Well its back to the status quo and weekend (+ Friday) releases and once again we have another animal from the edges of mystery. Last week however the gleaming Golden Orb Weaver was in the spotlight. This time we have an animal from the same area often described as ‘the most elusive creature’ on the planet.
Issue #22 - Saola
Kingdom – Animalia
Phylum – Chordata
Class – Mammalia
Order – Artiodactyla
Family – Bovidae
Genus – Pseudoryx
Species – nghetinhensis
Related Species - Despite appearances the Saola is more closely related to cows then it is to antelopes and goats (1)
The Asian Bicorn
Adult Saola are chocolate brown furred medium sized ungulates which stand about 80 cm at the shoulders and have white stripes along their faces. The distinguishing feature of the animal are a pair of long straight horns, akin to those found on the Arabian Oryx (Oryx leucoryx), that grown up to 50cm long (2). Like all true cattle both the males and females possess horns and there is almost no differentiation between lengths, among similarly aged animals regardless of gender.
Saola are herbivores, and use a long tongue covered with tiny barbs to hook food and draw it into the mouth. It’s suspected due to this kind of morphology that they are browsers unlike other conventional cattle. Saola are probably preyed on leopards (Panthera paradus) and are caught in snares set for deer by humans. While gentle the Saola will stand its ground and fight relying on its horns and the thickened skin around it’s neck, up to 5cm thick, to defend itself from predators and rival Saola.
The Saola is among the most endangered species in the world, with a recorded wild population of eleven individuals, and a further two in captivity, although the elusiveness of the animal suggests there could be more waiting to be found. While hunting and deforestation defiantly contribute to its status as ‘critically endangered’ the late discovery of the Saola, as late as 1992 (3), and incomplete population assessments are also factors to be considered.
Questions of Biology - #1 What is Milk?
As stupid as this title sounds, this (Friday) morning I checked my PM to find a message waiting for me.
LOL, Milk is so strange. Arguably you’re drinking cow urine
Annoyed at the sheer ignorance I sidelined this week’s actual issue (release date next week) and wrote this one, including an explanation on what milk is and its role in Mammal Biology.
For starters Milk is a naturally occurring lipid created by the mammary glands for the nursing of newborn animals. The production is related to the levels of pregnancy hormones in the female animal. Milk production is exclusive to mammals and is released through teats when the newborn is suckling on them (4). As well as aiding in growth milk also carries antibiotics crucial in boosting the health of the newborn animal after the umbilical cord is cut.
While all mammals produce milk only a small portion are farmed by humans to produce dairy products. While cows are the most prolific milk producers; goats, buffalo, sheep and even donkeys and camels are all farmed for milk in addition to meat and labour output.
In Dairy Farms cows are kept producing milk by keeping them constantly pregnant, with the calf being removed for slaughter or hand rearing before it is three days old. While domestic cows can live for twenty years the working life of a dairy cow is only four years, depending on levels of milk production, after which the animal will be sold for slaughter or kept to raise calves taken from their mothers.
1 - www.arkive.org
2 - Robichaud, William G. (1998). "Physical and behavioral description of a captive saola, Pseudoryx nghetinhensis". Journal of Mammalogy 79 (2): 394–40
3 - Dung, Vu Van; Giao, Pham Mong; Chinh, Nguyen Ngoc; Tuoc, Do; Arctander, Peter; MacKinnon, John (1993). "A new species of living bovid from Vietnam". Nature 363 (6428): 443.
4 - Vorbach C., Capecchi M.R., Penninger J.M. (2006). "Evolution of the mammary gland from the innate immune system?". BioEssays 28 (6): 606–616.
1 - http://assets.worldwildlife.org/photos/61/images/story_full_width/Saola_Circle_image_HI_37218.jpg?1345563402
2 - http://www.amnh.org/var/ezflow_site/storage/images/media/amnh/images/our-research/center-for-biodiversity-and-conservation2/research/species-based-research/mammals/saola/saola-map/250078-1-eng-US/saola-map.jpg
3 - http://photos.mongabay.com/j/martha2.360.jpg
4 - http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/media/inline/blog/Image/9-2-saola_stamp.jpg
Thanks for reading guys; I hope you enjoyed the shy Saola. Make sure to drop me a comment and suggest an animal to be covered in future issues, and as usual you can check out past issues in Impurest’s Bestiary.