This is the second in a new series of Animal Tales from the Bermuda SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), which have kindly been sponsored by Noah’s Ark.
Why a zebra has stripes
Even on the crowded plains of East Africa, zebras clearly stand out from the wildebeests, gazelles and other large grazers.
You would think that their distinctive black and white striped markings would be a major disadvantage and single them out to predators such as lions and hyenas.
Scientists have recently concluded however, that their coat patterns serve several distinct purposes.
As well as helping to confuse certain predators, especially when the animals form part of a roving mixed herd, experiments have shown that their striped coats deter horseflies.
Not such a big deal, you might say, but horseflies happen to be a real nuisance to grazing animals.
They bite, they put animals off eating and they carry harmful diseases.
What the scientists have discovered is that polarized light from a brown or black horse travels in horizontal waves, which is particularly attractive to horseflies.
With white-coated horses however, the light is reflected (unpolarized) and it travels on practically any given plane.
White-coated horses are therefore much less troubled by the flies.
Despite zebras having dark stripes, scientists have discovered that the flies are even less attracted to their narrow patterned coats.
It seems therefore that standing out from the crowd can sometimes have its advantages. Nature never fails to amaze.
Thinking outside the fence
How do you plan ahead to deal with the escape and recapture of a one tonne herbivore — in this instance, a fully-grown rhinoceros?
In the case of the Tokyo Zoo they staged a simulated escape by dressing two employees in a life-size paper-mache rhino costume, and then had the keepers and emergency response team deal with the situation!
Staff basically herded the human beast by banging the ground and tapping the rhino with wooden sticks, steering it into a safe area where it was ‘shot’ with a fake tranquilizer gun.
Nets were then thrown over the animal, and once it was sedated it was transported back to its enclosure.
To the amusement of watching visitors, all went relatively smoothly.
One staff member however was pushed to the ground by the fake beast before he could be rescued.
In all, 100 zoo employees participated in the drill.
In explaining his reasoning for conducting this somewhat odd exercise, the zoo director said that you can never be too confident around wild animals, and that you always need to be prepared for the unexpected.
Japanese zoos conduct such exercises on an annual basis.
In the case of the Tokyo Zoo, there have only been four animal escapes in the past 50 years, so obviously they are doing something right.
Last chance for India’s wild tigers
A century ago there were an estimated 100,000 tigers living wild in India.
Now there are thought to be less than 2,000 on the subcontinent, and perhaps only 3,000 wild tigers surviving in total throughout the whole world.
The reasons for their demise have been touted enough, and we know them by heart.
A continually exploding human population, loss of habitat, and high levels of hunting and poaching for the Far East medicinal trade.
Whilst the Indian government strongly promotes tourism, and knows that the tiger is its number one animal attraction, efforts to protect tigers in the past have been piecemeal at best.
Reserves have been set aside for the big cats, but poaching and human predation continue.
This inevitably results in confrontations in which man or beast is injured or killed.
Over the years, limited funds have been made available for the park wardens, who otherwise do an excellent job, but the long-term survival of wild tigers does not look good.
In one reserve at least, Sariska, the government has been galvanized into taking drastic action.
From a high of 16 tigers in 2002, the number shrank to zero in 2009.
Since then five tigers have recently been counted in this reserve in Rajasthan, northern India.
To be a viable tiger reserve however, experts suggest that the number should actually be between 80 and 100. What chance?
Within the nearly 1,000 square kilometre Sariska Tiger Reserve, the government is trying to relocate 2,500 tribal people from eleven villages, to areas outside the reserve.
It is paying the villagers compensation for uprooting them in the form of land, cash and livestock.
So far only two villages have been relocated, but four more are scheduled for relocation in the next two years.
This is perhaps the last throw of the dice for wild tigers.
We could yet see them become extinct in their natural environment within the next two decades.
It doesn’t mean the end of the tiger of course — there are an estimated 20,000 in captivity — but forcing these beautiful, wild animals to exist in unnatural environments is wrong and says a lot about the shortcomings of humans.
Do you want to make a difference? Then contact the Save The Tiger Fund — Panthera partnership, a union of two of the most influential tiger conservation groups in the world.
Their goal is to carry out the most effective conservation activities to save wild tigers. This includes securing significant breeding populations in high priority conservation landscapes in India and Southeast Asia.
You can reach them at http://www.panthera.org/programs/tiger/save-tiger-fund.