickleback that's unlucky enough to swim by.
Gibbons: The Apes That Swing
Although they might remind us of monkeys, the 16 species of gibbon are apes—a family of higher primates that also includes chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, gorillas, and humans. Gibbons are entirely arboreal, which means that they live in trees. Because they seldom descend to the ground, gibbons travel through the rainforest treetops of Southeast Asia and Indonesia using their incredibly long arms rather than their legs, swinging from branch to branch in a form of locomotion called brachiation. As jungle acrobats, gibbons put most kinds of monkeys to shame.
Almost Unbelievable: The Bird of Paradise
Like the bower bird, most of the 42 bird-of-paradise species are found on the Island of New Guinea. Compared to male bower birds, male birds of paradise employ an equally elaborate, though completely different, strategy for attracting mates. They rely not only on their spectacular plumage, but also on their dancing ability in their attempts to convince females to mate with them. In fact, you wouldn't be wrong to call birds of paradise the exotic dancers of the animal world.