This month we spotlight the Ostrich, with all the key facts you should know
I was captivated with how unique The Ostrich (Struthio Camelus) is from other birds. They have two toes instead of three or four, they can weigh over 300 pounds and reach heights of 9 feet. Their eyes can be up to two inches across which gives them a huge advantage to see predators from far distances. Unlike other birds they typically travel during mating season or unusually rainless months with grazing animals like zebra and antelope.
Ostrich are the largest/fastest of the bird species and the fastest two legged animal sprinting at over 70 km/hr, covering up to 5m in a single stride. In some cultures they are used for racing, similar to horse races with bits, reins, and saddles. Though they do not fly they have a wingspan of over 2 meters that help them maneuver at fast speeds, also providing shade for their chicks, and insulation for their bodies to conserve heat. The legs on an Ostrich are extremely powerful able to kill a man, and other predators in a single blow.
Their sand like coloring is a great defense mechanism against predators, and when they press their necks to the ground it gives the appearance of them sticking their head in the ground which provides excellent camouflage. Ostrich have no teeth, therefore they use pebbles to help grind their food.
The behavioral patterns of male and female ostrich in mating season, to incubation of eggs, and the caring for young is in itself a captivating read. The one fact I found to be most intriguing is how the male and the female ostriches take turns incubating their eggs. The female with their light colors incubate in the day, and the males with their darker plumage incubate at night. Together they provide the ultimate camouflage to protect their unborn chicks.
So if these creatures are so fascinating, strong, and unique from their other bird counterparts than why are their numbers dwindling and why does it always seem that humans are the ones to blame?
Like every other species in the world from the microscopic to the most ferocious there is a natural food chain that exists that all species in some way have to fight for survival. The Ostrich have natural predators like cheetahs, lions, leopards, hunting dogs, and spotted hyena, as well as unnatural predators, namely humans. The remaining herds of wild ostrich in the last 200 hundred years have been dwarfed and most large numbers are only found on farms for their meat and hide. “The North African ostrich (Struthio c. camelus) is one of four extant sub-species of ostrich. It alone inhabits the harsh environment of the Sahara and bordering Sahel. A century ago this race of ostrich inhabited the entire periphery of the Sahara both north and south, a total of 18 countries; today its range has been reduced to just six” (1).
Who’s Protecting The Ostrich…
Groups like Nikela.org and their volunteer writers are reaching out to educate the public through all sorts of social media, monthly articles, and working with organizations around the world to partner up and help create legislation that protects and fosters an environment that will allow ostriches to flourish once again. In particular The Sahara Conservation Fund is using a “grassroots” approach, “inspired by local conservationists in the Aïr Mountains of northern Niger, who were protecting the last of Niger’s ostriches in captivity, the Sahara Conservation Fund launched an international appeal to save this unique population and return the ostrich to the wild. This project is a model-in-the-making of participatory, grassroots conservation and a catalyst for the conservation of other endangered species”(1).
There has been success in re-establishing and protecting many different types of endangered species when alliances are made when the local people and the large international organizations come together for the greater good. Some of the programs that are now funded thanks to worldwide contribution are;
- Survey of the ostrich in captivity in Niger
- Construction of new enclosures
- Advice on ostrich husbandry
- Genetic and health analysis of the local ostrich population
- Operation of an incubator
- Ostrich food and supplements, and veterinary products
- Salaries for local staff (site manager, keepers)
If you really want to help you too can adopt an ostrich! “Adopt-an-Ostrich Program to support the acquisition, care and feeding of pure-bred Saharan ostrich in Niger, to help maintain the ostrich facilities, and to improve capacity for ostrich management. $500 will cover the care of one ostrich in Niger for a year and our zoo goal is 100% participation from all US zoos holding ostrich”(1). You may be asking yourself why in the world do we want to save The Ostrich?
Ostrich and Our Ecosystem
Ostrich is an endangered species that is in need of strict conservation efforts to help preserve and increase their community, but why? Yes, they are powerful, majestic and captivating. Historically they represent cultures dating back thousands of years, and they are a food source for many species, even humans. However, these birds serve a much deeper purpose as a whole in the extremely delicate bio-food web that they live within. Their diet consist of “fallen fruit, seeds, shrubs, shoots, gourds, dry and hard foliage, frogs, roots, plants, tortoises, tiny lizards and bugs such as locusts” (2). Without ostriches, these other species would be in abundance and could possibly disturb the balance of the food chain. It is a fact of life that all species play an integral role as a whole in maintaining population control. The foraging ostriches do for plants and berries helps replenish new vegetation, eating of bugs such as locust that can be extremely damaging help minimize their possible negative effect. Not to mention that ostriches are also part of the food chain, and without them larger carnivorous species would not have as much prey. I don’t’ know about you but I like the idea of cheetahs, wild dogs etc. to have a sustainable food source so that they too have a fighting chance at survival.
Another benefit of keeping ostriches from going extinct is their manure. It’s no surprise that there is mass production worldwide to grow crops so that we may sustain our ever increasing population. Many know that the harmful uses of fertilizers over the last few hundred years has caused in some cases irreversible damage to our extremely delicate atmosphere Research shows that ostrich manure may provide a greener more efficient method of agriculture that limits use of unwanted and extremely harmful carbon releasing fertilizers.
“Ostrich require as much as 40% Dehydrated Lucerne in a grower ration, when the Lucerne is of the right quality, when fed controlled production rations. Lucerne is a legume and an important component in any crop rotation cycle as it fixes nitrogen in the soil, reducing the need for artificial fertilizers” (3).
Whichever way you wanna cut the pie folks, we need Ostriches! They provide a food source for other species, have inspired cultures and civilizations for 5,000 years in Mesopotamia and Egypt (1), play a vital role in the bio food web, and now have been recognized for their ability to improve agricultural management practices through their manure. I think we need to learn how to live with our environment and the unique species within it.
If we can come together and protect the Ostrich and other species through supporting organizations like Nikela, SCF, and other programs locally and internationally we might just have a chance to buy a little more time on this planet we call home.
Contributed by Nikela Volunteer Morgan Fay