Wild Tracks

On behalf of the world's wild species

Category Archives: Ungulates

Feature Tee: Giraffe Mum and Baby

Mum & Baby Giraffe T Shirt

Aaaw…How sweet is this giraffe t shirt? It’s the perfect gift for those who love these big guys. 100% preshrunk cotton. Sage green tee. Adult sizes M, L, XL.

Item LT003 $15.75 US


Youngsters and Mud Puddles

It’s a well known fact that children of all ages find it hard to resist a mud puddle. Little tots will go out of their way to be able to slosh through water, and I admit to doing the same thing myself. I guess it’s something we never outgrow!

Apparently humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy a good puddle. This young elk looks like he’s having the time of his life in this video. I just have this mental image of his mother standing out of frame, patiently waiting for her little guy…

Twin Baby Moose Play in Sprinkler

There is nothing I can say to add to the absolute delight of watching this video! This backyard visit took place in Alaska, and all I can say is that I would love visitors like this in my yard.

Reindeer Decline – Is Rudolph In Trouble?

Canadian caribou

Canadian caribou

Millions of adults and children across the continent can recite Rudolph The Red-nosed Reindeer in its entirety. It is as much a part of the holiday season as gifts and highly decorated trees.

The real life Rudolphs in the world are called reindeer or caribou, and their numbers are declining around the world,

Reindeer and caribou all belong to the same species. Caribou live in Canada, Alaska and Greenland, while reindeer live in Russia, Norway, Sweden and Finland.

Historically, these animals have been incredibly important to indigenous groups in the north. Unfortunately it is now growing trickier for the deer to live in a world growing hotter from climate change, and altered by industrial development.

Vors and Mark Boyce at the University of Alberta contacted other researchers around the globe and researched reports and government statistics for all the data they could find about reindeer and caribou populations. They stockpiled information on 58 major herds in the Northern Hemisphere.

The scientists were stunned to find that 34 of the herds were falling, while no information was available for 16 others. Only eight herds saw an increase in population. A few herd’s numbers had been falling at least a decade.

Climate change is the most important factor in the decline of Arctic caribou and reindeer, while habitat loss is the most important threat to non-migratory woodland caribou.

The climate change means much warmer summers, which causes more insect activity, and caribou and reindeer that are bothered by bugs cannot feed as well to put on weight prior to winter. Springs that arrive earlier mean plants are dying when the migrating animals reach them, while the freezing rains of the warmer winters create ice on the ground. The caribou and reindeer get to their feeding areas, and then starve.

There likely will be more forest fires in woodland caribou habitat, as well as diseases and parasites transmitted to caribou from white-tailed deer, whose range is expanding northward in Canada. More roads are being built in the Arctic, as well as infrastructures like diamond mines, and these sometimes interfere with migration routes.

The habitat and the climate are changing too quickly for these animals to adapt. Unless something is done soon, all seven sub-species of caribou/reindeer will eventually die off.

Yes, Rudolph is indeed in trouble.

Screwing With Ecosystems

Officials in Australia thought they had a good idea when they brought in the first cane toads. Various governments in Europe have eradicated their predators, and then complained bitterly when the rabbit population exploded.

Have we learned nothing?

States in the western USA are now contemplating the removal of the grey wolf from protection under the Endangered Species Act. Taking away this protection would mean ranchers could legally blast every wolf they see to kingdom come – something they really like doing.

If delisting does occur, Wyoming and Idaho have announced their intention to reduce wolf numbers by 50% and 80%, respectively. At present, there are an estimated 300 wolves in Wyoming and 700 in Idaho. That’s a wolf slaughter of 150 + 560 animals.

Wolves, or any other predators for that matter, do not exist in a vacuum. They have a purpose, and that purpose affects the entire ecosystem.

For starters, fewer wolves mean more coyotes. Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society working in Yellowstone followed radio-collared coyotes at both wolf-abundant and wolf-free locations. They found that while coyotes were more numerous than wolves in locations where the two exist, coyote densities were more than 30″% lower in areas they share with wolves.

The smaller coyotes apparently hold their own by living in packs. Transient coyotes without the support of a pack were more likely to fall prey to wolves, with 56% of transient coyote mortality being attributable to wolves.

Male pronghorn antelope

Male pronghorn antelope

Fewer wolves also translates into few pronghorn antelope. It seems one of the favorite prey species of the coyote is pronghorn lambs. The bigger wolves don’t spend much time hunting, what would be for them, a small snack. As a result, pronghorn fawns have higher survival rates when wolves are present in an ecosystem.

While pronghorn are not endangered, the population that summers in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, was reduced to fewer than 200 animals in recent years. Since wolves were reintroduced in 1995, the pronghorn population has increased by approximately 50%.

This has all happened before. Officials somewhere decide to kill the wolves. A few years later, the same officials are crying because they are overrun with deer. So they decide to kill the deer. Then they discover their populations of wolf, bear, and other top predators are dangerously low. So they protect the predators again.

If humans would just stop screwing with ecosystems everything would balance itself out. Apparently, it’s not a lesson anyone has learned yet. At this point, I doubt if they ever will.

Ants vs Giraffes

Giraffe mum & baby t shirt

Giraffe mum & baby t shirt

Giraffes are well known as the tallest animals on land, reaching up to 17 feet tall. And we all know how big ants are.

Giraffes are adapted to exploit a food source out of reach of other hoofed animals. They feed almost entirely on leaves of acacia, mimosa, and wild apricot trees. The 18 inch purple tongue is wrapped around a branch and as the head is pulled away, leaves are stripped off.

Acacia trees have leaves that contain tannins, which are thought to serve as deterrents to browsing animals. They are also defended by spines, One species of acacia though, has more determined defenders.

Four species of ants have a strong symbiotic relationship with the Whistling thorn acacia, aggressively defending trees from herbivores while relying heavily on swollen-thorns for shelter and feeding off nectar produced by glands near the base of leaves.

The ants actually compete for exclusive usage of a given tree, and some species employ tactics to reduce the chance of a hostile ant invasion. Some trim the buds of trees to reduce lateral growth in trees, thereby reducing chances of contact with a neighboring tree. Others destroy the nectar glands in order to make a tree less appealing to other species.

A recent field study in Kenya looked at the relationship between giraffes, ants and the Whistling thorn acacia tree. The common name of the tree is derived from the whistling noise made when wind blows over bulbous thorns in which ants have made entry/exit holes.

Scientists found that trees over 4.5 feet were more likely to be occupied by aggressive ants than shorter trees. The ants were concentrated on shoot tips, which are the parts of the tree preferred by giraffes. Trees with more foliage had more ants than trees with fewer leaves.

Giraffe calves exhibited a strong sensitivity to the ants, feeding for shorter periods on trees with a greater number of aggressive insects. Older giraffes however, were less sensitive to the ants, and did not shorten their feeding times on heavily infested trees.

You have to feel for these ants. Here they are, looking after the tree while going about the business of daily living. All of a sudden this 17 foot animal shows up and bam – no more ants and no more foliage. Giraffes 1 – Ants 0.

On the other hand, when trees are not heavily eaten by giraffes, the trees reduce the number of nectar glands they provide to ants. In response, the ants increase their farming of sap-sucking insects as a replacement food. Ants 1 – Trees 0.

So a healthy, hungry population of giraffes is a good thing for all concerned. More giraffes means more ants which means healthier trees. Who knew?!


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