Wierd and wonderful: Grandidier’s vontsira

face of mongoose-like carnivore, Grandidier's vontsira

I’m enjoying my high-definition BBC feed while I still have it. Recently, I enjoyed a documentary about Madagascar narrated by Sir David Attenborough. He mentioned a rare carnivore called Grandidier’s vontsira (BBC, Island of Marvels, Part 3. YouTube clip, 0:12:08–0:13:24). I had never heard of it, and no wonder. It’s a rare mongoose found only in a tiny part of Madagascar. It’s like the mammalian equivalent of a snail darter, a tiny fish found only in certain rivers.

striped mongoose-like carnivore, Grandidier's vontsira

It took a little while for me to find out more. It’s more commonly called Grandidier’s mongoose. It was named only in 1986 and little is known of its life. It’s adapted to an arid climate, eats small prey and insects, and pairs off to have one offspring. If you watch the video clip, you’ll hear its voice, distant whistles and then a cross between a mew and a coo.

striped mongooses with plumy tails, Grandidier's vontsira

Most of the prey items caught are insects but the greater biomass, 57% – 80% depending on the season, comes from small animals.

The range map for Galidictis grandidieri is from Wikipedia, and ultimately from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, species assessors and the authors of the spatial data.

Old Britannica

Quagga mare

This Google Books section of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, about Africa, is from such an old edition that it gives the range of the quagga! Africa.

“The quagga, exclusively African, inhabits the most southern parts of the continent, and is scarcely found north of the Orange river, but occurs in great herds, associated with the white-tailed gnu. The zebra (Equus Burchellii), or zebra of the plains, is widely distributed over Africa, from the limit of the quagga to Abyssinia and the west coast; the zebra of the mountains (Equus zebra), more completely striped than the rest, is known only in South Africa. The true onager or aboriginal wild ass is indigenous to North-East Africa and the island of Socotra. A species inhabiting the high land of Abyssinia is distinct from these.

…the Cape buffalo, a species peculiar to Africa, reaches as far north as a line from Guinea to Abyssinia; the Bos Brachycerus is a species peculiar to West Africa, from Senegal to the Gaboon. Of sheep, the Ovis Tragelaphus is peculiar to North Africa; the Ibex goat extends into Abyssinia. the family of the antelope is essentially African, five-sixths of the species composing it being natives of that country, and chiefly of the portion lying south of the Sahara, occurring in dense herds. Lastly, the giraffe, one of the most celebrated and characteristic of African quadrupeds, ranges from the limits of the Cape Colony as far as the Sahara and Nubia.

Of Edentata the seven species known to occur in Africa are also peculiar to it. The aardvark (Orycteropus capensis) is essentially burrowing in its habits….

A genus of moles is met with in South Africa, but is not found in the tropical regions. The Cape or gilded mole, chryso-chlore, is so called from its iridescent glossy fur; two or three species of hedgehog occur in the continent, and Madagascar has a peculiar family resembling those in appearance, but without the power of rolling up into a ball for defence. Bats are numerous in Africa, but few are peculiar to it.

Of Rodenta the burrowing kinds prevail. The African species of porcupine are known in the the northern and western coast-lands and in South-Eastern Africa. The hyrax extends over Eastern Africa and a portion of the west coast. Hares are only known in the countries north of the Sahara and in the Cape colony. Among squirrels, those with bristles or spines in their fur are peculiar to the southern regions of the continent….

The ostrich, the hugest of birds… is found in almost every part of Africa. But its chief home is the desert and the open plains; mountainous districts it avoids, unless pressed by hunger. The beautiful white feathers, so highly prized by the ladies of Europe, are found in the wings of the male bird. The chase is not without its difficulties, as it requires the greatest care to get within musket-shot of the bird, owing to its constant vigilance and the great distance to which it can see. The fleetest horse, too, will not overtake it unless stratagem be adopted to tire it out. If followed up too eagerly, the chase of the ostrich is not destitute of danger; for the huntsman has sometimes had his thigh-bone broken by a single stroke from the leg of a wounded bird.

The large messenger or secretary-bird, which preys upon serpents and other reptiles, si one of the most remarkable African birds. It is common near the Cape, and is not seldom domesticated. Of gallinaceous fowls, adapted to the poultry-yard, Africa possesses but a single genus, the guinea-hens, which, however, are found in no other part of the world. These birds, of which there are three or four distinct species, go in large flocks of 400 or 500, and are most frequently found among underwood in the vicinity of ponds and rivers.

Bonus quotation: “Plants of the proteus tribe also add to the extraordinary variety in the vegetable physiognomy of that region.”

The quagga was hunted to extinction in the wild in the 1870s, exact date not noticed, and the last known quagga died in the London Zoo in 1883. The only photograph of a live quagga was taken at the London Zoo in 1870.

Cougars in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Eastern Cougar in Michigan

In 2009, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources confirmed signs of an eastern cougar on the upper peninsula. In two places, tracks were found and verified by Department workers and a motion-sensing trail camera took a picture of a cougar. Together, they’re proof that the cougar, Felis concolor, has returned to the U.P.

Red squirrel!

A small red squirrel sitting on a fence made of boards

I’ve heard that red squirrels are about as common as the larger black or grey species, but I’ve never seen one in the city before. This one is behind the Mount Pleasant Library in Toronto.

Pleistocene fauna of Malta

Go to Tetrapod Zoology to read about giant swans and tiny elephants.

Animals and domestication

I once read that cats and dogs were commensals (ate at our table); both had jobs to do (cats hunting rodents, dogs warning, hunting, herding, guarding, antiwolf-wolf, etc.). Animals kept and tamed for meat, milk, wool/hair, hides, bearing burdens are domesticated. Animals kept for fur are mostly wild animals kept in cages. The one attempt to breed more docile foxes also gave them neotenous traits like floppy ears and spotted coats. That breeding program, 40 years old or more, is still struggling along despite a desperate lack of funds in the former U.S.S.R.

Oddly no one seems to have taken credit for domesticating the pig, unless it’s the farmers of New Guinea. At least one author hypothesized that they just moved in with us as equals.

I understand that a ferret is a domesticated polecat(?).

But when we consider the odd friendships that animals sometimes form with each other, it’s not surprising that almost everything has been kept as a pet/friend/household member.

Extreme Home Makeover: Forever Wild Animal Sanctuary

tiger-profileThe Extreme Home Makeover folks took as its project the dilapidated home and small animal cages of a wild animal sanctuary. Forever Wild Animal Sanctuary in California has been taking in unwanted and abused animals, mostly exotic large cats, from for several years. As they struggled to make ends meet, they couldn’t afford repairs on their own house.

The Extreme Makeover team recruited about a hundred volunteers. Sponsors supplied earthmoving and construction equipment. The family, parents Joel and Charmain Almquist and four daughters from teen to toddler, were sent on vacation to Costa Rica. The team demolished the house and built a new, larger home with solar panels on the roof. Each child’s bedroom was a personal space that reflected the child’s interests.  The house became a secure sanctuary and change of pace. The local community college and university offered four-year scholarships for each of the children.

While the family was away, the team took one of the tigers for surgery to cure its longstanding paw injuries from “de-clawing” and relieve it of constant pain.

They built a learning centre for educating the public. The learning centre will enable Forever Wild to bring in school tours. There are new terrariums for the exotic (venemous) snakes. It also has a food preparation area and large fridges, so that the family can prepare 300 lb of meat a day for their animals. Each animal had a new sign with its picture, name, and story.

They made larger cages with more space for the animals and an animal playground for the tigers. They wove cat beds from indestructible used fire hoses.

The builders and volunteers collected $50,000 for maintaining the learning centre.  It was a fitting reward for the years of hard work and caring put in by the Almquists.

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