Amur Leopard Population Hits At Least 65

Photos: Amur Leopard Population Hits At Least 65: Photo 4

Most of the world’s big predators are in decline, but there are some happy stories out there. This week, WWF announced that the Amur leopard population has grown to a total of 65-69 cats. This represents a more than doubling of the population in eight years. Still, the Critically Endangered subspecies remains perilously close to extinction.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done in order to secure a safe future for the Amur leopard, but these numbers demonstrate that things are moving in the right direction,” said Barney Long, the Director of Species Conservation for WWF-US.

Read more… Photos: Amur Leopard Population Hits At Least 65

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The lioness that leaps into a man’s arms and embraces him.

The lion hugger

In 2012 Valentin Gruener rescued a young lion cub and raised it himself at a wildlife park in Botswana. It was the start of an extraordinary relationship.

Now an astonishing scene is repeated each time they meet – the young lion leaps on Gruener and holds him in an affectionate embrace.

“Since the lion arrived, which is three years now, I haven’t really left the camp,” says Gruener.

“Sometimes for one night I go into the town here to organise something for the business, but other than that I’ve been here with the lion.”

The lion he has devoted himself to is Sirga – a female cub he rescued from a holding pen established by a farmer who was fed up with shooting animals that preyed on his cattle.

Read more (and video)… BBC News – The lion hugger.

African wildlife in beautiful black and white.

African wildlife photography by David Gulden – in pictures | Art and design | The Guardian

Stunning black-and-white images of African wildlife and the the decline of their habitats are the focus of a new book by David Gulden. Shooting mainly in Kenya over a 15-year period, Gulden’s photographs are intimate portraits of animals as individual characters, rather than representative of their species.

African wildlife photography by David Gulden – in pictures | Art and design | The Guardian

See more… African wildlife photography by David Gulden – in pictures | Art and design | The Guardian.

Photographer Paul Souders drone captures images of Botswanas wildlife.

After more than 30 years behind the lens, award-winning wildlife photographer Paul Souders decided to let someone – or rather something – else do most of the hard work for him.

The 53-year-old American snapper has traveled to every conceivable corner of the world in his quest to capture animals in their natural habitat, but for his latest shoot Paul put decided to put his feet up and put his trust in a drone.

Paul traveled 10,000 miles from his home in Seattle to Chobe National Park in Botswana for the shoot, which he took using his DJI Phantom Vision 2+drone operated via a hand-held remote control.

See more:
Photographer Paul Souders drone captures images of Botswanas wildlife | Daily Mail Online.

Ugly 5 safari: Tracking Africas least glamorous animals in Botswana

CNN’s Laura Ma gives her list of Africa’s Ugly Five.

Marabou stork

“That’s the ugliest bird I’ve ever seen.”

The statement doesn’t so much roll off my tongue as it stumbles out of my mouth as I look at the scrappy tufts of feather on the leathery head of a marabou stork.

Others on the boat mutter similar sentiments.

“It’s one of the Ugly Five,” says Amos, our captain and guide on an afternoon safari cruise at Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana’s Okavango River Delta.

His enthusiasm feels exaggerated for such a hideous bird.

Elephants can be seen while flying into the delta, freeing up safari time searching for less celebrated wildlife.
Safaris tend to focus on the so-called Big Five — lions, leopards, buffalo, rhinos, elephants — but the Ugly Five makes for a fun alternative for anyone who’s already checked off the safari stars.

The list runs like a cast call for the “Lion King’s” least majestic animals: marabou stork, hyena, vulture, wildebeest and warthog.

The marabou stork doesn’t just rely on its looks — it’s also got a scent thing going down.

“They can grow up to five feet long,” says Amos as we get close enough to see the scabby-looking beak of one these large birds.

“And be glad it’s not close enough that you can smell him.”

Everyone, except our guide, cringes as the bird spreads its malodorous 12-foot wings and takes off from a tree, giving us a full view of its underbelly and wrinkly throat sack.

The Okavango Delta is one of two breeding grounds for the marabou stork.

During mating season, the birds are known to eat live prey, including adult flamingos.

The stork also goes by the name of the “undertaker bird” in recognition of the grim but important role it plays in the Delta — reducing diseases and cleaning up the ecosystem by devouring rotten carcasses.

Hyena

One the next morning’s bush walk, we get lucky in spotting a hyena.

We’re certainly luckier than the smelly dead animal it’s devouring.

“Your nose is the strongest tracker of game,” says Amos.

Apparently, your ears are the second, but we’re alerted to the hyena’s presence not by its notorious cackling laugh but by the sound of the bones it’s crunching.

We peer over the brush to see a spotted hyena with its snout in the stomach of an impala.

Before anyone can ask, our guide says: “It probably didn’t steal this meal from lions. Hyenas are very successful hunters.”

The hyena registers low on the cuteness meter. This one couldn’t get any more ugly unless it was covered in blood.

Which it is.

My friend Anja, disagrees, claiming that hyenas are so unattractive they’re actually endearing.

“They’re only ugly because they’re villains in movies,” she says.

It’s debatable how cute this hyena cub is.
Showing me a photo of a hyena cub her sister took in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, she adds, “The babies are so cute!”

That’s debatable, but they certainly get uglier with age.

As we’re watching, our hyena pulls its bloody face out of the carcass, revealing its elongated neck, hunched gait and dirty, scrappy fur.

Vulture

With one of the strongest jaws in the animal world, hyenas don’t leave much for scavengers.

Even so, where there are carcasses, there are usually vultures.

While the marabou is the only species of stork on the list, the entire vulture family can claim membership to the ugly club.

Circling overhead in a flying “kettle” (unusual collective noun alert!), the vultures we see aren’t too bad to look at.

Their wings silhouette magnificently against the blue sky.

The illusion is broken when a few fly down to compete with the hyena for impala meat, revealing that though they have the wings of an eagle, they have the face of Freddy Kruger.

It’s no surprise the bird’s hooked beak and hunched stature have inspired a marvel comic villain.

“Their ugliness is efficient,” says Amos. (He says that about all the Ugly Five.)

The curved beak is effective in ripping meat, according to our guide. The vulture’s ugliest feature, the featherless head and neck, is easy to keep clean after eating carrion.

Logistically, it makes sense.

Esthetically, it’s the stuff of nightmares.

Warthog

The warthog is another case of practicality over prettiness.

These wild pigs are plagued with useful but unappealing warts on both sides of their faces, landing them firmly in the ugly crowd.

The protuberances protect the faces of male warthogs when they fight, even if they do look like surgery gone wrong.

Warthogs are plentiful in the Okavango Delta. Anywhere out of scent-range from carnivores, we see warthog families digging for roots with their front knuckles.

Together with warts, shaggy mohawks down their backs and uneven body hair, the warthog is the least appealing pig in the delta (although their roasted ribs are delicious.)

They’re shaped like torpedoes with pig noses.

Their bodies seem disproportionately stocky in comparison to their skinny legs and short necks.

As we’re watching a mother and two babies, someone in our group steps on a twig and spooks them.

We’re treated to the beautiful sight of warthog butts with tails straight up in the air.

Wildebeest

During an afternoon heading out from the Delta’s Moremi Crossing resort in a mokoro dug-out canoe, we cross paths with the last of the Ugly Five: wildebeest.

As we slosh from one end of the small herd to another, a dozen weary black faces with straggly manes stare us down, perhaps concerned we might try to eat them.

Attractiveness is no problem for wildebeests. They’re practically blind.
Because they’re one of the most populous safari animals — and not much to look at — many people don’t bother to photograph them, says Amos.

As the unpretty cousin of the more elegant eland and gazelle, the wildebeest is a peculiar genetic mishmash.

It has the head of a buffalo, body of an antelope and tail of a shaggy horse.

Its elongated face is connected to a dirty-looking neck fringe and features a mouth shaped, and used, like a lawnmower.

Murky gray bodies decorated with black and white markings add to the unkempt appearance.

“Its ugliness is no problem for mating, they’re practically blind,” Amos laughs.

Read more… Ugly 5 safari: Tracking Africas least glamorous animals in Botswana 

Wildlife tourism in Virunga gives new hope to Congo

Wildlife tourism in Virunga gives new hope to Congo | Travel | The Guardian

After years of civil war that claimed the lives of more than six million people and a long history of corruption and political instability, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is not on many travellers’ bucket list.

But there is now one very good reason why they may be more interested. Africa’s oldest national park, the beautiful and other-worldly Virunga, in the east of the country bordering Rwanda and Uganda, reopened this year after the war ended.

It is a magical place, 3,000 square miles of snow-capped mountains, glaciers, active volcanoes, lush mountain forest and savannahs. Yet another battle is now playing out here, one between integrity and greed.

Congolese park rangers are fighting to protect many of the world’s last 880 mountain gorillas who live here – from both poachers and the threat of British oil company Soco International.

Read more… Wildlife tourism in Virunga gives new hope to Congo | Travel | The Guardian.

Galápagos Islands wildlife threatened by battle between locals and scientists.

Galápagos Islands wildlife threatened by battle between locals and scientists | World news | The Observer

Wildlife on the Galápagos is under a new threat. The scientific group that has helped to preserve the islands’ giant tortoises and other unique creatures is on the brink of closure – because of a row about a gift shop.

Local traders have objected to the Charles Darwin Foundation running a souvenir shop at its research station at Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz island. They claim it was siphoning business from their own shops and in July local officials, backed by the government of Ecuador which owns the Galápagos, ordered the station’s shops to be shut.

The impact for the foundation – which carries out wildlife research in the Galápagos and provides key scientific advice on protecting wildlife there – has been devastating.

Read more… Galápagos Islands wildlife threatened by battle between locals and scientists | World news | The Observer.