The revelation of the answer is today, 15th May, as it is Endangered Species Day.
That gives a clue as to what links three of these mammals – three of them are threatened from human activity.
So the animal which is not currently threatened with extinction is …drum roll please….
Number 3: the common squirrel monkey!
Common squirrel monkeys are endemic to South America. Though once thought to be one species they have recently been split into three. They are not considered to be threatened and have even increased their range due to human activity, with escaped monkeys having established populations in Florida. When you are able to visit the Booth museum again, look out for the skeleton of the common squirrel monkey in the New World monkeys display.
Despite their conservation status, their Amazon habitat is under increased threat from logging and agriculture. They are also targeted for the pet trade, which has pushed many species around the world towards extinction. So their current status could change if we continue to exploit them.
Threatened with Extinction
The three other mammals are linked, as they are threatened with extinction from poaching, habitat loss and other pressures caused by humans. They are:
The Okapi (1) is native to the Congo jungle. It was unknown in the West until the 20th century. Specimens were so rare that F.W. Lucas (who’s collection makes up the Booth Museum’s bone collection) had to settle for a plaster cast of its skull. Though it has zebra stripes on its hind, it is most closely related to the giraffe. This is why it is also known as the forest giraffe.
Though they are protected under Congolese and international law, the instability of the region means that they suffer from high levels of illegal poaching and habitat loss from illegal mining and logging, as well as from legal commercial and residential developments.
Though zoos can be divisive, for species endemic to unstable regions, well managed conservation using zoos can be a vital lifeline to saving endangered species until their native range can be stabilised.
Red Pandas (2) are native to the Eastern Himalayan regions including Nepal, China and Bhutan. Like their namesake the giant panda, they mostly consume bamboo, but they are completely unrelated to giant pandas, which are bears. Red pandas are more closely related to raccoons.
The Booth Museum holds a skin (processed from a zoo animal, who died naturally) and you can feel just how thick the fur is to keep the animal warm in its mountain environment. Sadly this is one of the reasons they are threatened as they are illegally hunted for their fur. They are also affected by habitat loss from other human activities, both legal and illegal. Conservation efforts in their natural range are supported by an extensive zoo based species survival plan over a global network of 254 institutions.
The Snow Leopard (4) is also found in the Himalayan region, living in mountainous terrain above the snowline. These big cats are vulnerable to extinction from a number of factors, but most significantly from poaching for skins as well as body parts for use in traditional medicine (once again this ‘medical’ use has no effect). Their habitat is also threatened from climate change – warming temperatures are pushing the tree line higher up the Himalayas and could see the snow leopard’s habitat shrink by 30%.
Local conservation is lead by members of the Global Snow Leopard Forum. They are supported by captive conservation breeding across zoos worldwide, with young bred successfully in a number of zoos, including the Highland Wildlife Park in Scotland, and Melbourne Zoo in Australia.
The Booth Museum received one of the snow leopards housed at Marwell zoo after it died, and the skeleton of that animal has now been mounted ready for future exhibition.
Though only three cute and appealing endangered mammals were chosen for this blog, there are currently over 31,000 species threatened with extinction. Please consider helping your favourite conservation organisations, consider your day to day habits and behaviour, and pressure government and lawmakers into protecting wildlife more. Because conservation can bring species back from the brink with consistent effort and support.
Lee Ismail, Curator of Natural Sciences