Animals in Therapy | Deep Dive
A wonderful world of difference
When they’re in a tight spot, hairy frogs break their bones to create ‘claws,’ in readiness for battle. By contrast, female-friendly bonobos turn to sex, not just to keep their relationships going, but to sort out arguments.
As if that wasn’t unusual enough, there’s the Grey Crowned Crane. This luxuriantly gold-crested diva enjoys busting a move to win its mate. Once won, mate and partner commit to one another for life. (Impressive, when you consider the short courtship and other species’ divorce rates.)
It’s these, and other differences, which make all three so special, so distinct. Consider then, the millions of other extraordinary species we share our planet with.
Hairy frogs and grooving birds
Male hairy frogs, found in Cameroon and other parts of Central and West Africa, for example. These dudes with the bone breaking Fight Club shtick are named for their flowing back and leg coverings. Although they appear to be hairs, they’re actually modified gills supplying extra oxygen. Sadly, many are being lost to water pollution.
The grooving Grey Crowned Crane hangs out in eastern and southern Africa. But it’s losing its habitat. And it’s a status symbol. Wealthy people want to show them off in their yards, so this beautiful bird is captured for the pet trade. Its feathers and eggs are believed to have medicinal properties, which makes things worse. Alarmingly, between 1985 and 2004, the population dropped by 50%. Now it’s Endangered, with only about 22,000 mature individuals left.
Nowhere left to hide
In South East Asia, the giant dead leaf mantis is finding it harder to fade into the background – and avoid predators – as trees and other leafy plants disappear. Remarkably, along with other praying mantises, it’s the only insect known to be able to turn its head, just as humans can.
Our closest relative, the bonobo (along with the chimpanzee), is found in the wild only in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Incredibly, this lean dark primate shares with humans 98.7% of its DNA. Yet it, too, is Endangered, losing habitat, and being hunted for the pet trade. As well as being eaten by those who believe in its supposed power to improve their vigour and strength.
Sadly, between 2003 and 2015, the bonobo population shrank by 55%. There are no more than 10,000 to 50,000 left. For almost identical reasons, Peruvian yellow-tailed woolly monkeys are faring no better. It’s predicted that their common woolly cousins in Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil will lose 30% of their population over the next 40 years.
Under threat for its nose horn
Then there’s the magnificent and increasingly solitary Sumatran rhino, which can live for decades in the wild. But, with fewer than 100 still alive, and these in small groups, it’s now prone to inbreeding and more vulnerable to disease. The same goes for the Javan rhino: only 18 mature individuals remain, all in Java’s Ujung Kulon National Park.
Despite hooking up with oxpecker birds, who alert them to danger (and extract ticks from their skin), African black rhinos aren’t doing a whole lot better. Shockingly, their numbers dropped by 95% in the later twentieth century. Poached, like all rhinos, for their horns, which are seen as valuable ingredients in Traditional Chinese Medicine. And as status symbols.
A hundred years earlier, the plight of white rhinos also looked dire. Fortunately, numbers have since risen from less than 100 to 16,000, although they are again on the decline due to poaching.
The essential variety of life
We could go on. Even if we did, it would be impossible to mention a fraction of the intriguing and astounding creatures now Endangered, and at risk of being lost. Faster than we can come to grips with how their breath-taking variety connects with, and affects, us. And what their collective loss could mean for the future of life on Earth.
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Experts in the International Union for Conservation of Nature SSC Primate Specialist Group (PSG) focus on exchanging information, formulating action plans, and advising on how to protect great apes.
International Crane Foundation works to conserve cranes and the ecosystems they depend on through its specialist knowledge, educational resources, and collaboration in community-based conservation.
Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK (ARG UK) supports a network of independent groups involved in grassroots conservation of reptiles and amphibians.
International Rhino Foundation collaborates with communities in Africa and Asia to protect rhinos and their habitats. It supports programs aimed at reducing demand for rhino horn in China and Vietnam.