Endangered species

Saturday, 18 August 2012 01:27 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Universally, the problem of endangered species is being discussed all the time. The United Nations has been highlighting the need for the protection of the endangered species throughout the world for the past decade through the release of stamps regularly.

The 20th set of stamps on the subject in the United Nations Postal Administration’s (UNPA) multi-year series was issued recently. The series was originally launched on 3 March 1993.

In the twentieth anniversary issue, the UNPA has included three universally recognised and loved animals from previous years. They are the giant panda, the Siberian tiger and the snow leopard. There are eight others in the issue.

A member of the bear family, the giant panda is universally admired for its appealing markings and seemingly gentle demeanour. It is a robust animal with heavy shoulders and a distinctive black and white coat. Feeding mainly on bamboo, it is well known for its ‘thumb’ which is actually a modified wrist bone that enables it to grasp bamboo stalks dextrously.

Now restricted to six mountain ranges in western China, the giant panda’s decline is mainly due to large tracts being cleared for agriculture, timber and firewood to meet the needs of the large and growing population.

One of the largest ‘big cats,’ the Siberian tiger is one of nine different subspecies of the tiger, three of which have become extinct. The Siberian tiger – the largest and palest subspecies – now survives only in scattered populations from India to Southeast Asia and in Sumatra, China and the Russian Far East.

It is described as a ‘stalk and ambush’ predator, with its coat providing camouflage in tall grass and forest. It hunts mainly at night and its principal prey is deer and wild pigs. Tigers are competent swimmers and can be found lying half-submerged in streams and lakes in the midday heat.

The beautiful snow leopard is a white to smoky-grey colour, with yellow tinged fur and patterned dark-grey to black rosettes and spots. It has many adaptations for its cold habitat including long body hair and thick, woolly belly fur, large paws and a well-developed chest and enlarged nasal cavity that warms to cold air as it is breathed in.

The long, thick tail is almost a metre long and is used for balance and as added insulation when wrapped around the body and face at rest.  The majority of these animals are located in the Tibetan region of China. Its prey is mainly wild sheep and goats although livestock is also taken.

The other species featured in the stamps are:

Endemic to Madagascar, the short-horned chameleon has as its most striking and distinctive feature large ear-like lobes on the back part of the head and a short bony appendage that projects from the snout of the male.

Oncilla or little spotted cat is found in the tropical rain forests of Central and South America. They are agile climbers and excellent hunters with exceptionally long tails for negotiating tree tops. They are nocturnal animals feeding on rodents, small primates, birds, insects and reptiles.

Cotton-headed tamarin is one of South America’s most endangered primates. With a fantastic crest of long white hair flowing around the black face, this small monkey has a long tail which assists in balance.

Painted tiger-parrot is endemic to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea and is around 19cm in length including the tail. The head is brownish red with more greyish-brown on the cheeks and ears.  There is a narrow yellow band round the neck.

Green iguana has a very distinctive appearance with a large head and a pronounced dewlap (a fold of loose skin hanging below the throat). The impressive crest of comb-like spines runs down the centre of the back and tail. It is seen in the Mexican states of Sinaloa and Veracruz, Central Amerca and South America.

Golden-crowned sifaka is the smallest in the family and is endemic to Madagascar.

Bornean-peacock pheasant endemic to Borneo is a strikingly beautiful but elusive bird.

Australian masked owl has dark eyes set in a prominent flat, heart-shaped facial disc that is encircled by a dark border.

Axolotl, native to the ancient water channel system of Mexico City, prefers deep salty water with plenty of vegetation. It exhibits an unusual and extreme trait known as neoteny or paedomorphosis which means the retention of larval stage characteristics throughout its life.