Dec 10

The Ascension frigatebird, a threatened species, may have been saved from the brink of extinction thanks to a cat eradication programme.

Ascension frigatebird image

The Ascension frigatebird is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

On the edge

Islanders and conservationists alike are celebrating the recent news that the Ascension frigatebird, one of the world’s rarest seabirds, has returned to breed on the remote Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, 150 years after its colony on the island was wiped out by feral cats.

Until recently, this species’ only breeding ground was a rocky outcrop known as Boatswain Bird Island, off Ascension’s east coast, where a small colony of around 10,000 birds survived. Given its highly restricted range and limited numbers, the Ascension frigatebird was considered to be extremely susceptible to outbreaks of disease and the effects of oil spills.

However, ornithologists have recently recorded two nests containing eggs and being guarded by Ascension frigatebirds on the island itself, an event which has not occurred since Charles Darwin visited the island in the early 19th century. The encouraging news gives hope that this threatened bird may still be brought back from the brink of extinction.

Boatswain Bird Island image

Boatswain Bird Island which, until recently, was the sole nesting ground of the Ascension frigatebird

Rampant rodents and feline foes

In the 19th century, Ascension Island, one of the UK Overseas Territories, was home to more than 20 million seabirds, including black noddies, brown noddies, masked boobies and Ascension frigatebirds. Of these, the frigatebird is considered to be of particular importance, as it is endemic to the island, being found nowhere else on Earth.

However, along with human settlers came more than 1,800 rats, which were accidentally introduced to the remote island and were the cause of many chick deaths. As a control measure, cats were imported in the hope that they would kill off, or at least stabilise, the rat population, but this plan backfired and the cats themselves began killing bird chicks.

By the time Darwin visited the island in 1836, there were only a few frigatebirds left and the last few were killed off not long after he left,” said Clare Stringer of the RSPB, an organisation which has played a key role in re-establishing the frigatebird population on Ascension.

Masked booby image

The masked booby is another of Ascension’s fascinating bird species

Eradication

In response to the continued decline of the Ascension frigatebird, as well as that of other bird species nesting on the island, the RSPB launched a cat eradication programme in 2002, funded by the Foreign Office. Despite sounding simple, the programme proved to be rather challenging.

It was slightly tricky,” said Ms Stringer. “We had to avoid killing islanders’ pet cats and kill only feral animals. Owners were told to collar and microchip their pets. Then traps were laid and feral cats caught in these were put down.”

Four years later in 2006, Ascension Island was officially declared to be free of wild cats. Since then, the island’s conservation officers have been keeping a close eye out for signs of the frigatebird’s return, and were delighted to have discovered two nests so soon after the completion of the cat eradication programme.

It has taken six years to get frigatebirds to start to recolonise the island since we got rid of the feral cats and frankly it could have taken much longer,” said Derren Fox, one of Ascension’s conservation officers who, along with fellow conservation officer Stedson Stroud, has been carefully monitoring the island. “We now have two nests being tended by parent birds and that should encourage a lot more to settle here in future.”

Immature Ascension frigatebirds

Immature Ascension frigatebirds sunning themselves

Overwhelming outcome

The £500,000 project has taken several years and much hard work to complete, but its success and the return of the Ascension frigatebird much sooner than expected has shown it to be worthwhile. It has also demonstrated that, when it comes to conservation, perseverance is key.

We are absolutely overwhelmed,” said Mr Fox. “We thought it would take decades for the Ascension frigate to come back and breed after we had got rid of the island’s feral cats. But we have already succeeded after only a few years. This suggests we have a real chance of saving the Ascension frigate.”

It is hoped that, through its success, this project has paved the way for further similar schemes to save other species at risk from feral animals, including species on Montserrat, Gough Island, and South Georgia, which are all under threat from invasions of rats, mice and other predators.

 

Read more on this story at The Guardian – Frigatebird returns to nest on Ascension for first time since Darwin.

Learn more about the Ascension frigatebird on ARKive.

Find out more about species on Ascension Island on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Dec 8
Asian elephant (Elephas maximus)

Asian elephant (Elephas maximus)

Species: Asian elephant (Elephas maximus)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: Asian elephants eat up to 150 kilograms of vegetation and defecate up to 18 times a day.

Asian elephants are smaller than their African relatives. Both species of elephant are highly intelligent, long-lived and extremely sociable. Groups of related females are led by the oldest female known as matriarch, while mature males are mostly solitary. At 20 years old, the males start coming into musth, an extreme state of arousal when levels of testosterone in the blood may increase 20 times. Lasting about three weeks, musth causes males to become aggressive and search widely for females.

Once found across southernAsia, numbers of Asian elephants were decimated by habitat loss and hunting throughout their historical range. Elephant populations have become increasingly isolated in the fragmented habitat that remains, and often come into conflict with local farmers. The Asian elephant is protected from international trade, although illegal poaching continues. The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) launched the Asian Rhino and Elephant Action Strategy (AREAS) in 1998 to address habitat loss and poaching issues and to work with local people to protect these charismatic animals.

Find out more about the conservation of Asian elephants on the WWF’s Asian Rhino and Elephant Action Strategy (AREAS) website.

See images and videos of the Asian elephant on ARKive.

Lauren Pascoe, ARKive Researcher

Dec 7

Christmas is the season to be jolly but it can also be a season of excess. Here are a few simple tips to help you reduce your Christmas carbon footprint this year, so that you can enjoy a more eco-friendly and sustainable holiday season.

Keep it Real

The unmistakable smell of fresh pine trees always conjures up images of festive cheer. Real Christmas trees are more eco-friendly than artificial ones, providing you take into account where they come from. For example, in Britain many Christmas tree growers are registered with the British Christmas Tree Growers’ Association, which means their trees are grown according to strict regulations. When it comes to buying your tree, local and organic is generally best. It’s also important to make sure it is a native fir – for the UK this would be a Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris).

Another tip is to buy trees with roots – that way the tree can be replanted and even reused next year. If this is not possible then try to recycle your tree. Many local councils run Christmas tree recycling schemes – check out ones in your area.

Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris)

 

Snuggle Up

Before turning up the thermostat try wearing an extra layer, or curling up with a blanket. Keeping the curtains closed also keeps the heat in and saves energy. Take a tip from the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) which tucks its nose under its tail to keep warm.

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)

 

Shop Local, Shop Organic

Buying your Christmas food locally not only saves you time and money, it also helps the environment. Buying locally reduces your carbon footprint and saves on the costs of packaging and transport. An organic turkey will have been reared in more humane conditions and be chemical-free.

Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)

 

Natural decor

Instead of artificial Christmas decorations, take a walk in a nearby forest and look for fallen pine cones and sprigs of holly, ivy and evergreen branches. All these natural decorations will biodegrade, so when you’re finished with them pop them on the compost. Not to mention you’ll have all that free storage space that Christmas decorations usually fill! Common holly (Ilex aquifolium) is widespread throughout Britain.

Common holly (Ilex aquifolium)

 

Comfort Shopping

It’s getting cold out there and Christmas traffic can be a nightmare: if you do have to leave the warmth of your home, taking public transport is one way you can be a little bit greener whilst avoiding the jams.

American bison (Bison bison)

 

Eco gifts

Giving gifts at Christmas is a way to bond with loved ones. Buying thoughtful gifts made from recycled materials like rubber and plastic bags shows you are also thinking about the environment. This belted kingfisher (Megaceryl alcyon) knows exactly what gift to give.

Belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)

 

Have a very merry eco-friendly Christmas!

Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

Dec 5

The iconic savannas of Africa have been found to be under greater threat than rainforests, a ground-breaking study has revealed.

White rhino image

White rhinos are a popular sight in Africa’s grasslands

Iconic Africa

Africa’s sprawling savanna ecosystems, defined as areas that receive between 300 and 1,500 millimetres of rain each year, are home to well-known, charismatic species such as giraffes, rhinos and elephants, and are at the heart of Africa’s wildlife tourism. However, a new study published recently in Biodiversity Conservation has found that 75% of the continent’s large-scale, intact grasslands have been lost.

These savannas conjure up visions of vast open plains. The reality is that from an original area a third larger than the continental United States, only 25 percent remains,” said co-author Stuart Pimm from Duke University.

While routine global assessments are carried out on tropical rainforest ecosystems to determine the rate of habitat loss, with the Brazilian Amazon being assessed every month, similar studies on dry woodlands and savannas are few. This new study has shown that, shockingly, a smaller proportion of grassland habitats are left than tropical rainforests, of which only 30% remain.

Giraffe image

Masai giraffes running across the savanna

High-resolution satellite imagery

Exacerbated by a greatly increasing human population across much of the continent, Africa’s vital savanna ecosystem is currently experiencing widespread destruction and loss as a result of ever-expanding agriculture and urbanisation.

Researchers used high-resolution satellite imagery to measure the extent of Africa’s savanna, enabling them to paint a more accurate picture of how much of this critical habitat remains.

Based on our fieldwork, we knew that most of the information out there from low-resolution satellite-based studies was wrong,” explained lead author Jason Riggio of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. “Existing global maps are quite coarse and show large areas of African woodlands as being intact. Only by utilising very high-resolution imagery were we able to identify many of these areas as being riddled with small fields and extensive, if small, human settlements.”

African lion image

The African lion is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, but some populations may be facing an even higher level of threat

Lion’s view

The study took a ‘lion’s view’ in order to determine how much intact savanna remains, focusing on habitat that is healthy enough to support the continent’s top predator, the African lion.

If areas retain lions, the continent’s top predator, they are likely to be reasonably intact ecosystems,” the scientists explained in their paper. “By considering the size of savanna Africa from the lion’s perspective, we can assess how much of it remains in large, relatively intact areas, not yet heavily modified by human influence. Clearly, smaller areas will still support less complete sets of species.”

The results of the study indicate that just 3.3 million square kilometres of savanna capable of containing African lions remains, with this vital habitat vanishing at an alarming rate.

Decline of Africa’s top predator

Lion populations have suffered a dramatic and unprecedented decline in the last few decades, with numbers decreasing from around 100,000 individuals just fifty years ago to as few as 32,000 today, a worrying decline of 68%.

In addition to declines as a result of degradation and loss of its savanna habitat, the African lion, currently listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, faces a whole host of other threats. Legal hunting, poaching and human-wildlife conflict are all taking their toll on this iconic species, and there are concerns that lions are being killed to fuel the Chinese traditional medicine market as an alternative to tiger bones.

African lion image

Urgent action is needed to safeguard the future of the charismatic African lion

Urgent action

The recent study found that 24,000 African lions, a disconcerting 75% of the total remaining population, are located in just ten separate strongholds. All of these strongholds are in eastern and southern Africa, with Tanzania alone housing 40% of the global population.

Worryingly, researchers found that approximately 6,000 African lions exist in populations which may not be viable in the long term, and the study also produced evidence of local extinctions of lions, even in protected areas.

There is evidence of strong declines and even extirpation of lions in some range countries. Especially in West and Central Africa, declines have been dramatic and conservation measures are urgent,” said the researchers. “While lions are protected in some of the lion areas, in many they are not, and in others they are hunted.”

A lack of lions in West Africa’s national parks is of particular concern to conservationists, with the region housing just 525 individuals. West African lions are considered by some to be a separate subspecies, Panthera leo senegalensis, and recent genetic studies have indicated that this population may actually be more closely related to the Asiatic lion than to other African lions.

This research is a major step in helping prioritise funding strategies for saving big cats,” said co-author Luke Dollar of National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative (BCI), which helped fund the study. “The research will help us better identify areas in which we can make a difference.”

Giving these lions something of a fighting chance will require substantial increases in effort,” added co-author Andrew Jackson from Duke University. “The next 10 years are decisive for [West Africa], not just for lions but for biodiversity, since lions are indicators of ecosystem health.”

 

Read more on these stories at Mongabay.com – Africa’s great savannahs may be more endangered than the world’s rainforests and Lion population falls 68 percent in 50 years.

Learn more about lions on ARKive.

Find out about species found in Africa on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Dec 5

Here at ARKive, we are in a truly unique position in that we get to work with the world’s very best wildlife and environmental filmmakers and photographers. At this year’s Wildphotos we had the chance to catch up with a few of our most famous and respected ARKive media donors to learn what inspires them to do what they do and discover the stories behind their awe-inspiring images.

Wildlife photographs can take months of planning and extraordinary amounts of patience in order to capture the perfect instant on film. Often working in hostile environments with unpredictable subjects, being a wildlife photographer is no easy life.

Discover what (or who) inspired some of the world’s best wildlife photographers to pick up a camera and start taking photographs of the natural world.

Tui De Roy

Galapagos hawk (Buteo galapagoensis) photo

Galapagos hawk (Buteo galapagoensis)

“Growing up in the Galapagos Islands I was surrounded by fascinating wild animals on a daily basis, many of whom were literally my closest friends. My father was also a keen naturalist and very interested in photography, so by the time I was 12-13 I was borrowing his camera regularly to record animal behaviour that I observed. I sold cured goat skins to save up for an SLR, and when I was 18 had my first article (text and photos) published in Pacific Discovery, the magazine of the California Academy of Sciences, and a cover feature in Audubon magazine the following year.  After that, there was no looking back for me.  Photography became my way of seeing and my way of living, and remains every bit as gratifying today as it was when I saw my first black-and-white images emerge from the processing bath nearly half a century ago. My spiritual home will always be in the wildest of wild places, and my mission to give a voice through imagery to the plight of the world’s multitude of threatened species.”

See all of Tui de Roys images on ARKive.

Patricio Robles Gil

Moose (Alces americanus)

Moose (Alces americanus)

“I’m addicted to wild animal encounters, those precious moments are what keeps me alive in this planet. There is something deep inside that push me to share those experiences, for that purpose the camera helps a great deal.

The camera is a tool that helps me bring home glimpses of wild encounters sow I can share and touch audiences to care for those pristine worlds.”

See over 150 photographs taken by Patricio Robles Gil on ARKive.

Next time: learn who or what inspired photographers Mark Hamblin, Charlie Hamilton James and Laurie Campbell to pick up the camera.

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