San-Diego Zoo

: 6/11

Beyond the foothills, seasonal forests give way to semi-arid plains and desert in India. Axis deer, nilgai (India's largest antelope) and blackbuck live here. In the Gir Forest is the last remnant population of the lions which once roamed from the Atlantic through the Near East and into Asia. But lions have been gone from most of this range for many centuries and exist today only in a protected reserve in the tiny Gir Forest in western India, where a few hundred individuals survive.

Where one finds lions and other predators, scavengers will also be found. In India they include striped hyenas, foxes, dholes (wild dogs), and Indian white-backed vultures. These animals perform a vital function in the balance of nature, cleaning up carrion left by the hunters, thus helping to prevent the spread of disease.

Still farther south lies India's tropical forest, actually two of them a rain forest and a seasonally deciduous forest. They are home to a large variety of monkeys, mainly of two groups the short-tailed, stout-bodied macaques, which are primarily terrestrial, and the long-tailed, slender-bodied arboreal langurs.

The macaques include the rhesus monkey of India, sacred to the Hindus, and critical to science. The existence of the Rh blood factor was first demonstrated in rhesus monkeys, and a rhesus was the first living being shot into space in the United States' space program. In Europe, the only wild monkeys are the Barbary apes, actually macaques, of Gibraltar. Legend has it that when these animals disappear there are approximately 30 of them Britain's reign over the Rock will come to an end.

The second large group of Asian monkeys, the lan-gurs, are also called leaf-eating monkeys. There are more than a dozen species, among which the douc langur is considered to be one of the most beautiful of all monkeys. The word "douc" means "monkey" in Vietnamese.

Three of the surviving five species of rhinoceroses live in southeastern Asia. Two, the Sumatran and Javan rhinos, could be extinct in the wild. The third, the Indian rhino, exists in small numbers in Assam. Because of the heavy folds of skin and the bumps, called tubercules, on its hips and shoulders, this rhino appears to be wearing a suit of armor.

The Chinese believe that rhino blood, urine, and horn (which is not a true horn at all, but is composed of hair-like material) have medicinal and aphrodisiacal powers. This superstition has resulted in heavy poaching of rhinos, placing them in grave danger.

Among the better-known snakes of southeastern Asia are the Indian and king cobras and the pythons. A king cobra can measure 3.5 m (12 ft) or more. It feeds mainly on other snakes. The closely related Indian, or Asian, cobra is appreciably smaller. The pythons are non-venomous constrictors. Contrary to popular belief they do not crush their victims to death but, through constriction, cause death through suffocation.

Southeastern Asia is the home of some of the showiest of all birds the pheasants. Although native to Asia, they have been introduced elsewhere and now are among the most widely distributed of birds. One of the most widespread is the ringneck pheasant. An old legend claims that ringnecks were introduced into Greece by Jason, famous for his quest of the golden fleece. Ringnecks were brought to the United States in the mid-1800's and are now game birds. Several species of pheasants are exhibited at the Zoo, two of them roaming freely on the grounds.

The first is the blue peafowl. The male, called a peacock, is the traditional symbol of vanity and false pride because of its almost constant displaying and strutting. The peafowl has been semi-domesticated for ages. A Greek myth relates how the bird got the eye-like spots on its tail. The peacock was a favored pet of Juno, wife of Jupiter. She became angry at her one-hundred-eyed servant, Argus, because of a misdeed on his part. To punish him and to make sure the world remembered his offense, she snatched out his hundred eyes and scattered them on the tail of her pet peacock. There they remain to this day.

The other pheasant that wanders the Zoo grounds is the junglefowl. It looks much like a domestic chicken understandably since it is the chicken's ancestor.

: 21/12/2008