Feb 28

Last weekend marked the halfway point of the RBS 6 Nations tournament, the annual clash of Europe’s biggest rugby union sides; England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, France and Italy. The competition kicked off on the 4th February and Saturday’s match, which may well have been the title decider, saw England come away victorious after a tough match against France, the only other undefeated side. 

With the Grand Slam at stake and a nation’s pride to play for, things are certainly hotting up. But if you don’t know your tries from your touch-lines, your fly-halves from your full-backs or your scrums from your sin bins then fear not because here at ARKive we have decided to take a team-by-team look at the hottest rugby stars from the animal kingdom.

England 

With a great deal of strength and ‘pride’, the obvious choice for England’s animal rugby star is the lion. Fast and powerful, this predator is never afraid to make a tackle! As an England supporter myself I just hope our lions will give a performance to be proud of in the two remaining games!

Photo of a lion bringing down a zebra

France 

Flamboyant and stylish, the red junglefowl would be sure to make an impression on the pitch. The rooster has been associated with France since the middle ages and with victories against Scotland and Ireland already under their belts, the French supporters will be hoping to be given something to really crow about in their remaining fixtures.

Photo of a red junglefowl

Ireland 

The majestic red deer would certainly make Ireland’s team. In the rutting season the powerful males lock antlers, much like two players in a ruck. Using their size and strength to their advantage, the males push each other and try to throw their opponent off-balance by twisting, pretty impressive!

Photo of red deer stags rutting

Wales 

Fast and graceful, the red kite would be great on the Welsh wing, quite literally! Wings are the quickest members of the team and need to be agile enough to avoid opponents in order to score tries, something the red kite could do with ease to help Wales with their all important points difference.

Photo of a red kite

Italy

While they may have traditionally been viewed as the ‘underdogs’ of the tournament, Italy are known for being tenacious, much like the beautiful grey wolf. This species knows the real value of teamwork, working together to bring down large and powerful prey (or opponents)!

Photo of a grey wolf

Scotland

A secretive and skillful hunter with a bit of a ‘wild’ streak, the Scottish wild cat would undoubtedly have the tactics and cunning to outwit its opponents on the rugby pitch. Although Scotland are yet to see a win, this stealthy feline from the highlands shouldn’t be underestimated!

Photo of a Scottish wildcat

Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher

Feb 28

The effective population of the Critically Endangered Siberian tiger is fewer than 14 animals, say scientists. 

Although approximately 500 Siberian tigers survive in the wild, the effective population – a measure of the species’ genetic diversity and health – is much lower.

Photo of Siberian tiger walking in snow

Siberian tiger walking in snow

World’s largest cat 

The Siberian tiger, also known as the Amur tiger, is the world’s largest cat. It once occurred across much of northern China, the Korean peninsula, and the southernmost regions of eastern Russia. 

However, during the early 20th Century, the Siberian tiger was almost driven to extinction, as expanding human settlements, habitat loss and poaching wiped it out from over 90% of its range. By the 1940s, just 20 to 30 individuals survived in the wild.

Photo of Siberian tiger

Siberian tiger hiding in long grass

Genetic bottleneck

The new study has identified that this recent ‘genetic bottleneck’ – when the breeding population of Siberian tigers was critically low and the variety of genes being passed on dramatically reduced – has decimated the Siberian tiger’s gene pool. 

A more genetically diverse population of animals has a much better chance of survival. For example, it is more likely to have resistance to a variety of diseases and is less likely to succumb to rare genetic disorders. 

Very low diversity means any vulnerability to disease or a rare genetic disorder is likely to be passed on to the next generation.

Photo of Siberian tiger cub

Siberian tiger cub

Worryingly low effective population size 

Scientists in Russia, Spain and Germany worked together to analyse DNA samples from 15 wild Siberian tigers in the Russian Far East. 

They took blood samples from the tigers and looked for certain ‘markers’ – points in the DNA that show whether or not an animal’s parents were very genetically different from each other. The findings are reported in the journal Mammalian Biology

The results revealed evidence of the genetic bottleneck during the Siberian tiger’s recent history. It appears the Siberian tiger has not recovered from this, denting optimism for the conservation of this iconic animal.

Photo of Siberian tiger in stream

Siberian tiger in stream

“Our results are the first to demonstrate a quite recent genetic bottleneck in Siberian tigers, a result that matches the well-documented severe demographic decline of the Siberian tiger population in the 1940s”, the researchers wrote in the paper. 

“The worryingly low effective population size challenges the optimism for the recovery of the huge Siberian cat.” 

View 29 videos of the tiger on ARKive. 

To find out more, read the BBC article or the scientific article in Mammalian Biology

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

Feb 25

More photos, videos and texts are added to ARKive every alternate week. Here is a summary of this week’s update:

The stats

  • 45 new species
  • 23 new videos
  • 348 new photos
  • 31 new media donors
  • 42 new texts

What’s new – our favourite new species

Photo of a Siberut Island pig-tailed snub-nosed monkey

The Critically Endangered pig-tailed langur

Photo of the Margaret River burrowing crayfish

The Critically Endangered Margaret River burrowing crayfish

What’s new – our favourite new images

Photo of the ornate horned frog

The ornate horned frog

Photo of a pygmy three-toed sloth

The Critically Endangered pygmy three-toed sloth

What’s new – our favourite new videos 

Photo of the hooded sea slug

Amazing new footage of the hooded sea slug has been added to ARKive

Photo of an opalescent squid

Fantastic new footage of the opalescent squid has been added to ARKive

Get involved!

If you have any photos, footage or species information that you think we should add into ARKive please let us know. There are many ways to get involved with ARKive, from contributing your photos to just spreading the word about us – every little helps!

Full details

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Feb 25

The largest rat eradication programme in history is to begin on a remote UK island, in a bid to save millions of seabirds from these invasive predators.

South Georgia pipit portrait

The South Georgia pipit is the only songbird in the Antarctic region, but is under threat from predation by brown rats.

Brown rats reached the island of South Georgia, in the South Atlantic Ocean, around 200 years ago, transported on sealing and whaling ships. Since then, the rodents have wreaked havoc on the island’s bird life, eating the eggs and chicks of ground-nesting seabirds and driving the endemic South Georgia pipit towards extinction.

Largest ever rat eradication

The eradication programme will involve dropping poison bait from helicopters in an attempt to rid the island of rats. The first poison drops are about to begin, but will initially take place over a limited area to assess whether the techniques are working. If successful, the programme will then be extended to the whole island.

Photo of brown rat

The brown rat has been introduced to many islands around the world, often causing great damage to native wildlife.

With 800 square kilometres to cover, this is the largest eradication programme ever attempted. However, scientists hope that it will clear South Georgia of rats within the next five years.

South Georgia’s birds to benefit

Once the rats are gone, tens of millions of seabirds could return to South Georgia each year to breed. According to Professor Tony Martin, the South Georgia Habitat Restoration Project Director, “The vast majority of birds that should be breeding on South Georgia have been displaced by the presence of rats. Rats have gone virtually everywhere except the very cold southern coast. We are looking to restore millions, possibly tens of millions of sea birds to the island.”

South Georgia pintail side profile

Found only on South Georgia, the South Georgia pintail is the most southerly recorded waterfowl species.

Species which will benefit from the rat eradication include the South Georgia pintail, a subspecies of yellow-billed pintail endemic to South Georgia, as well as seabirds such as Wilson’s storm-petrel and the white-chinned petrel.

Scientists are also confident that the programme will help save the South Georgia pipit from extinction. The world’s most southerly songbird, this endemic species has been lost from most of the main island and is now restricted largely to offshore islets. 

 

Photo of Wilson's storm-petrel in flight

Wilson’s storm-petrel is just one of many seabirds that will benefit from rat removal on South Georgia.

Professor Tony Martin says, “The exciting thing for me about this is there are few things you can do to revert the impact of human activity on the planet but what we are going to be doing will reverse two centuries of human impacts on the island.”

Visit the South Georgia Heritage Trust and find out more about the UK Overseas Territories.

View species from South Georgia on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author 

 

Feb 25

Get ready to celebrate because February 27th is International Polar Bear Day!

Polar bear photo   

Polar bears might look big and tough but with their arctic habitat disappearing fast, the future of the world’s largest land carnivore is in our hands.   

The impact of climate change

Climate change is now the biggest threat facing polar bears, which depend on sea ice for hunting and breeding grounds. With recent declines in sea ice occurring faster than projected, it seems likely that epic nine day swims will become a regular challenge for polar bears.   

Photo of two polar bears on an iceberg

The melting of Arctic sea ice is the main threat to polar bear conservation.

The estimated global population of polar bears is 20,000 to 25,000, but this number is rapidly declining. In 2005, the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group upgraded the polar bear from Least Concern to Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List due to predictions that the global polar bear population will decline by 30% within the next 35 to 50 years.   

Why celebrate polar bears?

A stupid question I realise, but just in case you are in any doubt as to why polar bears are so fantastic and worthy of their own celebratory day, then here “are a few of my favourite things” about polar bears. 

Good fur keeping warm

Polar bears are wonderfully adapted for their snowy environment with their thick white coat providing the perfect camouflage and the perfect defence against freezing temperatures. In fact, polar bears are so well insulated that they overheat at temperatures above 10°C!  

Male polar bear photo  

Claw-rious

Polar bears are able to amble nimbly across the ice thanks to their mobile icepicks – huge non-retractable cat-like claws! These claws also come in pretty handy for keeping a tight grip on fleeing prey. No need for a manicure here then!  

Photo of a polar bears front claws

 

Strong but sensitive

Poor seals don’t really stand much of a chance with polar bears around. Using their incredible sense of smell, polar bears are able to detect prey that are almost a kilometre away and up to a metre under the compacted snow. Seriously impressive olfaction!  

Photo of a polar bear hunting a seal  

Bear-stroke

One polar bear’s recent nine day swim is testament to the amazing swimming skills of these bears. Strong limbs and huge paddle-like forepaws are the secret to the polar bears stroke (judging from this photo it looks like doggy-paddle is their preferred stroke). Polar bears normally just swim short distances, but with increased melting of sea ice, scientists now predict that bears will regularly have to make longer journeys through freezing waters.  

Photo of a polar bear swimming  

How you can help  

I realise that the Arctic and its polar bear inhabitants are a long way from most of us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help to save this wonderful species. Polar Bears International have come up with some great ideas of what you can do on International Polar Bear Day to help make a difference.  

A few other ideas from the ARKive brain are:  

Now you know how amazing polar bears are and what you can do to help, you have no excuse not to go all out and celebrate these Arctic beauties on International Polar Bear Day on February 27th!

Bonnie Metherell, ARKive Media Researcher

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