Jul 17

Plans for a new opencast mine near South Africa’s Hluhluwe-Imfolozi reserve may increase pollution and poaching in the area, which would lead to further reductions in the size of the local southern white rhinoceros population. 

Among the most charismatic and recognisable of Africa’s mega-fauna, the white rhinoceros is the largest of the five rhinoceros species and one of the world’s biggest land animals, second only to the African and Asian elephant in size. A subspecies of white rhinoceros, the southern white rhinoceros, is currently the most numerous of all the world’s rhinos, and 93 percent of the total population is thought to occur in South Africa. This subspecies was rescued from near extinction a century ago, and represents a real conservation success story. In 1895, only around 50 individuals remained but careful conservation has increased this number to the 20,000 individuals that exist today. However, threats to the southern white rhinoceros are on the increase, and news of a proposed mining operation in close proximity to one of the most important nature reserve for this, and many other, species may spell disaster for this iconic animal.

The Near Threatened southern white rhinoceros is currently the most populous of the world’s rhinoceros species

The Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa is the oldest nature reserve in Africa and was established in 1895, largely to protect the remaining population of the southern white rhinoceros. Situated at the confluence of the Black and White Umfolozi Rivers, this natural reserve is home to Africa’s ‘big five’, as well as innumerable other iconic species and over 340 bird species. There are fears that opencast coal mining in close proximity to the park may pollute the air and rivers, displace local communities, and threaten the southern white rhinoceros. Local communities’ fears are founded in experience, they say that drilling and blasting at the Somkhele coal mine, six miles away, already creates pollution and affects livestock. There are concerns that not only will the toxic dust from the new mine affect the local wildlife, but the influx of people is also likely to increase the accessibility of the park to poachers.

The African leopard is also found in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park

Poaching is an increasing threat to all rhinoceros species. Just 13 rhinoceros were killed in 2007, while recent figures show that over 500 have been killed so far in 2014, indicating the highest level of poaching since records began. The growing demand for rhinoceros horn is thought to be due to economic growth and increased disposable income in Southeast Asia and China, where the horn is used for traditional medicine and as a sign of prestige among the business elite. The price of rhinoceros horn is greater than that of gold, and poachers are becoming increasingly organised, and there have been many reports of helicopters and high-tech gadgetry being used in poaching attempts. It is thought that the mine could help to facilitate poaching, and increase the difficulty of policing the park. The response to the plans from local communities and conservationists worldwide has been one of concern and consternation.

The horn of the white rhinoceros is becoming a more valuable target for poachers due to increasing demand from Asia

Find out more about the white rhinoceros on Arkive.

Discover more South African species on Arkive.

Read more on this story at The Guardian – Mining poses new threat to world’s greatest rhino sanctuary.

Ben Hogan, Wildscreen ARKive PIPS Intern

Jul 7

The Galápagos archipelago is known for its extraordinarily rich abundance and diversity of native plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. However invasive species present on islands are threatening the Galápagos’ rare species, pushing many to the brink of extinction. To date, seven vertebrate species have become extinct, while 40% of the still existing 96 species are endangered – with invasive species as the primary threat.

The world’s only marine lizard, the endemic Galápagos marine iguana, is extremely vulnerable to invasive species which consume the young and even occasionally adults

Island Conservation began working to protect species in the Galápagos Archipelago in 2008. In 2011,  the Galápagos National Park, supported by Island Conservation, Charles Darwin Foundation, The Raptor Center, and Bell Laboratories, removed invasive rats from the islands of Rábida, North Plaza, three Beagle islets, and three of the Bainbridge Rocks to protect 12 unique Galápagos species considered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature to be threatened with extinction.  One success story from this project was the rediscovery of a land snail species on Rábida Island, which was presumed to be extinct as no live specimens had been observed or recorded since 1905-1906.

In 2012, work began to remove invasive species from another island in the Galápagos Archipelago, Pinzón Island. Over 150 years ago, invasive black rats invaded this island and began feeding on the defenceless eggs and hatchlings of the Pinzón giant tortoise. By the turn of the 20th century the island endemic tortoise was unable to establish its next generation of tortoises, resulting in a captive rearing program being set up.

Pinzon giant tortoise 2

Adult Pinzón giant tortoise © Island Conservation

By December 2012, the project to remove the invasive rat species from this island was completed. With the removal of the last remaining invasive vertebrate species threat, tortoise hatchlings are now emerging from native tortoises on the island and the Galápagos National Park have successfully returned 118 hatchlings to their native island home.

The removal of invasive species from these islands is part of a much larger project to restore other key Galápagos Island ecosystems to protect native plants and animals. The next major endeavour is to remove multiple invasive species from Floreana Island. Feral goats have already been removed from the island, but other invasive species remain which are a threat to the island’s rich biodiversity. This rich biodiversity includes the Critically Endangered Floreana mockingbird which has disappeared from the island, mainly as a result of invasive species. Now only surviving on two small neighbouring islets, the removal of invasive rats and cats from Floreana will allow for this bird to comeback from the brink of extinction.

The Critically Endangered Floreana mockingbird

To find out more about the great work that Island Conservation carry out, visit their website or facebook page.

Jul 3

Over 200 hundred years ago, the United States declared its independence and became its own sovereign nation. Often celebrated in America with BBQs and fireworks, the universal color scheme for any gathering today includes red, white and blue.  We thought we’d celebrate the 4th of July here at Arkive… but with our own wildlife twist!

Check out our favorite red, white and blue wildlife mascots for Independence Day this year!

RED – North Pacific giant octopus

Photo of North Pacific giant octopus

We could actually put the North Pacific giant octopus under the red and the white category since the species contains special pigment cells in the skin called chromatophores that, when activated, cause the octopus mantle to change colors from red to white. True to its name, the North Pacific giant octopus is the largest of all octopus species and can be found off the entire Pacific coast of the US.

White – Polar bear

Photo of Polar bear

The most well-known of all bears, the polar bear is immediately recognisable from the distinctive white colour of its thick fur. Did you know that the only unfurred parts of the body are the foot pads and the tip of its nose? The largest land carnivore, the polar bear calls the snowy habitat of Alaska home.

Blue – Blue whale

Photo of Blue whale

Despite its common name, the blue whale is actually grayish-blue and can even have a yellowish tinge caused by microscopic algae called ‘diatoms’. The blue whale is found in every ocean in the world except the Arctic!

Can you name some other North American RED, WHITE and BLUE animals?  Feel free to name some in the comments section and take a look to see if you can find them in the Arkive website.

From Arkive, we hope you have a happy and safe 4th of July!

Ari Pineda, Program Assistant, Wildscreen USA

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