The Giant Sable Antelope

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Giant Sable Antelope (Hippotragus Niger Variani)

So, it’s been a while hasn’t it??? I just want to thank those of you (if any) who still come to my blog. lol! Anyways, I’ve suddenly had the inspiration to write again..

As some of you may know, the antelopes of the natural world have always had a soft spot in my heart. It might be because of the grace and poise they carry themselves with. Or how they, as with all herbivores, always seem to be the underdogs of the animal kingdom.  I’ve always been particularly fascinated with the Hippotraginae family, primarily with the Sables. It’s probably because of this that I’ve never really tried to write anything about them. There’s just so much I would like to say! About how they (antelopes in general) are always overlooked when it comes to conservation efforts etc. and the fact that it’s commonly assumed that their primary role in live is to be part of a predator’s menu. Tell me; how many people can say they’ve heard of a hirola, Lichenstein Hartebeest or the Black-Faced Impala. So anyways, I decided to give it a shot and write about one of my personal favourites; The Giant Sable.

The Giant Sable Antelope is the national emblem of Angola and is commonly seen printed on Angolan banknotes, stamps and even passports. Even the Angolan national football team is named after this animal; Palancas Negras. However, the irony lies in the fact that probably a majority of the population have never laid their eyes on a living, breathing specimen. This does not come as a surprise considering that the Giant Sable is currently listed as “Critically Endangered” by the IUCN.

Perhaps it is quite safe to say that the Giant Sable is probably one of the least known large mammals of Africa. It is found only in Angola, endemic to the region between Cuango and Luando rivers where it usually inhabits the miombo woodlands. It is a subspecies of the common sable antelope, which contradictory to its name, is not as common as some might think.  As with most antelope species, both sexes of the Giant Sable bear horns and these can be especially impressive on the bulls. Ridged and curved backwards, they can reach up to 5 feet in length. Bulls are usually darker in coloration, achieving jet black when they fully mature. It is part of the Hippotragus family where in Greek, ‘Hippo’ means horse and ‘Tragus’ means goat. This is an apt description of the Giant Sable as it seems to have features of both animals. The Sable Antelope is famous for being notoriously aggressive, at least within the antelope kingdom, where flight is usually the main line of defense. They frequently back themselves against bushes and then sweep its curved horns back and forth whilst on its knees in an attempt to deter a predator. Sables have even been known to repel lion attacks.

The Giant Sable’s history has been fraught with peril. Sought after by trophy hunters upon its discovery, it was then trapped in a 27-year civil war where it served as bush meat to the armies. As such, fears of it being wiped out are not unfounded until recently. The saying that “every cloud has a silver lining” seems to be true as a small population of these animals was found in the early 2000s. Subsequently, a programme was launched to monitor these animals in hopes of protecting the handful of survivors from poaching. This was achieved through a combination of traditional tracking methods on foot as well as the use of high-tech camera traps. Just when it seems like there’s hope, the cameras reveal a worrying sign. Hybridization. Due to the lack of prime Giant Sable bulls from poaching, it seems like the females are mating with Roan Antelope bulls, a cousin of the Giant Sable and member of the Hippotraginae.

So one may think; what is so important about the Giant Sable when there’s other stuff to care about? Just in case the words “Critically Endangered” do not mean anything, this antelope is finding itself on the verge of extinction once again. Other than threats of poaching, the fact that Angola is the world’s fifth largest diamond producer means that there is constant pressure for mining. This means a lessening of the already dwindling habitat preferred by the animal. Furthermore, with the dangers of hybridization looming, it is feared that the pure line of Giant Sable would be lost gradually. As of March 2013, there is an estimate of only a hundred individuals left. This cycle of Giant Sable recovery and then finding itself on the verge of extinction once more has to end. If recent news are what we have to go by, then it seems highly likely that the cycle will indeed come to an end, and it’s not favourable for the Giant Sable.

Despite efforts from the Angolan authorities to protect them, there is just not enough word out there about the Giant Sable. More often than not, it finds itself lost in the shuffle to the big-shots of the animal kingdom, specifically when it comes to conservation efforts. Even books that list the most endangered species seem ignorant of its existence. To end, it does not really matter whether one can a make a difference to the survival of a species or not. What’s most important here is about being aware. Ignorance is definitely not bliss. Who knows what we can do for the Giant Sable other than the occasional donation? (Google Tusk-Trust) Even I am unsure of what I can do to help other than to spread word about its existence. What I’m hoping to achieve through this piece is not a revolutionary work that will garner support and somehow miraculously, swing the tide in favour of the Giant Sable. All I know is that if people don’t know about something, then there’s nothing they can do about it. So, hopefully, through this article, each time Africa comes to mind; remember that it’s not only lions, elephants and rhinos that need our help. There’s an animal out there that needs just as much help as they do. The Giant Sable Antelope.

Anyways, here’s a pic of my Sable collectibles! Lol! Yeah, still a child no? There are 3 Giant Sables and 1 Common Sable, 3 bulls and a cow. Guess which’s which?

Sables!

JV.

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1 Park & 3 Births!

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Some great news for the Amur Leopard:

A 261,000-acre national park in Russia’s Far East created to protect Amur leopards began operating this week, presidential chief of staff Sergei Ivanov said.

“Five days ago, on April 5, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed a long-awaited order establishing the Land of the Leopard National Park. This is the first Russian national park created expressly to protect wildlife,” said Ivanov, who is chairman of the supervisory council of the Eurasian Center for Leopard Population Research, Preservation and Recovery.

Ivanov expressed optimism that the Amur leopard would avoid extinction. “Scientists do not think so and now we have everything to save it,” he said.

The Amur leopard population has steadily declined since the end of the 19th century and had reached a critical level. The main causes of the decline are “human activity, loss of habitat, illegal housing construction,” he said.

Establishment of the new park will give the leopard the required living space, he said, adding eight cubs have been born in the short time since the park’s establishment.

Source: http://en.rian.ru/Environment/20120410/172733627.html

Tallinn Zoo is celebrating the arrival of three newborn Amur leopard cubs.

Animal lovers around the world watched the births live online. The cameras are still on if you want to catch streaming footage of the young leopard family. 

The cubs are just a few days old, but they already know how to growl and fight for their mother’s milk. The leopard mum is called Darla, and this was her fourth delivery. 

Amur leopards are a critically endangered species. Currently there are just a few dozen living in the wild, mostly in Far Eastern Russia.

Source: http://rt.com/news/prime-time/amur-leopards-born-estonia-184/

Keep spreading word about them people! 🙂

JV.

Tolstyi. El’duga. Narva.

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Yes, it’s leopards again today!

First off, I would just like to rectify a mistake I made with regards to the official classification of Amur Leopards as Critically Endangered that I made in my second blog entry. It was classified as such since 1996 and not February 2012.The original article can be read at https://jonvoo.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/the-amur-leopard/

That aside, I finally received my long-awaited pack from WWF!

I have got to say that I have never felt so fulfilled and content with anything that I’ve ever done.

I have never really felt as captivated as most with big cats, so I find it somewhat ironic how what I’ve done so far in terms of raising awareness and such has revolved largely around them, and particularly, the Amur Leopard.

Oh, and apparently, I have just adopted (sort-of since they are not exclusively mine) 3 Amur Leopards by the name of Tolstyi, El’duga and Narva! 

🙂

JV.

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It’s Showtime!

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Magnifique! Marvellous! Fantastic! A Standing Ovation! A Final Bow!

That is what one would expect of a circus performance with tigers and lions jumping through fire hoops, elephants begging for a treat or two, monkeys walking on a tight rope, horses prancing around and bears juggling. At least that is how I, who have never been to a circus performance before, would like to think it’d be.

However, what happens when the lights go out?

How exactly are the ‘Stars’ treated?

This question, like so many of the other issues I’ve touched on, has been and will be forever trapped in a never-ending debate.

Are there actually circuses and other animal-related shows that treat their animals correctly? Probably.  Apassionata, a world-renowned equestrian show, might be a suitable answer to this. Breeds such as Andalusians, Friesians and Shetland Ponies play prominent roles in the show and seem to be in perfect condition and treated with respect. Furthermore, the success garnered by Apassionata should ensure that they will have sufficient funds to feed their stars.

However, it cannot be denied that not all animals are as lucky. This may be explained through a declining popularity of circuses due to ever-increasing awareness on animal rights. This would have an indirect effect on the treatment of the animal performers as without sufficient funds and profits, it is quite the task to afford these animals. An average tiger can eat up to 40 pounds of meat a day, which is equivalent to 18kg per animal. Multiply that with a few animals plus other costs like vaccination and maintenance and we’d get quite the sum!

Those of you who read my blog will know that I have recently watched ‘Two Brothers’ by Jean-Jacques Annaud. I was profoundly affected by the movie when it showed how dispensable circus animals were when money was in the question. An old tiger was shot in exchange for its hide because it could not perform up to the standards anymore. After so many years of performing, did it not deserve a better way to end its life? Yeah, there was and always will be the counter-argument that the money received can be used to feed the other animals in the circus. This, however, will not be sustainable and then what? Kill another animal?

Another important issue is the type of animal used in performances; wild or domesticated. Yes, one can argue that he has been able to ‘tame’ a tiger or taught the bear a few tricks. But what of the process in doing so? These are wild animals. I am not saying or implying that ALL circus trainers are cruel. Or are they not, albeit in an unintentional manner? Doesn’t the fact that training WILD animals to please us already suggest cruelty?

Steps are being taken to ban wild animals performing in circuses, following discovery of evidence of animals being ill-treated by their trainers. In this light, I am happy to know that those with power are taking into consideration the welfare of animals. However, the effectiveness of these policies will have to depend on the collective efforts of the majority. As usual of my entries, I do hope that such efforts would encourage more to adopt a more active role in safeguarding the welfare of these animals.

Have a good weekend!

JV.

Ohio Killings.

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The sheriff who issued a shoot-to-kill order after dozens of exotic animals — including Bengal tigers, mountain lions and bears — escaped from an Ohio farm defended his decision Wednesday, saying “we were not going to have animals running loose.”

Sheriff Matt Lutz said the owner of Muskingum County Animal Farm near Zanesville, Terry Thompson, appeared to have set the animals free and then taken his own life.

“It is still, still not a completely secure area,” he said.

The sheriff told an afternoon press conference that as many as 56 animals on the farm may have been set loose. Authorities tracked down and killed 48 of them: 18 rare Bengal tigers, 17 lions, six black bears, three mountain lions, two grizzlies, one wolf and one baboon.

The animals were buried on the Thompson’s property at the request of his wife, the sheriff said.

By Wednesday afternoon, only two animals were unaccounted for — a wolf and a monkey who may be carrying herpes B virus, Lutz said.

Four deputies with assault rifles in a pickup truck went to the 40-acre farm after the first calls came in at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Later Tuesday, there were more than 50 law enforcement officials — including sheriff’s deputies, highway patrol officers, police officers and officers from the state Division of Wildlife — involved in the search of the farm and surrounding area, often in heavy downpours.

Lutz said that when the deputies arrived, there was about an hour and a half of daylight left. He said officers had to shoot some animals at close range with their sidearms.

“These are 300-pound Bengal tigers that we had to put down,” he said.

Image: A dead lion lays by the fence on Terry Thompson's farm near Zanesville, Ohio

“I gave the order on the way here that if animals looked like they were going out, they went down … We could not have animals running loose in this county, we were not going to have that,” Lutz added. 

He said that shortly before the press conference they had tried to tranquilize a “huge,” “very aggressive” adult tiger, but it “just went crazy” and so officers “put it down.”

Lutz added that when they first arrived on the scene, his officers did not have tranquilizers with them as they are not normally carried.

He also said one large cat was hit by a vehicle on a nearby highway.

Flashing signs along area highways told motorists, “Caution exotic animals” and “Stay in vehicle.”

Three school districts in the region and some private and special schools canceled classes after the news broke.

The preserve in Zanesville, about 55 miles east of Columbus, also had cheetahs, wolves, giraffes, camels, orangutans and chimps.

Earlier, Lutz said a caretaker told authorities the animals had been fed on Monday.

Neighbor Danielle White, whose father’s property abuts the animal preserve, said she didn’t see loose animals this time but did in 2006, when a lion escaped.

“It’s always been a fear of mine knowing (the preserve’s owner) had all those animals,” she said. “I have kids. I’ve heard a male lion roar all night.” 

Tom Stalf, senior vice president of the nearby Columbus Zoo, told NBC’s TODAY show that people should be careful, particularly because the animals themselves would be afraid.

“These are all adult carnivores, so when we talk about the lions and tigers as well as bears, they are all dangerous, especially that they are now out of their area, their enclosures that they were normally in, so they are panicking as well,” he told the show.

“They’re definitely going to not be used to where they are at, so they are going to be scared, they’re panicking, trying to figure out what is going on. They’re going to be searching for a place to settle down and trying to, you know, just to calm down a little bit,” Stalf added.

The Humane Society of the United States on Wednesday urged Ohio to immediately issue emergency restrictions on the sale and possession of dangerous wild animals.

“How many incidents must we catalogue before the state takes action to crack down on private ownership of dangerous exotic animals,” the Humane Society’s Wayne Pacelle said in a statement.

Article taken from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44953925/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/t/sheriff-defends-order-shoot-bears-tigers/#.T4QS6Pun9IE

Personally, I understand why the sheriff took that decision and I respect his decision. It was his job to take precautions and ensure the safety and welfare of the people. 

However, that doesn’t stop me from feeling a deep sense of loss and disappointment that so many of the animals had to be killed. 

I think Tom Stalf, VP of the Columbus Zoo, really summed up how the animals were feeling at that moment. They did not have idea what to do and like lost children, they could either defend themselves or try to get away. Unfortunately,  both options just weren’t feasible. What was even more pitiful is that some of these animals curled up in confusion next to their dead friends, in hopes of seeking company and protection.

I think this incident should drive home (if it hasn’t already before) the fact that wild animals and humans are not meant to be together. There is a fine difference between conservation of wild animals and treating them as exotic pets.

It is a wonder indeed why there are still people out there who find this so hard to comprehend! 

JV.

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Antelopes A-B-C: Roan Antelope (Hippotragus Equinus)

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Standing at 5’3” at the shoulder and weighing up to 300kg, the Roan Antelope is the second largest antelope, after the Eland. The Roan Antelope belongs to the subfamily Hippotraginae, which includes the Gemsbok (https://jonvoo.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/antelopes-a-b-c-gemsbok-oryx-gazella-3-2/) and the Arabian Oryx.  Its closest cousins are the Sable antelope and the now extinct Blue Antelope, where all three belong to the genus Hippotragus. Horns are present in both sexes, with those on bulls more heavily ridged and longer than those on the cows.

The roan is a somewhat unwary antelope as it tends to run a short distance and then stop to look back when threatened. However, if pursued, it can reach speeds of up to 57km per hour. If cornered, these antelopes will back into a corner whilst charging and brandishing their sharp horns with surprising accuracy and skill. Its natural enemies include lions and hyenas, while calves fall prey to wild dogs, cheetahs and leopards.

It is a grazer and will occasionally supplement its diet by chewing bones. The roan prefers lightly wooded grasslands and can be found throughout central Africa. Fighting for dominance is frequent for both sexes, with the dominant taking charge of the direction of the herd’s movements and best feeding areas. A typical herd is made up of a dominant male, 6 to 15 cows, and their young. Young males are tolerated as long as they do not show interest in the females. When they reach 2 years, these males are usually chased away from their natal herd and will join a bachelor herd till they are ready to challenge for a herd of their own.

In Angola, because of the civil war, hunting and human encroachment, the Giant Sable (a subspecies of the Sable and a cousin of the Roan) has been reduced to a population of approximately 300 individuals. Due to the lack of prime Giant Sable bulls, there have been instances of cross-breeding between Roan bulls and female Giant Sables. This could potentially lead to serious problems since the Giant Sable is classified as critically endangered by the IUCN. The roan itself is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN.

For more info on the Giant Sable, visit http://us.tusk.org/conservation-of-the-giant-sable-antelope.asp

JV.

 

Whose Side Are You On?

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One of the biggest issues related to wildlife that has been bothering me is legalized hunting. No need to mention, this is also one of the most controversial. There are both ardent supporters and fervent opponents to it. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which side you are on. Some examples of legalized hunting would be trophy hunting and canned hunting.

The former is where trophy hunters go for the best specimens of each species. For instance, in the case of lions, they go for males with the thickest manes and for elephants, they choose bulls with the longest tusks.

The latter occurs when captive animals are released back into the wild only for hunters to shoot them. In return, these hunters pay large sums of money which can then be used to fund conversation efforts.

I’ll give my views on trophy hunting first. Glamour? Power? Fame? Money? Adrenaline Rush? Ask any trophy hunter why he does what he does, and I can guarantee those are some words you will hear from them. I find it extremely ironic that those words can be associated with something that is nothing more than a blatant act of selfishness. What’s worse is that those words are usually spoken without the slightest remorse! Of course, it would be wrong for me to say that ALL trophy hunters are like that. There are times when hunters became the most passionate of conservationists. Kudos to them! 

However, what is most disturbing about trophy hunting is that the people actually ENJOY it. Killing is killing. No difference whether it’s killing a man or an animal. “Is trophy hunting a form of serial killing?” by Gareth Patterson brings up many valid arguments. He finished off with this sentence, “Lastly, serial killing has been described as a “20th-Century phenomenon”. The same could be said of Western trophy hunting in Africa.” Unsurprisingly, I agree with him. There are even videos on Youtube recording the whole hunt, from the initial meticulous planning to the final shot. How anyone can raise a gun and point it at an innocent, inquisitive animal is way beyond me!!

Issues of morality aside, trophy hunting has an adverse impact on the stability of the ecosystem and the future of the species itself. By taking out the best specimens of species, usually the males, this effectively leaves those with less desirable traits to continue on. In the long run, this leads to an overall weaker pool of gene diversity and as a whole, the species will slowly deteriorate.

Then, there’s canned hunting. This is even more disturbing! Releasing a captive animal back into the wild only to take its life? That’s just plain sick. These hunters pay hefty sums of money in return which are much needed in conservation efforts, and from their point of view, they are being noble. However, why do something and expect others to be grateful? If you want to do something, then do it full-heartedly and not expect anything in return. At least that’s how I think. Otherwise, don’t do it!

In my opinion, arguments for hunting are weak attempts at covering up their insecurities and selfishness. So what if a hunter pays proper respect to the animal after it’s down? It does not change the fact that the animal was killed just to satisfy the hunter’s 5-second lust for an adrenaline rush and glory for killing the animal with the longest horns or thickest mane. The morality of legalized hunting will always be trapped in a never-ending debate. After reading my piece, it’s time to answer the question I asked in the beginning.

Whose side are you on?

JV.

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