Thursday, February 26, 2009



'KING OF BEASTS" IS A WELL-DESERVED TITLE for this proud and powerful predator. The lion is everyone's idea of a big cat, equipped with sharp teeth and huge paws to bring down large prey. A threatening roar and the male's magnificent mane complete the picture. Lions dominate their domain - zebras and antelopes become nervous when they're near, while cheetahs and leopards back away from their own kills.

Hunting Together
Lions hunt and eat a wide range of animals, from small rodents and reptiles to young hippos, giraffes and even elephants. Their main prey are medium-to-large mammals such as zebras and antelops. The lionesses do most of the hunting, working as a team - one may run at a zebra herd to panic its members, while driving a vulnerable, slow-moving animal towards the other lionesses, who move in for the kill. Males join in when the prey is particularly large. Even if the lionesses make the kill, the males always eat first, taking the choicest pieces of meat. Although lions drink water regularly when it is available, they can survive without it, deriving liquids in the form of gut contents and blood from their prey. This allows them to survive in arid climates.

Female Bond
All the adultfemales in a pride breed at roughly the same time, which allows them to raise their young communally. Cubs are born in a well-hidden lair and suckled by both their mother and other breeding lionesses in the pride. They are taken to kills at four to eight weeks of age, but don't participate until they are almost a year old. They continue to be fully dependent upon adults for food until 16 months of age. Cubs face numerous dangers, and fewer than half survive their first year. Males leave their pride between the age of two and four; females remain unless they disperse to form a new pride.

Safe Havens
There are between 30,000 and 100,000 lions in the wild, mostly in eastern and southern Africa. However, they are becoming increasingly rare outside national parks and reserves. They are still prized as a hunting trophy and are frequently killed because they are seen as a threat to people and their livestock. Outside national parks, the constant conversation dilemma is to balance the needs of people who want to graze their livestock against the right of the lion to exist in its natural habitat.

Pride Lands
Lions are the only truly social cat, living in groups called 'prides'. A pride usually consists of around four to eight closely related females, along with any offspring and occasionally males, one of which is dominant. Males form coalitions which move from pride to pride in their area, depending on when females are ready to breed. They then defend the females and the pride's territory, which they mark by spraying urine on bushes. Lions communicate with each other with various sounds, but are best known for their roar. This lets other pride members know where they are, and also warns other males to keep away. A lion's roar can be heard several kilometres away.

Status : Vulnerable
Social Unit : Group
Length : 1.7 - 2.5 m (5 1/2 - 8 1/4 ft)
Tail : 0.9 - 1.1 m (3 - 3 1/2 ft)
Shoulder Height : 1.1 m (3 1/2 ft)
Weight : 150 - 250 kg (330 - 550 lb)
Sexual Maturity : 3 - 4 years
Breeding Season : Any time of year
Gestation Period : 110 days
Number Of Young : 1 - 6
Breeding Interval : 20 - 30 months
Diet : Mainly antelope, buffalo, wildebeest, zebra and warthogs
Lifespan : 13 - 20 years

Friday, December 12, 2008



THE LARGEST LAND-DWELLING ANIMAL IN ASIA, this elephant is an impressive and intelligent giant. It spends its time ambling through forests in small herds, searching for fresh pastures to satisfy its purely vegetarian diet. Not as large as its African cousins, and with smaller ears, the Asian or Indian elephant was once common throughout the continent. It is now confined to a few areas in South and Southeast Asia. This elephant has a long association with humans and has been used for logging and transport.

Under Threat
The Asian elephant is in danger of extinction in the wild. It inhabits the world's most densely populated regions where human numbers are rising. As forests have been cleared for farming, so elephant have lost their habitat and traditional migration routes. They have begun raiding crops, leading to conflicts with farmers and, in turn, to political pressure to eliminate them near populated areas. Elephants are also illegally poached for ivory and meat. There are numerous conversation projects throughtout Asia, monitoring elephant populations, illegal trade, and also trying to minimize conflict between them and the local people. In Thailand, where logging has been banned, numerous domesticated elephants with their mashouts (keepers) have taken to begging on the streets; many starve.

Caring Community
Asian elephants live in herds of between three and 40 females and their young; older males are solitary, while younger ones join bachelor groups. An elderly female, or matriarch, is responsible for the safety of the herd and, each day, leads it to fresh pastures and water. Elephants don't appear to have sweat glands, so must bathe, roll in mud or blow dust over themselves to cool down. Communication is by touch, sight, scent and sound; elephants make a wide variety of noises, ranging from squeaks to loud, trumpeting calls. They greet each other by entwining their trunks and sniffing, and will reassure a frightened elephant by stroking it. Excellent swimmers, they sometimes swim or walk underwater using their trunks as snorkels.

Big Babies
A newborn is hairy with a short trunk and staggers to its feet within half-an-hour. Letting its trunk flop backwards on to its head, it uses its mouth to suckle from nipples between its mother's front legs. Young elephants grow fast and are very curious. As they gain confidence, they paly with other youngsters in the herd. Females in a herd often give birth at around the same time and care for the young together. While the calves are small, the herd travels slowly, the young holding on to their mother's tail with their trunk. Although infants nurse for 18 months, they start to eat grass once they are a few month old. They also eat their mother's dung which contains nutrients, as well as bacteria that aid cellulose digestion.

Marathon Munchers
Using its long trunk and small tusks, the Asian elephant can reach into trees and dig into the ground for food. It spends most of its day foraging and eating. Its favourite food is grass, which it pulls up with its trunk. It also browses on trees and bushes, tearing off leaves, twigs and even whole branches and using its tusks to strip bark. Elephants are unable to easily digest cellulose, so over half the food they consume is passed straight through their body. They drink at least once a day, noisily sucking up the water with their trunks, then pouring it into their mouths.

Status : Endangered
Social Unit : Group
Length : Up t0 3.5 m (11 ft)
Tail : 1 - 1.5 m ( 3 1/4 - 5 ft)
Weight : 2 - 5 tonnes (2 - 4 7/8 tons)
Sexual Maturity : About 15 years
Breeding Season : Any time
Gestation Period : 22 months
Number Of Young : 1
Breeding Interval : Up to 5 years
Diet : Grasses, tree bark, roots, leaves, bananas, rice and sugar-cane
Lifespan : Up to 70 years

Wednesday, November 26, 2008



THE POLAR BEAR is the world's largest land predator. Its thick, waterproof fur coat and layer of blubber keeps it warm and enables it to swim for hours in freezing Arctic seas. So effective is the polar bear's insulation, in fact, that adult males quickly overheat when running. Polar bears spend most of the year floating on massive ice floes, covering daily distances of up to 40 km (25 miles) in a constant quest for food. In a lifetime, they may cover an area equal to 260,000 sq km (100,000 sg miles).

Long-distance Swimmers
Polar bears are champion swimmers and can paddle more than 100 km (60 miles) without a rest. To wring water out of their fur, they drag themselves across the ice. They keep clean as matted, dirty fur is a poor insulator. On bitterly cold days, polar bears dig a shelter and curl up tightly, sometimes covering their muzzle, which radiates heat, with a paw. Bears displaying submissive behaviour are often allowed to share a kill. To beg food from another bear, a polar bear approaches slowly, circles and offers a tentative nose-to-nose greeting.

New Age Threats
An agreement to restrict hunting and protect polar bear habitats was signed by Canada, the USA, Denmark, Norway and the former USSR in 1973. The population stabilized at 25,000 but remains vulnerable to global warming. This causes ice to melt earlier in summer and freeze later in winter, giving bears less time to hunt seals. Pollution from mineral exploitation is another concern. Pollutants may be responsible for some female polar bears growing male sex organs.

Waiting Game
Mating occurs during the spring but through a remarkable process called 'delayed implantation', embryo development goes on hold until late autumn. Then, provided the female has enough fat reserves, she digs a maternity den in which to hibernate and give birth. If she does not have adequate reserves, the embryo is re-absorbed. Cubs, which are roughly hamster-sized when born, are fed by their mother for at least two years.

Patience Pays
With their acute of smell and excellent underwater vision, polar bears hunt among shoreline ice floes. They often wait for hours by a seal's breathing hole, then as it surfaces, they pounce and kill it with a single bite to the head or a blow from their massive, heavy paws. Polar bears depend on the presence of ice for access to seals. In summer when floes retreat north, they travel hundreds of kilometres for food.

Status : Lower risk
Social Unit : Individual
Length : 2.1 - 3.4 m (7 - 11 ft)
Weight : Male, 400 - 680 kg (880 - 1,500 lb); female weight 50% less
Migration : May migrate south in winter; returns in summer when the ice breaks up
Sexual Maturity : Female, 4 - 5 years; male, 8 years
Mating season : Spring
Gestation Period : 8 - 9 months
Number Of Young : 1 - 4; commonly 2
Breeding Interval : 3 years
Diet : Mainly seals, but also seabirds, fish, small mammals and bird's eggs
Lifespan : 20 - 25 years

Sunday, November 23, 2008



SLEEK AND POWERFUL, the great white shark cruises effortlessly through the seas in search of prey. The largest flesh-eating shark, it eats mainly seals and sea lions, and spends most of its time in coastal areas and around reefs where prey is plentiful. Armed with ferocious teeth, it attacks with deadly speed, yet despite its reputation, it rarely attacks humans. The great white shark roams temperate and tropical seas and oceans around the world and has no enemy other than man.

Solo Patrol
The great white shark usually patrols the water alone, swimming slowly just above the sea floor or close to the surface. Some sharks seem to return to the same feeding grounds annually and show signs of aggressive behaviour around other sharks, as if defending their territory. It is noe believed that some of their swimming behaviour is aimed at guarding their personal space, such as the cautiously-timed 'turn-aways' between two sharks converging on the same point and when two sharks 'parallel-swim' keeping a set distance between them.

Deadly Accuracy
The great white is capable of short bursts of great speed and can jump 2 m (7 1/2 ft) out of the water in pursuit of prey. It often does a test charge on unfamiliar prey, bashing it with its snout to assess it. When it senses movement or blood, the great white changes direction and swims upwards, homing rapidly in on its prey. Just before impact, its eyes roll back in their sockets and its jaws open wide. Striking at top speed, it tears off a chunk of flesh that it swallows whole. If the prey is large, the shark turns away and waits for it to die before returning to finish it off.

Big Baby
Male great white sharks have two claspers below their tail that they use to inject sperm into a female. In the uterus, the young shark feed on unfertilized eggs and other embryos, and they even swallow their own sets of teeth after they have been shed. When they are born, they are already about 1.5 m (nearly 5 ft) long and can swim straight away. The mother usually gives birth in shallow waters where the young will be relatively safe from other sharks but otherwise she does nothing more for them.

Slaughtered for Soup
The great white shark is now very rare, yet many are still slaughtered every year. It is killed primarily to make shark fin soup, but in some countries it is caught for sport and is often accidentally trapped in gillnets. Increasingly polluted seas are also a threat to the great white shark, worldwide. It is now a protected species in south Africa, California, the Eastern USA and Australia.

Status : Vulnerable
Length : Up to 6.4 m (21 ft)
Weight : 2 tonnes (4,409 lb)
Sexual Maturity : Females, 12 - 15 years; Males, 9 - 10 years
Breeding Season : Spring to late summer
Gestation Period : Estimated at 1 year
Number Of Young : 7 - 10
Diet : Seals, sea lions, large fish, dolphins
Lifespan : Estimated at 30 - 40 years