Mar 31

The veterinary drug diclofenac, which has been held responsible for the devastating decline of Asian vulture populations, has been approved for use in the EU.

White-rumped vulture image

The white-rumped vulture suffered a population decline of 99.9 percent in just two decades

Deadly drug

Between 1991 and 2007, the population of the white-rumped vulture in India suffered an unprecedented drop of 99.9 percent, with corresponding reductions of 96.8 percent in both the Indian vulture and the slender-billed vulture. Initially, scientists were baffled as to the possible reasons behind this decline, with conflicting explanations varying from the use of pesticides, to an increasingly westernised middle-class consuming more beef and therefore removing one of the vulture’s primary food sources, to the destruction of vulture nesting sites.

Eventually, it emerged that the true cause of vulture deaths across the Indian subcontinent was diclofenac, a powerful anti-inflammatory drug regularly prescribed by veterinarians to treat cattle. The vultures were ingesting the drug as they fed on dead livestock, causing severe kidney damage in the birds which led to death within just a few days.

Indian vulture image

The Indian vulture suffered a devastating population decline between 1991 and 2007

Indian ban on diclofenac

As a result of the discovery of the cause of the decline, veterinarians were subsequently banned from prescribing diclofenac across the region. However, despite these events and the fact that safe alternative drugs are now readily available, the European Union has recently sanctioned the use of diclofenac throughout all member countries. According to conservation groups, this could place European vulture species at risk of meeting a fate similar to that of their Asian counterparts, and could also threaten other wildlife.

It is shocking that a drug that has already wiped out wildlife on a massive scale in Asia is now put on the market in crucial countries for vulture conservation such as Spain and Italy, especially as the total ban on diclofenac in India has produced the first signs of recovery in Indian vultures,” said José Tavares, the Director of the Vulture Conservation Foundation.

Cinereous vulture image

The cinereous vulture is an impressive bird with a large wingspan

Vultures in Europe

Europe is home to an incredible ten species of vulture, eight of which are found in Spain. Of these, four are considered rare and threatened, and receive a certain level of protection under European law. Two such species are the cinereous vulture, an impressive bird with a wingspan of around three metres, and the Egyptian vulture, a species classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Spain is home to 97 percent of Europe’s cinereous vulture population and 85 percent of the continent’s Egyptian vulture population, as well as high proportions of other closely related species. Conservationists fear that the new ruling to allow the powerful anti-inflammatory drug to be distributed across the EU could put decades of vulture conservation efforts in Europe in jeopardy, particularly in vulture strongholds such as Spain.

Egyptian vulture image

Spain holds 85 percent of Europe’s Egyptian vulture population

Importance of vultures

While vultures may be viewed unfavourably by some, they play an extremely important role in ensuring the health and wellbeing of ecosystems through ecological recycling. These birds survive almost exclusively on carrion, and in countries such as Spain they consume the carcasses of livestock left in special sites known as ‘muladres’. By cleaning and disposing of these dead animals, vultures make a contribution to the health of local human communities, as this helps limit the populations of stray dogs which are enticed by the carcasses, and therefore reduces the potential for the transmission of life-threatening diseases such as rabies.

Call for action

A coalition of conservation organisations, which includes the Vulture Conservation Foundation, the RSPB and BirdLife Europe, is calling for an immediate continent-wide ban on diclofenac in Europe.

In a technical document released recently on diclofenac in Europe, conservationists wrote, “The case here is clear – it is really a question of learning from what happened in India, and also upholding and being coherent with the leading role of many EU policies, notably on nature conservation.”

It is hoped that enforcing a ban on diclofenac in Europe will encourage countries in Africa to follow suit in an effort to save the continent’s dwindling vulture populations.

Read more on this story at Mongabay.com – Europe approves vet drug that killed off almost all of Asia’s vultures and BirdLife International – Vulture killing drug now available on EU market.

View photos and videos of vultures on ARKive.

Find out more about vulture conservation at Tusk, VulPro, the Vulture Conservation Foundation and Save Our Species – Conserving South Asia’s Threatened Vultures.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

Mar 31

One of the best parts about sharing ARKive with educators from around the world is learning how educators are using the collection in unique and creative ways to engage students in science learning. So when we learned how one teacher was inspired by ARKive to create a series of comics about Adaptation that encourage STEM-based inquiry learning, we were all …

Zebra ear photo

you guessed it – EARS!

Laura Balliet is a science & math teacher at a school for at-risk youth in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. She often struggled with engaging her students in reading about science concepts and as a result, her students were often missing important information in their science curriculum.  She decided to make short, colorful, one-page comics that addressed specific topics that she knew were going to appear on the Ohio State Achievement Assessment and then handed the comics out to her students.

Adaptations comic - Cool School Rap

As it turned out, her students couldn’t get enough of her comics and requested new comics to read daily! In her search for new ideas and inspiration for her educational comics, Laura turned to ARKive and even started included research on ARKive as part of the learning process in her comics. Over time, she has organized her comics into a collection called the Cool School Rap.

We caught up with Laura to ask her a few questions about her comics and how ARKive has helped inspire her. Here’s what she said!

What first inspired you to draw comics?

I have always doodled cartoon characters, but it wasn’t until last year, a few weeks before the achievement tests, that I figured out how to channel it.  The initial intent of the comics was to help my students prepare for the test by reviewing key science topics, but their responses were so positive, I felt inspired to continue drawing and developing the idea.

How do your comics help to teach science to a variety of student ages and learning abilities?

As a teacher of at-risk youth, I face a wide variety of learning abilities, especially low reading skills and short attention spans.  My comics deliver content with illustrations, word bubbles and diagrams making them less intimidating to struggling readers and engaging to those who are turned off by lengthy passages.

Photosynthesis comic - Cool School Rap Consumers comic - Cool School Rap

What has been your most rewarding experience using comics in the classroom?

I think the most rewarding aspect of my comics is my students’ reactions when I present them with a new comic.  They are always excited and eager to read, and when I overhear them conversing about the illustrations and the concepts, I get butterflies because it is apparent they are engaged and learning.

How has ARKive played a role in your comics?

I have been using ARKive as a resource for information for some time now, but recently, I began incorporating this site directly into The Cool School Rap’s inquiry activities.  The adaptation inquiry is a great example.  My students utilized this site to research a specific animal of interest and gather information to build a model of their animal’s habitat.  My students find the site easy to navigate and enjoy browsing through the pictures and videos.

Student using ARKive for learning

NSTA logoLaura shared that her ultimate goal with Cool School Rap is to reach as many learners as possible and we are more than happy to help share Laura’s talent and passion with the world! She has created an Adaptation comic series specifically for ARKive that you can download from the Cool School Rap website. Laura will also be volunteering at the ARKive booth at the upcoming National Science Teachers Association Conference in Boston, MA on April 3-5. Hope to see you there!

Liana Vitali, Education & Outreach Manager, Wildscreen USA

Mar 30

In honour of Mother’s day today in the U.K., we have come up with ten of the most loving mums in the animal kingdom.

‘Darling would you stop pressing your paw so hard into my back…’

Photo of polar bear swimming with cubs

Although this lucky polar bear mummy gets to sleep through birth, it’s not all smooth sailing. She has to nurse and care for her cubs for 2.5 years, during which she has to provide food and teach them how to swim. As you can see, she gives them a helping hand every now and then.

‘Please stop fidgeting sweetie’

Great crested grebe with chick

This great crested grebe mother gets help from her partner in incubating and rearing her young, and she only has to look after them for less than 3 months. You may think she has an easy ride, but she is a very attentive mother and carries her stripy chicks around on her back. No need for a buggy here!

‘Wait your turn, you have to learn to share’

Female cheetah with suckling cubs

Cheetah mums have a lot on their mind. Until the cubs are 8 weeks old, they have to leave them alone in a lair while they go hunting. This is a necessary trip but the risk from the many predators around means the death rate of young cheetahs is very high. Thank goodness we can just go to the supermarkets!

‘I do wish you’d cleaned your feet’

Newly hatched Nile crocodile gently held in adult's jaws

This may be a big surprise to you, but the female Nile crocodile is a very attentive parent and after laying around 60 eggs will cover the nest with sand and guard it for around 90 days. Amazingly, her powerful jaws can be used incredibly gently, and she gathers the hatchlings in her mouth and transports them to water. There’s certainly no padding in this pram!

‘Try and keep up little one’

Female blue whale with calf

You won’t be jealous of the blue whale mum. She has to be pregnant for 10-11 months, and has to feed the calf 100 gallons of her fat rich milk during the nursing period! This is one demanding kid

‘In an hour I can drop you at the crèche, I’ve got to get my feathers done’

Sandwich tern with chick

We are not the only ones to come up with child daycare, as the sandwich tern has also had this idea. Once hatched, the young may gather together in a group, called a ‘crèche’, which is attended by one or several adults. Smart mothers!

‘Lunch time is over now honey, time to go and play’

Africam elephant suckling

If you thought the blue whale pregnancy was long, the African elephant definitely beats it! This poor mum has to be pregnant for nearly 2 years, and has to keep looking after the young for several years after that. Luckily other females in the group help out, known as ‘allomothers’. Every mum needs a break once in a while!

‘Don’t spike your sister!’

Hedgehog with young

Hedgehog mothers are truly single parents, as they are left alone to care for 4 to 5 spiky babies! Luckily they are born with a coat of soft spines to protect the mother during birth. They don’t stay baby soft for long though, as a second coat of dark spines emerges after about 36 hours.

‘You are getting so big now my dear!’

Giant panda female suckling infant

For such a large mummy, it is rather shocking to find out that the giant panda gives birth to a baby that is only 0.001 percent of her own weight! This caring mother will remain with her baby until it is about two years old or sometimes even older. But how could a mother resist when her baby is this cute!

‘Hang on tight my little orange!’

Bornean orang-utan female with infant

The Bornean orang-utan mother is probably one of the fittest around. She will carry her baby constantly for the first two to three years of their life and will take care of it for at least another three years! This mother definitely is a ‘supermum’!

Let us know if you can think of any other caring animal mums!

Happy Mothers Day to all the mums out there!

Mar 29
St Helena gumwood image

St Helena gumwood (Commidendrum robustum)

Species: St Helena gumwood (Commidendrum robustum)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: In 1977, the St Helena gumwood was adopted as the national tree of St Helena, a UK Overseas Territory.

As its name suggests, the St Helena gumwood is endemic to the small volcanic island of St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. This highly branched tree has a crooked, knarled trunk, an umbrella-like canopy and thick, hairy, wrinkled leaves. During the winter and spring, the St Helena gumwood produces white flowers which droop from the ends of the branches. This hermaphroditic plant was once a regularly occurring species within subtropical and tropical forests on inland cliffs and mountain peaks, with large amounts of seed falling around the parent plant and germinating freely.

Since 1659 when the first settlers arrived on St Helena, the St Helena gumwood has been exploited for use as timber and firewood, and forests have been cleared to make way for pastureland. In addition, this species faced further pressure from introduced goats which grazed heavily on its seedlings. By the 1980s, the St Helena gumwood population had been drastically reduced, and this spurred conservationists to put a management plan into action.

This species is now protected by the Endangered Endemic and Indigenous Species Protection Ordinance 7 of 1996, and the instigation of the Millennium Gumwood Forest Project resulted in 4,300 St Helena gumwood trees being planted in previously degraded wasteland in 2000. Other replanting and weed clearance projects are underway, and a successful biological control programme has helped to combat the destructive jacaranda bug which was responsible for a decline in the St Helena gumwood population in the early 1990s.

 

Find out more about environmental management on St Helena.

See images of the St Helena gumwood on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

Mar 27

The winners have been announced for the HSBC Water Programme Photography Competition, with a photo of a water drop stealing the top prize. Wildscreen has helped HSBC to run their internal photography competition to promote the importance of the HSBC Water Programme, which will benefit communities in need and provide information for more efficient management of vital freshwater resources.

Following an entertaining and informative masterclass from one of the world’s leading wildlife photographers, Mark Carwardine, over 1,000 entries were submitted. It was great to see so many beautiful entries from all over the world, and the tough job of picking the finalists and winners fell to our expert judging panel: Rosamund Kidman Cox (WildPhotos Producer, editor and writer), Helen Gilks (Managing Director, Nature Picture Library and Blue Green Pictures) and Mark Carwardine (Wildlife Photographer and Zoologist).

Entrants were encouraged to enter their images into one of five categories. Below, you can find the winners from each category, along with comments from Rosamund Kidman Cox.

 

Winner of Creative Visions of Water and Overall Winner

Image by Khalyd El Hamoumy

Image by Khalyd El Hamoumy

Crystal Droplet

This is a choreographed image of a water droplet, impacting on the surface of the water and ‘bouncing’ back up. No doubt the photographer would have rehearsed this many times, until everything was just right: the distance between the drop of water and bowl, the colour of the background to be reflected off the water, the position of the speedlight and the amount of light coming from it. It’s a simple image of a perfect sphere acting as a crystal lens, and all the more successful for capturing the essence of water.

 

Winner of People and Water

Image by Prasad Peddireddy

Image by Prasad Peddireddy

The power of water

The tiny gathering of people stand dwarfed by the vast canyon and the giant cascade of water formed as the River Sharavathi plunges 250 metres down into the gorge – a truly magnificent image. The Jog Falls are India’s second-highest falls, in the heart of the Western Ghats – a great escarpment that is a World Heritage Site and a biological hotspot.

 

Winner of Freshwater Landscapes

Image by Isuru Hettiarachchi

Image by Isuru Hettiarachchi

Sunset Falls

A curtain of water and spray filter the setting sun as it touches the horizon, photographed from behind Iceland’s Seljalandsfoss waterfall as it pours off the escarpment. Beyond, the river can be seen cutting through the landscape as it travels to the sea. It’s an imaginative and atmospheric picture of a much-photographed Icelandic natural wonder.

 

Winner of Freshwater Life

Image by Marissa Tabbada

Image by Marissa Tabbada

Gull on a Golden Pond

It’s a simple, serene scene, taken on a beautiful autumn day. A black-headed gull, already in winter plumage, rests on a Central London pond. The low afternoon light has picked out the ripples on the water surface, reflecting the golden colour of autumn leaves.

 

Winner of Water in Black and White

Image by Oi Yan Ko

Image by Oi Yan Ko

Water Run

The subject is a moorhen, running on water as it prepares to take off on a pond in Hong Kong’s Nam Sang Wai wetland park, an area that was once dominated by fish farms and is now an important area for waterbirds. But the picture is not so much a portrait of a bird as a graphic composition – a trajectory splash pattern against mirror-smooth water, topped by a fringe-frame of reflected vegetation.

View a gallery of the finalists’ images on the Water Hub website: http://www.thewaterhub.org/gallery/photography-competition

Phoebe Shaw Stewart, Text Author

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