Jul 25
© Neloy Bandyopadhyay

© Neloy Bandyopadhyay

Last year, ARKive ran a blog about the devastating effects of the cattle drug diclofenac on vulture populations in India. The Indian vulture, slender-billed vulture and Asian white-backed vulture have all suffered dramatic population crashes of between 97 and 99.9% as a result of ingesting the drug and are all now classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Neloy Bandyopadhyay, one of ARKive’s media donors, decided something had to be done to raise awareness of the plight of these important birds and the effects the drug is having on their populations, and so he made a film called ‘The Last Hope’.  Here he tells us a bit more about himself and his increasingly important work.

Q: We thought your film was very inspiring and informative. Can you tell us more about what you do and why you decided to make a film about this conservation issue?

By trade I am an Information Security Consultant, but I am also a naturalist, wildlife photographer and filmmaker. I try to use my films and photographs as instruments to raise interest and awareness, and encourage the conservation of nature and wildlife, which are at the mercy of civilisation. I was the director, editor and cameraman for my film ‘The Last Hope’, a documentary on the Asian vulture crisis, which has gained nationwide interest since its release.

The idea of a short film on Asian vultures came to me while I was taking some still images of the Indian vulture. I wanted to broadcast a message about the importance of vultures in ecosystems, and decided a short film would be a more effective way to communicate the message to an audience than some still photographs. It was a self-funded film and I tried to portray the importance of these scavenging birds and highlight the effort required to save them with very limited funds and infrastructure.

Neloy's photograph depicts the Egyptian vulture, a species that is also threatened by the effects of diclofenac in India

Neloy's photograph depicts the Egyptian vulture, a species that is also threatened by the effects of diclofenac in India

Q: Can you tell us more about the film?

‘The Last Hope’ is a short film about the relentless struggle of vulture conservationists in India and the subcontinent. Conservationists are fighting a tough battle to save this great scavenger bird from the brink of extinction. The film was made to raise awareness of the importance of vultures in nature and the effects that the cattle drug diclofenac has on vulture populations.

Over the last few decades, Asian vultures have faced a catastrophic decline in numbers. Five species of Gyps vulture have experienced more than a 90% decline in numbers, which is one of the fastest recorded declines in the animal kingdom. When this was noticed by scientists, it was almost too late and the birds were on the edge of extinction.

It was the Bombay Natural History Society who first observed the decline of the Gyps vultures. More research revealed that the veterinary drug diclofenac, which was used on injured or diseased cattle for pain relief before death, was the reason for the vulture population’s decline. The vultures would feed on the cattle carcasses and ingest the drug, which poisoned them.

The situation was alarming; however, scientists around the world didn’t waste any time in attempting to save the species. The government of India and, later, the governments of Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh also provided support by banning the killer drug in 2006.

My film showcases the battle being fought by scientists, conservationists and governments to save these fantastic birds. It is a message to the public to inform them of the important role that vultures play within ecosystems, and that diclofenac needs to be completely phased out, as it is still illegally sold in some pharmacies.



Q: Why do you think ARKive is important?

I think that awareness is the key to conservation. ARKive is one of the best organisations working towards educating people about conservation issues. With a large audience from all over the world, ARKive is a fantastic platform for showcasing endangered species and promoting conservation, and it has been doing it successfully for years. 

The issue of the Asian vulture crisis is still unknown to many in the world. However, I hope that more people will come to know about the killer side of diclofenac through reading this blog on ARKive and watching my film.

Find out more about Neloy’s work on his website.

Jul 22
Mauritius parakeet (Psittacula eques)

Mauritius parakeet (Psittacula eques)

Species: Mauritius parakeet (Psittacula eques)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The Mauritius parakeet was considered the most endangered bird in the world in the 1980s.

The Mauritius parakeet is a striking bright emerald-green, medium-sized parakeet. Relying entirely on native fauna for food and nesting sites, Mauritius parakeets spend most of their time in the canopy and nest high up in native trees. They feed on fruit, buds, shoots, leaves and flowers of native plant species

Previously found on both Mauritius and Reunion Islands, the Mauritius parakeet can now only be found on a small area of Mauritius. Much of the native habitat has been destroyed, and the remaining areas are small and vulnerable to storm damage. Introduced predators such as the crab-eating macaque and black rat also threaten this species.

In 1986, the Mauritius parakeet was on the brink of extinction with only 3 females known to survive in the wild. Conservation efforts to protect areas of remaining habitat resulted in the establishment of the first national park in Mauritius, the Black River National Park. Supplementing their diet, providing nesting sites, and reintroducing captive-reared birds has all helped to boost numbers. As a result of this concerted conservation effort, the population has steadily increased since the 1980s, with an estimated 343 wild birds at the end of 2007.

Find out more about the Mauritius parakeet on the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) website.

See images and videos of the Mauritius parakeet on ARKive.

Lauren Pascoe, ARKive Researcher

Jul 16

The lemurs of Madagascar are far more threatened than previously thought, according to a new assessment for the IUCN.

Photo of ring-tailed lemur with young on back

Ring-tailed lemur

The assessment, being carried out by scientists from the Primate Specialist Group, aims to decide how lemurs should be classified on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It has found that over 90% of lemur species should be placed in the Red List threatened categories.

Most threatened mammal group

The previous IUCN lemur assessment, published in 2008, classified 8 lemur species as Critically Endangered, 18 as Endangered and 14 as Vulnerable. However, the new assessment shows a worrying increase in threat levels, with 23 lemurs qualifying as Critically Endangered, 52 as Endangered and 19 as Vulnerable.

That means that 91% of all lemurs are assessed as being in one of the Red List threatened categories, which is far and away the largest proportion of any group of mammals,” said Dr Russ Mittermeier, Chairman of the Primate Specialist Group and President of Conservation International.

Photo of Madame Berthe's mouse lemur resting on a branch

Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur

The scientists have also confirmed that there are more lemur species than previously thought. Detailed study and genetic testing have revealed a number of cases where lemurs have been presumed to be from the same species, but in fact are from different ones. The 103rd species, a new type of mouse lemur, was identified during this assessment but has yet to be named.

Lack of law enforcement

The main threats to lemurs come from widespread deforestation and hunting. Since a coup in Madagascar in 2009, repeated evidence of illegal logging has been found, while hunting of lemurs has emerged as a new and increasing threat. A decline in traditional taboos is also likely to be contributing to hunting of lemurs for bushmeat.

Photo of silky sifaka pair in tree

Silky sifakas

Although elections have been promised in the country, several scheduled election dates have already passed, and a lack of law enforcement is only exacerbating the threats to Madagascar’s wildlife.

Several national parks have been invaded, but of greater concern is the breakdown in control and enforcement,” said Dr Mittermeier. “There’s just no government enforcement capacity, so forests are being invaded for timber, and inevitably that brings hunting as well.”

Photo of Alaotran gentle lemur with young on back

Alaotran gentle lemur

Around 90% of Madagascar’s original forests have already been lost, and lemurs and other endemic species are becoming increasingly threatened within the remaining forest fragments.

The latest assessments of the conservation status of lemurs will be reviewed and confirmed by other experts before forming part of the IUCN’s next global Red List update.

Read more on this story at BBC News – Lemurs sliding towards extinction.

View photos and videos of lemurs on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

Jul 16

For the next three weeks, members of the public across the UK have the chance to get involved in the big butterfly count, a nationwide survey which will help to indicate not only the status of the UK’s butterfly populations, but also the health of our environment in general. As butterflies are particularly sensitive to environmental changes, butterfly declines can provide an important early warning system for other potential impacts on our wildlife.

With the UK having been subjected to unseasonably heavy rain over the last few months, conservationists are concerned that butterfly species may be struggling this year and therefore the count is more important than ever. Around 34,000 people took part in the big butterfly count 2011, and this year the organisers hope to make it even bigger.

If you would like to take part simply head over to the big butterfly count website, download an ID chart and spend 15 minutes recording the species you see in your garden, local park, woodland or field. Then all you need to do is submit your sightings online. Who knows, you might be lucky enough to spot some of these beauties…

Green hairstreak

Green hairstreak photo

Named after the white ‘streak’ across the fore- and hindwings, the wings of the green hairstreak are actually are dull brown on the uppersides, but bright green on the underside. The pupae of this species produce audible squeaks to attract ants, which are then thought to bury the pupae where they will hibernate until the following spring.

Six-spot burnet moth

Six-spot burnet moth photo

The six-spot burnet moth feeds on the nectar of a large range of flowers, with wild thyme being a particular favourite. A brightly coloured day-flying moth, the name is somewhat of a misnomer as the number of spots can vary between individuals, and spots may be fused in some cases.

Large white

Large white photo

A widespread and common species, the large white is the biggest of the white butterflies found in the UK, with a wingspan of up to 7cm. Females can be distinguished from males by the two black spots and a black streak on the fore-wings. The colourful caterpillars of this species consume mustard oils in their diet, making them very distasteful to birds.

Red admiral

Red admiral photo

A migratory species, red admiral adults emerge after hibernation in the UK between January and March, and are joined by butterflies that have travelled from North Africa and southern Europe between May and August. Adults are often seen in gardens feeding on nectar or rotten fruit.

Common blue

Common blue photo

The common blue is the most widespread of the blue butterflies in Britain. While the males are a striking bluish-violet, the females are more brown in colour, with orange spots near the margins of the wings. Favouring sunny, sheltered areas, the common blue is typically seen in woodland clearings, coastal dunes, road verges and cemeteries.

Speckled wood

Speckled wood photo

A common woodland butterfly, the speckled wood has numerous eye-spots on its wings. The male tends to perch in patches of sunlight, intercepting intruding butterflies. Males may also patrol an area in search of females, who lay single eggs on blades of grass after mating.


Brimstone photo

While the female brimstone is a greenish-white colour, the male is bright yellow and it is widely believed that this species was the inspiration for the name ‘butterfly’. This species has a very long proboscis, and can exploit flowers with very deep nectarines, including runner bean flowers and teasels.

Small tortoiseshell

Small tortoiseshell photo

A beautifully patterned butterfly, the small tortoiseshell has wings comprising black patches, areas of bright yellowish-orange and a fringe of blue spots, making this species instantly recognisable. The caterpillars feed on nettles and are common in areas of human activity.

Meadow brown

Meadow brown photo

A dark brown species with an eye-spot on each wing, the female meadow brown can be distinguished from the male by the presence of an orange patch on the forewings. Although found in a range of habitats, this species has suffered as a result of the decline in the extent of hay meadows in Britain.

Peacock butterfly

Peacock butterfly photo

One of the most beautiful butterflies in the UK, the peacock butterfly earns its name from the stunning eyespots on the wings which frighten predators, or divert birds from attacking the body. Males and females are similar in appearance but the males are slightly smaller and will defend territories in sunny locations, chasing any females that pass by.

If you do to take part over the coming weeks we would love to hear how you get on, why not leave a comment below and let us know what species you have seen, or get in touch via Facebook or Twitter?

And for those of you outside of the UK, what species can you find in your local area? Do you have any favourites? Let us know!

Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher

Jul 15
Santa Catalina Island rattlesnake

Santa Catalina Island rattlesnake (Crotalus catalinensis)

Species: Santa Catalina Island rattlesnake (Crotalus catalinensis)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The Santa Catalina Island rattlesnake has lost its functional rattle, which is thought to be an adaption to sneak up on its prey.

The Santa Catalina Island rattlesnake occurs only on Santa Catalina Island off the coast of Mexico. It is normally found in narrow, dry creeks, as well as under rocks, on hillsides, or even in open sandy areas. Unlike many rattlesnakes, the Santa Catalina Island rattlesnake is an agile and swift climber. It feeds mainly on the Santa Catalina deer mouse (Peromyscus slevini), which it can persue through vegetation. Little is known about the Santa Catalina Island rattlesnake’s breeding biology, but males have been observed bobbing their heads and tongue flicking during courtship. The breeding season is thought to be between Spring and early Summer, with young born in late Summer to early Autumn.

Once a common species, the Santa Catalina Island rattlesnake is now highly threatened due to illegal collection and killing. In the past, predation by feral cats was a problem, but a new threat to the Santa Catalina Island rattlesnake is a decline in the population of its main food source, the Santa Catalina deer mouse. Unfortunately, as is the case for many snakes, there are few conservation programmes in place for this reptile. Although the feral cat population has now been eradicated from Santa Catalina Island, recolonisation must be prevented. The Santa Catalina Island rattlesnake population requires monitoring and restrictions need to be enforced to prohibit overcollection.

Find out more about the the Santa Catalina Island rattlesnake on the San Diego Natural History Museum website.

View images of the Santa Catalina Island rattlesnake on ARKive.


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