Mammals: September 2009 Archives

Pangolins: A Species on the Brink of Extinction

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Pangolins are scaly animals similar to anteaters and armadillos that are found in Southeast Asia and Africa... but not for long. Two of the eight species of pangolins are endangered, but all of them are declining due to habitat loss and hunting. The Chinese use them as medicine: pangolins were once thought a remedy for skin disease and today they are used as a cancer cure. Not only are they used as medicine, they are also eaten as food and turned into jewelry and leather. Their future does not look very favorable.

Ninety-eight pangolins and almost seven pounds of pangolin scales were discovered in the home of a Malaysian poacher and taken away by officials. The guilty poacher could have up to twenty-three years in jail and have to pay a fine. But the pangolins' plight continues.

An Indian pangolin, a third species that will soon be endangered at the current rate, was found in a garden in a city that was expanding rapidly last August. The pangolin was taken to an animal rescue center and later released in a nearby national park. That was the first pangolin to be found in someone's home, but many more will follow into the city built on land that was once the wilderness they roamed.

Although these creatures are in serious danger, they are also interesting and so odd that they're cute. Their scales never stop growing, eventually making up twenty percent of their weight. Pangolins have a sticky tongue that is sixteen inches longer than they are (they range from six to three feet). It is the longest tongue of any mammal (in proportion to size) and is used for their exclusive diet of ants and termites (one pangolin eats up to seventy million insects per year). They compensate for not having teeth by eating stones, which, like birds' stone-filled gizzards, grind their food. So that the ants don't bite them, pangolins have ear and nose covers and thick eyelids. Baby pangolins ride on their mom's tail, hanging on as their pangolin parent wobbles along. These harmless, shy animals will either survive or go extinct depending on what happens. Today they aren't faring very well, and it's up to you to change that. There is even a site dedicated to saving them, with information about this interesting and endangered species.


Arctic Tale: The Sad Story Of Global Warming

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Arctic Tale is the story of a polar bear named Nanu and a walrus named Seela. They start as babies. Nanu and her brother hunt on ice, but Seela spends the days when she's young going on clam hunts. The clams can even "fly" away, leaving Seela and her mother, helper Auntie, and the rest of the herd to catch the ones that stay on the ocean floor.

Then Global Warming begins to disturb the life of these arctic animals. The adorable Ringed Seal pups are left on the ice to the male polar bear's advantage (he later eats them). There is not enough snow for digging birthing caves. The ice is too thin for Nanu's mother to go hunting. An entire walrus herd struggles to survive on a tiny melting iceberg. Finally, they take refuge on Rock Island, which doesn't have much ice, until it is time to go home when the ice has frozen back again. Then, Nanu finally contacts a male polar bear after avoiding them most of her life (in a very playful way), and Seela gives birth to a walrus of her own.


A Chipmunk Off The Old Rock

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Chipmunks and Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels (the only similar squirrel) are both furry, cute rodents and they are often confused. Although chipmunks are a subspecies of ground squirrels, they have a few differences.

The Rocky Mountains are populated extensively by these little animals, especially in late spring, summer, and early autumn, when the ground squirrels aren't hibernating. The most common true chipmunk to be found in most parts of the Rockies is the Least Chipmunk, although, when not hibernating, ground squirrels appear more abundant. Chipmunks also hibernate, although that is not true in warm places, where they remain active all year long. Even in places where they do hibernate, they often wake up on warm days to eat the food they stored.

Chipmunks are almost half the size of ground squirrels and move much faster. Chipmunks are also reddish-brown, as opposed to the tan coloring of ground squirrels. But the easiest way to tell them apart is their stripes. Ground squirrels don't have stripes anywhere except on their backs, while chipmunks have stripes both on their backs and over their eyes. When we observed chipmunks and ground squirrels in their natural habitat, we saw that they chased each other, ate the same foods, including wild raspberries, and shared a burrow system in the cracks of some boulders. The chipmunks didn't seem to hibernate. Although they have differences, they have many more things in common than not.

There are twenty five species of chipmunks, and, including both chipmunks and ground squirrels, over 365 species of squirrels. It's easy to see why ground squirrels (who do live on or under the ground) got their name, but the word "chipmunk" isn't so evident. One theory is that because chipmunks make sharp chipping noises with their teeth, they came to be called chitmunks, chipmuck, chipmonk or chip squirrels. Other sources say that chipmunks were named from a Native American word "ajidamoo," which means "red squirrel."

Chipmunks are omnivores, and they eat berries, seeds, insects, flowers, leaves, stems, and other fruits. Sometimes they even scavenge for leftover meat. The ground squirrel is similar, but it also eats piñon nuts and underground fungus, but does not scavenge.

Chipmunks have become adorable cartoon characters, thanks to Chip and Dale, who are constantly dancing around in circles on Mickey Mouse's Christmas tree or scurrying up trees with acorns clutched in their furry paws. Although chipmunks don't actually live in trees, these classic cartoons are very cute, very funny, and give people a positive view of rodents (Tom and Jerry, Mickey Mouse, and others that feature mice or other rodents also have this same effect).

New Species Of Rodent Discovered Inside Volcano

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bsvwlyrt3.jpgA new rat has been found inside a volcano, one of the least explored places on the earth. It is a Giant Woolly Rat and it lives in the area encircled by Mount Bosavi, an inactive volcano. The species is called a Bosavi Woolly Rat, and it can measure up to 3 feet long. 40 previously unknown species were found inside the same crater in the forests of Papua New Guinea. The volcano was being filmed for a nature program by BBC entitled Lost Land of The Volcano. Other recent discoveries include a tiny opossum that belongs to the genus Cercartetus that may be a species never discovered before. There are millions more of these undiscovered species, and we will keep finding them as long as they are still surviving.
Wolves in Montana and Idaho aren't going to remain there very long. They have been taken off of the Endangered Species list, and it is now legal to kill them. On September 1, the first wolf (in Idaho) was killed. Today, Montana's wolf hunting season officially opens. Last year, there were 39 pairs of breeding wolves in Idaho, while Montana only supported 34. But that's only 146 wolves, and although the younger ones aren't included, that is not nearly enough. Idaho is allowing 255 wolves to be killed, and Montana 75. According to Earthjustice, an environmental site that reported on this issue, "...the Fish and Wildlife Service authorized Idaho and Montana to reduce their wolf populations from a current population of roughly 1,500 wolves to only 200-300 wolves in the two states."  Earthjustice went to court to reverse the wolf hunting policy and, although the court agreed that taking them off of the Endangered Species list was unlawful, they would not stop it.

But more wolves than that will be killed. Farmers also kill wolves because they are supposedly interfering with their livestock, or because they are merely on their land. In Idaho, there is no limit to how many wolves farmers can kill because of their animals. In the state of Oregon, they had three pairs of wolves. But one pair got into trouble because farmers were upset because the wolves had killed some of their livestock. So they tried putting up fences, but the farmers still viewed them as threats. The wolves were killed, and now Oregon has only two pairs of wolves. The 330 wolves legally permitted to be killed are not including those totals, nor are they counting the wolves that will die naturally. Taking them off of the Endangered Species list would have been terrible, but allowing them to be killed will put them right back on it. It is yet another tragedy which conservationists are trying to stop, but wolves are already dying. Soon it will be too late for the recovery of this disappearing species.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Mammals category from September 2009.

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