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With a Dying Breath

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Diceros bicornis

The black rhinoceros is the second largest land mammal in Africa, second only to the African elephant. They are able to lift up their heads, unlike the white rhino, whose head is too heavy for them to raise. They have a prehensile top lip that helps to grab and hold food. They have two horns, and sometimes a third, that are made of hair. The largest horn is the one closest to their mouth, and can grow up to 1 meter long (40 inches). The second horn and the rare third horn progressively decrease in size. They have poor vision but very sharp hearing and sense of smell.

This species lives in a variety of habitats – deserts, mountain, savanna, grassland and tropical bush lands – of the east and central areas of Africa. The western subspecies of this rhinoceros was declared extinct on November 9th, 2011. This animal is not a grazer; it does not eat grass. Instead, it eats bushes, herbs, low trees, and fruit shoots. As an adult, this rhinoceros has no predators. The calves can be preyed on by hyenas, lions and crocodiles, but even this is rare because of the protection offered by the mother. Mating can occur at any time throughout the year. Gestation period is 419-478 days, giving birth to one calf every two to five years.

There were 4848 of these rhinoceros in the wild in 2010, and the trend is that this number is decreasing rapidly. The most significant threat to these animals is poaching. The horn is believed to have many medicinal properties in traditional Chinese medicine and is considered a valuable trophy to hunters. It is also used to make handles for traditional daggers. Many times, an animal will be found dead with only the horn removed, and the rest of the body left to rot. Habitat loss is also a problem, as well as being collateral damage in wars and conflicts across the continent.

In an effort to preserve this species, programs now exist to capture the rhino, humanely remove its horn then set it free again. This is meant as a deterrent to poachers. There is some indication, though, that the horns will grow back, although at a slower speed, and it is unlikely they will ever reach the lengths they could have if left untouched. There are also programs developed that involve catching rhinoceroses to move them to protected areas and to relocate them to other ranges in order to strengthen the species genetically and reduce the effects of fragmentation of the ranges. Captive breeding programs exist in some zoos and other facilities, hoping to result in populations that are reintroduced to the wild. There are anti-poaching protocols in place and being enforced, however more resources for enforcing these laws are required. Protected areas, monitoring and ecotourism are all helping efforts to save this species. There is also an ongoing project that requires the inoculation of the rhinos to protect them from parasites. This inoculation, however, makes the horns toxic to humans, and also results in the horn showing as bright pink in airport scanners, even if the horn is in powdered form, which will help enforcement of poaching laws. That said, more effort is still needed. Better border patrols and more significant fines and sentences for poachers will help to lessen the incidences of animals being killed for their horns. Perhaps the establishing of a legal trade in rhino horns harvested from naturally dead animals, or from those taken from living animals in a humane way, would help to lessen the value of them on the black market and would meet the needs of those interested in it as a component of traditional medicines. More education and awareness is also needed, and the road that is planned to go through Serengeti National Park should be carefully reconsidered because of the damage it will do to this habitat and to all the species that live within the park.




Lycaon pictus


The African wild dog is one of the most socially organized animals on the planet. They have a very well-structured hierarchy that results in no aggressive displays over mating or feeding. The dominant male and the female will mate for life and will be the only ones in the pack to mate. They usually pack in groups of 6-30 individuals, but the packs used to be larger when there were more animals. These dogs are unique because of the strength of their bite and because they have no dewclaws.


Living in sub-Saharan Africa, they prefer savannah and open woodlands where they have room to hunt. When they hunt, they again are unique because almost all of their hunts are successful, and because of the way they bring down their prey. While hunting, they will rip away the flesh of their prey, eating it alive while it runs, taking mouthfuls until the animal drops. For this reason, they have earned a reputation for being incredibly savage animals; however this death is much faster than the methods used by the big cats and other dogs. They will hunt and feed on any prey they can overpower. They are preyed on only by lions, hyenas, crocodiles and leopards, but those are opportunistic kills. Typically the African wild dog pack is very protective of all its members.

They reach sexual maturity at 12-18 months, the breeding season starting when prey becomes locally abundant. This is because while their prey migrates seasonally, the pack of African wild dogs do not follow the prey. Gestation is approximately 70 days, resulting the birth of anywhere from 2-20 pups, although 10 is the norm. The majority of those pups will be male. Because of disease, flood and other circumstances, the mortality rate of the pups is very high. They will breed once a year on average. The mother will stay with the pups, while the rest of the pack goes hunting. They will bring back food for her and the pups, and they will help raise the babies. When the female pups mature, they will leave the pack and form their own sub-groups. The male pups will stay with the family unit. It is not unusual for there to be only one female in the pack.

There are 3000-5500 African wild dogs in the wild. They have suffered from severe habitat loss and fragmentation. They were often shot or poisoned by farmers and ranchers to prevent them from attacking livestock. At one point, rangers also poisoned this dogs because they were wrongly seen as vicious killers. Rabies and canine distemper also plague this animal. Currently satellite radio monitoring is being used to survey and gain more information about the African wild dog. Captive breeding programs have been successful and there has been some success with reintroduction of captive-bred animals. There has been the establishment of an anti-snaring team to watch for snares set by farmers and hunters, and destroy them before the animals are caught. There is a effort being made to change the name of the dog to remove the negative connotation that comes with it. It is now referred to as the painted dog. A rescue and rehabilitation program for injured dogs has been undertaken, and education projects have been started. There are protected areas set up for them, and reintroduction areas have been set up to teach captive bred animals how to survive. There is a need for more habitat to be preserved for these dogs, and habitat corridors will need to be established to prevent genetic weakening of the species that can be caused by fragmentation. The possibility of being able to inoculate the animals or introduce medicine to them to prevent disease should also be considered.




Canis simensis

This endangered canid lives in a pack but hunts alone, unlike most other packing animals. They hunt during the day, when their prey is mostly above the ground. Their range is always higher than 3000 meters above sea level, they are found only in the Ethiopian mountains, on the high mountain shrub and grassland, or in heather moorland where the vegetation is very short. The largest population is in the Bale Mountains National Park. Rodents are the main source of food for these wolves, although the exact species of rodent will depend on the area in which the pack lives. Rats, mice, molerats, hares, rock hyraxes, goslings and eggs are their choices for meals. They will dig into the burrows to uncover their prey once located.

The Ethiopian wolf reaches sexual maturity at two years of age. In the pack, only the dominant female will breed, but subordinate females will help with nursing the pups. The female will breed only with the dominant male of her pack, or with any visiting male from a neighboring pack. If the dominant female dies, it is usually her daughter that becomes dominant, creating a situation for inbreeding. It is thought that the accessibility of visiting males is what helps to keep the genetic threads strong in this species. Mating occurs from August to November, gestation is 60 to 62 days, and a litter of two to six pups will be born in a den the mother had dug out in the open, under a boulder or in a crevice. She will only give birth once a year. The pack will help to protect and feed the pups.

There are fewer than 500 individual Ethiopian wolves in seven isolated populations in the wild. They are officially protected in Ethiopia. Habitat loss has caused many problems for this species, including extreme fragmentation. Overgrazing by livestock has significantly reduced the rodent population over much of their range. Losing habitat to livestock means that there is an increase in persecution and retaliatory killings, although there is evidence contained within the wolves droppings that they do not attack the livestock. Recent wars have further decreased viable habitat, caused a decrease in availability of funds and resources for conservation efforts, left land mines in the ground to kill more animals, and resulted in indiscriminate killing of the wolves. Domestic dogs have also caused concern, because of competition that they cause, aggression, disease and outbreeding with the wolves. Diseases like rabies can be devastating; with the current fragmented and isolated populations, an outbreak of rabies could destroy the entire pack.

More efforts at disease control and prevention are needed for this species to survive, as are active captive breeding programs. Habitat preservation is also required, so that releasing captive-bred individuals back into the wild is possible. Education for farmers regarding the fact that these animals are not a threat to livestock is also essential.



Choeropsis liberiensis


The pygmy hippopotamus is the smallest of the hippopotamus species. It is hairless, secreting a mucous lining to protect the skin. Folklore says that this species has a diamond in its mouth that it uses to guide it at night. While the meat has some value, and is reportedly tasty, the teeth of this hippo, unlike those of other hippopotamus species, have no value at all. In 1927, US President Calvin Coolidge was presented with a pygmy hippo by Harvey Firestone. Coolidge donated the hippo, named Billy, to the Smithsonian National Zoo, and it is believed that Billy’s genes are present in many of the pygmy hippos in US zoos today.

Historically the pygmy hippopotamus ranged through western Africa. Now its territory is severely fragmented, with small pockets in Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The subspecies in Nigeria is extinct. This animal looks for tropical rain forests, wet lands, swamps and rivers in which to live. These herbivores don’t eat aquatic plants, but favor a diet of ferns, broad-leafed plants and fallen fruits. They will eat any plants available should the need arise, including grass. Their smaller size means that they a capable of being killed by leopards, pythons, and crocodiles.

The pygmy hippopotamus reaches sexual maturity between four and five years of age. Females will tolerate having males around for breeding only. She will give birth to one baby after a gestation of 190-210 days. The baby will be born on land or in shallow water. They can live up to 42 years.

According to 1993 surveys, there are less than 3000 of these animals in the wild, but those numbers are known to have been decreasing, and based on the age of the survey, it is thought that there are much fewer than indicated. Loss of habitat has been the most damaging factor to this species, but poaching, hunting and war have also had a negative impact on them. There are currently effective captive breeding programs at zoos, but without habitat preservation, these efforts will not be successful at repopulating the species in the wild. More preservation of the land, and the establishment of habitat corridors are required, as is more data regarding the species in general, are needed.



Addax nasomaculatus

The addax is a desert-loving animal, well adapted to the conditions there. They have wide feet with a prominent dewclaw that helps them walk on sand. They rarely, if ever, drink water, getting their moisture from the plants they eat instead. They are active at night when the temperatures are cooler, and dig themselves into little beds in the sand during the day. Both the male and female have long, spiraling horns, although the male’s get longer, reaching up to 60-109 cm (2-3.6’). The horns are considered to be valuable trophies, the skin makes sumptuous leather, and the meat is said to be very tasty. For this reason, and to prevent competition with grazing livestock that steadily encroaches on their range, they are vigorously hunted. Once ranging widely, in north Africa they are extinct, and now only survive in the Termit region of Niger and Chad.

Living in the desert, they eat grasses, scrub, and whatever plants they can get moisture from. They have the ability to track the weather, knowing that where it rains, the plants will be lush. Crocodiles, big cats and hyenas prey on this species.

Breeding season peaks at the hottest and coldest months. They reach sexual maturity at two or three years of age, and have one calf every year, following a 257-264 day gestation. They can live up to 19 years.

Some estimates indicate there are fewer than 300 addaxes left in the wild, but a 2004 headcount came up with a total of only 128. The threats to this animal are primarily human in nature. It is heavily hunted for its meat, skin and horns. Their habitat is highly fragmented, mostly because of the expansion of agricultural land, and this fragmentation combined with the low populations will result in inbreeding that will weaken the species. A captive breeding program has been successful, and individuals from these programs are being released in Tunisia and Morocco. More of these programs are need, as well as the protection of much more of their habitat and the creation of habitat corridors. Education of local farmers and hunters is also needed.