Dec 16

Ivan TeageI’ve been working in technology for a good few years, and started out making websites way back in the mid-nineties when the internet was (for me) just a nifty way to download guitar chords and recipes. After an inspiring year in Australia several years ago, I became passionate about the natural world, and wanted to work more directly with protecting biodiversity and the environment.  Working as the Head of IT on the ARKive project is a great mix of technology, science and creativity, and a constant source of inspiration for my wildlife photography hobby.

What are you currently working on?

I’ve been working on a European project (see http://sterna.arkive.org/), bringing together diverse content on birds and exploring ways to add semantic links and create search interfaces. I’ve just helped launch our new Facebook campaign, and we’ve also been working on some great new features for the ARKive website. Watch this space!

What animal skill would you most like to have?

I expect it’s a common answer, but I think moving in three dimensions must be nice. Whether that’s via flight or swimming I don’t mind. Also – maybe it’s not really a skill, but living without conscious thought sounds pretty amazing, and animals are always being described in that way. Just imagine that.

Which three people would you invite to the ultimate dinner party?

A great scientist and a great artist. Finding common ground over a slap-up feast I hope. So let’s say Isaac Newton and Frédéric Chopin, and of course Roger Phillips, whose field guides, websites and other books I still find the most useful. Maybe he can help me forage the right species for the menu as well!

Where in the world would you most like to go?

I have a weakness for islands. They’re all so unique and often overlooked, and you can never run out of islands to visit. So in no particular order, I’d love to visit the Galapagos Islands, Socotra Island, Christmas Island and closer to home, the Isle of Man.

Which celebrity do you most look like?

No idea. Well, being unable to answer this myself, I thought I’d use an ‘image recognition service’ website, which claims to match up your feature set with that of a celebrity. And er… apparently I look like David Soul! I have to say I’m not really aware of his work…

What do you think the next big technological development will be?

It’s hard to say. Personalised digital experiences will make it easier for more people to live in a blinkered way seeing only what they have chosen to see. But with every change comes opposition, and the most interesting things always happen at boundaries. I love the way sometimes the best technologies don’t make it and sometimes the most unexpected ones take hold. Ideas are no longer limited by technology, and I think we’ll see more user-centric innovation of existing technologies, which have so much more potential.

What’s the best wildlife encounter you’ve ever had?

The unexpected ones are the best, like finding a flock of roosting starlings on the M6, or the mud-skippers on Pulau ubin, Singapore. I highly rate the 100% guaranteed (I went two days running) humpback whale experience in Boston harbour.

Maybe what generated the most enthusiasm for me was the sheer numbers and varieties of mushrooms I saw in Slovenian forests in the Autumn of 2009. Finding my first Cep (Boletus edulis) was a pivotal moment!

What’s your favourite thing on ARKive?

That’s a good question. Every time I look I see something new. Old favourites make me smile like the ‘panda falling out of a tree’ and the ‘hidden Bengal tiger’ (seriously, where is it??), and I’m fascinated by what we have preserved of species now extinct, and think it’s amazing that we have footage and images for the quagga, the thylacine and the Laysan crake.

Tell us an animal related joke.

Why did the algae and and the fungus get married?

They took a lichen to each other. 

Dec 15

In case you missed the last instalment, the ARKive team have been having some fun putting a wildlife twist on the popular ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’ game, in which you link actors through their films to Kevin Bacon in just six steps.

Last week I challenged everyone to get from the narwal to the pika in six wildlife-themed steps, using only those species that are on ARKive. Well, the chains we received were pretty varied, with steps involving Ricky Gervais, David Attenborough, and the faeces-eating behaviour of young elephants – lovely!

After much debate we have decided that the winner is….cue drum roll….Mike T! Congratulations Mike, it was the cunning use of the magpie’s Latin name that swung it. Although I have to disagree on one point – pikas are much cuter than chinchillas! Obviously there’s no right or wrong answer, but here’s the solution that I came up with:

Narwhal

Narwhal

Due to their long single tusk, narwhals have long been associated with unicorns and in fact, part of their Latin name (Monodon monoceros) actually means unicorn in Greek. The stuff of legends also, dugongs are thought to be the origin for many mermaid tales.

Dugong

Dugong

Dugongs are the only entirely marine mammal to feed exclusively on plants, a trait that means they are sometimes referred to as ‘sea cows’. Another cow-named species is the….

Cow parsley

Cow parsley

Cow parsley is insect-pollinated and is often favoured by hoverflies, who have small mouths and therefore like the small flowers of the cow parsley.

Wasp hoverfly

Wasp hoverfly

The aptly named wasp hoverfly, thanks to its body shape and black and yellow markings, is a wasp mimic. Wasps are social insects (of the order Hymenoptera), and so is the…

Australian ant

Australian ant

This ant of ancient lineage is sometimes called the ‘dinosaur ant’. Also known for its dinosaur-like qualities and prehistoric look is the alligator snapping turtle.

Alligator snapping turtle

The alligator snapping turtle is endemic to the south-eastern region of the USA. The adorably cute and fluffy American pika is also found in…..can you guess? Yes indeed, the USA.

American pika 

American pika

Getting the hang of it now? This weeks challenge is to hop, step and jump from the spectacular manta ray to the comedic secretary bird in six furry, scaly, or feathery steps. Again, post your chains as comments on this blog and we’ll decide the winner.

Bonnie Metherell, ARKive Media Researcher

Dec 13

A huge crackdown on illegal wildlife smuggling rings in Central Africa has seen unprecedented success in recent weeks, with the arrests of key dealers and the recovery of hundreds of kilos of illegal ivory, turtle shells and animal skins.

The Last Great Ape Organisation (Laga), a wildlife law-enforcement NGO, coordinated the operations in Cameroon, Gabon, the Central African Republic and Congo-Brazzaville. The arrests have come as part of a major regional clampdown on poachers and smugglers, with game rangers in each country patrolling remote border areas jointly with colleagues from neighbouring regions. These cross-border operations mark the first coordinated campaign of its kind, in a substantial step towards better law enforcement for the protection of endangered species.

African grey parrot

Up to a fifth of the global population of African grey parrots may be harvested annually for illegal trafficking, the pet trade and medicinal markets.

In Gabon, 16 dealers were arrested in possession of 150 kilograms of polished ivory, a haul worth close to £90,000 which was likely destined for Chinese markets. In Cameroon, three dealers trading 17 turtle shells were arrested and a cargo of 1,000 African grey parrots worth an estimated £65,000 was intercepted as it was being smuggled into Nigeria, one of the world’s most notorious routes for illegal wildlife trafficking.

Hawksbill turtle

Sea turtles, such as the hawksbill turtle, are threatened by the huge demand for their shells, and the substantial market for eggs, meat and even stuffed juveniles as exotic gifts.

Seven leopard skins, two lion skins and two tusks thought to be destined for Europe or the US were seized in the Central African Republic, hidden beneath a pile of cowhides in the dealer’s truck, while in Congo-Brazzaville, a further 30 kilograms of ivory was found on the same day.

Ofir Drori, the founder of Laga, said of the breakthrough campaign, “African governments have started realising international trafficking has to be fought internationally. These coordinated arrests in four neighbouring countries are a warning to the international trafficking rings – no longer can you hide on the other side of a border”.

Great bonfire of confiscated African elephant ivory

Elephants have been hunted over the centuries for their tusks, which are traded as ivory.

Illegal wildlife smuggling generates an estimated 10 to 20 billon US dollars each year, a figure which places the trade just behind illegal drug and firearm sales, according to the UN Congress on Crime. The network of dealers in wildlife trafficking is well established, and the smugglers may often work hand-in-hand with government officials. Corruption in Central African countries is widespread, making it one of the biggest obstacles facing wildlife law enforcement.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author

Dec 10

According to a new study by Butterfly Conservation Europe, butterflies normally found in flower-rich grasslands are in steep decline, indicating a much wider loss of European biodiversity. 

Adonis blue

The Adonis blue (Lysandra bellargus), a butterfly of calcareous (chalky) grasslands.

Data collected from 3,000 sites in 15 countries has shown that populations of at least 17 European butterfly species have declined by an average of 70 percent in the last 20 years. This worrying figure points to a much wider loss of biodiversity in the meadows of Europe, with grassland butterfly populations used as indicators for the overall health of grassland ecosystems. 

Lulworth skipper

The Lulworth skipper (Thymelicus acteon), a small butterfly in decline.

Sustainably managed semi-natural grasslands support high levels of biodiversity, including plants, butterflies and many other insect groups; however, the abandonment of traditional livestock-grazing and hay-making practices in favour of more intensive, and more profitable, farming methods have led to many species disappearing from these areas altogether. 

The sharp declines in butterfly populations are largely due to the rapid economic and social changes that have taken place in Europe over the last few decades. Traditional farming methods in particular have changed drastically, with land that had been farmed for generations being abandoned where it is unable to support modern agricultural practices, or turned over to intensive farming, resulting in widespread deterioration of the once diverse grasslands. Many young people are also turning away from farming and moving to the cities, leaving behind the rural communities and the traditional methods of managing the meadows. 

Small copper butterfly

The small copper (Lycaena phlaeus), one of the species used for the Grassland Butterfly Indicator.

A change in the EU agricultural policy is necessary if butterflies are to once again flourish on European meadows. Dr Martin Warren, Chief Executive at Butterfly Conservation (UK) is advocating a change to farming in areas of High Nature Value (HNV), which are vital for the survival of grassland butterflies across Europe, such as the alpine meadows, pasture and steppe in eastern and southern Europe, Spain and Portugal.  

The redirection of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funding to support sustainable farming of HNV areas is considered by butterfly conservationists as vital to halting further losses and supporting the recovery of grassland butterflies in Europe. Under a HNV approach, farmers would be encouraged to return to the traditional methods of grassland management, in return for better support and incentives under new European policy, which could be decided in the next round of CAP reform in 2013. Butterfly Conservation Europe is also pressing for grassland butterflies to be adopted as agricultural indicators, incorporating them into EU policies for monitoring the health of important ecosystems. 

To find out more about butterfly conservation in Europe, see: 

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author

Dec 8

Conservation is working for one of the world’s most charismatic animals – the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei).

Mountain gorilla infant

The mountain gorilla subspecies (Gorilla beringei beringei) has a particularly long coat, which is blue-black to brownish-grey in colour.

The mountain gorilla population in the Virunga Massif – a key habitat for mountain gorillas that spans three national parks on the border between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo – was surveyed in March and April of this year. Conservationists say that the census revealed 480 gorillas living in 36 groups. A similar survey in 2003 estimated the population at just 380 individuals, so the latest figures suggest an encouraging population increase of approximately 25 percent in the last 7 years.

The census was a massive operation that spanned two months and three countries, and involved multinational teams systematically sweeping over 1,000 kilometres of challenging terrain. The teams covered the entire range of the mountain gorilla in the Virunga Massif, meticulously documenting fresh signs of mountain gorilla groups and conducting genetic analyses of fecal samples to estimate just how many gorillas survive in the region.

Mountain gorilla silverback in habitat

Mountain gorillas are found in areas of dense vegetation at altitudes between 1,160 and 4,100 metres where they are confined by surrounding cultivation.

A subspecies of the eastern gorilla, the largest of the living apes, the Critically Endangered mountain gorilla only survives in the Virunga Massif and the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, where a further 302 gorillas are thought to live, bringing the world population to more than 780. This increase in numbers is said to be due to a collaborative ‘trans-boundary’ conservation effort by governments from all three nations of the mountain gorilla’s range and a number of conservation organisations, including the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP), which is formed by the African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna and Flora International and WWF.

Mountain gorilla silverback

Silverback mountain gorillas lead stable family groups and defend their offspring and females by intimidating displays of charging and chest-beating.

Director of the IGCP, Eugene Rutagarama, said “Collectively, we cannot let down our guard on the conservation of these incredible animals. While mountain gorillas are physically strong, they are also incredibly vulnerable.”

Despite the recent increase in numbers, mountain gorillas are still very much under threat from poaching for bushmeat, illegal deforestation, disease, and human conflict, as illustrated by the results of a recent five-day patrol in the Virunga Massif which discovered and destroyed no less than 200 poachers’ snares. The mountain gorilla is rarely directly targeted by poachers, but they are very vulnerable to capture in snares set for other large mammals. However, nine mountain gorillas have been killed in four separate incidents during the last seven years.

Male mountain gorilla feeding on plant stalk

Mainly occurring within fairly well-protected national parks, the mountain gorilla is a key source of tourist revenue and securing its future is crucial for the well-being of communities in the region.

Overall, mountain gorillas are faring better than the world’s other great apes. “The mountain gorilla is the only one of the nine subspecies of African great apes experiencing a population increase. While we celebrate this collective achievement, we must also increase efforts to safeguard the remaining eight subspecies of great apes,” said David Greer, African Great Ape Coordinator with WWF.

Watch ARKive’s eastern gorilla slideshow to view 64 of the best eastern gorilla images.

To find out more about mountain gorillas and their conservation, see:

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

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