Jan 24

An extensive protected area along the western coast of the USA has been created for the conservation of leatherback turtles.

Leatherback turtle image

The new protected area will help to conserve the threatened leatherback turtle

Providing protection

An area of 108,556 square kilometres, roughly the size of Guatemala, has recently been designated by the US federal government as critical habitat for the leatherback turtle. This new protected area spans coastal waters from California to Washington State, and it is hoped that it will contribute to the conservation of this enigmatic marine reptile, the largest turtle species in the world and one of the most threatened.

With this designation comes the possibility that the government will consider regulations relating to activities that could harm leatherback turtles or their primary prey species, jellyfish. Industry areas which could potentially be targeted include aquaculture, nuclear power or tidal wave plants and offshore drilling, as well as pollution and agricultural waste.

Beyond leatherbacks and jellyfish, the implementation of strict regulations would also be likely to benefit many more marine species living in the area.

Leatherback turtle image

Leatherback turtles migrate thousands of kilometres from breeding grounds to feeding grounds

Migration routes at risk

Unfortunately, the new critical habitat does not cover the migration routes which are a fundamental part of the life of the leatherback turtle, and as a result these areas remain unprotected.

This is a major decision to protect feeding hotspots for endangered leatherback sea turtles, but the federal government failed to acknowledge that the turtles need safe passage to get there,” says Ben Enticknap, Oceana‘s project manager for the Pacific Ocean.

Leatherback turtles undertake huge migrations each year, covering a distance of approximately 9,700 kilometres from nesting sites in Indonesia to feeding grounds off the west coast of the USA. Had the migration routes been included in the newly appointed critical habitat, a further 74,296 square kilometres of ocean would have been afforded protection.

Leatherback turtle hatchling image

Leatherback turtle hatchling

Further protection required

Named for its flexible shell which is covered in a thin layer of leathery skin, the leatherback turtle is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, having suffered an 80% decline in its global population since 1980. This figure rises to a catastrophic 95% of the population in the Pacific.

The leatherback turtle faces many threats, including egg collection for human consumption and ship strikes. Plastic pollution is a further contributor to the decline in leatherback numbers, as the material is often mistaken for jellyfish and ingested, ultimately leading to starvation.

The primary threat to the leatherback turtles, however, comes from commercial fisheries, with these marine reptiles frequently becoming entangled in longlines or nets and subsequently drowning. Unfortunately, the lack of protection being afforded to the migration routes of this reptilian giant means that additional regulations will not be applied to these fisheries.

Habitat protections are vital to the survival of leatherbacks. We urgently need migration safeguards for these ancient animals as they make the longest, most epic journey of any creature on the planet to get to our West Coast every year,” says Catherine Kilduff of the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD).

Read more on this story at Mongabay.com – Leatherback sea turtles granted massive protected area along U.S. west coast.

View photos and videos of the leatherback turtle on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

Jan 24

As the anticipation around Oscar nominations reaches fever pitch today, we thought we should highlight some of the animal kingdoms most deserving Academy Award nominees. From elaborate makeup to heart-stopping live action, the natural world is packed full of worthy winners. 

Best actor

There were a few contenders for this category, but the grass snake has to be one of the best for its amazing ability to successfully feign death. This is a defence mechanism to deter predators from killing it. If it is caught, it will hiss loudly, release pungent substances, and strike at the head. A well deserved Oscar nominee indeed!

Photo of a grass snake feigning death

Grass snake feigning death


Best actress

There are many birds which use the so called broken wing display, where they pretend to be injured to attract predators away from the nest. This common ringed plover demonstrates this deceptive behaviour at its best.

Photo of a common ringed plover feigning injury

Common ringed plover feigning injury


Best costume design

As the national bird of India, the male Indian peafowl, or peacock, has a spectacular train of feathers which it shakes as part of its elaborate courtship display. This train isn’t in fact its tail, but is composed of tail coverts, or feathers that cover its tail. Either way, no one can deny that this is a strong contender for best costume.

Photo of a male Indian peafowl displaying

Male Indian peafowl displaying


Best makeup

As the largest and one of the most distinctive monkeys in the world, the mandrill has a striking red stripe down its nose, framed in blue. Coupled with its yellow mane-like beard, this is truly a look any makeup artist would be proud of!

Mandrill photo

Mandrill male


Best original song

Everyone is familiar with the term ‘whale song’, but perhaps the most famous belongs to the humpback whale. The male humpback is well known for its impressive leaping displays, and singing highly complex songs, which are similar within a given population. If this doesn’t deserve a nomination for best original song, I don’t know what does!

Photo of humpback whale swimming

Humpback whale swimming


Best director

The spotted hyaena has a strict dominance hierarchy, where the females are in charge! In fact, even the lowest ranking female is above the highest ranking male, and the females are more aggressive. The nominated best ‘director’ in this case has to go to the alpha female of the clan. She is clearly ahead of the rest, and is the best fed individual within the clan, having first access to food and other resources.

Spotted hyaena photo

Spotted hyaena in apeasement, bowing display


Best live action

The natural world is full of live action, but some of the best moments have to be those heart-stopping hunting chases. The cheetah, as the fasted land mammal in the world, is a formidable predator, creeping towards its prey before bursting into a full speed chase. Have a look at some amazing videos of the cheetah’s live action on ARKive!

Cheetah photo

Juvenile cheetah hunting springbok


Best visual effects

The incredible dancing display of the Japanese crane is certainly a visual treat. These birds usually pair for life, and reinforce this bond with their synchronised courtship dance, which can be seen in our amazing video of this spectacle. It is no wonder that this species is seen as a symbol of fidelity, love, good luck, and long life.

Japanese crane photo

Japanese cranes in courtship display

Are there any other worthy Oscar nominees on ARKive? Let us know!

Rebecca Taylor, ARKive Media Researcher

Jan 23

“I’m saving the chimps for last, because they throw poop”.

Not exactly the phrase you might expect to hear when talking about an out-of-the-box conservation photography project. But actually, it makes total sense when it comes to National Geographic magazine photographer and avid ARKive contributor, Joel Sartore.

The Great American Zoo Trip is a project five years in the making for Joel. Capitalizing on the incredible biodiversity in US zoos, Joel and his 18 year old son, Cole, have packed pounds upon pounds of photography gear into an eco-friendly Prius and hit the road with several zoos visits scheduled over the next month.

Many photographers have taken pictures in zoos before so what makes Joel’s project unique? Every single species portrait that Joel captures on camera will have the same, identical studio black or white backgrounds. Why? “This black-and-white background technique gives all species equal weight and importance. A tiny beetle is as interesting as a lion, and a two-toed sloth as cuddly as a panda bear” says Joel.

Snow leopard at the Miller Park Zoo. ©Joel Sartore/National Geographic

Snow leopard at the Miller Park Zoo. ©Joel Sartore/National Geographic

Joel has long been a photographer committed to the preservation of threatened species. He has contributed several dozen of his own images to ARKive over the years from stunning California condor portraits to adorable greater prairie chicks.

“The help of organizations like ARKive and National Geographic is critical in getting the word out about Earth’s vanishing biodiversity.  People only save what they care about, and they only care about what they know.  With the Biodiversity Project, I’m trying to get people to fall in love with these creatures before they all go extinct.”

A gold-handed tamarin (Saguinus midas) at the Miller Park Zoo. The future of this species is quite uncertain as it is going to be 'phased out' in favor of other more showy and popular small primate species. ©Joel Sartore/National Geographic

A gold-handed tamarin (Saguinus midas) at the Miller Park Zoo. The future of this species is quite uncertain as it is going to be 'phased out' in favor of other more showy and popular small primate species. ©Joel Sartore/National Geographic

To ride along on The Great American Zoo Trip, Joel will be posting digital dispatches from the road keeping all fans of the project up to date with the latest zoo visits. Or, if we’re really lucky, a story or two of projectile poop.

Liana Vitali, ARKive Science, Education and Outreach Officer, Wildscreen USA

Jan 23

A monkey which was thought by many to be extinct has been photographed in Indonesian Borneo.

Miller's grizzled langur image

Miller's grizzled langur was thought to be extinct © Eric Fell

A picture is worth a thousand words

In June 2011, an international team of experts hoping to capture images of some of Borneo’s diverse wildlife, including the secretive Diard’s clouded leopard and the enigmatic orangutan, set up time-lapse camera traps within the Wehea Forest on the island’s eastern tip. What the scientists weren’t expecting was to capture photographic evidence of the existence of Miller’s grizzled langur, a primate thought to be extinct.

Miller’s grizzled langur, a large, grey monkey, is a subspecies of Hose’s langur. First described in Indonesia in 1985, the only images of this subspecies previously available were sketches based on museum specimens.

Fires, human encroachment, and the conversion of land for agriculture and mining all contributed to the destruction of the forest habitat upon which Miller’s grizzled langur depends. This destruction, combined with hunting pressures, led to the subspecies becoming so rare that it was widely assumed to have died out, with extensive surveys conducted in 2005 yielding no evidence of its continued survival.

Miller's grizzled langur image

The rediscovery of Miller's grizzled langur is good news for conservationists © Eric Fell


Close analysis of the latest camera trap images from Wehea Forest has confirmed that the primates captured on film were, in fact, Miller’s grizzled langurs.

This subspecies was once found in the north-eastern part of Borneo, as well as the islands of Java and Sumatra, and the Thai-Malay peninsula. The news of the rediscovery of the subspecies came as quite a shock to scientists, given that Wehea Forest lies outside the previously recorded range of Miller’s grizzled langur.

Hose's langur image

Miller's grizzled langur is a subspecies of Hose's langur, pictured here

Caught on camera

Over a two-month period, more than 4,000 images were captured of Miller’s grizzled langur in Wehea Forest, a 38,000-hectare area of mostly undisturbed forest. However, scientists are as yet unsure how many individuals were photographed, as it is possible that one or two families kept returning to the area in which the cameras were hidden.

East Kalimantan can be a challenging place to conduct research, given the remoteness of many remaining forested areas, so it isn’t surprising that so little is known about this primate,” says Dr Stephanie Spehar, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, USA.

The researchers are hoping that there may still be large enough populations of Miller’s grizzled langur in existence to ensure its future survival, and have returned to conduct more detailed observations of the monkeys.

Miller's grizzled langur image

Scientists will conduct further observations to find out more about Miller's grizzled langur © Eric Fell

In the forest, but not out of the woods

The rediscovery of Miller’s grizzled langur is certainly positive news, and while it represents years of hard work and dedication on behalf of the researchers, it is likely that Miller’s grizzled langur is far from being safe, as PhD student Brent Loken from Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada, explains, “While our finding confirms the monkey still exists in East Kalimantan, there is a good chance that it remains one of the world’s most endangered primates. I believe it is a race against time to protect many species in Borneo.”

The scientists will return to the area in order to conduct further studies on the population of Miller’s grizzled langur, and try to estimate how many individuals of the subspecies there are.

It is difficult to adopt conservation strategies to protect species when we don’t even know the extent of where they live,” says Mr Loken. “We need more scientists in the field working on understudied species such as Miller’s grizzled langur, clouded leopards and sun bears.”

Read more on this story at The Guardian – ‘Extinct’ monkey rediscovered in Indonesia jungle.

View photos and videos of langur species on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

Jan 23

As today marks the start of the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dragon to be precise, the ARKive team decided to take a closer look at the Chinese Zodiac. Based on a cycle of twelve years, each year is assigned a different animal, and it is said that those born in the year of a particular animal take on its attributes and personality. Intrigued, we thought we would have a rummage through the ARKive vaults and meet some of these cosmic creatures…


Brown rat photo

It is said that people born in the year of the rat are intellectual, charming and sociable. Historically, the brown rat is believed to have originated from China and is indeed highly sociable, living in ‘packs’, it is also one of the most adaptable species on earth.


 Muskox photo

Those born in the year of the ox are strong, dependable and hardworking, much like the magnificent muskox. Muskox are known for their characteristic defence behaviour, in which the herd bunch together, forming an impenetrable line or circle to protect their calves from predators.


Tiger photo

People born in the year of the tiger are said to be powerful, courageous and affectionate. The tiger is a mighty predator, capable of taking prey much larger than itself, including water buffalo, rhinos and even small elephants.


Rabbit photo

If you were born in the year of the rabbit, you are said to be kind, sensitive and flexible. The rabbit certainly is highly adaptable, and living in groups of up to 30 individuals, it will warn other rabbits of danger by thumping its back legs on the ground.


Komodo dragon photo

It is said that those born in the year of the dragon, which begins today, are self-assured, noble and natural born leaders. The powerful Komodo dragon is the largest lizard in the world, and the strong males will wrestle each other for access to the females.


Smooth snake photo

Those of you born in the year of the snake are thought to be wise, calm and responsible. The smooth snake itself is extremely secretive, catching its prey with a quick strike and subduing it by squeezing with the coils of its body.


Przewalski's horse photo

People born in the year of the horse are thought of as cheerful, energetic and quick-witted. Przewalski’s horse certainly has reason to be cheerful – it had been declared Extinct in the Wild, but a careful captive breeding and conservation programme has since seen it successfully reintroduced.


Bighorn sheep photo

If you were born in the year of the sheep, it is said that you are creative, sincere and sympathetic. The impressive looking bighorn sheep is well adapted to its rocky environment, with great agility and keen eyesight, it can also climb near vertical rock faces to escape from predators.


Blue monkey photo

It is thought that people born in the year of the monkey are energetic, upbeat and good motivators. Sociable blue monkeys share the parenting duties between them, and live in groups of closely-bonded females, usually with a single male.


Red junglefowl photo

Those born in the year of the rooster are thought to be practical, honest and perfectionists. Red junglefowl are the wild ancestors of all domestic poultry, although the bold and brilliant rooster is said to be more brightly coloured than its tame relative.


Dingo photo

People born in the year of the dog are said to be loyal, amicable and easy going. Many dingo populations live near human settlements, and can become very tame, although this brings with it the risk of hybridisation with domestic dogs – a real threat to the species.


Forest hog photo

If you were born in the year of the pig, you are said to be thoughtful, intelligent and well-mannered. The forest hog lives in groups of up to twenty, with the piglets protected by all the members of the group and able to nurse from any female.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our guide to the animals of the Chinese Zodiac. In honour of the Year of the Dragon, this week we will be revealing a different ARKive dragon on Facebook every day, as well as a whole host of fun facts, and fortune cookies to reveal what the future might hold for each species. Make sure you check it out!

You can also wish your friends, family and colleagues a Happy Chinese New Year by sending one of our Komodo dragon e-cards.

And finally, why not get creative and download our new dragon mask to cut out and decorate – the perfect accessory for your Chinese New Year party!

Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher


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