The Indri

The Indri (Indri indri) is the largest extant lemur species (with a head to tail length of up to 75 centimetres) and the first primate of my blog. They have a black and white coat with round, fuzzy ears and a small, vestigial tail – unlike other lemur species. The indri is an arboreal, diurnal, herbivore which is related to sifakas. Their diet consists of leaves, seeds, fruits and flowers found in the lowland and montane forests along the eastern side of Madagascar.

Indri

As with all lemur species, they are only native to the isolated island of Madagascar, allowing them to undergo millions of years of evolution. One of the most prominent features of the indri are the large pale green eyes which give them a distinct appearance from other primates, and quite an intimidating glare!

They are perfectly adapted to their environment with strong hind legs and sharp claws to help them elegantly leap from tree to tree. The indri also plays an important role in Madagascan mythology; one of the stories describes a young boy who enters into a forest to collect honey, but is stung by bees in the process. He falls from the tree due to the excruciating pain, from which an indri catches him and carries him to safety.

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However, although they are considered a sacred creature and a symbol of good luck by the Madagascan people, the indri is critically endangered and is threatened by habitat destruction, logging and subsistence farming methods which involves ‘slash and burn’ agriculture. Since they are only found in eastern Madagascar, they need to be protected, along with all of the other unique species endemic to Madagascar such as the fossa, the aye-aye and the silky sifaka. Conservation efforts are being made to help improve the indri’s numbers but they still require our support to preserve this remarkably peculiar animal.

The Leatherback Sea Turtle

The leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is the world’s largest turtle, weighing between 250 and 700 kilograms. Instead of having a bony shell like other sea turtle, the leatherback has a leathery carapace made up of skin and oily tissue. They are mainly grey/black in colour with frequent white spots in places. Their dark dorsal surface contrasts their lighter underside – demonstrating countershading.

Baby Leatherback Turtle

Countershading is an effective camouflage technique incorporated by many species so when light hits them from above, they are harder to detect by predators. This is especially important within newborn leatherbacks as they are vulnerable to a plethora of predators such as seabirds, crabs, monitor lizards, dogs, coyotes and mongooses (depending on their nesting site) and that’s just while they’re on the shore. Once the survivors reach the ocean, they face even more predation from cephalopods, sharks, other large fish and more seabirds.

The leatherback turtle has a worldwide distribution, which includes subarctic waters, and one of the largest migratory journeys. The leatherback’s diet consists almost entirely of jellyfish; Pacific leatherbacks migrate nearly 10,000 kilometres across the Pacific Ocean from Indonesia to California just to feed on the abundant jellyfish found there. Sadly, Californians use billions of plastic bags every year and many of these end up in the ocean where leatherbacks mistake these floating plastics for jellyfish. This is one of the causes of the leatherback’s ‘vulnerable’ status by the IUCN, but many subpopulations are listed as ‘critically endangered’. By consuming even small quantities of plastic debris, the leatherback’s digestive tract can become clogged, often leading to nutrient deficiencies or death.

Leatherback Turtle

Along with plastic rubbish, the leatherback sea turtle is also threatened by people who harvest their eggs, particularly in Southeast Asia where sea turtle eggs are considered a delicacy. This has led to a complete decline in leatherback sea turtles rendering them locally extinct in countries such as Malaysia. Moreover, leatherbacks play a vital role in marine ecosystems by keeping jellyfish populations low so their decline damages the entire food chain and has had knock-on effects to other species (due to species interdependence).

The leatherback turtle is yet another species which is rapidly declining at the hands of Homo sapiens. As the only extant species in the family Dermochelyidae, this reptilian is a truly prehistoric and unique animal which faces extinction, but we can help. By reducing the demand for turtle eggs, minimising our plastic pollution and establishing conservation schemes, we can hopefully help to protect thousands of marine and aquatic species which are suffering the same torture as the leatherback. Even by just refusing a plastic bag in a supermarket, maybe one animal, somewhere in the world, can live a while longer…

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Thousands of species are having to adjust to a new world of plastic.

The Shoebill

Restricted to large swamps from Sudan to Zambia, the shoebill (Balaeniceps rex) is a wading bird with a large shoe-like bill (hence the name). They use their huge beak to scoop vertebrate prey from the swampy waters. The shoebill has long legs and large feet which helps them to move through deep swamps and stand upon aquatic vegetation.

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Their beak is straw coloured and their plumage is blue-grey with darker feathers on their wings. The shoebill actually has the third longest bill among extant birds, after large storks and pelicans. This species has a mighty wingspan which makes them adapted for soaring short distances with only a few wing flaps.

The shoebill prefers poorly oxygenated shallow water as fish surface more often, becoming easy prey for this stalking bird. They are mostly silent and solitary birds although they will perform bill-clattering displays during the nesting season to attract a mate. shoebill-2-e1530086331671.jpg

The IUCN Red List classifies these majestic birds as ‘vulnerable’ since they are threatened by habitat destruction, hunting and human disturbance. With their huge beak, glaring eyes and long, spindly legs they can seem rather intimidating – like a modern day dinosaur. However, they are a one-of-a-kind species, appearing to be somewhere in-between a stork and a pelican, and are yet another animal which is threatened by human behaviour so they deserve our protection.

The Goodfellow’s Tree Kangaroo

Native to the mountainous forests of New Guinea, the Goodfellow’s Tree Kangaroo (Dendrolagus goodfellowi) is an endangered marsupial which is visually distinct from terrestrial kangaroos. They have short, woolly fur with a chestnut-brown back and a pale underside, along with a long, non-prehensile golden tail.

Goodfellow's Tree Kangaroo

Within their rainforest habitat, they feed on various fruits, leaves, flowers and cereals but primarily they eat the leaves of the Silkwood tree. Unlike many other marsupials within the family Macropodidae, the Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo is clumsy and inelegant on the ground since they have adapted to be arboreal animals. They use their skilful forelimbs and powerful hind legs to leap from tree to tree.

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This species is mostly nocturnal and solitary since males are quite aggressive and very territorial. Their appearance is highly intriguing to me due to their unusual colouring and large fluffy ears. Unfortunately, they are an endangered species due to humankind. It is horrible to see how many species are going extinct because of human’s incessant desire for more.

Sadly, the Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo is threatened by hunting for food and habitat loss due to deforestation as more forest is destroyed to make room for plantations, housing and agriculture. It would be a terrible shame to let this species go extinct so charities like the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) are conserving tree kangaroos by reducing illegal deforestation throughout Southeast Asia and raising awareness for these beautiful marsupials.

The Vaquita

Considered the most endangered marine mammal, the vaquita (Phocoena sinus) is an elusive species which is restricted to the northern part of the Gulf of California. After a scientific expedition in March of 2018, scientists estimated that there are only 12 vaquitas left in the world. They will likely go extinct in the next decade unless drastic action is taken.Vaquita 2

The vaquita is the smallest cetacean (a group which consists of whales, dolphins, and porpoises) and is listed as a ‘critically endangered’ species by the IUCN. This porpoise is mainly grey in colour with a black ring around its eye and was only discovered in 1958.

Little is know about the vaquita since they are exceptionally rare and quickly swim away from any sign of human activity. However, we do know that they use echo-location, just like other cetaceans, in order to find prey (which usually consists of crustaceans, small fish, squids and octopuses).

Vaquita

It is very upsetting to witness this species’ population rapidly fall to a point whereby they are almost unrecoverable. Their decline has been caused by human behaviour; the main threats are inappropriate fishing and pollution of their habitat. In Mexico, projects such as the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) are trying to save this marine mammal by prohibiting the use of fishing nets throughout the vaquita’s habitat. Conservation efforts like this are the last hope for the vaquita but with such a minuscule population and a dramatically reduced gene pool it will be very difficult to help them recover, nevertheless, we must try.