Saturday, 30 April 2011

Manul – the Cat that Time Forgot


Have you ever wanted to take a trip through time to see what animals looked like millions of years ago? When it comes to cats there is little or no need.  This beautiful specimen is a Manul, otherwise known as Pallas’s Cat.  About twelve million years ago it was one of the first two modern cats to evolve and it hasn’t changed since. The other species, Martelli’s Cat, is extinct so what you are looking at here is a unique window in to the past of modern cats.

Although the Manul is only the size of the domestic cat, reaching about 26 inches in length its appearance makes it appear somewhat larger.  It is stocky and has very lengthy, thick fur, which gives it, perhaps to human eyes, an unintentional appearance of feline rotundity.  Yet although it appears stout and somewhat ungainly it has a natural elegance and poise – exactly what you would expect from the genus Felis in other words.  Plus it can certainly look after itself in a fight!

The main reason for its survival throughout the ages has been its isolation. In the wild it lives on the Asian steppes at substantial heights – up to 13,000 feet.  Based in India, Pakistan, western China and Mongolia as well as Afghanistan and Turkemistan, it has even been discovered recently in the wilds of the Sayan region of Siberia. In these places it prefers rocky areas, semidesert and barren hillsides.  In other words places where we are less likely to live – but even having said that you will no doubt be able to hazard a guess which species is the Manul’s greatest enemy.

Take a close look at the eyes of the Manul.  Do you see a difference between it and the domestic cat? That’s right, the pupils of the Manul are round, not slit-like.  Proportionally too, the legs are smaller than cats we know and they can’t run anywhere near as quickly.  As for the ears, well, when you actually can catch sight of them they are very low and much further apart than you would see in a domestic cat.

It also has a much shorter face than other cats, which makes its face look flattened.  Some people, when they see their first Manus mistakenly believe that it is a monkey because of its facial appearance and bulky looking frame.  It is easier to see why, from some angles.

The Manus has not been studied a great deal in the wild, where it is classified as near threatened.  This is because it is distributed very patchily throughout its territory, not to mention the fact it is still hunted despite protection orders made by the various governments who create human law in its range. Before it was legally protected tens of thousands of Manuls were hunted and killed each year, mostly for their fur.

It is thought that the cat hunts mostly at dawn and dusk where it will feed on small rodents and birds. Ambush and stalking are their favorite methods of conducting a hunt and although they tend to shelter in abandoned burrows in the day they have been seen basking in the sun. In other words, behaviorally they are much like the domesticated moggy that we know and love.

The Manul is a solitary creature and individuals do not tend to meet purposefully when it is outside the breeding season and will avoid the company of others of its kind where possible. When it is threatened it raises and quivers the upper lip, Elvis like, revealing a large canine tooth.

When breeding does happen the male has to get in quickly as oestrus usually only lasts just under two days. It usually births up to six kittens, very rarely a single one, and it is believed that the size of its litters reflect the high rate of mortality the infant cats can expect. Yet they are expected to be able to hunt at sixteen weeks and are very much on their own and independent by six months. Although their life expectancy in the wild is unknown in captivity they have lived to over eleven years.

Don’t rush to your local pet store, however.  The Manul does not domesticate and even if it did they are incredibly hard to breed in captivity with many kittens dying.  This is thought to be because in the wild, due to its isolation, the cat’s immune system did not have a need to develop and so when they come in contact with us and other species, this under-developed immune system lets them down.

Yet as a living, breathing glimpse in to twelve million years of feline history these amazing animals are irreplaceable. Unique is a word which, in this day and age, is mightily overused. Yet these cats are quite simply just that – unique.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Sanderlings



The Sanderling is a small wader. It is a circumpolar Arctic breeder, and is a long-distance migrant, wintering south to South America, South Europe, Africa, and Australia. It is highly gregarious in winter, sometimes forming large flocks on coastal mudflats or sandy beaches.

Oh and it is also a very funny bird to watch. They often stand on one leg and hop along like Long John Silver. Plus although they congregate close to the sea they really don’t seem to want to get wet so every time a wave comes in, away they hop and run!

This marvelous piece of filmmaking was created by Javier Salinas Laguna. It’s a gorgeous piece of film and the music ("Playful by the dozen" by Daniel Pemberton) is particularly well chosen.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The Bat-Eared Fox – Did You Ever See a Fox Fly?


Around 800,000 years ago a species developed on the African Savannah, a canid but quite unlike any other. It was small – with a head and body length of only around 55 cm, tawny furred and with black ears. It is the ears which really make this mostly nocturnal animal stand out.  On average they are a staggering 14 centimeters in length.  Proportionally they may not be as large as Dumbo’s but this is no fictional appendage. These ears are for real.

The ears are a special adaptation.  Although the Bat-Eared Fox (Otocyon megalotis) will eat rodents, birds and eggs with the occasional fruit, it eats something quite unexpected.  Over eighty percent of its diet is made up of insects, especially termites.  The powerful ears are able to pick up the sound of termites within their nests.

It will also follow swarms of locusts and feast on their over-abundance during certain parts of the year.  Bat-Eared Foxes are often seen following herds of antelopes and zebras, which seem particularly nonchalant about the presence of this member of the dog family with teeth and claws.  That is because the BEF (as we will call it from here on in) is not pursuing them in a hunt.

They want a meal, certainly, but larger mammals are definitely not on the menu of the BEF. Instead the BEF is much more interested in the excrement of the antelopes and zebras.  Insects will often land on this in order to lay their eggs and it is these insects that the BEF is after. To us is may not seem particularly savoury but the BEF really couldn’t care less.

A question often asked about the BEF is how do they take the insects back to the den for the pups to feed?  The answer is that they do not.  Although they do take smaller animals such as lizards to the den the pups heavily rely on their mother’s milk until they are old enough to forage for insects themselves.

Although it is not clear if they mate for life, the BEF will be monogamous and when they do not live simply as a couple they can be in an extended family unit of up to fifteen individuals.  Once the pups are born the male will look after the den.  This is so that the mother can go out and forage for insects in order to produce enough milk for the voracious pups.

So, unlike the foxes of Western Europe, this variety (extremely distantly related) likes the company of others of its own species.  It is highly gregarious and will forage as a group, rarely moving more than two hundred meters of so away from another individual.  This is not only to deter and protect against their predators.  It also means that they can concentrate on often time dependant insect patches and move on to another as a group.

They do have a few enemies, to say the least.  Black backed jackals are their main adversary and these will often deliberately hunt down the BEF as a target species and not opportunistically.  Other animals which are known to make a meal out of the BEF are lions, cheetahs, leopards and hyenas – so there are plenty of animals on the savannah about which the BEF must be wary.

They have another enemy too – us of course.  They are persecuted often because of the mistaken belief that they prey on small mammalian livestock. They are also hunted for their pelts in Botswana.  This is despite the fact that they have been proven to be an important and efficient predator of harvest termites which are considered a pest in Botswana.

It is not known how many BEFs are left in the wild, but the two separate populations do, it is agreed, seem to be shrinking as humans make inroads in to areas of land which were previously not populated. So, although things are not too bleak for the Bat-Eared Fox, neither is its future on the grasslands of southern Africa guaranteed.


Friday, 22 April 2011

Otters Beat Up a Gibbon



Yes, you read correctly. Otters and gibbons are not normally associated with inter-species rivalry but strange things can go in those places which we refer to as zoos.

Here, Zagreb Zoo is the scene of an encounter between a gibbon – who just seems to be minding his own business – and two pesky otters, seemingly intent on ruining the gibbon’s day.

Fortunately the gibbon has one thing up his sleeve – height. Swing away, you funky gibbon!

My Father's Garden



Sometimes the world can seem very large – at other times miniscule.  This amazing short film plays on both of those feelings.

Mirko Faienza shot his father’s garden in Bologna, Italy, with all the requisite wildlife.  It is all shot in gorgeous colors and the attention to detail is quite amazing. 

Add to that the fact that the music suits it so very well and you have six minutes of bliss!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Ducklings of Spring


There is an old saying that no matter how long the winter lasts the spring is sure to follow.  With the spring comes new life – a new generation takes its first tentative steps in to the world.  Although people associate spring with many animals there is surely something about the sight of ducklings which lifts the heart and puts a hopeful smile on the face. So here they come, the ducklings of spring! And yes, perhaps it is just a reason for a cute fest!

Spring is nature's way of saying, Let's party!  ~Robin Williams 

Young people are in a condition like permanent intoxication, because youth is sweet and they are growing. ~ Aristotle

April prepares her green traffic light and the world thinks Go.  ~Christopher Morley, John Mistletoe 

You can only be young once. But you can always be immature. ~ Dave Barry 

I'm youth, I'm joy, I'm a little bird that has broken out of the egg. ~James M. Barrie

It's spring fever.  That is what the name of it is.  And when you've got it, you want - oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!  ~Mark Twain


We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future. ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

Science has never drummed up quite as effective a tranquilizing agent as a sunny spring day.  ~W. Earl Hall

Youth, which is forgiven everything, forgives itself nothing: age, which forgives itself everything, is forgiven nothing. ~George Bernard Shaw 

April is a promise that May is bound to keep.  ~Hal Borland

Don't laugh at a youth for his affectations; he is only trying on one face after another to find his own. ~Logan Pearsall Smith

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.  ~Margaret Atwood

I am not young enough to know everything. ~Oscar Wilde

Every spring is the only spring - a perpetual astonishment.  ~Ellis Peters

We are none of us infallible--not even the youngest of us. ~W. H. Thompson

Spring has returned.  The Earth is like a child that knows poems.  ~Rainer Maria Rilke

There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age. ~Sophia Loren

April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.  ~William Shakespeare

Youth is easily deceived, because it is quick to hope. ~Aristotle

Poor, dear, silly Spring, preparing her annual surprise!  ~Wallace Stevens

You're never too old to become younger ~Mae West

Tis a month before the month of May, and the spring comes slowly up this way. ~Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Young people need models, not critics ~John Wooden

Spring hangs her infant blossoms on the trees,
Rock'd in the cradle of the western breeze. ~ William Cowper,


Amung Feedjit