Why is the eastern gorilla special?

The eastern gorilla is the largest living primate, with the average adult male weighing around 160 kg and standing at 1.7 metres. This gorilla has a large head broad chest and long arms. Its fur is black and adult males have a silvery streak down the back. As the gorilla gets older, the silvery streak turns white; much like a human being turns grey. Older males are called ‘silver backs’ because of this.

The eastern gorilla has two subspecies - the mountain gorilla and the eastern lowland gorilla. Both species are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa but the mountain gorilla is found in Rwanda and Uganda as well. These gorillas eat a lot of foliage in the form of leaves and plants since fruits are not abundantly found in their habitat.

They do most of their foraging in the mornings and late afternoons and prepare nests to sleep in the night. These nests are usually made of leaves laid in a hollow space on the ground. These gorillas live in stable family groups which are led by a dominant male silverback.

Females give birth to young only once in three or four years, as they have to care for the infants for around 3 to 4 years after they are born.

The eastern gorilla is listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ due to large-scale habitat destruction and the introduction of diseases from contact with humans. According to the IUCN, its numbers have reduced by about 70 per cent due to the ongoing political instability in areas that the eastern gorilla lives in and it is difficult for their numbers to pick up once again.

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Extinction is when an entire population of a particular creature disappears from Earth. Though it sounds drastic, extinctions are quite common in Earth’s history. Scientists believe that 99 per cent - over five billion species that ever lived - have become extinct since the beginning of life. This could have happened due to reasons of lack of food or disastrous events like asteroids hitting Earth. In recent times, the speed at which species are becoming extinct has increased due to human activity.

The most common cause of extinction is a sudden, serious change in a species’ habitat. A habitat is the surroundings in which an animal lives. Animals can rarely survive such sudden change. Their food supply may be wiped out. They may also lose shelter or other things that they need to survive.

Many things can change a species’ habitat. Floods, fires, droughts, volcanoes, and other natural events may be causes. People also change the environment in ways that drastically affect animals. People clear forests and drain wetlands. They build dams that disrupt the flow of rivers. They build cities on land that animals need to survive. They also create harmful pollution.

Some changes that cause extinction affect only a small area. Others are large enough to affect the entire world. A fire or other local event may cause the extinction of animals that live only in that region. A sudden change in the global climate might wipe out an animal species that lives in many parts of the world.

People can cause extinctions more directly as well. Some species have been hunted to extinction. The passenger pigeon is one example of this. Humans killed millions of the birds over many years. The last one died in the early 1900s.

Dinosaurs first appeared on Earth about 215 million years ago. They were the most important land animals for more than 150 million years. By 65 million years ago, however, the dinosaurs had died out.

Many scientists believe that a large asteroid, or rock from space, caused this mass extinction. When the asteroid hit Earth, the impact caused drastic changes. Thick dust and other materials blocked the sun. Temperatures dropped, and plants could not grow. The dinosaurs could not survive the cold temperatures and lack of food. But early species of birds and mammals did survive.

Credit: Kids Britannica

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What makes the snow leopard an endangered animal?

               A snow leopard is a large cat that is native to the mountain areas of Central and South Asia. These wild cats can be spotted sporadically in the alpine and subalpine zones of China, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, and Mongolia, at heights between 3000 to 4500m.

               In size, snow leopards are slightly smaller than others of its family. They have stocky bodies with thick fur and small, rounded ears, all of which together, help the animal to minimize heat loss.

               Although the animals are agile and powerfully built, their population is in great danger. The main reasons for such falling numbers are hunting, habitat loss, and retaliatory killings. With the reduction in the number of its prey like the Argali sheep, ibex, and hares, these leopards are forced to hunt domestic animals in its nearby areas.

               As a result, locals kill them in retaliation. The leopards are also poached for their skin for making fur coats.

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Why is the sei whale an endangered animal?

            The sei whale is one of the fastest whales in the world that inhabits all oceans and adjoining areas, except those in polar and tropical regions. They are the third largest rorquals, followed by blue whales and fin whales.

            Sei whales are sometimes seen travelling alone, or in pods of up to six individuals. A normal individual is about 14 to 20 metres long, with a weight up to 26 tonnes. Females are a little longer than males. If unharmed, these animals can live till the age of 65.

            As they are at the top of the food chain, whales have an important role in the overall health of a marine ecosystem. But today, they have a very insecure existence due to human activities.

            The biggest threat faced by the sei whale population is commercial whaling. Besides, there is something called scientific whaling, carried out by countries like Iceland and Japan. It means killing whales for scientific research.

            There have also been events of mass deaths of sei whales in the past due to pollution, and the presence of toxic substances in water.

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Why the Grevy’s zebra is considered an endangered animal?

            The Grevy’s zebra is an important member of the horse family. Also known as the imperial zebra, they are the most endangered of the zebra species. Historically, they were seen in the semi-arid scrublands and plains of Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Kenya in East Africa. But now, their range is confined to a few parts of Southern Ethiopia, and Northern Kenya.

            Compared to its relatives, Grevy’s zebras have larger ears and narrower stripes. They feed mostly on grass, roots, and tree bark, and also on hard seeds. It is believed that these zebras can live without water for about three days.

            During the 1970s, the population of Grevy’s zebras was thought to be 15,000. But at the start of the 21st century, this number came down to 3500.

            Today, there are estimated to be around 2500 in the wild. In captivity, there are around 600 individuals surviving. The main reason for the fall in population is poaching. The skin of these zebras is of great value in the global market.

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