Saturday, May 26, 2012

Wild at Heart: The Axolotl, the Margay, the Tarsier & the Tree-Kangaroo

Tonight is the opening of "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Michael Alvarez "Four Animals"

The Axolotl, or Mexican Walking Fish, is a salamander that does not undergo metamorphosis, but rather reaches adult size in its larval form. The Nahua people, who named it, dubbed it “water monster” in their tongue. It is endemic to Lake Xochimilco and Lake Chalco in central Mexico, but Chalco was drained completely in the 1970s and Xochimilco has been reduced to a series of canals. While the axolotl is seriously endangered in the wild due to habitat reduction, water pollution and predation by non-native fish, it is a popular aquarium pet and is used extensively in scientific research due to its ability to regenerate limbs.

The Margay, sometimes known as the Tree Ocelot, is a spotted cat native to the primitive rainforests of Central and South America. A skilled climber, the margay may live its whole life above ground, chasing birds and monkeys through the canopy. Unlike the ocelot, it has rotating ankles that allow it to climb head-first down trees and hang from branches by only one foot. Just once a year, margays meet to mate, which usually results in the birth of a single kitten. Due to their solitary lifestyle, they are naturally sparsely dispersed in their rapidly-vanishing rainforest environment.

The Tarsier is a tiny primate that lives only on a few islands in the Philippines, Borneo and Indonesia. Each of their enormous eyes is as large as their brain, and they can rotate their heads a full 180°. Uniquely adapted for climbing, they have long fingers and elongated tarsus bones in their feet, from which they get their name. The only entirely carnivorous primates, they are mainly insectivores, but also prey on bats and birds, even catching them in flight while leaping between trees. Natives of the Philippines consider it bad luck to catch a tarsier, as they are believed to be the pets of spirits who live in the giant fig trees. Indeed, tarsiers may commit suicide in captivity due to the trauma of loud noises and being touched. All 10 species of tarsier are in decline from severe habitat loss.

The Tree-Kangaroo is a small, elusive marsupial native to the rainforests of New Guinea and Queensland that is adapted for life in the trees. In contrast to their terrestrial kangaroo cousins, their arms are proportional to their legs, their ears are small and bearlike, and many species have colorful orange and golden coats. On the ground, they are slow and clumsy, but in the trees, they move swiftly and surely, using their long, muscular tails to balance. Excellent leapers, they are able to jump to the ground from 60 feet up in a tree. Of the 14 species of tree-kangaroo, most are in decline, and several species are critically endangered due to habitat loss and hunting for their meat by the indigenous population.

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