Dec 21

Camera trap studies have shown that scaled-up anti-poaching efforts in Thailand’s Western Forest Complex have proven to be successful.

Clouded leopard image

The elusive clouded leopard is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

Candid camera

Thanks to a camera trap project led by the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Asia Program, rare glimpses of endangered animals have been captured on film during the last year in the Western Forest Complex. The area includes 17 protected areas in Thailand and Myanmar, and houses a wide variety of fascinating species including the elusive clouded leopard and the impressive banteng, a rare species of wild cattle. The footage demonstrates that the increased anti-poaching efforts which have been established in the area are proving to be successful, and are having a positive effect on the local wildlife.

Green peafowl image

Images of the beautiful green peafowl were captured during the project

Elusive species become stars on screen

The footage captured by the camera traps features a vast array of forest-dwelling species, including many which are classified as threatened on the IUCN Red List such as the Vulnerable sun bear, and the green peafowl and Malayan tapir, both classified as Endangered. The camera trap project has also documented a variety of behaviours, from an Indochinese tigress and cubs drinking at a watering hole to a skittish banteng, and has demonstrated the species richness of the Thai forests.

Joe Walston, director of the WCS’s Asia Program, is delighted with the effects that increased patrolling has had on the local biodiversity, “The video represents a huge payoff for the government of Thailand, which has invested considerable resources in protecting wildlife and preventing illegal hunters from plundering the country’s natural heritage.

Indochinese tiger image

Indochinese tiger populations in the area have stabilised

Good news for tigers and more

The information gleaned from the video footage by WCS indicates that the numbers of Indochinese tigers, as well as populations of their prey species, have now stabilised in the region. It is estimated that there are now between 125 and 175 tigers in the area, which also contains one of the largest Asian elephant populations in Southeast Asia.

Overall, the news for Thailand is good with WCS stating that the country has one of the best anti-poaching records in Asia.

Read more on this story at Mongabay – Camera trap videos capture stunning wildlife in Thailand.

Explore species found in Thailand on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

Dec 20

The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) has appointed a BirdLife partnership to act as part of a regional team that will implement CEPF’s $10 million investment in conservation in the Mediterranean Basin. 

Mediterranean Basin image

Maquis vegetation on mountains in the Mediterranean Basin

Biodiversity hotspot

Uniquely located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa, the Mediterranean Basin is one of the most biologically rich and complex regions on Earth. With almost 12,000 of its species found nowhere else in the world, the Mediterranean Basin is considered to be one of the planet’s biodiversity ‘hotspots’, due to the region’s high level of endemism.

The region encompasses 34 countries and some 2 million square kilometres, making the development of a conservation plan for the Mediterranean Basin a complicated process. Current threats to the unique ecosystems of the Mediterranean include increasing pressure from tourism, development, overuse of resources such as water, and climate change. 

Spanish imperial eagle image

The Spanish imperial eagle, endemic to the Mediterranean region

 
Investment in conservation

In order to conserve the exceptional biodiversity of the Mediterranean Basin, CEPF have been working with the MAVA Foundation, the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, and other conservation organisations throughout the region to create a strategy known as the Mediterranean Basin Ecosystem Profile. This strategy will see the targeted investment of some $10 million into the Mediterranean region.

As part of the implementation team for this investment, the BirdLife partnership will provide local expertise and knowledge, and will create a network of groups across the region who will work to achieve the conservation goals of the strategy.

Head of BirdLife’s Middle East Division, Ibrahim Khader, says, “We are proud to be an implementing partner within this distinguished and creative partnership. The CEPF initiative is a significant investment in the basin, addressing critical and strategic funding to conserve the unique biodiversity, species and sites within this highly diversified area.

Mediterranean scrub image

Mediterranean scrub in spring bloom

Read the full story on BirdLife’s involvement – Conservation fund for the Mediterranean Basin gives key role to the BirdLife Partnership.

Read about the work of CEPF in the Mediterranean Basin.

Find out more about the Mediterranean Basin eco-region on ARKive.

Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author

Dec 19

Dr Elizabeth WhiteIf you enjoyed Frozen Planet as much as we have here at ARKive, you’ll be pleased to hear that the series will be returning to our screens in the form of a Christmas Special, due to air in the UK on the 28 December. With some of our favourite species from the show making an appearance again, including stone-stealing Adélie penguins and adorable polar bear cubs, it looks like this special is not to be missed! Of course, being such huge fans, the team here jumped at the chance to chat to Elizabeth White who worked on the series.

Elizabeth has a degree in Zoology and a PhD in animal behaviour. She has worked for the BBC Natural History Unit for 8 years and was one of the Directors on the Frozen Planet series, specialising in filming marine, people and climate change stories.

ARKive talks to Elizabeth White:

Q: What was your role on the BBC’s Frozen Planet series?

I was Assistant Producer for ‘The Last Frontier’ and ‘On Thin Ice’, and a Director on a variety of sequences across the rest of the series. The Producer’s role is to shape the film – deciding what stories to cover, looking into logistics, budgets and planning and writing the narrative, and as Assistant Producer, you support all of that.  Directing is the fun, in the field bit!  Because of my background, which includes SCUBA diving and underwater filming, I worked on many of the marine stories – from the ice whales to killer whales, and under and around the ice in Russia and Antarctica – and also the ‘people’ films, working with many of the Inuit and Inupiat communities to tell their stories of traditional knowledge and climate change.

Beluga whale photo

Whales such as this beluga, along with bowheads and narwhal, are commonly called ice whales because their lives are intimately linked to the coming and going of the Arctic sea ice

Q: It must be hard to pick just one, but do you have a highlight from your time spent filming?

The Antarctic Peninsula was my absolute favourite place I visited during the making of the series. I went twice, onboard a small yacht called the Golden Fleece, skippered by a veteran Antarctic sailor called Jerome Poncet who has spent 40 years in the region.  The scenery there is absolutely breathtaking, waking up to icebergs, penguins, whales and giant mountain ranges every day was just fantastic. On the second trip we filmed killer whales, and just being around them day by day – and never knowing what to expect next – was absolutely the best adventure I could ever imagine.

Antarctic Peninsula photo

The scenery of the Antarctic Peninsula is absolutely breathtaking

 
Q: And how about any scary moments? There must have been a few!

Not too many… I had a few nights camping in the Arctic imagining the sound of polar bears crunching around my tent!  But the scariest moment for me was almost being mowed down by a cruise ship when we were coming back from Antarctica.  We were miles from anywhere on the convergence, in thick fog with this large dot on the radar coming straight for us. We changed course over and over to avoid it, but it just kept coming towards us. It was like something from a horror film as it got closer and closer on the radar and we turned and turned and held our breath waiting to see where it appeared from and then… suddenly from the gloom came the giant ship’s bow with lots of passengers looking over!  Apparently they thought we were an iceberg and came to have a look at us, but it left all of us feeling somewhat shaken!

Polar bear photo

Is that a polar bear I hear outside?

Q: What was it like being one of the only women on the team?

There were three female directors on the team, but on location it was usual to be the only female – most of our cameramen are male, most of the scientists are male and certainly the Inuit and Inupiat hunters are male. Most of the time it makes no difference at all, but there are odd moments when the differences do show up – for example when you are out on the flat, featureless sea ice and need to take a pee!  You learn not to be too ‘girlie’ – there are definitely no hair dryers when you’re camping in the Arctic and you have to accept weeks without showers. But the experiences make the ‘rough times’ insignificant. Bear in mind that 30 years ago few women got the chance to go to Antarctica, so I count myself lucky to be born at a time where women can do jobs like these.

Arctic photo

There are no home comforts when camping in the Arctic, but the experiences make everything worthwhile

Q: How was it working with the local people?
 
I worked a lot with Inuit and Inupiat people in Canada and Alaska. They are fascinating societies – challenging to work with at times – but I was lucky to meet some very interesting people and experience a lot of their culture. Visiting a real igloo was a highlight for me, and in Barrow Alaska they let me take part in their ‘blanket toss’ ceremony, bouncing me up into the air on the top of a walrus-skin trampoline – a fun but slightly adrenaline-pumping experience!  Some of these cultures are quite misunderstood – many still hunt marine mammals which makes them wary of Westerners who may interfere with their culture. A lot of my job was building trust prior to filming, but once they realised we were not out to attack them, they were usually delighted to share with us the beauty of their environment which they understand better than anyone.

Elizabeth White with friends

Q: The final episode of the series focuses on the changing environment in the polar regions, what’s your take on the impact that climate change is having?
 
It’s an unequivocal fact that the polar regions are changing – we have the satellite record, images of glacier retreat, long-term animal population studies and oral histories which clearly show the differences between now and 30, 50, 100 years ago. In many places the animals are adapting – we visited penguin colonies on the Peninsula which were once Adelies that are now crammed with gentoos, saw fur seals far further south than would have been common before.  Of course not all places are changing at the same rate – the Inuit we worked with in Canada talked about ‘unpredictability’ of their weather and their ice, whereas in Alaska the ice now is consistently thinner, earlier to melt and contains less ‘multiyear ice’ than it did 30 years ago.  The question is going to be about adaptation – how far can certain species go before they are pushed to the brink – and the impact these changes will have on the rest of the planet. 

Adélie penguin photo

The question is, how far can species adapt to their changing environment?

Gentoo penguin photo

Gentoo penguins are now found in colonies traditionally populated by Adélies

 

Q:  And finally, do you have a favourite species from the series?

That’s tricky! I fell in love with a polar bear the first time I saw one and penguins will always have a massive place in my heart. But I guess I would have to say killer whales – mainly because they are so smart, and so little understood, and because, on our film trips, we were contributing towards scientific understanding of them – an exciting thing for a former biologist like myself!  Behavioural and genetic evidence shows there are many different ‘ecotypes’ – potentially different species – of killer whales.  We observed 3 of these different types in Antarctica and, working together with scientists, filmed behaviours which will help contribute towards a better understanding of them. That’s pretty exciting.

Orca photo

The team filmed some incredible killer whale behaviour

If you’ve been inspired to learn more about our polar regions, don’t forget the check out ARKive’s Arctic and Antarctic eco-region pages to find out more about the species found in these extreme environments.

You can also check out the BBC’s Frozen Planet pages for more information about the series, including clips, episode guides and more behind the scenes stories from Elizabeth and her fellow team members.

Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher

Dec 17

In need of something to adorn the top of your freshly decorated Christmas tree?! Here at ARKive, we thought we’d look to the animal kingdom for some inspiration and have come up with our Top Ten Fairies and Angels. Although we’re not sure how most of these critters will take to being perched atop your tinselled creation…..

Angel shark

A shark might be the last thing you expect to be described as angelic, especially as the crafty angel shark buries itself in the mud in order to ambush prey. But not to worry, it feeds mainly on flatfishes, skates, crustaceans and molluscs so your Christmas tree chocolates are safe!

Angel shark image

Fairy pitta

A mythical type of bread that flutters around in children’s stories?! Not quite! But with its colourful plumage the fairy pitta would be a delightful addition to any tree.

Fairy pitta image

Angel’s Madagascar frog

While this species may have an angelic name, its slightly damp appearance may put some people off including it in the Christmas tree line up! However, with its ability to grip onto rocks in fast-flowing water, Angel’s Madagascar frog certainly wouldn’t need any help clinging to the upper boughs of your tree.

Angel’s Madagascar frog image

Fairy shrimp

A beautiful, translucent crustacean, the fairy shrimp would put on a glittering display worthy of any bauble. And with the eggs of this species able to survive periods of drought, it’s definitely a low-maintenance option.

Fairy shrimp image

French angelfish

The juvenile of this particularly angelic species spends time at cleaning stations, where it nips off pesky parasites and bits of skin form other visiting fish. Perhaps if we asked nicely, the French angelfish wouldn’t mind keeping the tinsel on our tree in order?

French angelfish image

Fairy tern

This particular fairy feeds almost entirely on fish, which it hunts for at sea. While this may mean the Christmas turkey is safe, I’m not sure that the smell left from the fairy tern’s prefferred dinner would make it a welcome tree guest.

Fairy tern image

Great egret

While the great egret may not have an angelic name, the elegant plumes of this species certainly give it an ethereal appearance. If the male could be persuaded to perform a courtship dance atop our Christmas tree it certainly would provide a talking point during mulled wine and mince pies!

Great egret image

Fairy slipper orchid

The stunning flowers of the fairy slipper orchid earn this species the title of most beautiful terrestrial orchid in North America. However, with the flowers only making a show in spring, it might be a little late for decorating the tree.

Fairy slipper orchid image

Lesser fairy armadillo

An unusual addition to any tree! The lesser fairy armadillo prefers to spend its time tunnelling underground so may not stick around for the duration of the festive season.

Lesser fairy armadillo image

Fairy prion

Ah now this is more like it! Who wouldn’t want this cute pompom of fluff adorning their tree?! Although as a wanderer of the open seas, this young fairy prion may not be quite as at home in your living room…

Fairy prion image

 

Spotted any other festive decorative species on ARKive? Let us know!

Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author

Dec 17

December 17th is the official anniversary of the first human flight in a powered, heavier-than-air plane, so to mark this historic event we have taken a look at how flight has been mastered by both animals and humans.

The Wright Flight

Little did the Wright Brothers know that when they boarded their muslin-covered, wooden plane on that December morning that they would be paving the way for aviation as we now know it. It is astounding to think how far air travel has come in the last 108 years. We now have planes that can carry over 500 passengers to the other side of the world, in extraordinary comfort in less than 24 hours, the prospect of which back in 1903 would have sounded like something fresh from the pages of a science-fiction novel!

Photo of the first successful flight of the Wright Flyer, by the Wright brothers.

First successful flight of the Wright Flyer, by the Wright brothers.

 

Animal Inspiration?

Animals conquered flight long before 1903, admittedly in a slightly different fashion. It has proved such a successful strategy that it has evolved independently four times in birds, bats, insects (and pterosaurs), and each of the extant groups is still going strong.

Photo of a Mauritian flying fox in flight

Bats are the only group of mammals to have evolved the ability to fly.

Bats are the second most diverse group of mammals and the only mammal to have developed true powered flight. Birds have the most species of any class of terrestrial vertebrates, and there are more species of insect than all other animals added together, so they must be doing something right!

Photo of a Harlequin ladybird in flight

Insects are the only class of invertebrate that can fly.

 

Glorious Gliders

The Wright Brothers started out building gliders before honing their designs and moving onto powered flight. Gliding is also a popular strategy in the natural world and can be seen in mammals including the northern flying squirrel. This nocturnal mammal glides between trees using a fold of skin that stretches between its wrists and ankles. This parachute effect allows it to travel up to 45 metres in a single glide, using its tail as a rudder.

Photos of the northern flying squirrel

The northern flying squirrel can glide as far as 45 metres.

 

Recipe For Success

So why was it that the Wright Brothers succeeded when so many others had tried and failed? The answer is quite simple; they had achieved both power and control, using a specially designed lightweight engine and controls that allowed the pilot to steer effectively. One of the best examples of powerful, controlled flight in birds has to be the kestrel. Kestrels hunt by sight and are able to hover perfectly still in mid air, even in heavy winds. Once they have locked their sights onto their prey they are able to dive to capture it with incredible accuracy.

Photo of a kestrel in flight

Kestrels exhibit both power and control in flight.

 

Did you know?

  • The wandering albatross has the largest wingspan of any bird, measured at over 3.5 metres, and spends the majority of its life in flight.
  • The bee hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world and has the smallest wingspan of any bird. It is capable of beating its tiny wings up to 80 times a second.
  • One of the heaviest flying birds is the kori bustard which can weigh as much as 20 kilograms.
  • The longest invertebrate annual migration is carried out by the monarch butterfly across North America.
  • The longest bird migration is undertaken by the Arctic tern which traverses the globe on its annual pole to pole journey, meaning it sees more sunlight each year than any other animal.

 

Photo of an Arctic tern adult feeding young

Arctic terns undertake the longest bird migration

Photo of a wandering albatross in flight against stormy sky with pair displaying in backgroud

The wandering albratross has a huge wingspan!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brilliant Biomimicry

The natural world has long been used as inspiration for technological advances, particularly with when it comes to flight. Leonardo da Vinci was a keen observer of the anatomy and flight of birds and even the Wright Brothers were thought to have studied pigeon flight. As our understanding of biomechanics and animal movement advances it will be exciting to see what’s next for biologically inspired engineering – here’s to seeing what the next 108 years bring!

Laura Sutherland, ARKive Education Officer

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