GRASSLANDS

Grasslands habitats are dominated by grasses with few large shrubs or trees. The three main types of grasslands include temperate grasslands, tropical grasslands or savannas and steppe grasslands. Grasslands have dry seasons and rainy seasons. They are susceptible to fires during dry seasons.

 Temperate grasslands have a lack trees and large shrubs and are dominated by grass. The soil has an upper layer that is nutrient-rich. Seasonal droughts result in fires that keep trees and shrubs from taking over the area.

 Tropical grasslands are located near the equator with warmer, wetter climates than temperate grasslands and more pronounced seasonal droughts. They are dominated by grasses, but also have scattered trees. The soil of tropical grasslands are porous and drain quickly. Tropical grasslands can be found in South America, Australia, Africa, India and Nepal.

 Steppe grasslands are dry grasslands that border on semi-arid deserts. Their grasses are much shorter than temperate and tropical grasslands and they lack trees except along rivers and streams.

Animals that inhabit grasslands include American bison, African elephants, lions and spotted hyenas.

Grasslands are areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses and other herbaceous (non-woody) plants. They are also known as prairies and savannas. Grasslands occur naturally on all continents except Antarctica.

Grassland habitats are located in most climates, with the grasses varying in height from very short to very tall. Woody plants, shrubs or trees are found in some grasslands – forming scrubby grassland, semi-wooded grassland or savanna such as the African savanna plains. Some grasslands are called wood-pasture or woodland.

Grasslands may occur naturally or as the result of human activity. Grassland vegetation remains dominant in a particular area usually due to grazing, cutting or natural or manmade fires, all discouraging trees and shrubs from growing. Some of the world's largest expanses of grassland, located in Africa, are maintained mostly by wild herbivores.

Grasslands are often dependent on their region and differ around the world. In temperate areas, such as north-west Europe, they are dominated by perennial (year-round) grasses. In warmer climates, annual grasses make up most of the plant life.

Grassland habitats support a wealth of wildlife including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects. Smaller animals are common as the open and uncovered areas make predators easier to see. Some large herbivorous mammals do also inhabit grasslands.

Grasslands once covered two thirds of the planet. As a result of human agriculture, only small pockets of original grassland ecosystems remain. Half of Africa remains grasslands.

 

GRASSLAND FACTS

VANISHING GRASSLANDS

Grasslands (also known as prairies and savannah) differ around the globe, from the prairies of North America to the African Savannah, but they all support a wide variety of wildlife. Birds, reptiles, insects, grazing mammals and predators all call grasslands home. Nearly two thirds of land on our planet was once covered by grasslands, but much of these magnificent ecosystems have been lost to farming. The result is a catastrophic reduction of critical wildlife habitat.

PRAIRIE GRASSLANDS: LUNGS OF A NATION

No other ecosystem in America removes as much carbon from the atmosphere as prairie grasslands. Some carbon that is produced by our giant industrial complex is recycled into the fertile soils that have become a breadbasket for the entire world. The rolling acres of grassland stretching across the center of the United States are a classic American image. Early European settlers of this eco-region were so impressed by these endless grasslands that they compared them to the ocean, and named their wagons "prairie schooners".

GRASSLAND DUCKS

The prairie grasslands ecoregion is often referred to as a “duck factory” because it produces roughly 50% of America’s ducks even though it occupies only about 10% of total duck breeding territory. Duck species such as northern pintails and mallards form mating pairs and breed in the scattered wetlands of this region. Ducks seem to prefer the smaller wetlands because the isolated ponds allow each pair to have its own space. In fact, ducks already inhabiting a small pond may chase away other ducks in order to protect their territory.

AN ELEPHANT KILLED EVERY 15 MINUTES

Tens of thousands of elephants are killed every year, one every 15 minutes. Driven by demand for ivory as a symbol of wealth or prestige, the illicit profits of ivory trade finance wars, terrorism, illegal drugs and human trafficing. Trade in ivory has been around for centuries. It reached its peak when Africa was colonized. This coincided with the industrial revolution in United Kingdom, Western Europe and America creating a vast demand for ivory.

GIRAFFES IN DANGER

The giraffe is loved and known across the world, but very few people are aware that we are losing both this iconic species and its close relative, the okapi, at an unprecedented and alarming rate. Giraffe and okapi are the only living species in the Giraffidae family and share a number of common features, such as elongated necks and long, dark-coloured tongues (both adaptations for feeding on tree leaves). The giraffe is found in savannah regions of 21 countries.

RHINO: AN ANCIENT ANIMAL AT RISK

The rhino is one of the largest and most powerful animals on earth, and one of the most ancient. Its origins can be traced back 50 million years when it was know as Paraceratherium, the giant rhinoceros. This monstrous creature weighed nearly 20 tons and roamed the grasslands that ranged from Europe to China. It survived the ravages of the Ice Age, migrated continents, fought against predatory adversaries like the crocodile and prehistoric hyenas, and evolved into what we know as the present day rhinoceros. Human hunting and unstable conditions of habitat have reduced this majestic animal.

ANTELOPES IN DOUBLE JEOPARDY

Antelopes are an increasing conservation concern, with one-third of the world's 87 species now listed as threatened. Loss of habitat, game hunting, poaching, and loss of grazing land to cattle farmers are some of the biggest threats to antelope populations. Adding to the threats to antelope populations is changes in climate. For 82 percent of African antelope species, forecasts show a decline in suitable habitat by 2080 due to the effect of climate change. About one-quarter are likely to see their range size drop in half.

BISON

A symbol of the wild west, the American bison is the heaviest land mammal in North America. Also called the American buffalo, the bison has a large head with relatively small, curving horns. It has a shaggy coat of brown hair on its shoulders and legs, while its body has shorter, finer hair. Bison are 5 to 6½ feet long and weigh 900 to 2,200 pounds. Males are larger than females on average. Historically, bison numbered an estimated 20 million to 30 million. Today, approximately 250,000 remain in the United States. Of those, only 16,000 roam in the wild. Yellowstone National Park has the only population of free-roaming bison.

LION

Renowned for their majesty and nicknamed the King of the Jungle, lions possess both beauty and strength. Males are distinguishable by their manes which protect them while fighting. Lions vary in color but are typically a light, yellowish-brown. Males stand at a shoulder height of about 4 feet and reach about 5 ½ to 8 feet in length. Their tails average a length of 3 to 3 ½ feet, and they can weigh as much as 330 to 550 pounds. Females are smaller than males. Lions are the only members of the cat family to display obvious sexual dimorphism – that is, males and females look distinctly different.

ZEBRA

Zebras have black and white stripes all over their bodies except their stomachs, which are white. They have four one-toed hoofs. Their slender, pointed ears reach up to eight inches in length. Zebras have manes of short hair that stick straight up from their necks. The stripes on their bodies continue to the mane. They also have a tuft of hair at the end of their tails. The Grevy's Zebra differs from all other zebras in its primitive characteristics and different behavior. Zebras reach six to eight-and-a-half feet in length. Their tails are an additional one-and-a-half feet long. Zebras weigh between 530 and 820 pounds.

CHEETAH

The fastest land animal in the world, the cheetah is a marvel of evolution. Capable of running up to 70 miles per hour, the cheetah’s slender, long-legged body is built for speed. Its spotted coat, small head and ears, and distinctive "tear stripes" from the corner of the eyes down the sides of the nose make the cheetah highly recognizable among the large cats of Africa.

TIGER

Tigers (Panthera tigris) are mammals of the Felidae family and one of four "big cats" in the panthera genus. They are predatory carnivores and the largest and most powerful of all living cat species. The Indian subcontinent is home to more than 80% of the wild tigers in the world. Tigers breed well in captivity, and the captive population in the United States may rival the wild population of the world. Most tigers live in forests or grasslands, for which their camouflage is ideally suited, and where it is easy to hunt prey that is faster or more agile. Among the big cats, only the tiger and jaguar are strong swimmers; tigers are often found bathing in ponds, lakes, and rivers.

LYNX

Lynx is a member of the cat family. There are four species of lynx within the Lynx genus: Spanish, Canadian, Eurasian lynx and the bobcat. These medium-sized wild cats have short tails, tufts of black hair on the tips of their ears, large whiskers and a ruff under their necks with black bars resembling a bow tie. Their padded paws are large, allowing them to easily walk on snow. The bobcat and the Canada lynx are the smallest species; the Eurasian lynx is the largest species; while each species may vary considerably. Lynx coloring varies according their climate; from gold to beige-white to medium brown.

ANTELOPE

When we think of antelopes, many of us picture four-legged, deer-like creatures bounding across a blazing savannah. What may be surprising, however, is that members of this sub-group within the family Bovidae live in a wide range of environments, including grassland, desert, rocky terrain, frigid steppes, forest, and swampland. The majority of the 91 antelope species are found in Africa and include gnus and gazelles, but some species also occur in India, Central Asia, Russia, and the Arabian Peninsula. No antelope species is native to the Americas or Australia, however populations exist on those continents because of importation for exotic game hunting.

BLACK-FOOTED FERRET

The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) is a small carnivorous North American mammal closely related to the steppe polecat of Russia, and a member of the diverse family Mustelidae which also includes weasels, mink, polecats, martens, otters, and badgers. It should not be confused with the domesticated ferret.

GIRAFFE

Giraffes are one of the world's tallest mammals. They are well known for their long necks, long legs, and spotted patterns. Giraffes have small "horns" or knobs on top of their heads that grow to be about five inches long. These knobs are used to protect the head in fights. Male giraffes are larger than females. Males weigh between 2,400 and 3,000 pounds and stand up to 19 feet tall. Female giraffes weigh between 1,600 and 2,600 pounds and grow to be 16 feet tall.

RHINOCEROS

Lumbering members of the family Rhinoerotidae, rhinoceroses (or rhinos) are some of the largest land animals on earth today, aside from elephants. These gigantic herbivores are spread over a mere five species and are native to only a few places in the world. Two species originate in Africa (the black and white rhinos), and three in Southern Asia (the Sumatran, Indian, and Javan rhinos). Although they all fall under the same family classification, the divergence that emerged in each rhino species actually occurred between 5-14 million years ago, shown by their very genetic makeup. In fact, the black rhino is the only one to have 84 chromosomes, while all other species have 82.