Tag Archives: pop culture

The addax – a desert specialist

addax-nasomaculatus-white-screwhorn-antelope

addax-nasomaculatus-white-screwhorn-antelope

Addax – the screw-horned antelope

One of the defining movies of my childhood was Jamie Uys’ 1974 nature documentary Animals Are Beautiful People. I remember the opening shots showing the sand dunes and flats of the Namib desert and the narrator’s voice: ‘The oldest and driest desert of the world…. You’d think nobody could make a living here.’ And then the movie shows the incredible animals and plants inhabiting that hostile and seemingly empty environment; and shows the other, ephemeral face of the desert by filming how the Kalahari turns into a meadow for a few weeks after a rain.

The Sahara – largest of all (non-polar) deserts – doesn’t appear in this movie; but the wildlife of the over 10 million km2 area (together with its southern Sahelian fringes) is just as uniquely adapted to the complex mosaic of arid and semi-arid lands of rocky plateaus, sandy dunes, basins, depressions, wadi systems, gravelly plans, arid grasslands and mountain ranges. Thanks to the extreme conditions these habitats have remained largely undisturbed by humans, and the main threat to the survival of most of the wildlife is the recent severe drought. For the last few hundred thousand years, the climate and the vegetation of the Sahara has alternated between hot desert and savanna grassland – this phenomenon is attributed to a 41 000 year cycle caused by the 2.5° precession of the Earth’s axis. Although currently we are in the dry period – with the next wet period expected in 15 000 years – the long droughts of the 1960-80s are considered rather extreme and induced a catastrophic expansion of desertification over the entire region with direct and collateral consequences affecting both the flora and the fauna of the desert.

sand-dunes-desert-grasses-erg-Chebbi-Northern-Sahara-Marocco

sand-dunes-desert-grasses-erg-Chebbi-Northern-Sahara-Marocco

Desert dunes of the Erg Chebbi in Northern Sahara
©Copyright  Ali Eminov / CC BY-NC 2.0 

Unfortunately there is one group of Saharan animals threatened not only by the extreme drought: large mammal species of the desert have been heavily overhunted in the last century with modern arms. The populations of these species are rapidly declining; many of them are facing the imminent threat of extinction. One of the critically endangered species is the Addax – or white antelope – with fewer than 100 individuals living in the wild.

Range: The addax was historically widespread throughout large areas of the Sahara and its bordering Sahelian grasslands, but over the past century and particularly over the last few decades the range of the species has been drastically decreasing. Once found in all countries sharing the Sahara Desert, today there’s only one remaining addax population in the wild in the Termit/Tin Toumma region – a narrow band of desert between eastern Niger and the Djourab sand sea in western Chad -; with some occasional vagrants in southern Algeria and a possible small group in central Mauritania, based on unconfirmed reports.
A few hundred addaxes have been reintroduced into fenced enclosures in their former range and habitat in Tunisia and Morocco, with slowly increasing numbers. The captive population is estimated to be around 6000 individuals globally (in Europe, North-America, Japan, Australia and the Middle East); partly in managed breeding programs of zoos, partly in private collections and on ranches in the USA where they are kept and bred for hunting.

The addax used to inhabit all major habitat types of the Sahara
©Copyright Coke Smith

Habitat: Addaxes are desert-dwellers, the species has been recorded in all major habitat types of the Sahara except the mountainous areas; they inhabit even the most arid territories with extreme temperatures and less than 100 mm annual rainfall. They have a preference for firmer sand sheets and flatter areas between sandy dune fields where they can graze on ephemeral annual pastures and more permanent perennial vegetation.
The addax is a nomadic species with movements following the food source available at the moment – they penetrate deep into the central arid Sahara after rainfall makes the desert bloom and move out of the desert to the bordering Sahel regions during the drought to find shade and grazing.

Critically endangered addax antelope
©Copyright Coke Smith

Description: The addax (Addax nasomaculatus) – besides the rhim gazelle, also endangered – is the most desert-adapted African antelope: it has anatomical, physiological and behavioral characteristics allowing the utilization of extremely desolate, inhospitable and arid habitats. The species is also known as screw-horned antelope: its most recognizable feature is the beautiful, long spiral double horn that can reach over one meter in length with one to three twists.
Male addaxes have a shoulder height of about 95-115 cm and a body weight of around 100-125 kg – females are a bit smaller and lighter. They have a stocky build, relatively short and sturdy legs for an antelope, and broad hooves with flat soles and strong dewclaws suitable for traveling efficiently on sandy terrain – they have adapted to endurance of extreme conditions of the desert rather than to speed. The coat of the addax changes seasonally: in the hot summer it is almost white to reflect radiant heat; in winter it turns into smoky grey while the belly, the legs and the hindquarters remain white. They have dark brown hairs between the horns and a conspicuous X shaped white mask over their greyish nose. They have a short, slender tail ending in a tuft of black hair.

addax-antelope-portrait

addax-antelope-portrait


Portrait of an addax
©Copyright Josh More  / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0  

Addaxes are primarily grazers, eating mainly grasses; but they also consume leaves of shrubs, leguminous herbs and bushes, water-storing plants such as melons and tubers, perennials turning green after the rain, and – if there are no grasses available – they browse leaves of small trees like Acacia too. The addax has physiological functions highly adapted to desert life; these antelopes are able to survive without water utilizing only the moisture from their food and the dew that condenses on plants. They conserve the moisture by excreting dry feces and concentrated urine and they are able to tolerate a daily rise of 6 °C in their body temperature before they need to resort to nasal panting to cool down. They feed at night and early morning and spend the day resting in shaded areas and depressions that provide them protection from direct heat of the sun and sandstorms.

The addax is the most desert adapted African antelope
©Copyright Coke Smith

Addaxes are social animals, herds usually contain up to 20 members – both male and female -, with a strong social structure based on age and led by the oldest female. Breeding peaks during winter and early spring, females deliver one calf after a 9 month gestation period.

addax-female-baby-calf-nursing-winter-color

addax-female-baby-calf-nursing-winter-color

Female addax and calf in winter colors
©Copyright Greg Goebel / CC BY-SA 2.0

Threats: The addax has been hunted historically with traditional methods for its meet, skin and horns by nomad peoples of the desert and by European trophy hunters; but the rapid decline of the population started at the end of the 1940s with the advent of the lethal combination of modern firearms and off-road vehicles. The extreme drought periods of the second half of the 1900s resulted in general reduction of pasture lands, forcing the addax from the more secure arid area to the Sahelian steppes where it was more exposed to exploitation.

By the beginning of the 21th century the number of addaxes plummeted to near extinction – the wild population was estimated to be around a few hundred individuals. During the last two decades growing regional insecurity, migrants, and the illicit trade of arms and drugs has significantly increased the traffic and illegal hunting in the remote, formerly undisturbed habitats of the addax. Poaching has also increased because of hunting by mining, military and administrative personnel of the Chinese oil industry’s installations in Niger, the last remaining reserve of the addax.

The Termit/Tin Toumma region in Niger is the last reserve of the wild addaxes
©Copyright Coke Smith

In spring 2016, an extensive aerial and ground survey of the experts of the IUCN and the Sahara Conservation Found had found only three individuals in the Termit/Tin Toumma Reserve of Niger – an area considered as the key habitat of the addax. Fortunately later that year and during 2017 new surveys in Chad and Niger revealed a few small groups – still less than hundred individuals – of addaxes, giving hope that with joint efforts and engagement of the governments and wildlife services of both countries and with the expert help of several conservationist groups an effective action plan can be implemented to save this remaining population.

 

The addax poster at the top of this post is available in my store on Redbubble, with design variations more suitable for apparel and other products. My whole profit goes to the Sea Shepherd to support their fight to protect our oceans and marine wildlife. 

 

Winter is coming…

My feelings about G. R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones stories are a bit…well, complicated.

I started to read the first book more than ten years ago and I loved it at first – it’s very intelligent storytelling about an amazingly interesting imaginary world with compelling, diverse characters all around.
And then Ned Stark was killed off in a way that made me refuse to continue reading… I mean, it was obvious from the beginning that it’s not one of those stories where everything turns good at the end and all the heroes ride into the sunset and live happily ever after. And I suspected when the Starks moved to the South that it will end very badly for him, but the emotional cruelness of the circumstances leading to his death knocked me out – at the end he was forced to give up his true self for nothing, just because he couldn’t accept the reality about some of his family members and friends.

old abandoned derelict tower bells under pale sky white light from above through the arches snow covered hills rolling first snow hay bales on the farm field with barn

old abandoned derelict tower bells under pale sky white light from above through the arches snow covered hills rolling first snow hay bales on the farm field with barn

I know that’s nothing uncommon, it has happened and will happen again and again in history and in our everyday lives (though, usually with less severe consequences ;-)), but somehow that anger I felt just made me not want to connect to the characters anymore. So – though I was very curious about how the story will unfold – I stopped reading.

Years later, when the series started on TV I couldn’t resist watching some episodes from time to time and I kept reading the news and spoilers to follow the story – but I always kept the distance, I just didn’t want to invest emotionally anymore.
Maybe, someday, I will start the books again…

lonely tree standing in winter snow top of the hill with a wolf in silent snowfall snow covered snow laden branches blue sky wind still garden gate wrought iron hedges

lonely tree standing in winter snow top of the hill with a wolf in silent snowfall snow covered snow laden branches blue sky wind still garden gate wrought iron hedges

Anyway, one of the details of Martin’s world that got my imagination was the idea of the ever returning severe winters of unpredictable length.

Where I live, winter weather can be rather erratic: some years we have only a few snowy days and the temperature is around zero; some years the country is covered with snow for weeks or months, with freezing cold.

winter sky with snowfall and snowflakes flying birds ravens crying crows forest behind the ice wall stone church fields misty fog lake shore through the clouds

winter sky with snowfall and snowflakes flying birds ravens crying crows forest behind the ice wall stone church fields misty fog lake shore through the clouds

I’m not a fan of cold, but I love snow – the first snow that turns the land into shades of blue and white; the silent snowfall overnight with huge snowflakes, sitting on my rooftop window so thick that I wake up in the morning to the unusual silence; I love to drink my morning coffee sitting by the terrace door looking out to the snowy garden and I love the days when the snow just keeps falling and eventually the city gives up, all traffic stops and life slows down. I love to cross the river walking over the bridge and stop for a while to watch the ice floes floating at the surface of the cold water; and going to the snow covered woods and fields for my daily running is one of my favorite things, especially when there’s no wind at all and all the branches and twigs of the trees are packed with heavy layers of snow.

winter sky with snowfall and snowflakes flying birds ravens crying crows forest behind the ice wall stone church fields misty fog lake shore through the clouds

winter sky with snowfall and snowflakes flying birds ravens crying crows forest behind the ice wall stone church fields misty fog lake shore through the clouds

(…I certainly don’t love snow when it’s transformed into the greyish mass that later hardens on the roadside so dense it can survive even the first few weeks of spring weather, but that comes with the package if you live in the city…)

And no matter how cold or snowy winter is, after around 4 month there’s always spring coming…

But what if we wouldn’t know how long next winter will last? What if it would stay for years; with short days and long nights, never ending snowfalls, frozen rivers and lakes; covering everything with a heavy snow blanket?

I had these questions and thoughts often on my mind while creating my winter landscape collection and eventually this gave the title of the series: Winter is coming…

 

You can find out more about the story of the individual images by clicking on them in my gallery. They are available as art print in different sizes in my store, with a 30 day money-back guarantee.

Dodo – the emblem of extinction

dodo the emblem of extinction

dodo the emblem of extinction


Dodo – the emblem of extinction

The dodo is probably the most famous in the long line of extinct animals of the last few hundreds of years. Being the species that made humankind realize the fact that an animal can actually and permanently disappear from existence because of the impacts of human civilization made the dodo a generally known icon of extinction; and appearing as a character in Lewis Carroll’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and in the popular animated movie franchise Ice Age established its prominent position in modern pop culture.

Date of extinction: The last widely accepted sighting of a dodo dates to 1662.

Range: The dodo was endemic to Mauritius, a small island in the Indian Ocean about 2000 km off the southeast coast of the African continent, east of Madagascar.

Habitat: Natural rainforests at the coastal area of the volcanic island with tropical, humid climate.

Cause of extinction: With the arrival (1598) and settling of the Dutch sailors, the rainforests of the island were gradually destroyed and replaced by plantations of imported crops (sugar cane, rice, tobacco, citrus trees etc.) to cater to the needs of the drastically increasing human population. With its natural habitat disappearing rapidly, the flightless, tame bird was hunted to extinction by the predators – dogs, cats, rats, pigs and macaques – introduced to the island by the settlers. According to prevalent opinion the settlers themselves also consumed the dodo’s meet, though recent archaeological investigations have found scant evidence of human predation.

George Edward's Dodo painting

George Edward’s Dodo painting


One of the most copied but incorrect depictions of the dodo:
Roelant Savory’s painting of ornithologist George Edwards’ stuffed specimen, around 1620

Description: Recent scientific examinations also show that the common portrayal of the dodo in literature and pop culture as the archetype of the plump, gluttony, dumb(ish) bird is largely incorrect. Descriptions about the bird from the 17th century are contradictory regarding the details (colors, plumage, tail, beak etc.) of its look, with only a few – rather poor quality – drawings made of wild individuals. The numerous depictions created in the later centuries either copy the few originals made of living dodos brought to Europe and overfed in captivity or were made of badly stuffed specimens. These stuffed specimens were all damaged or lost during the centuries until only a dried head and a foot remained with soft tissue (in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History); along with a few dozen of incomplete and composite skeletons und subfossils mainly found in the excavations of the Mare aux Songes swamp in Southern Mauritius around 1865 and 2005.

Dodo skeleton Durrell Wildlife Park

Dodo skeleton Durrell Wildlife Park


A composite dodo skeleton from the Durrell Wildlife Park,
© Josh More – www.starmind.org 

Based on the scientific and forensic examinations of these remains and the few legit depictions of living specimens in the 17th century in Europe and India, dodos were neither particularly fat nor dumb – their build and brain size agrees with the parameters of bird species living in similar habitats and conditions. The dodo was about 1 meter tall and weighed about 15 kg; his closest relatives are Asian pigeons but the dodo adapted perfectly to a life on an isolated island with no predators and evolved to a flightless bird with short wings, a bulky body, stubby, strong legs and strong, crooked beak.

accurate dodo depiction Mughal Ustad Mansur India

accurate dodo depiction Mughal Ustad Mansur India


One of the few more accurate dodo depictions from India
by Ustad Mansur c. 1625

However, as the skeletons don’t really provide any clue about the outer details, fact is that after 350 years of its disappearance we have only speculations about how exactly the dodo could look like…

 

The dodo poster at the top of this post is available in my store on Redbubble, with design variations more suitable for apparel and other products. My whole profit goes to the Sea Shepherd to support their fight to protect our oceans and marine wildlife.