What makes the platypus different from most other animals?


The platypus has the most distinct features when compared to other marine animals. With a flattened head, a large bill, a paddle-like tail, and webbed feet, the platypus is perhaps one of the most visibly unique animals. And do you know what else is striking about them? They are also one of the few living venomous mammals.

The males among the semi-aquatic mammals are venomous and have a sharp set of spurs on their hind heels. These spurs are connected to the venom glands located over the thighs and are used in defense. Scientists have also found out that the venom contains a hormone that could help treat diabetes.

They are also known to use venom against other males.

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Do penguins face threat of extinction?

As much as 98% of colonies of this penguin species is at risk of extinction by 2100. So, the U.S. has listed the bird as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act. There's still hope to save them.

Where do emperor penguins live?

Different species of penguins are found in different parts of the Southern Hemisphere. The emperor penguins are found only in Antarctica, where they live and breed. Emperor penguins thrive on Antarctica's coastlines in icy conditions any human would find extreme. The penguins breed on fast ice, which is sea ice attached to land But they hunt for food within the pack ice-sea ice floes that move with the wind or ocean currents and may merge. Sea ice is also important for resting, during their annual moult, and to escape from predators.  

The U.S. lists them as "threatened".

If current global warming trends and government policies continue, Antarctica's sea ice will decline at a rate that would dramatically reduce emperor penguin numbers to the point that 98% of all their colonies would become quasi-extinct by 2100, with little chance of recovering, a new study has shown. That's why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalised a rule listing the emperor penguin as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act, effective November 25, 2022. The director of the service said the listing "reflects the growing extinction crisis". The U.S. Endangered Species Act has been used before to protect other species that are primarily at risk from climate change, including the polar bear, ringed seal, and several species of coral, which are all listed as threatened.

But, these penguins don't even live in the U.S.!

Sure, these penguins don't live on US. territory, so some of the Endangered Species Act's measures meant to protect species habitats and prevent hunting them don't directly apply. Being listed under the Endangered Species Act could still bring benefits, though. It could provide a way to reduce harm from U.S. fishing fleets that might operate in the region. And, with expected actions from the current administration, the listing could eventually pressure U.S. agencies to take actions to limit greenhouse gas emissions. However, the Bureau of Land Management has never acknowledged that emissions from oil and gas extraction on public lands and waters could harm climate-imperiled species. It issued more than 3.500 oil and gas drilling permits in New Mexico and Wyoming on public land during the first 16 months of the Joe Biden administration.

What's harming the birds?

The greatest threat emperor penguins face is climate change. It will disrupt the sea ice cover they rely on unless governments adopt policies that reduce the greenhouse gases driving global warming. If there's too much sea ice, trips to bring food from the ocean become long and arduous, and their chicks may starve. With too little sea ice, the chicks are at risk of drowning. Climate change is now putting that delicate balance and potentially the entire species at risk. Emperor penguins are adapted to their current environment, but the species has not evolved to survive the rapid effects of climate change that threaten to reshape its world. Major environmental shifts, such as the late formation and early loss of sea ice on which colonies are located, are already raising the risk.

How can we save them?

Decades of data since the 1960s are now helping scientists gauge the effects of anthropogenic climate change on the penguins, their sea ice habitat and their food sources. Meeting the Paris Agreement goal could still save the penguins. The results of the new study showed that if the world meets the Paris climate agreement targets, keeping warming to under 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 F) compared with pre-industrial temperatures, it could protect sufficient habitat to halt the emperor penguins decline. But the world isn't on track to meet the Paris Agreement goals. The future of emperor penguins, and much of life on Earth, including humanity, ultimately depends upon the decisions made today.

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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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What makes the giant otter rare?

               The giant otter is a carnivorous mammal native to South America. It is a social animal that lives with family groups, supporting up to eight members. They are mostly seen in freshwater rivers and streams that are seasonally flooded. Sometimes, these animals are also spotted in freshwater lakes and springs.

               The primary cause of the decline of the giant otter population is poaching. They have been hunted for decades, particularly during the 1950s and 1960s, bringing their number to less than 5000. It is the velvety pelt that makes a giant otter an attractive target. Besides, the animals are extremely easy to hunt as they are active throughout the day. And by nature, otters are inquisitive and fearless towards human beings. This makes it even worse for them.

               Other factors are habitat loss and degradation caused by mining, logging, and over-fishing. Quite a lot of giant otters are killed by fishermen who consider them to be a menace.

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Why the Rothschild’s giraffe is considered an endangered animal?

            The Rothschild’s giraffe is a subspecies of Northern giraffes. It is also known by the names Baringo giraffe and Ugandan giraffe.

            With just around 1500 individuals in the wild, it is yet another animal that has an endangered existence. Isolated population of this animal can be seen in savannah, grasslands, and the open woodlands of Uganda and Kenya. The strange name of these animals comes from zoologist Walter Rothschild, who was the first to describe the species.

            What makes a Rothschild’s giraffe different from others in the family is its appearance. It has a specific type of coat pattern, with light brown patches and creamy lines in between. Also, it has no markings below the knees, making one feel that the animal is wearing white stockings!

            The biggest threats to the lives of Rothschild’s giraffes are poaching, expansion of human population and habitat loss.

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What makes the Iberian lynx special?

               Iberian lynx is a wild cat native to the Iberian Peninsula. It is one of the most endangered animals on Earth, as classified by the IUCN Red List. Lynxes were once seen throughout the Iberian Peninsula, and the South of France. But since the mid 1990s, only fragmented populations have survived that too in Central and south-western parts of Spain, and in a few areas of Portugal.

               This wild animal is distinguished with a bobbed tail, spotted coat, muscular body and long legs. By nature, they are solitary and nocturnal. European rabbits alone form the diet for an Iberian lynx. In the 20th century, there was a sharp fall in the number of these rabbits. This in turn, caused a decline in the population of lynx too. Besides, there are other human-induced reasons like the destruction of forest habitat and its conversion to agricultural land, hunting, accidental killings, construction of dams highways and railways.

               By the start of the 21st century, the number of Iberian lynx came down to around 100, and the animal was on the verge of extinction.

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Why is the wild water buffalo rare?

            The wild water buffalo is a large bovine native to South-east Asia, particularly India. They are seen mostly in wet grasslands, swamps, and river valleys in India, Bhutan, Nepal, Thailand and Cambodia. With a wild population of less than 4000 individuals, these animals are now a rare sight.

            In general, wild water buffaloes are larger and heavier than domestic ones, and weigh up to 1200 kg.

            The major challenge for the survival of water buffaloes is habitat loss. Besides, the degradation of wetlands due to exotic species like stem twiners and linas, diseases and parasites transmitted from domestic livestock etc. have contributed largely to the decline of the water buffalo population.

            In countries like Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar these animals are hunted on a large scale. This happens despite the fact that hunting and killing of these endangered animals are prohibited in many countries including Thailand, Nepal, Bhutan and India.

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Why is the Przewalski’s horse considered as an endangered animal?

            The Przewalski’s horse is quite a strange name for an animal, isn’t? Not many of us have heard of the animal, mainly because not many exist today. Also known as the Dzungarian horse, these are a rare and endangered subspecies of wild horses, native to the steppes of Central Asia.

             It is a relatively small member of the horse family, with a stiff, dark, upright mane and a height up to 1.4 metres. They were once found throughout Mongolia, Northern China, and some parts of Siberia. But at present, they can be spotted only on the plains and prairies of Mongolia. There is no evidence to show that the animal was ever domesticated, and so one can say a Przewalski’s horse is the only wild horse in the world today.

            In the 1960s, the species was almost extinct in the wild, but was saved after a few individuals were reintroduced to their native habitats at the Khustain Nuruu National Park, Takhin Tal Nature Reserve, and Khomiin Tal in Mongolia. The main reasons for the disappearance were hunting for meat, and interbreeding with domesticated horses. Today, there are many zoos in the world where these horses are seen in small numbers.

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Why is the green sea turtle considered as an endangered species?

            Green sea turtles are large sea turtles that can be spotted in tropical and subtropical seas around the world. The distinct populations of these sea animals are seen predominantly in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and sometimes, in the Indian Ocean too. Over 80 countries are known to have the nests of these turtles on their beaches. With a weight up to 300 kg, green sea turtles are huge. Their name comes from the greenish colour of their cartilage and fat.

            Like many other species, green sea turtles too have an unsafe existence. As a result, they have been listed as endangered by the IUCN Red List.

            The reasons for the falling population of the turtles are both intentional and accidental. In general, these animals are continuously hunted for food and their eggs. Then there are other unintentional reasons like boat strikes and fishing nets that lack turtle excluder devices.

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Why is the bonobo special?

            The name bonobo many sound really cute to many of us, but the lives of these animals are anything but cute. A bonobo is an endangered animal that can be seen only in the jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Africa.

            They are also known by the names pygmy chimpanzees and gracile chimpanzees. The animal is distinguished by its long legs, dark face, pink lips, and parted long hair. In general, they are known to be peaceful primates, living in groups led by females.

            Along with common chimpanzees, bonobos are also very close relatives of human beings, and are of high intelligence.

            Although there isn’t much data, the remaining population of bonobos is thought to be something between 29,500 and 50,000. Hence, they are classified as endangered by the IUCN Red List.

            By now, you must be aware that almost all the species that are endangered, consider humans as their biggest threat. It’s not different in the case of bonobos either.

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Why is the hawksbill sea turtle a rare sight?

            A hawksbill sea turtle is one of the most critically endangered species found in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Generally, these aquatic beings spend most of their time in shallow lagoons and coral reefs, feeding on sponges, sea anemones and jellyfishes.

            The appearance of a hawksbill turtle is similar to that of other marine turtles. They have narrow, pointed beaks and distinctive patterns of overlapping scales on their shells. It is said that depending on the temperature of the water, the shells of these turtles change colour, making them a highly valuable species.

            A hawksbill sea turtle is now a rare animal, merely because of human activities. They are widely hunted for meat, as well as for other purposes. In many parts of the world, they are still seen as delicacies. Another reason for their exploitation is the attractive shells of hawksbill turtles, which have largely become materials for decoration and jewellery-making. The existence of these turtles is also threatened by heavy pollution in water and loss of nesting areas due to coastal development.

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