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The African elephant is the biggest living land mammal and is also considered one of the cleverest. They are highly social animals with outstanding long-term memories. In the wild, they have been witnessed grieving, playing, and comforting other members of their herds.
Females live in large herds of related females and their young, led by an older matriarch. African elephant bulls on the other hand, tend to form groups of just males or remain solitary. These bulls can measure up to 4 metres high and weigh as much as 6 tonnes.
African elephants are found across many parts of Africa but they are considered endangered due to habitat destruction and poaching. Even now their tusks are in high demand from the ivory trade. Elephants use these tusks for digging, stripping bark off trees and for defending themselves. Each individual favours a left or right tusk in the same way that humans are left or right handed.
An elephant’s pregnancy is the longest of any mammal and lasts 22 months. When calves are born, they rely on their mother’s milk for at least the first two years of life. This is why charities like the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust rescue ivory trade orphaned elephants, because they would never survive in the wild.
The Barbary lion was a North African lion that used to be found in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and the Atlas Mountains. Due to it living near the borders of Europe, the Barbary lion was often used in the gladiatorial arenas of ancient Rome.
Compared to other lions, the male Barbary has a bigger mane, which runs along the stomach and down its legs, it has paler yellow eyes, a long straight head and is generally bigger.
Barbary lions were hunted to extinction in the wild during the 1940s. However the King of Morocco had a private collection of 39 lions in his palace. In 1969 this collection was made public at Rabat Zoo and the lions were identified as Barbary.
These 39 lions were used to start a captive breeding programme with zoos in Europe and the US, and the numbers soon grew. All the descendents eventually came back to European zoos, with Port Lympne Wild Animal Park having the most in captivity.
In the early 2000s, Kent University started doing DNA tests on the Port Lympne lions. Using museum bone specimens of ancient Barbary lions, they extracted a DNA fingerprint and matched it against the Port Lympne lions. It was confirmed that these lions are the closest specimen to pure Barbary in existence today.
Using the DNA fingerprint, it was also possible to create a Barbary lion family tree which is now used to assist the breeding of unrelated individuals and to avoid important bloodlines disappearing.
Dominic Wormell on hand-rearing baby Tamarin monkeys
The Head of Mammals at Durrell Wildlife Trust, Dominic Wormell, talks about his work hand-rearing baby tamarin monkeys in captivity, to save them from extinction.Read and comment on Dominic’s post on the BBC TV blog
- Series Producer
- Annie Heather
- Martin Hughes-Games
- Executive Producer
- Sara Ford
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