Archive for Animal of the day

Animal of the day: Snow Leopards

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The snow leopard is an endangered big cat that inhabits the rugged and mountainous terrain of Central Asia and the Himalayan region. It is currently threatened by hunting for the illegal wildlife trade and revenge killings by herders; habitat loss; and diminished food supply. A 2003 study by TRAFFIC, WWF and the International Snow Leopard Trust found a dramatic decline of the big cats in many countries over the previous decade. It is estimated these threats are reducing the snow leopard population to numbers approaching those of the endangered tiger. The remaining animals live in only 12 countries in South and Central Asia.

World Wildlife Fund supports research and habitat conservation projects for the snow leopard in many parts of its range. WWF is also working to put a stop to the illegal traffic in endangered cat skins, and to create and maintain reserves to protect them and other endangered species. With your help, we can save the snow leopard from an uncertain future.

http://www.worldwildlife.org/snowleopards/

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Discovery Polar Bear Video

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Animal of the day: Polar Bears Dec. 31, 06

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Physical Characteristics
The polar bear is the largest terrestrial carnivore. Adult males can measure more than nine feet in length and weigh between 770 and 1,430 pounds. The bear’s body and neck are elongated, and the head is narrow and long with small, rounded ears.The polar bear’s coat, covering it completely except for the nose and foot pads, is superbly adapted to Arctic environments. Along with a thick layer of body fat, the water-repellent coat insulates the bear from cold air and water. It also serves as camouflage; in fact, polar bears can sometimes pass as snow drifts. The fur is 95 percent efficient in converting ultra-violet sun rays into usable heat. Its transparent hairs have a hollow inner core which scatters ultra-violet light by some unknown mechanism, converting it into heat when it reaches the bear’s black skin. Surprisingly, the fur has no white pigment; it is the reflection of the sun that causes the fur to appear white.

Habitat and Distribution
Polar bear populations can be found in northern Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia, and there have been reports that polar bear tracks have been found as far north as the North Pole. The five million square-mile range of the polar bear circles the Arctic and contains stretches of open water where its primary prey – seals – are easily caught.

Polar bears live on the annual Arctic sea ice that provides a platform from which they can hunt. But when the edge of the ice retreats to the north during summer, bears must follow the ice floes or become stranded on land where they must stay until the sea ice forms again in the fall.

Diet
Polar bears hunt ringed and bearded seals on the sea ice, between late April and mid-July, by breaking into seal dens in the sea ice. The dens are not visible from above, but seeing is less important than smelling to a polar bear – with their keen sense of smell, polar bears can detect the breathing holes of seals in their dens beneath the snow and ice. Plentiful access to food in this period is critical, particularly for pregnant females. As the southern edge of the arctic ice cap melts in summer, polar bears are stranded on land and spend their summers fasting, living off body fat stored from hunting in the spring and winter.

As a result of global warming, sea ice in the Arctic is melting earlier and forming later each year. Ongoing research funded by WWF is finding that polar bears are left with less time on the ice to hunt for food and build up their fat stores, and increased time on land where they must fast. As their ice habitat shrinks, skinnier and hungrier polar bears face a grave challenge to their survival.

Polar bears also prey upon harp seals, as well as young walruses and beluga whales, narwhal, fish, and seabirds and their eggs.

Reproduction
Polar bears breed in late March, April and May. The males actively seek out females by following their tracks on sea ice. They remain with the female for a short time, then leave in search of another female.

During November and December, the female digs a maternity den in a drift of snow, maintaining and enlarging the chamber as the drifts cover her, snowing her in. Soon she gives birth to twins, which cuddle in their mother’s thick fur. She ceases to feed throughout the winter and instead lives off her stored fat. Her milk, high in fat content, enables the cubs to keep warm and grow rapidly before leaving the dark den in March or April.

Short trips are made to and from the den for several days as the cubs acclimate to the outside temperatures. Then the family leaves and makes its way to the sea ice where the mother feeds and protects her cubs. The family returns to the den the next winter and remains together during the following spring and summer. After two years together, the family disperses.

Status
With about 22,000 polar bears living in the wild, the species is not currently endangered, but its future is far from certain. In 1973, Canada, the United States, Denmark, Norway and the former U.S.S.R. signed the International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears and their Habitat. This agreement restricts the hunting of polar bears and directs each nation to protect their habitats, but it does not protect the bears against the biggest man-made threat to their survival: global warming. If current warming trends continue unabated, scientists believe that polar bears may disappear within 100 years. WWF funds field research by the world’s foremost experts on polar bears to find out how global warming will affect the long-term condition polar bears. To learn more about the topic, read the WWF report Vanishing Kingdom: The Melting Realm of the Polar Bear (PDF, 885k). (WWF’s report, Polar Bears at Risk (PDF, 373k), provides a more detailed analysis.)

Visit the WWF Polar Bear Tracker to track the movements of two polar bears, Samantha and Marianne, in the Barents Sea area above Svalbard, Norway and learn more about how warming and changes in sea ice affect the lives of polar bears over time.

Read more about World Wildlife Fund’s work to stop global warming and help save polar bears.

http://worldwildlife.org/polarbears/ecology.cfm

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