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The Strange Elegance of the Giraffe-Necked Antelope

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Found in Eastern Africa ranging from Somalia to Kenya there is a slightly odd looking long-necked creature that is reminiscent of a giraffe but that is one thing it most certainly is not.

With large eyes and ears and an incredibly slender neck, you may be forgiven for thinking that the Giraffe-necked Antelope was actually thought up in the Disney Studio rather than occurring in the wild steppes of East Africa. This unusual and elegant beast is a great survivor – and it possibly owes its continued existence to its wonderfully long neck. When you realize how high the animals stretches in order to feed, you can imagine many an African folk-story being handed down through the generations to explain how it came to get that way.

The animal comes under a number of names – including the wonderful sounding Gerenuk. This is from the Somali language and literally means ‘neck like a giraffe’ and this is reflected in its English name. The alternative is Waller’s Gazelle, named after the European who first classified the graceful looking animal. Its Latin name is Litocranius walleri and as such is the only species in its genus, although there are two sub-species. In other words, it is effectively all alone in the world, unique but sadly under threat like so many other large mammals in Africa.

Possibly the main characteristic that gives the Giraffe-necked Antelope its rather strange cartoonish appearance is the fact it has such a small head. It is because of this rather petit cranium that its eyes and ears seem to appear so exaggeratedly large but rather than make the animal seem foolishly overdrawn (as it were, it adds to its appeal). They are about a meter in height usually, but when they go foraging for food this changes drastically. For the GNA (as we shall call it) often feeds on its hind legs. It is here that thousands and thousands of generations of evolution and breeding comes to the fore and the reason for its long neck becomes suddenly apparent. Go for it, girls.

Like the byline of a certain beer, the GNA can reach the places that other antelopes simply don’t. This has given them a distinct advantage in the arid areas which they inhabit. They live in small groups – mostly consisting of females related to each other – and of course their young. They also live in bachelor groups too, although many of the males chose to live solitary lives. You could also mistake them, in the right light, with certain extra-terrestrials from any number of TV series, such as the X-Files. The GNA, however, is right down to earth, even though it does look like a cross between ET and an antelope.

When a male lives on his own they are generally thought to be territorial. However, their ranges are so large that scientists have yet to be able to say how – or even if – they would defend their territories. Certainly the word magnificent does not immediately spring to mind – these are docile looking animals. But a look at the head of a young male, close up, may well change your mind. Stout, heavily ringed and deadly looking horns atop Bambi features – really quite exquisite.

They are made for defending their territory, certainly. The GNA has pre-orbital glands by its eyes – and these bring forth a scent with the feel and look of tar which they use to mark bushes and other plants in order to set the boundaries of their territory. There are two other places where the GNA has scent glands – and these are in unusual places (or so we might thing). The first are situated on their knees and covered by hair, the other between the splits in their hooves. When alone and aloof the male can certainly give off an air of undisputed authority. This is despite the inclination of many to make ‘aw’ type noises (which is unique, incidentally, to the human race).

The females like to give birth alone, like many animals. She goes to a quiet spot and then once the fawn has been delivered, licks it clean and eats the afterbirth. This may happen because she needs the nutrients but could also be because she doesn’t want any predators to sniff out her and her newborn. Unlike many grazing animals the GNA gives birth all year round – quite probably because its remarkable neck adaptation allows it to graze all seasons. If you really want an ‘aw’ moment, then take a look at these young GNAs.

The ecosystem in which the GNA lives is complex and so it has evolved its own specialized niche within it. GNAs feed much higher than most other antelopes and gazelles. Standing on their tip toes (or tip hooves, which doesn’t sound as good but is more accurate) they can reach up to eight feet.

They will use their forelegs to pull down branches that are even higher than they are and can get to tender new leaves that other animals cannot. As a plus, the GNA does not need to drink water at all – it gets all the moisture it needs from the plants they devour. Their main threat does not come from other animals, however. Yes, you have guessed it – humanity is the greatest threat to the existence of the GNA. The continual encroachment by humans on to their territories means that the numbers of GNA, sadly and like so many other species, is decreasing.

Jokes so Bad they will Make You Ho(a)rse

Friday, 22 July 2011

There are only two emotions that belong in the saddle; one is a sense of humor and the other is patience. That goes for both horse and rider.  Yet when it comes to jokes, horses have heard them all.  No doubt you have as well, but as they say – the old ones are, well the old ones.  At least these effervescent equines can laugh at these poor jokes with without this becoming a tale of whoa.

A horse trudges slowly into a pub and orders a drink.
“Evenin’” says the barman, “why the long face?”

A horse walks into a smart cocktail bar.
The doorman says: “Wait you can’t come in here without a tie.”
The horse goes out to his car, looks in the trunk and gets a set of jump leads, which he ties around his neck.
He goes back in and says to the barman: “This alright?”
The barman says: “Hmm, ok... but don’t be starting anything.”

A poorly-looking horse limps into a bar with a bandage round his head. He orders a glass of champagne, a vintage brandy and two pints of Guinness.
He downs the lot and says to the barman: “I shouldn’t really be drinking this with what I’ve got?”
“Why, what have you got?”
“About $2 and a carrot.”

A racehorse owner takes his horse to the vet. “Will I be able to race this horse again?,” he asks
The vet replies: “Of course you will, and you’ll probably win!”

A stallion and a mare where due to get married, but the stallion didn't show up at the church. He got colt feet.

One day a man passed by a farm and saw a beautiful horse. Hoping to buy the animal, he said to the farmer: "I think your horse looks pretty good, so I'll give you $500 for him."
"He doesn't look so good, and he's not for sale," the farmer said.
The man insisted, "I think he looks just fine and I'll up the price to $1,000."
"He doesn't look so good," the farmer said, "but if you want him that much, he's yours."
The next day the man came back raging mad. He went up to the farmer and screamed, "You sold me a blind horse. You cheated me!"
The farmer calmly replied, "I told you he didn't look so good, didn't I?"

Three race horses stood in their stalls. One said to other others: "I ran 20 races and I won 15 of them!" he bragged. The next said with a snort, "Well, I ran 30 races and won 25 of them!" Then the third horse spoke up proudly, "Yeah, I ran 41 races and won 39 of them!" This seemed to settle the topic when the horses noticed a Greyhound outside their stalls. The Greyhound said, "I ran 100 races and I won 99 of them." The horses looked at each other in amazement and one gasped, "Wow! A talking greyhound!"

A cowboy goes into a bar, has a beer, walks outside and finds his horse has been stolen. He walks back into the bar, fires his gun through the ceiling. "Which one of you mothers stole my hoss?" he yells. No one answers. "All right, I'm gonna have one more beer and if my hoss ain't outside by the time I finish, I'm gonna do what I dun in Texas." He drinks another beer, walks outside, and his horse is back. So he gets on it and gets ready to ride out of town. The bartender walks out of the bar and asks, "Say pardner, what happened in Texas?" The cowboy turns to him, and says, "I had to bloody walk home."

A horse walked into the Ice Cream shop. "I'll have a chocolate ice cream cone," the horse said. The Ice Cream Man, John, gave the horse the cone. The horse, having a $10 bill in his wallet, gave the money to John. Since John thought the horse wouldn't know a thing about money, he gave the horse one dollar back. "Thanks for coming," John said to the horse. "We don't get that many horses around here!" The horse replied, "Well, it's no wonder for $9 a cone!"

An American tourist was driving in County Kerry in Ireland, when his motor stopped. He got out to see if he could locate the trouble. A voice behind him said, "The trouble is the carburetor." He turned around and only saw an old horse. The horse said again, "It's the carburetor that's not working." The American nearly died with fright, and dashed into the nearest pub, had a large whiskey, and told Murphy the bartender what the horse had said to him.

Murphy said, "Well, don't pay any attention to him, he knows nothing about cars anyway."

The nuns at a small convent were happy to learn that an anonymous donor had left his modest estate to them. Each nun had been left $50 in cash to give away as she saw fit.
Each nun announced how she would spend her bequest. Sister Catherine Ann decided to give her share to the first poor person she saw.
As she said this, she looked out the window and saw a man leaning against the telephone pole across the street, and he indeed looked poor.
She immediately left the convent and walked toward the man. He had obviously known better days. The good nun felt he had been sent by Heaven to receive her offering.
She pressed the $50 into the man's hands and said, "Godspeed, my good man."
As she left, the man called out to her, "What is your name?"
Shyly, she replied, "Sister Catherine Ann."
The following evening, the man returned to the convent and rang the bell. "I'd like to see Sister Catherine Ann," he said.
The nun at the door answered, "I'm sorry, but I cannot disturb her right now. She's in the chapel. May I give her a message?"
"Yes," said the man gleefully. "Give her this $100 and tell her Godspeed came in second at Belmont."

A horse walks into a bar, across the room, up the back wall, across the ceiling, down the front wall and then up to the bar. The bartender gives the horse a beer, he drinks it and leaves. A guy sitting at the bar looks perplexed and asks the bartender "Hey, what's that all about?" The bartender replies, "Don't take it personally, he never says 'Hi' to anyone."

A guy walks into a bar and there is a horse behind the bar serving drinks. The guy is just staring at the horse, when the horse says, "What are you staring at? Haven't you ever seen a horse serving drinks before?" The guy says, "No, I never thought the parrot would sell the place."

A cowboy walks into a bar. Upon leaving, he realizes that someone has painted his horse. The cowboy yells, "Which one of you painted my horse?" A seven foot tall hulk of a man says, menacingly, "I did." The cowboy realizes he is in trouble and replies, "Why, thank you - the first coat's dry!"

Brutus the Crocodile meets Charlie the Dog

Sunday, 17 July 2011

There is a picture whizzing around the internet at the moment of Brutus the three legged Australian crocodile taken by Katrina Bridgeford.  You can see it here but as it is copyrighted to Ms Bridgeford we won’t put it directly on Ark in Space. Naysayers are maintained that Photoshop was used in the picture but experts have said that it is, in fact, quite real.

So, we thought we would do a little research on Brutus and we came up with this!  Flickr User Lukinosity says about Brutus: “That croc looks an awful lot like the one we saw on our trip up north. He very nearly got our sweet little dog Charlie. I wish I had gotten a better snap of him, but it all happened so quickly.”

So, it seems that Brutus not only has a taste for scraps thrown by tourist guides but may have a taste for the occasional terrier too.  We must hasten to add here that Charlie survived this brush with the crocodile and was quite unfazed by his experience! Here's a lovely shot of him below - no Photoshop involved!

Life in the Blue - Remarkable HD Footage


The BBC has been making nature documentaries for over half a century so it isn’t any real surprise that they have some of the best shots of life in the oceans that you could see. Their Life in the Blue collection portrays an astonishing selection of submarine species in their most natural surroundings.

It was filmed with the remarkable visual invention and skill of a feature film or advert, with perfect composition and lighting, all while trying to keep the animals unaware of the camera's presence.

I can’t help but think that some of the sharks, at least, were aware of the presence of the cameramen in these clips – and I am not sure I am that envious of their job, either!  However, Life in the Blue was filmed by one of the most renowned oceanic cinematographers in the world and these are its hand-picked gems.

Snow Leopards Discovered Flourishing in Afghanistan

Saturday, 16 July 2011

The Snow Leopard is known for its elusive nature and wildlife groups have been concerned for decades about their dwindling numbers.  Yet there is some good news – the species is, it seems, flourishing in one remote part of Afghanistan.

The war torn country is home to a vigorous population of snow leopards.  The World Conservation Society recently laid a number of camera traps in the Wakhan Corridor.  This mountainous area is a long panhandle in the north east of the country and the camera traps captured snow leopards on film in sixteen places.

This is a remarkable turn out of events as it has been estimated that there are only around seven thousand snow leopards in the world, scattered across a dozen countries in Central Asia.  Their habitat is usually over 10,000 feet above sea level but even at these heights snow leopards are often killed by shepherds for harrying their flocks.

That isn’t the last of their worries either.  Many of these fuzzy-tailed felines are caught and sold by the illegal pet trade.  Then there is the Chinese problem.  Their bones and penises are in high demand by the bourgeoning middle classes of China.  It is believed that ingestion of their body parts increase sexual performance in humans.


Panthera uncial is considered one of the most endangered of the big cats.  Their numbers have fallen by twenty percent over the last twenty years.  You do not need to be Einstein to calculate that the species does not have long unless something is done.

The goal of the World Conservation Society is to make sure that these wonderful beasts have are protected and have a future in Afghanistan.  A reservation has been proposed by the society so that the snow leopards of the Wakhan Corridor, which has borders on Tajikistan, Pakistan and – oh dear – China, can be legally and forcefully protected.

Although it has always been known that snow leopards inhabit this remote part of Afghanistan there was concern that the population had been severely depleted.  As the wars of the last thirty years have impoverished the population it was thought that their patience with a predatory big cat, however endangered, would precipitate wider hunting. 

This it seems has not been the case. Fortunately the Wakhan Corridor is one of the few places in Afghanistan which has been troubled by insurgency and civil unrest.

Yet there is a lot of work to be done. At the moment the society is doing its best to train rangers and provide education around conservation.  Other help has been to provide locals with corrals which are predator-proof and to start up a compensation scheme to reimburse farmers whose stock is predated by the leopards.

The society has not put an exact number on the amount of snow leopards in the corridor but maintain that their status still remains highly endangered.  After all, a world population which only numbers in the thousands cannot be considered safe if a new enclave of the species is discovered.

It would be a shame if the dramatic peaks of the wild and desolate Wakhan Corridor, this thin strip of land just over two hundred miles in length, turned out to be the last refuge of one of the planet’s animal marvels.

The Ark in Space would like to point out that the pictures used in this article were not taken in Afghanistan.  We don’t want to pull any wool over your eyes! The Afghanistan pictures are copyright the World Conservation Society and cannot be reproduced here.  However, we do hope that you have enjoyed the ones featured!


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