Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The Saddest Tale on Earth - The Sumatran Rhino

Months ago there were promises of more panda action and eloquent prose relating to the discussion of further endangered animals. That amounted to something of a lie but it is not my fault, instead I will unfairly blame the three species of lemur I now spend my Saturdays working with.

However, it is not crowned lemurs or red-belled lemurs or my amazing black and white ruffed lemur Aramis who I will talk about today. Although all of these species are in strife and on the whole lemurs are facing extinction, there is one story which is perhaps sadder than that of lemurs and red pandas and lorises all put together.  This is the Sumatran Rhino.
A Sumatran doing what it does best
To think of the Sumatran Rhino evokes feelings of loss, emptiness, sorrow and melancholy. As a geek about all things primate (and of course panda) this is an anomaly for myself. As an annoying, snotty nosed kid I was a frequent visitor to Howletts (where I now volunteer) and lesser so its sister zoo, Port Lympne. Port Lympne homed Europe’s only Sumatran Rhinos.

The clich├ęd view of a rhino is one of strength, speed, endurance, ferocity. This is a deserved reputation. However, the Sumatran Rhino is far removed from its African cousins. Closely related to woolly rhinos, they live in rainforets and are covered in hair, have two softly featured horns, are far smaller and emit haunting whines to communicate. They are one of nature’s most gentle and endearing creatures.

I have vague memories of Port Lympne’s two. My cell brains have since suffered a great degree of loss. I remember Meranti and Torgamba enjoying mud baths, chatting in that strange cry, and one time being there for feeding so they were right up at the fence, only a few feet away.  They were the first animals to steal my heart.

Meranti died in 1994. Torgamba, the male, was left as the only Sumatran for thousands of miles and one of only a few hundred in the world. Inevitably and rightly he was moved to Indonesia in 1998 to take part in their domestic breeding programme.
One of the most poignant moments of my childhood was saying goodbye, knowing that I would likely never see another Sumatran Rhino. I can remember lagging behind my dad, dragging my heels and walking backwards as I didn’t want to bid farewell.

Today there are fewer than 100 on the planet. Why though, who could hurt such enchanting, tender beings? The answers are familiar. Habitat loss and traditional ‘medicine’. Their horns supposedly cure anything from fevers to AIDS, of course an illness which has preyed upon man for centuries. What are their horns made of? Keratin. The same thing as our fingernails.

The remaining wild rhinos are sparse and hugely fragmented, the likelihood of these meeting let along mating is acutely minimal. Additionally, females can develop problems with their uteruses if they do not mate when in oestrus. This means they become barren, an issue which has reared its ugly head in captivity.

Torgamba died in 2011 at the elderly age of 32. I haven’t got a solution here. There is no silver lining. Whilst posts on other wildlife will talk of hope, this species looks to be extinct shortly. That will be a tragic and wholly unnecessary loss.

An African cousin who walked for five days before being put out of its misery

Friday, May 16, 2014

A New Beginning

The Red Panda Cult has fallen upon tough times. Membership numbers have been reduced to a mere one, a third consecutive AGM has not come into fruition and there haven't been any eventful YouTube videos for a long while. In fact, the RPC has almost ceased to exist and my own face resembles that of a Depressed Panda:

Well, without the cuteness and the fluffiness and the amazing pointed ears. A respite was provided at Bronx Zoo in New York where one red panda provided action. Yet another Sleepy Panda rested nearby. However, this was sullied by irritating locals and their propensity to take foul creatures like chihuahuas close to enclosures. As such, recruitment has been at an all time low. Sadly it appears that too few 'people' appreciate and respect the charm, nobility and uniqueness of our, or indeed my beloved brothers and sisters of the Himalayas.

In short, I haven't been able to scam my way to Nepal or China. Not everyone believes
Ailurus fulgens to be an anagram of 'gullible'. Although terribly disheartening there are positives. The red panda remains a special source of joy to only a few of us, it is unlikely to ever cross into mainstream consciousness like those sell-out meerkat bastards. This is most definitely a good thing and is why I formed a cult as opposed to a foundation. Well, that and the hopes of fleecing individuals.

At this juncture therefore, the RPC is at a crossroads. Will an AGM work using the company of only my Toy Panda Marco? How can we gain new members without having to brave idiotic zoo crowds? What is the point of the Red Panda Cult..? These are all troubling, difficult questions which I have pondered long into the night. Thanks must go to Marco who has given comfort in these stressful and upsetting times: Thanks Marco.

Some issues remain unanswered but it is with relief that I can announce a new direction for the RPC. This website will still be the base for all things panda related but we will branch out to admire and promote otherwise unmentioned or unknown species. In coming months there will be news, videos, photos, ramblings of and on various bastions of the animal kingdom (and YouTube). One or two may even be kind enough to offer diary entries.

In turn, I will also be able to discuss wildlife which admittedly face greater traumas than red pandas and take aim at the scum bags who have forced them to the brink of extinction. The RPC will begin a new age of enlightenment, amusement and productivity and joining red pandas will be the likes of the honey badger, the sloth, slow loris, meerkat Sumatran rhino, sun bear, 101 lemur species and a whole lot more. What do all of these beasts have in common..? No, not that they're mammals. They're all far preferable to human beings

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Silence of the Pandas

The online presence of the Red Panda Cult may have been subdued for the past year or so but do not think we have forgotten about the crusade, in fact far from it. 2013 has seen the Cult double its membership numbers, whilst a trip this month provided my closest encounter yet to seeing them in the hallowed wilds. Ljubljana may not be the Himalayas but it is nearer than London.

Prior to this pilgrimmage, Port Lympne and Copenhagen provided more Sleepy Pandas, with one only hinting for a few moments that he or she may be of the Thirsty Panda variety. The year's inception then revealed a brand new subspecies, the Onesie Panda. Larger and more human-like than most pandas, it can be categorised by its asininity, insobriety and complainitive nature. As such, due to their inability to adapt these creatures are few in number and therefore most deserved of your kind donations.

With the Cult hastily progressing, official merchandise has become available. Not to be confused with the seldom seen Keyring Panda which cannot be found in captivity, for its needs are so specific a zoo cannot provide, the RPC fluffy keyring can now be purchased for only £14.99. All proceeds will also go towards keeping a dehydrated Onesie Panda well doused.

Although I could mention the brand new intergalactic panda shirt available for only £34.99, the long-term aim of which is to assist in spreading the word of pandas beyond planet earth, that is not why you have visited this page. That will be the reason for your next visit. Instead, I am delighted to inform you that the year has seen a true plethora of panda births throughout the world. Courtesy of our comrades at Zooborns, I am proud to present the highlights.

Unfortunately due to the ill-informed and selfish customs of the keepers of Paradise Wildlife Park, I was unable to obtain admittance to see their cubs upon any of my eighteen stops at the red panda enclosure during my July visit. After that distressing day where these babies were so near yet so far away, the parent pandas viciously fought off keepers' attempts to inspect their offspring. What the newspapers didn't state though, was that this was possibly a protest relating to the denial of meeting their leader and potential saviour. Or not, but that's what I'd like to think.

Most recently, Ljubljana Zoo proved its worth with an expansive enclosure and a chance to view a fabled Monorail Panda. Confusingly however, its energetic, even erratic mannerisms suggest that it was in fact a hybrid. With what I am unsure; this will be a subject that I spend much time investigating and researching strenuously. While this charismatic individual both enchanted and confounded, a Sleepy Panda rested peacefully atop a log.

So it goes, the quest for enlightenment continues. There are still many subspecies to be discovered and revered, and the revelation of hybrids ensures that I shall be studying long into the night in forthcoming weeks. Please check back soon if you would like news of this, otherwise send me your money.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Entering the Panda's Den

After a torrid absence from panda presence for nigh on a year, founder Phil Reeks has recently twice found himself deep in the throes of field research. Asked to comment, the RPC’s spiritual leader and budding scam artist had the following to say:

”It can be tough sometimes. At Bristol Zoo I’m not exaggerating when I say one panda didn’t move for eleven hours, whilst the other merely lulled about for maybe half hour. This led me to believe that they were definitely of the sleepy subspecies.”

”Paradise Wildlife Park proved more fruitful. Entering the area, I could barely contain my excitement as one was holding bamboo and eating it like a red panda. High in the tree above it rested another sleepy panda.”

”Viewing peaked around feeding time, whereby one ‘expert’ gave a talk to the public. Although tempted to interject, there are those who believe my views and theories to be nonsense, the ramblings of an idiot whose only source of information remains Youtube. A valid point, actually."

”However, my time not totally wasted. I discovered the existence of panda cakes, whilst I have found myself to have more in common with our little red amigos than previously thought. For example, playing dead in the wild works similarly in captivity but is due to hordes of screaming, irritating kids. That disdain we definitely share.”

”In addition, it does appear that the cult has potential. For instance, in my many hours tracking the two sleepy pandas in Bristol, I heard at least eight cries of 'awwww', as well as a few fits of surprised laughter. Admittedly most of these were at the display picture."

"Minor setbacks though, are mere fuel for a panda enthusiast such as myself. In a month's time, the RPC will be going international and taking over Copenhagen Zoo. The rumours of business cards I neither confirm nor deny currently."

What is a worry, is the news that a good friend of the red panda has been named as the planet's most endangered mammal, and indeed vertebrate: the lemur. What is a cult here, may have to be a crusade there.

For information on another friend, the slow loris, kindly divert your attention here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Definitive YouTube Top Ten

This has honestly been of the most difficult tasks I have ever faced. I haven’t climbed any mountains but I’d imagine that rating YouTube’s red panda videos is similar. Maybe not Everest, but I’d say of at least Kilimanjaro proportions.

For any smart arses out there who might mention a lack of oxygen when ascending to such altitudes, try hyperventilating after laughing for such a long succession of videos. Oh, you want to complain about your legs aching? Try having the muscles in your face hurt from grinning so much. Thankfully being such a well conditioned, experienced athlete in this particular field, recovery should take mere weeks. You? Just be grateful you haven’t had to endure such an arduous, traumatic journey and enjoy digesting the fruits of my labour instead...

10) "You win this time..."

9) When two Ronsils collide.

8) The only one made an Android App.

7) Just a baby bowlin'.

6) Think you can escape me? You better think again.

5) Perhaps the greatest solo performance ever seen.

4) Pandas + Alcohol = Adorable.

3) My only worry is that it appears to have an itchy head.

2) Revenge is a dish best served... Cute.

1) This truly has everything. It is the 'Citizen Kane' of panda videos.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Why Did The Red Panda Cross The Road?

A year on from my last intensive research session, little has changed in the world of red pandas. Still they are hunted for their fur, their tails used as good luck charms and their numbers continue to dwindle. Though predators such as snow leopards and martens provide the dangers in the wilderness, it is us humans who are forcing them to near extinction. In China, their population has halved in only fifty years.

 However, it is with great pleasure that I can confirm my findings of last year were no one-off. In addition to the household names such as Ronsil and Toy Pandas, there are various other new sub-species emerging across their Himalayan habitat. Whilst knowledge of these rare creatures remains at a premium, it has been hypothesized that this is a unique case of short-term evolution, giving these pandas the best possible to chance to survive against the overwhelming human onslaught. Here are eight of my latest discoveries.
Living in trios, Mime Pandas work in a similar fashion to their human counterparts. Here they can be seen performing the timeless glass pane routine, though scientists have yet to determine its precise purpose.

  Flying Panda can be seen here readying itself for vertical ascent. Though its legitimacy has been questioned, eyewitness reports have regaled various accounts of high speed, blurred red balls lighting up the Asian skies.

  These Charm Pandas are relatively great in number compared to their compatriots but have only one natural defence: Major, major cuteness.

  This here is Hypno Panda. Just stare into his eyes for thirty seconds, I dare you.

  Dancing Panda can be seen here getting its jig on to some Exodus era Bob Marley & The Wailers. Thus by shaking its thang, prospective predators are left dazed, confused and ultimately fruitless.

  Though this may look like two pandas snuggling in the snow, this is in fact the Siamese Panda. Tragic yet efficient, they make up for their slow speed by combining their brain power and out-witting potential tail bandits.

  Meerkat Pandas use only their hind legs for locomotion, and as the name suggests are the spotters of their conclaves. Upon glimpsing enemies, it emits high pitched squeaks to alert the rest of the group.

  At the merest hint of trouble, Monorail Panda will immediately find the nearest branch and slide its way to safety at velocities in excess of 25mph. There are fewer than fifty of these specimens in the wild.

Should you or any colleagues have any further information on these most special of animals, then please do not hesitate in contacting The RPC. The more data we can obtain, the better chance the likes of Monorail Panda will have in their ongoing arduous battle against extinction. Thank you.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Because Red Pandas are People Too

Though a relatively new phenomenon, the RPC can in fact be traced back to one snowy winter's day in December 2010.

So, what to do with a Saturday afternoon when football's been postponed and you've wasted £40 on a train ticket? I've done what most people would do: look at pictures of red pandas.
  Originating from Nepal and China, red pandas are nearing extinction due to deforestation and poaching. In China, it is believed that the wearing of a panda's tail as a hat by newlyweds will bring a long and fruitful marriage.
  And whilst divorces occur all over China and red pandas die for nothing, their habitat is being stripped down and their main food source of bamboo being taken away. However, my own in-depth research has led me to believe that red pandas are evolving at a fast, varied rate.
  In order to warn away would-be predators, they've begun to take on slightly different forms and develop in much the same way Pokemon found in and around the Solomon Islands have. New subspecies and genus have been spotted, advanced defence mechanisms sighted, and a new hope has lit the hearts of red panda lovers everywhere.

  Here we have Curious Panda. Similar to normal pandas, they instead choose to walk upright and thus confuse their enemies. Growing upto 3 feet tall, they are similar in size, stature and intelligence to their human predators and so are well camouflaged when escaping urban areas.

  Special Panda is a unique specimen in that it spends much of its time unsuccessfully trying to lick its ear. I would say that no one likes a special case and therefore it's safe, but that would be un-PC.

  Kung Fu Panda doesn't even need a black belt, you just look at his tail the wrong way and he'll kick your ass.

  The new Sloth Panda subspecies moves at only 1/10th the speed of normal pandas, and has extended claws much like their three toed counterparts. Sadly, sloths are hunted for "traditional" purposes too.

  Closely related to Sloth Panda, we have Sleepy Panda. Here you can see him preparing to play dead. It is believed that there are less than 400 in the wild.

  Like Ronsil, Rabid Panda does exactly what it says on the tin. Appearing angry, aggressive and various other adjectives, potential suitors are scared off before Ronsil returns to climbing trees, eating bamboo and generally being cool.

  Surprised Panda is one of my more recent finds. I am unsure of what their special powers are, apart from looking like Kevin from Roland Rat.

  Toy Panda is an incredibly rare case. By looking, acting and sounding exactly like a cuddly toy, it is therefore able to carry out its daily life freely and without fear of attack.

  Dammit Luton better go ahead on Thursday.