Page 10 - Animal Facts

Zimbabwe decided to promote the ivory trade to save African elephants--and it worked! How?

One of the funny things about trying different approaches to a problem is that sometimes the outcomes can be what you would least expect. That could not have been truer for some conservationists.

In 1989, they voted to end the ivory trade to save African elephants. The decision seemed smart. Banning the ivory trade would ensure that the market for ivory products would go away. But people always find ways to bypass the rules, and the illegal ivory trade did not go away. A black market simply emerged, endangering elephants further.

Zimbabwe decided to do the exact opposite by promoting the ivory trade. Private individuals can own and breed elephants. Because it is to their interest to make money from ivory, the owners are sure to take care of the elephants and not kill them. Or to put it another way, when something is owned by everybody, it's really owned by nobody. Therefore, people who own something as collective property don't feel personally responsible for it.

Other African nations have since followed Zimbabwe's lead. In some countries in Southern Africa, the elephant population has risen 40%. In contrast, their numbers continue to shrink in areas of the continent where they are considered the collective property of nations.


Old World vultures and New World vultures are not closely related. So why are they so similar?

Vultures can be found on every continent in the world except Antarctica and Australia. Broadly, they are divided into two groups: Old World vultures and New World vultures (with other nuances). Despite their many similarities, they are not closely related. Rather, their close resemblance is a result and classic example of convergent evolution.

If you need to brush up on your biology lessons from bygone school days, perhaps a review of what convergent evolution means is in order. It means that two species become more similar to each other over time; they acquire characteristics that were not present in their last common ancestor.

Typically, convergent evolution occurs because both species are being acted upon by a similar set of environmental pressures.

Over vast periods of time, vultures that had the most desirable qualities for aiding survival passed them on through reproduction. Meanwhile, those who were not so fit died out and ceased passing their genes on.

One example of convergence in vultures is the bald head (where they do not have normal feathers). Although diverse species of vultures have bald heads, the feather-less head developed separately in those species to serve the same purpose, which is to help the animals from becoming overheated.


This famous tortoise lived for almost 200 years. How do these animals live so long?

Tortoises generally have the longest lifespan of any animal; it's not uncommon for them to live past their 150th birthdays. In fact, there are some cultures, such as the Chinese culture, in which the tortoise has come to symbolize long life.

In situations where the age of a tortoise is unknown, there are usually some clues. The number of concentric rings on the carapace is a good bit of evidence, although it does come with its limitations. For example, if food and water are always readily available, that can limit the appearance of rings. In other circumstances, simple wear and tear can remove any visible traces of rings.

Now let's look at the case of a tortoise named Tu'I Malila. The animal was given as a gift by British explorer Captain Cook to the royal family of Tonga in 1777 shortly after it was born. It died in the relatively recent year of 1965.

If you don't want to do the math yourself, that would make Tu'I Malila 188 years old at the time of it's death. To be sure, this gift outlasted many generations of the royal family.

The picture here is of the preserved remains of Tu'I Malila.


Some awesome lists!

Queen ants are the longest living insect—they can live up to 30 years!

We have the perception that insects live short lives—cursed with 24-48 hour lifespans to be born, reproduce, and die. Turns out the queen ant manages to live a long, healthy 30 years.

The queens have the most important role at any colony—they are the main reproducing female for an ant colony, mother to all the swarms of ants you see on a hill. Sometimes they even manage to reproduce asexually or by cloning—or do it the old fashioned way in a nuptial flight to produce larvae.

They have the longest life-spans of any insect known to man at a ripe 30 years. An ant was held in captivity by German Entomologists for 28 and three-quarter years, while another is known to be able to live 30 years in the field.

But the royal title is merely a facade. They don't get to control the colony, just birth it. If you think of an ant colony as a single, functioning being, the queen ant would be the reproductive organs—that manage to outlive any other part of the body.


There's a museum in Russia that employs cats—they even get their own photo IDs!

The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg employs cats with their own IDs and everything! The museum has been employing felines since it was founded in 1764. Their jobs? To guard the artwork against rodents.

Rodents can easily be taken care of today with chemicals, but that wasn't always the case. Throughout the museum's history, there have been multiple times when cats have been absent from the museum, and rodents always became a problem. Now they are kept around because the cats are a living legend and the museum's unofficial mascot.

The museum "employs" up to 60 cats at a time. They rely on donations from museum patrons and employees to pay for the cats' food and medical care, if needed, as the museum's official budget doesn't stipulate any funds for the cats.

It's not a lack of money that limits the number of cats at 60, though. If the number of cats exceeds 60, they start cat fights and neglect their duties.

These cats, dubbed "hermits," are well-respected by both staff and citizens of St. Petersburg. There is even a day set aside each year called "Hermitage Cat Day," which is marked on the museum's memorable date calendar. On this day, the museum features a large number of informative exhibitions and contests.



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