There are 10 lessons in this course:
- Introduction to Primates –scope, nature, anatomy & physiology, evolution, taxonomy,
- The Strepsirhines -Lemurs, Bush babies, etc
- The Haplorhimes -Monkeys, Apes, etc
- Diet and Nutrition re environment feed and supplements in a nature park environment
- Health - Illness Pests and diseases specific to above
- Primate Behaviour in the Wild
- Psychological Wellbeing in Primates in Captivity
- Breeding programmes and optimum resources needed for this
- Conservation in the wild -of individual breeds?
- Managing primates in Captivity
Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.
What are Perissodactyls?
Perissodactyls are even toed ungulate mammals. They are a group of mammals that includes horses and rhinosceros.
There are fewer species alive today than in pre historic times - only 15 today, many of which are threatened with extinction; mostly due to the loss of habitat and hunting.
The taxonomic Order Perissodactyla comprises of two suborders and three families including: Horses, Rhinoceroses and Tapirs.
Habitat and Distribution
Although order Perissodactyls is a small order and with many species now threatened, their distribution does cover an extensive geographic range. Many Perissodactyl species can be found distributed across America, Asia and Africa and with the domestication of some species they can be found worldwide. Their species do range from thriving in habitats of tropical forests and grasslands.
Species of zebra can range from Namibia and Southern Angola and across the African plains. Asses distribution range does vary geographically, although preferring the semi desert environment, they can be found living in habitat from Northern Africa, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and the Tibesti mountain range in the Sahara. Wild horses are becoming more rare, but are still quite widely distributed ranging from the semi desert regions of; Mongolia, China, Nepal, Western Tibet and Iran. Rhinoceros can be found ranging from Africa to Asia. Tapirs range from Sumatra to the Malay Peninsula, from the Andes in Columbia, Ecuador to Peru.
Sadly, habitat loss, farming and hunting has placed strain on this orders populations, with some species numbers rapidly decreasing. The African White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum) used to roam south of the Zambezi River, but now can only be seen living in the game reserves of South Africa. When the population increases, individuals are distributed to other reserves to try and help increase the population and distribution of this species.
Physical Characteristics and Physiology
All the species from the order Perissodactyl are thought to be relatively large mammals ranging from the smaller Tapir to the Rhinoceros. Their appearance varies significantly from the stumpy pig like features of the Tapir, to the tall features of the zebra, to the broad, strong features of the Rhinoceros. They all do have some physical similarities. They can all be found to have high crowned molars which allow for easy grinding of plant material. They all have reduced Ulna and Fibula bones (foreleg and hind leg) and they consist of elongated limbs. All species lack a clavicle bone (collar bone) which assists with their speed when running and increases their efficiency. The third digit is the most prominent in all Perissodactyl species, and it is said that all species have mesaxonic feet. This means their skeletal axis runs down through the third digit.
Perissodactyl species are a group of herbivorous, and their diets vary from long, coarse grasses to bulbs, shrubs and plants. They are either browsers or grazers and they all comprise of a simple stomach, unlike the chambered stomachs of the Arodactyl species. Some of the bacterial digestion of the cellulose takes place in the cecum, which is enlarged and sac shaped.
Perissodactyls have quite a lengthy gestational period with:
- Equids – Eleven to twelve months
- Tapirs – thirteen months
- Rhinoceros – sixteen months
They usually only give birth to one well developed offspring per pregnancy, and the young are parent dependant for quite some time, usually until the next offspring arrives. This can be as old as two years in a Rhinocerotidae species. The young must quickly learn how to stand, and Zebra foals have been known to stand as quick as fourteen minutes after birth. The young will stay by their mother’s side. Suckling proceeds for quite some time, although grazing does start earlier.
The social behaviour of Perissodactyl species does vary and some species live in social units, others choose to live a more solitary lifestyle. Zebras in general prefer to live in a social unit, and this probably helps against predators. They usually form groups of one dominant male, two or three females and their foals. The male is the most dominant, with the females forming a hierarchy between themselves. Some younger male zebras are solitary or form what is known as a bachelors groups, a group of juvenile males. Male rhinos dominate territories, and will tolerate other males if they are subordinate and not a threat to their dominance or territory. The females and their calf’s tend to wonder through different male territories. Some species of the wild Ass live solitary, but herds of females are seen grazing together throughout daylight hours, other species seem to live in harems with one dominant male and his mating females.
The Equidae family do vary in courtship behaviours, with the male Ass being quite aggressive, he will chase, bite and kick the female before copulation occurs. The zebra species and wild horses tend to take a more gentle behaviour to courtship and males can be seen grooming females before copulation occurs. The Tapiridae and Rhinocerotidae species are solitary and courtship usually starts with the males chasing the females which then leads on to light fighting, the male will then lay his head over the female ready to mount for copulation to occur.
Aggressive behaviour and fighting generally only occurs between males who are fighting for territory, or to win the female who is in cycle. Zebras can exhibit aggressive behaviour towards each other by rearing, kicking, biting, fighting with their necks and kicking whilst running. Whereas, the Rhinoceros will use vocal threats, charge and strike with their horn. This behaviour is a higher risk of injury, so they do tend to assess the situation. It is not in their interest to fight with such a high risk of injury.
Wallowing behaviour is exhibited in all Perissodactyl species and they can quite often be seen rolling around in dry or loose soil. This may be a self-grooming behaviour which assists in scratching and exfoliation of dead skin, but may also assist in the regulation of their body temperatures and to protect the skin from the sun’s rays.
Significance to Man
This orders significance to man is most probably the domestication of two species; Equus caballus (horse) and Equus asinus (donkey). Both these species have been domesticated by man around 3000 BC; with the donkey descending from Wild Asses and the horse from wild horses from a variety of areas across the globe. Man seen use for these animals for their strength and their ability to carry or pull heavier objects than man could. They also realised they could ride them which of course allowed man to move faster across land than by foot.
Rhinocerotidae species are also quite significant as man has almost drove them to extinction. Habitat loss plays a large part of this, but also hunting them for their horns. Many Rhinos have been killed or just sedated by poachers only for their horns which once they wake, they slowly and painfully bleed to death. The horn is made up of keratin and is commonly thought of as a trophy for ornamental use, and is also used in traditional Chinese medicine.