Archive for category Zoology

Tapirs Today

Okay, contrary to my previous post on proboscideans, I don’t hate tapirs.  In fact, they’ve become some of my favorite animals and easily one of the most underrated creatures.  Similar to elephants, it has a prehensile snout which provides quite a number of uses.  Currently, there are four living species; the Baird’s tapir, the Mountain tapir, the Brazillian tapir, and of course, the Malayan tapir.   The earliest known tapir ancestors are heptodons, which lacked the iconic snout.  It lived during the Eocene, about 50 million years ago.  Quite a history I might add.  Tapirs are closely related to rhinos and horses as well other members of the order Perssiodactyla.

But of course, those are just facts.  Personally, I find tapirs to be just fascinating to look at.  People may not consider it as charismatic as its cousins, but that just makes it more worthwhile to learn about it.  Malayan tapirs are perhaps the most visually different of the four species due to its dichromatic color scheme.   All tapirs are semi-aquatic in behavior, which makes wonder about the adaptability of various species.  For some reason, we end up have this “perception” that animals that live in a certain environment can only live in that environment.  If a terrestrial animal touches water, it will automatically drown right…

In terms of defense, tapirs go the “boring but practical route”. We usually associate powerful herbivores with tusks, horns, hooves.  Tapirs on the other hand, can just run.  That’s not to say they can’t defend themselves, but why waste the tools used for more constructive purposes other than fighting? And if things get tough…CHOMP.   Plus, they have fairly thick fur on their necks to prevent easy bites from predators.

Luckily there are tapir focused blogs that are worth checking out:  The TPF(Tapir Preservation Fund), and…(searching for more..) Alright alright, they’re out there.

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Proboscidean Power…. No tapirs allowed

If you can tell by my title, my favorite animal order (yes I’m kind of fond of mammals go figure) is the order Proboscidea…which I failed to pronounce for most of my life anyway.  Yes, this is the group that elephants and their relatives, ancestors, etc. belong to.   Or to be exact, the “trunk animals group”.  Animals that have developed a boneless muscular proboscis to as their primary appendage.  Elephants were my favorite animal as a child, and even today are on my top ten animal list.  Why you ask?  Well, they have one of the most unique appearances in the animal kingdom.  An intelligence level on par with cetaceans, primates, and parrots* and corvids.   They’re empathetic creatures.

   But since this piece is called Proboscidean power, let’s do a brief rundown of the evolutionary history.  One of the prominent early proboscideans was Moeritherium.  Generally, these creatures had a semi-aquatic lifestyle, not unlike that of a hippo.  One would probably compare them to pigs or tapirs, rather than to modern elephants.  Gradually, members of Proboscidea began growing larger, as well as developing a more prominent proboscis.  Perhaps the most famous elephant relative is the woolly mammoth, on par in status with many “stock dinosaurs” despite not being one.  Contrary to popular belief, mammoths were not actually ancestors of modern elephants, but were closely related to asian elephants.

Today, there is one extant family, Elephantidae.  It houses the Asian elephant Elephas maximus as well as the African Elephant Loxodonta africana.  There are a few subspecies like the Bornean Elephant and the African forest elephant (which is probably its own species).  Only the Asian Elephant has been domesticated and very precariously at that.  Bull elephants all go through a period of high testosterone levels known as musth, where they become much more aggressive.  Many a mahout have suffered injuries due to this neglect.  Unfortunately, domestication can be a cruel process; elephants are beaten into submission and forced to obey whims.

Elephants are most closely related to the Sirenians (dugongs and manatees) and Hyraxes.  Similarities can be drawn from dental structure and feet.  Together, they form the only extant members of Paenungulata.  All three groups are part of the larger superorder Afrotheria, which include aardvarks, tenrecs, elephant shrews, and many other unique creatures.

Proboscidean evolution is nevertheless a popular model to use to teach others about evolutionary history, on par with hominid evolution.   The way the group has changed over millions of years is quite astounding.  Each species is worth taking a look at.  Habits, habitats, and appearances are all fairly diverse.  Hopefully, I can find another group that equals proboscidea in its captivating qualities.

PS: I know that tapirs are more closely related rhinos and other perissodactyls*.

* Thanks Albertonykus

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Seaworld Victims, regardless of species

friend or foe

During February, a seaworld trainer by the name of Dawn Brancheau was killed in a freak orca accident.  During a routine trick, the seemingly playful whale suddenly dragged her into the pool and started thrashing her around, causing her death through drowning and trauma.  We were left to mourn the hapless trainer whose unyielding devotion to these marine mammals makes it all the more heart-wrenching.  Yet we also have questions.  The orca in question, Tillicum, was already involved with two incidents prior to Dawn Brancheau’s.   Orca’s are extremely powerful predators in the wild, with few natural predators of its own.  As the largest Orca in captivity, it wouldn’t be too out of place to be more careful.

While the first impulse may be to euthanize the whale because it’s clearly a dangerous animal, I’ve thought about how not just orcas, but all marine mammals have been treated in the course of this kind of entertainment.  They’re confined in chlorinated tanks with little current and little imitation of their natural habitat.  While it has not been undoubtedly proven, a common symptom of captive orcas is the collapsed dorsal fin.  If you may recall several years ago, the famous Orca Keiko was gradually conditioned until it was ready to be released back into the wild.  While it was noble in intention, Keiko had been working with humans for years.  To be released back into the wild at that age, after so it would be tough to seamlessly readapt.

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