The Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is an atypical member of the cat family (Felidae) that is unique in its speed, while lacking strong climbing abilities. The species is the only living member of the genus Acinonyx. It is the fastest land animal, reaching speeds between 112 and 120 km/h (70 and 75 mph) in short bursts covering distances up to 460 m (1,510 ft), and has the ability to accelerate from 0 to 103 km/h (64 mph) in three seconds, faster than most supercars.
The cheetah's chest is deep and its waist is narrow. The coarse, short fur of the cheetah is tan with round black spots measuring from 2 to 3 cm (0.79 to 1.2 in) across, affording it some camouflage while hunting. There are no spots on its white underside, but the tail has spots, which merge to form four to six dark rings at the end. The tail usually ends in a bushy white tuft. The cheetah has a small head with high-set eyes. Black "tear marks" running from the corner of its eyes down the sides of the nose to its mouth keep sunlight out of its eyes and aid in hunting and seeing long distances. Although it can reach high speeds, its body cannot stand long distance running. It is a sprinter.
The adult cheetah weighs from 36 to 65 kg (79 to 140 lb). Its total body length is from 115 to 135 cm (45 to 53 in), while the tail can measure up to 84 cm (33 in) in length. Cheetahs are 67 to 94 cm (26 to 37 in) in height at the shoulder. Males tend to be slightly larger than females and have slightly bigger heads, but there is not a great variation in cheetah sizes and it is difficult to tell males and females apart by appearance alone. Compared to a similarly sized leopard, the cheetah is generally shorter-bodied, but is longer tailed and taller (it averages about 90 cm (35 in) tall) and so it appears more streamlined.
Some cheetahs also have a rare fur pattern mutation: cheetahs with larger, blotchy, merged spots are known as "king cheetahs". It was once thought to be a separate subspecies, but it is merely a mutation of the African cheetah. The "king cheetah" has only been seen in the wild a handful of times, but it has been bred in captivity.
The cheetah's paws have semiretractable claws (known only in three other cat species: the fishing cat, the flat-headed cat and the Iriomote cat), offering extra grip in its high-speed pursuits. The ligament structure of the cheetah's claws is the same as those of other cats; it simply lacks the sheath of skin and fur present in other varieties, and therefore the claws are always visible, with the exception of the dewclaw. The dewclaw itself is much shorter and straighter than that of other cats.
Adaptations that enable the cheetah to run as fast as it does include large nostrils that allow for increased oxygen intake, and an enlarged heart and lungs that work together to circulate oxygen efficiently. During a typical chase, its respiratory rate increases from 60 to 150 breaths per minute. While running, in addition to having good traction due to its semiretractable claws, the cheetah uses its tail as a rudder-like means of steering to allow it to make sharp turns, necessary to outflank prey animals that often make such turns to escape.
Unlike "true" big cats, the cheetah can purr as it inhales, but cannot roar. By contrast, the big cats can roar but cannot purr, except while exhaling. However, the cheetah is still considered by some to be the smallest of the big cats. While it is often mistaken for the leopard, the cheetah does have distinguishing features, such as the aforementioned long "tear-streak" lines that run from the corners of its eyes to its mouth. The body frame of the cheetah is also very different from that of the leopard, most notably so in its thinner and longer tail and, unlike the leopard's, its spots are not arranged into rosettes.
The cheetah is a vulnerable species. Of all the big cats, it is the least able to adapt to new environments. It has always proved difficult to breed in captivity, although recently a few zoos have managed to succeed at this. Once widely hunted for its fur, the cheetah now suffers more from the loss of both habitat and prey.
The cheetah was formerly considered to be particularly primitive among the cats and to have evolved approximately 18 million years ago. New research, however, suggests the last common ancestor of all 40 existing species of felines lived more recently than that—about 11 million years ago. The same research indicates the cheetah, while highly derived morphologically, is not of particularly ancient lineage, having separated from its closest living relatives (Puma concolor, the cougar, and Puma yaguarondi, the jaguarundi) around five million years ago. These felids have not changed appreciably since they first appeared in the fossil record.
Cheetahs can be found in the African realm at the Montgomery Zoo.
Chimpanzee, sometimes colloquially chimp, is the common name for the two extant species of ape in the genus Pan. The Congo River forms the boundary between the native habitat of the two species:
- Common Chimpanzee, Pan Troglodytes (West and Central Africa)
- Bonobo, Pan Paniscus (forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo)
Chimpanzees are members of the Hominidae family, along with gorillas, humans, and orangutans. Chimpanzees split from human evolution about 6 million years ago and the two chimpanzee species are the closest living relatives to humans, all being members of the Hominini tribe (along with extinct species of Hominina subtribe). Chimpanzees are the only known members of the Panina subtribe. The two Pan species split only about one million years ago.
The male common chimp is up to 1.7 meters (5.6 ft) high when standing, and weighs as much as 70 kilograms (150 lb); the female is somewhat smaller. The common chimp’s long arms, when extended, have a span one and a half times as long as the body’s height and a chimpanzee's arms are longer than its legs. The bonobo is a little shorter and thinner than the common chimpanzee but has longer limbs. Both species use their long, powerful arms for climbing in trees. On the ground, chimpanzees usually walk on all fours using their knuckles for support with their hands clenched, a form of locomotion called knuckle-walking. Chimpanzee feet are better suited for walking than are those of the orangutan because the chimp’s soles are broader and the toes shorter. Both the common chimpanzee and bonobo can walk upright on two legs when carrying objects with their hands and arms. The Bonobo has proportionately longer upper limbs and tends to walk upright more often than the Common Chimpanzee. The coat is dark; the face, fingers, palms of the hands, and soles of the feet are hairless; and the chimp has no tail. The exposed skin of the face, hands and feet varies from pink to very dark in both species, but is generally lighter in younger individuals, darkening as maturity is reached. A University of Chicago Medical Centre study has found significant genetic differences between chimpanzee populations. A bony shelf over the eyes gives the forehead a receding appearance, and the nose is flat. Although the jaws protrude, the lips are thrust out only when a chimp pouts. The brain of a chimpanzee is about half the size of the human brain.
Chimpanzee testicles are unusually large for their body size, with a combined weight of about 4 ounces (110 g) compared to a gorilla's 1 ounce (28 g) or a human's 1.5 ounces (43 g). This is generally attributed to sperm competition due to the polyandrous nature of chimpanzee mating behavior. Chimpanzees reach puberty at an age of between 8 and 10 years and rarely live past the age of 40 in the wild, but have been known to reach the age of more than 60 in captivity.
Chimpanzees can be located in the African realm of the Montgomery Zoo.
The East African Crowned Crane is a tall, majestic looking bird which sports a crown of sorts, made of tall stiff golden feathers that looks for all of the world like a real crown.
He has large white patches of feathers on his cheeks with small red patches at the top of them and a slate gray coloring over most of his wings, with a black bill and legs.
The African Crowned is quite tall for a Crane, at about three feet high when they are fully mature, with the crown making them appear taller still.
They are among the largest of the cranes with a wing span that can reach six and a half or seven feet across when they are in flight.
The East African Crowned Crane is found near rivers and wetlands, usually in marshy grasslands near rivers or lakes in Eastern Zaire, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The Crowned Crane is also the national bird of Uganda.
They gave a very loud and melodious cry that they give while in flight, which has led to some of the beliefs that are held about them being magical creatures by the local African people who live near them or in their range.
Many people believe that the cranes are able to bring the rains with them and many of them will also incorporate the cranes, or their actions into their own sacred rituals in order to bring about the rainy season.
The cranes’ long legs and necks and excellent peripheral vision help them spot predators in the tall Savannah grasses.
In breeding season which is springtime in this area, the pairs of cranes will build nests which are very large, made of grass and vegetation on the lesser wet parts of the marshy ground or even in shallow water.
Two to three eggs are laid, and both parents take turns incubating them for the thirty days it takes for the chicks to hatch. The chicks can run as soon as they hatch, and within ten weeks can fly.
The cranes remain monogamous, and even after the chicks leave the nest the pair remains together, and will breed each season strictly with each other, remaining paired for life.
All cranes, these as well as most other varieties are famous for the spectacular dances they do when mating, which involves head-bobbing, wing fluttering, leaps and bows. Both sexes dance, and immature birds join the adults. Dancing is an integral part of courtship but also may be done at any time of the year.
An omnivore, the crowned crane eats plants, seeds, grain, insects, frogs, worms, snakes, small fish and eggs of water animals. Stamping their feet as they walk, they flush out insects which are quickly caught and eaten.
See the East African Crowned Crane in the African hoofstock collection at the Montgomery Zoo.
African Elephants are the species of elephants in the genus Loxodonta (Greek for 'oblique-sided tooth’), one of the two existing genera in Elephantidae. Although it is commonly believed that the genus was named by Georges Cuvier in 1825, Cuvier spelled it Loxodonte. An anonymous author romanized the spelling to Loxodonta and the ICZN recognizes this as the proper authority.
Fossil members of Loxodonta have only been found in Africa, where they developed in the middle Pliocene.
African elephants are bigger than Asian elephants. Males stand 3.2–4.0 m (10–13 ft) tall at the shoulder and weigh 4,700–6,048 kg (10,000–13,330 lb), while females stand 2.2–2.6 m (7.2–8.5 ft) tall and weigh 2,160–3,232 kg (4,800–7,130 lb).
Elephants have four molars; each weighs about 5 kg (11 lb) and measures about 30 cm (12 in) long. As the front pair wears down and drops out in pieces, the back pair shifts forward, and two new molars emerge in the back of the mouth. Elephants replace their teeth six times. At about 40 to 60 years of age, the elephant no longer has teeth and will likely die of starvation, a common cause of death.
Their tusks are teeth; the second set of incisors become the tusks. They are used for digging for roots and stripping the bark off trees for food, for fighting each other during mating season, and for defending themselves against predators. The tusks weigh from 23–45 kg (51–99 lb) and can be from 1.5–2.4 m (5–8 ft) long. Unlike Asian elephants, both male and female African elephants have tusks. The enamel plates of the molars are fewer in number than in Asian elephants.
Bush and forest elephants were formerly considered subspecies of the same species Loxodonta africana. As described in the entry for the forest elephant in the third edition of Mammal Species of the World (MSW3), there is now evidence they should be considered as separate species, but also some recent evidence to the contrary, and the question remains undecided at present.
Much of the evidence cited in MSW3 is morphological. The African forest elephant has a longer and narrower mandible, rounder ears, a different number of toenails, straighter and downward tusks, and considerably smaller size. With regard to the number of toenails: the African bush elephant normally has four toenails on the front foot and three on the hind feet, the African forest elephant normally has five toenails on the front foot and four on the hind foot (like the Asian elephant), but hybrids between the two species commonly occur.
MSW3 lists the two forms as full species and does not list any subspecies in its entry for Loxodonta Africana. However, this approach is not taken by the United Nations Environment Programme's World Conservation Monitoring Centre nor by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), both of which list L.cyclotis as a synonym (not even a subspecies) of L.africana.
A consequence of the IUCN taking this view is that the IUCN Red List makes no independent assessment of the conservation status of the two forms of African elephant. It merely assesses the two forms taken together as a unit as vulnerable.
The African Elephants are located in the African realm at the Montgomery Zoo.
The Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) is an African even-toed ungulate mammal, the tallest of all land-living animal species, and the largest ruminant. The giraffe's scientific name, which is similar to its antiquated English name of camelopard, refers to its irregular patches of color on a light background, which bear a token resemblance to a leopard's spots. The average mass for an adult male giraffe is 1,200 kilograms (2,600 lb) while the average mass for an adult female is 830 kilograms (1,800 lb). It is approximately 4.3 meters (14 ft) to 5.2 meters (17 ft) tall, although the tallest male recorded stood almost 6 meters (20 ft).
The giraffe is related to other even-toed ungulates, such as deer and cattle, but is placed in a separate family, the Giraffidae, consisting of only the giraffe and its closest relative, the okapi. Its range extends from Chad in Central Africa to South Africa. Giraffes usually inhabit savannas, grasslands, or open woodlands. However, when food is scarce they will venture into areas with denser vegetation. They prefer areas with plenty of acacia growth. They will drink large quantities of water when available, which enables them to live for extended periods in dry, arid areas. The giraffe's fur also works as a chemical defense, and is full of antibiotics and parasite repellents which gives the animal a characteristic scent. Old males are sometimes nicknamed "stink bulls". There are at least eleven main smelly chemicals in the fur, although it is indole and 3-methylindole which is responsible for most of their smell. Because the males have a stronger odor than the females, it is also assumed that it has a sexual function as well.
Male giraffes are up to 5.5 meters (18 ft) tall at the horn tips, and weigh between 800 and 1,930 kilograms (1,800 and 4,300 lb). Females are between 4 and 4.5 meters (13 and 14.8 ft) tall and weigh between 550 and 1,180 kilograms (1,200 and 2,600 lb). The coat is made up of brown blotches or patches separated by lighter hair. Each giraffe has a unique coat pattern. Wild giraffes have a lifespan close to 13 years while those in captivity live up to 25 years.
Horns - Both sexes have horns, although the horns of a female are smaller. The prominent horns are formed from ossified cartilage, and are called ossicones. The appearance of horns is a reliable method of identifying the sex of giraffes, with the females displaying tufts of hair on the top of the horns, whereas males' horns tend to be bald on top — an effect of necking in combat. Males sometimes develop calcium deposits which form bumps on their skull as they age, which can give the appearance of up to three additional horns.
Legs and Pacing - Giraffes also have slightly elongated forelegs, about 10% longer than their hind legs, and can reach a sprint speed of up to 60 km/h (37 mph). It cannot sustain a lengthy chase. Its leg length compels an unusual gait with the left legs moving together followed by right (similar to pacing) at low speed, and the back legs crossing outside the front at high speed. When hunting adult giraffes, lions try to knock the lanky animal off its feet and pull it down. Giraffes are difficult and dangerous prey. The giraffe defends itself with a powerful kick. A single well-placed kick from an adult giraffe can shatter a lion's skull or break its spine. Lions are the only predators which pose a serious threat to an adult giraffe.
Neck - The giraffe's extreme altitude is a consequence of its extremely elongated neck, which can be over 2 m in length, accounting for nearly half of the giraffe's vertical height. The increase in neck length results from the disproportionate elongation of the cervical vertebrae, rather than the addition of more vertebrae. The cervical vertebrae comprise about 45–50% of the giraffe vertebral column, compared to the 30% typical of similar large ungulates, including the giraffe’s closest extant relative, the okapi. This elongation, which occurs in large part after birth, is a 150% increase in vertebrae length over similar sized animals – in fact, the non-cervical sections of the giraffe vertebral column exhibit identical proportions to those in okapi.
In addition to their elongated cervical vertebrae, in giraffes the point of articulation between the cervical and thoracic vertebrae is shifted to lie between T1 and T2, the first and second thoracic vertebrae, rather than between C7 and T1, as in most other ruminants . This allows C7 to contribute directly to increased neck length, and has sparked the suggestion that T1 is actually C8, and giraffes have added an extra cervical vertebra. However, this proposition is generally not accepted, as T1 has other morphological features, such as an articulating rib, deemed diagnostic of thoracic vertebrae. Also, the exceptions to the mammalian constraint of seven cervical vertebrae are generally characterized by increased neurological anomalies and maladies, symptoms that have not been observed in giraffes.
There are two main hypotheses regarding the evolutionary origin and maintenance of elongation in giraffe necks. The original theory, the “competing browsers hypothesis,” was originally suggested by Charles Darwin and little challenged until recently. It suggests that competitive pressure from smaller browsers, such as kudu, steenbok, and impala, drove the elongation of the neck so giraffes could reach nutrients competitors could not. This advantage is real – giraffes can and do feed up to 5m, while their closest competitors, kudu, can only feed up to about 2m. There is also research suggesting that browsing competition below 2m is intense, and giraffes feed more efficiently (gaining more leaf biomass per bite) higher in the canopy. However, scientists disagree about just how much time giraffes spend feeding at levels unreachable to other browsers. Although giraffes can feed as low as 0.5 m and as high as 6 m off the ground, it appears that they most often feed between 2 and 4 m.
The other main theory, the sexual selection hypothesis, proposes that the long necks evolved as a secondary sexual characteristic, giving males an advantage in "necking" contests (see below) to establish dominance and obtain access to sexually receptive females. In support of this theory, males have proportionally larger necks than females, and males with longer, bigger necks are more successful in dominance displays and courtship behavior. However, a major criticism of this theory is that it fails to adequately explain why female giraffes also have long necks.
Giraffes are located in the African realm at the Montgomery Zoo. Also, take advantage of the Giraffe Encounter open Monday – Friday 10am – 1pm and Saturday – Sunday 10am – 4pm. Stand nose to nose with an 18 foot giraffe.
The Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) is a woodland antelope found throughout eastern and southern Africa. Despite occupying such widespread territory, they are sparsely populated in most areas, due to a declining habitat, deforestation and hunting.
They have a narrow body with long legs, and their coats can range from brown/bluish-grey to reddish-brown. They possess between 4–12 vertical white stripes along their torso. The head tends to be darker in color than the rest of the body, and exhibits a small white chevron which runs between the eyes.
Male Greater Kudus tend to be much larger than the females, and vocalize much more, utilizing low grunts, clucks, humming, and gasping. The males also have large manes running along their throats, and large horns with two and a half twists, which, were they to be straightened, would reach a length of 1 meter on average. However, the male horns do not begin to grow until the male is between the age of 6–12 months, twisting once at around 2 years of age, and not reaching the full two and a half twist until they are 6 years old.
Males weigh 190-270 kg (419-595 lbs) while females weigh 120-210 kg (265-463 lbs). Females do not have horns while the bulls have horns that average 120 cm (42 in) in length with the record being 187.64 cm (73.87 in).
The Greater Kudu can be viewed on display in the African hoofstock collection at the Montgomery Zoo.
The African Ground Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) inhabits the African savanna south of the equator. Ground hornbills prefer steppes and savannas with a fairly low grass growth, which makes the search for food easier. They have very large territories of about 100 sq. kilometers.
In South Africa there has been a large decline in their numbers for a number of reasons. They are popular to use as "muti" or tribal medicine among some of the indigenous people of South Africa. The brain of a ground hornbill, if kept in a village, is reputed to bring the village luck. Irate homeowners kill them because they will attack windows, breaking them, if they encounter their reflections. They are also vulnerable to picking up poison baits that are set out for predators.
The ground hornbills are the only ground dwellers among hornbills. The large bill characteristic of the Bucerotidae family may be why hornbills are the only birds with the first two neck vertebrae (axis and atlas) fused together.
Hornbills are notable for their long eyelashes and rather stubby legs and toes, with broad soles and the bases of the three front toes partly fused.
The African Ground hornbill's throat skin is inflatable, and sometimes inflates when it makes its guttural call.
African Folklore- The Masai believe that the African ground hornbill should never be killed because it will bring bad luck. If one lands on the roof of a house, the occupants must move at once or they believe death will ensue.
Aside from many indigenous tribes in South Africa using the ground hornbill for "muti" (tribal medicine), there are others in Africa who believe that the African ground hornbill is a rain prophet.
Status- They are listed as vulnerable in South Africa as they have disappeared from large areas where they have occurred in the past. They now occur only in reserves. There were at last estimate about 720 birds in the Kruger National Park, which is South Africa's largest reserve.
Currently there is a conservation project underway in South Africa, in which the second chick from a nest is taken before it dies and raised and released to help increase their numbers.
The African Ground hornbill can be seen on the African hoofstock collection or the Giraffe exhibit at the Montgomery Zoo.
The Pygmy Hippopotamus (Choeropsis liberiensis or Hexaprotodon liberiensis) is a large mammal native to the forests and swamps of western Africa (the specific name liberiensis means "of Liberia", as this is where the vast majority live). The pygmy hippo is reclusive and nocturnal. It is one of only two extant species in the Hippopotamidae family, the other being its much larger cousin the common hippopotamus.
The pygmy hippopotamus displays many terrestrial adaptations, but like its larger cousin, it is semi-aquatic and relies on proximity to water to keep its skin moisturized and its body temperature cool. Behaviors such as mating and giving birth may occur in water or on land. The pygmy hippo is herbivorous, feeding on ferns, broad-leaved plants, grasses and fruits it finds in the forests.
A rare nocturnal forest creature, the pygmy hippopotamus is a difficult animal to study in the wild. Pygmy hippos were unknown outside of West Africa until the 19th century. Introduced to zoos in the early 20th century, they breed well in captivity and the vast majority of research is derived from zoo specimens. The survival of the species in captivity is more assured than in the wild: the World Conservation Union estimates that there are fewer than 3,000 pygmy hippos remaining in the wild. Pygmy hippos are primarily threatened by loss of habitat, as forests are logged and converted to farm land, and are also vulnerable to poaching, hunting, natural predators and war.
Pygmy hippos share the same general form as a hippopotamus. They have a graviportal skeleton, with four stubby legs and four toes on each foot, supporting a portly frame. The pygmy hippo, however, is only half as tall as the hippopotamus and weighs less than 1/4 as much as its larger cousin. Adult pygmy hippos stand about 75–83 cm (30–32 inches) high at the shoulder, are 150–177 cm (59–70 inches) in length and weigh 180–275 kilograms (400–600 pounds). Their lifespan in captivity ranges from 30 to 55 years, though it is unlikely that they live this long in the wild.
The skin is greenish-black or brown, shading to a creamy gray on the lower body. Their skin is very similar to the common hippo's, with a thin epidermis over a dermis that is several centimeters thick. Pygmy hippos have the same unusual sweat as common hippos, that gives a pinkish tinge to their bodies, and is sometimes described as "blood sweat" though the secretion is neither sweat nor blood. The highly alkaline substance is believed to have antiseptic and sunscreening properties. The skin of hippos dries out quickly and cracks, which is why both species of hippos spend so much time in water.
The skeleton of C. liberiensis is more gracile than that of the common hippopotamus meaning their bones are proportionally thinner. The common hippo's spine is parallel with the ground; the pygmy hippo's back slopes forward, a likely adaptation to pass more easily through dense forest vegetation. Proportionally, the pygmy hippos legs and neck are longer and its head smaller. The orbits and nostrils of a pygmy hippo are much less pronounced, an adaptation from spending less time in deep water (where pronounced, orbits and nostrils help the common hippo breathe and see). The feet of pygmy hippos are narrower, but the toes are more spread out and have less webbing, to assist in walking on the forest floor. Despite adaptations to a more terrestrial life than the common hippopotamus, pygmy hippos are still more aquatic than all other even-toed ungulates. The ears and nostrils of pygmy hippos have strong muscular valves to aid submerging underwater, and the skin physiology is dependent on the availability of water.
A pygmy hippopotamus can be viewed in the African hoofstock collection at the Montgomery Zoo. Pay special attention to the moat areas. He tends to stay near water and under water.
African lion (Panthera leo)
Range: African lions live in Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. They wander a 100 square mile territory of scrub, grasslands or open woodlands.
Description: Lions are very social cats and live in groups called prides. The typical African lion prides consist of up to three males, around a dozen females, and their offspring (cubs).
Diet: African lions are carnivores (meat eaters) concentrating on antelopes, zebras and wildebeest. Female lions are the main hunters of the pride.
Lifespan: Healthy African lions live 10-14 years in the wild. In captivity, they can live up to 20 years old.