So we’ve all heard of the proud lions of the Serengeti and we’re familiar with the sprinting cheetah of the African plains – but have you heard of their Asian equivalents?
5 Quirky Mammal Species
Are you familiar with the Asiatic lion whose last remaining population of 550 remains deep within the Gir Forest of India? Or perhaps the 50 remaining Asiatic cheetah who hold out in Iran? Both are the last of their kind and less well covered than their African cousins.
Maybe you have heard of these different species and maybe you haven’t. Either way, we thought we’d give you 5 more quirky mammal species to learn about this week!
1. Kermode Bear / Spirit Bear
Actually a rare subspecies of black bear located in North Western Canada, the Kermode bear is easily recognised by its white fur and is particularly revered by the local indigenous people of the area. These bears, also known as ‘Spirit Bears’ live only in the Great Bear Rainforest – one of the largest unspoilt temperate rainforests on earth.
It should be noted that whilst these are white bears, they are not albino, and their colour comes from a recessive gene that is carried by the black bears of this region of North America. Any colour they may have comes from dirt picked up while walking and fishing. The bears shed their fur each spring. After that, the fur is particularly white – at least until they manage to get it dirty again!
In a handy adaptation, scientists have found that black bears are not as effective at catching fish as white bears, as the white bears are less visible from the perspective of the fish. At night, the two colours of bears have similar success rates at catching fish, such as salmon, but during the day, the white bears are 30 percent more effective.
Few Kermodes have been exposed to humans, so they have no reason to fear them. If tourists become too plentiful, however, that might change. Two islands host the largest number of Kermodes: Princess Royal and Gribbell. Scientists say the recessive white genes have survived here because the islands are isolated and have a small bear population and there are predicted to be around 400 Kermode bears living today, with many of the black bears carrying the recessive gene within them.
2. Amazonian Short Eared Dog
Fifteen years ago, scientists knew next to nothing about one of the Amazon’s most mysterious residents: the short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis). Also known as the short-eared zorro and small-eared dog, this animal is a unique and elusive canid species endemic to the Amazonian basin.
Even to this day, not much is known about this wild dog species. What we do know is that, like a fox, it has a bushy tail and a similar nose. With bristly fur, its colour ranges from dark reddish grey to dark blue, coffee brown to nearly black and they tend to make complex calls similar to those of owls which are used to attract mates upon reaching sexual maturity at age three.
Short-eared Dogs are mostly nocturnal and will eat almost anything they can catch. This means they are in direct competition with all of the rainforest cats which prey on them at times as well as the Giant Otter for food. Most interestingly, they have a unique dependence on giant armadillos and have been documented regularly using their burrows to hide from jaguars, pumas, ocelots, margays, and the large herds of peccaries (wild pigs) in the region.
The short-eared dog is considered a “near threatened” species as it faces threats from human incursions such as illegal mining and logging as well as feral dogs introduced which can spread canine distemper and rabies.
The addax (Addax nasomaculatus), also known as the white antelope and the screwhorn antelope, are an antelope species that live in the Sahara desert.
The addax has a strong social structure, with herds being led by the oldest female. Addax are able to track rainfall and will head for these areas where vegetation is more plentiful. The addax has adapted perfectly to live in the desert under extreme conditions – with their pale coats reflecting radiant heat, they also can survive almost indefinitely without water! They are able to survive off the moisture from their food as well as the dew condensing on plants.
In order to conserve energy, the Addax are a slow moving species which makes them an easy target for predators such as lions, humans, African hunting dogs, cheetahs and leopards.
Scientists estimate that only 200-300 wild individuals of this critically endangered species remain; its population has plummeted due to hunting, drought, and even pressure from tourism. Once widespread throughout large swaths of Africa, it is now found only in Niger. There is hope in the fact that extinction may not be imminent given the fact there are about 2,000 are kept in zoos and on ranches around the world.
There’s a high likelihood that, if you are reading this, you would have heard of the jaguar – the big cat that roams through North and South America. But how likely is it that you’ve heard of their smaller relative the jaguarondi?
The jaguarundi is an oddball amongst cat species – at first glance it looks more like a large weasel. Its long body, small rounded ears, small head, honey-brown eyes, and uniform fur distinguish it from other neotropical cats, such as the spotted ocelot.
The jaguarundi’s historic range stretched from southeastern Arizona and southern Texas, through Mexico, to portions of South America a lot of which is now disappearing.
Though the jaguarundi has been listed as endangered in the U.S. since 1976, it has been all but forgotten. Habitat loss is widely recognised as the most serious threat to the jaguarundi, but the Federal Wildlife Service has never designated critical habitat, never written a recovery plan specific to the jaguarundi, and has failed to allocate adequate funds towards jaguarundi habitat acquisition.
5. Sea Wolves
These wolves, whilst not a species in their own right, are unique in their adaptations to their surrounding environment. No doubt upon hearing the word “wolf” we think of a pack of wolves chasing down deer in the forest… But what we likely don’t think of is a wolf standing in an estuary stream catching salmon, or strolling along a beach poking through washed-up kelp for barnacles and other morsels to eat. This is exactly what a specific population of wolves living on the coast of British Columbia, Canada has learnt to do and they are almost solely pescatarian.
These wolves don’t hunt deer; in fact, many may go their whole lives without ever seeing a deer. Instead, they rely on what the tide brings in. Fish roe, crustaceans, seals and washed-up whales are common meals for these wolves, which have been named ‘Sea Wolves’ for their reliance on the ocean for food.
Researchers say that coastal wolves live with two paws in the ocean and two paws on land. When hunting for food, sea wolves can swim miles between islands and rocky outcrops to feast on seals and animal carcases found on the rocks. At about the size of German Shepherd they are smaller than their inland cousins
They are entirely unique and with behaviours that have scientists fascinated, but they are also heavily persecuted by humans. They once roamed all the way down to California in its former temperate rain forests. Now they only go down to just north of Vancouver. Between this and a future threatened by climate change, the outlook for these wolves is tenuous at best.