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Here at Arkive, we provide the ultimate multimedia guide to endangered species, and through our blog we’ll keep you up to date with news from the world of wildlife videos, photography and conservation, alongside the latest on our quest to locate imagery of the planet’s most wanted plants and animals.
Feb 14

Today the dingo has been crowned the World’s Favourite Unloved Species, after two weeks of voting and some fierce competition. Here Bret Charman discusses his experiences with photographing this misunderstood yet beautiful species.

The world’s wild dog species, for the most part, are on a downward spiral – none more so than the iconic dingo of Australia. Unlike the profile of many of the world’s apex predators, many people still see the dingo as a pest species, particularly by some livestock farmers in the outback, and as such, there is little in the way of protection for this vital predator. Perceptions are starting to change though, as many have started to realise the species’ importance in managing the populations of rabbits, kangaroos and even feral cats.

Award-winning wildlife photographer Bret Charman spent 10 months exploring the south and east of Australia, getting up close and personal to these fascinating predators.

In 2014/15 I was incredibly lucky to spend 10 months exploring a remarkable country – Australia. The wildlife here is unlike anywhere else on earth, uniquely adapted to the diverse habitats that make up the Australian wilderness. Deep down, I have always had a love affair with the world’s canids and the dingo was a species I was desperate to see.

Like any of the world’s apex predators, there are fantastical stories about the dingo and their blood-thirsty habits. Headlines such as 6-year-old escaped by the bare buttocks from a dingo attack’, give an impression of a savage, mindless predator out to get the average person. However, when you dig a little deeper you realise that it is rarely the dingo that is to blame, and actually these wild dogs are an incredibly intelligent, resourceful and adaptable species.

I am happy tell you I have had multiple close encounters with wild dingoes, and I never once felt in danger or lost any item of clothing in the process. In fact, just like a domestic dog, dingoes give incredibly clear signals as to how they are feeling and are much more afraid of people than many would have us believe.

My first experience was on the western coastline of Fraser Island, I knew there were dingoes in the area as I had seen their tracks around a washed up turtle carcass. Setting off down the beach, following these tracks, I sighted a small group of dogs on the water’s edge around 300 yards away. I got low down so as not to spook them, but my efforts were in vain as they immediately clocked me and disappeared into the island’s forested hills. I thought I had lost the moment, annoyed at myself for disturbing them – as a wildlife photographer my job is to capture striking images but not directly affect the subject’s behaviour.

I turned my attention to the setting sun and after a few minutes I had that primeval feeling … I was being watched. I turned around and looked up towards the top of a sandy bluff. There were the three dingoes I had sighted only 20 minutes before, all three watching me intently before suddenly two individuals headed off into the forest. One lone dog remained and watched me … we both seemed to be fascinated by the other’s presence. Neither of us made any attempt to approach each other, we simply sat and watched one another for around 5 minutes (and in my case managed to capture a few images) before we both knew it was time to head home. I have never had an experience with a predator in the same way before. Neither the dingo, or myself, were afraid of one another, there was simply a mutual respect. There was a silent understanding that if we stayed put, we were both comfortable in each other’s presence. These dingoes weren’t the mindless predator I had heard so much about, they had foresight, planning and in-depth understanding of human behaviour. Of course that remarkable evening only left me wanting more!

The danger of getting involved in photographing the world’s predators is rarely any attack from the animal itself, the trouble in fact starts with the emotions that these encounters stir up. You get an attack of passion, an addiction! I was completely hooked, but I knew I hadn’t captured an image that reflected the true nature of the dingo. I had to keep trying. I had to hope another chance would come my way – luckily for me I was fortunate enough to capture the image below in a separate encounter.

I spent over an hour following this beautiful female as she went about her daily business.  I believe this image really shows the true character of a dingo – a species of wild dog that is perfectly suited to Australia’s harsh environment, a predator that keeps a natural balance in an ecosystem and actually controls the numbers of other pest species which are far more damaging for agriculture. Quite simply this species of wild dog is an integral part of the landscape and that is why it fits so comfortably across this vast land.

There can be no denying that there is always going to be issues with livestock being killed by dingoes, and this will always be a flashpoint. However, there has been some recent evidence which has actually suggested that where these apex predators occur on farms with livestock, the farmers often have better grass yields as a result of fewer grazers competing over this limited resource. This in turn increases the farmer’s revenue from the healthier livestock reared on this land.

Dingoes will always carry out the odd raid on livestock, but just as the wolf has transformed the landscapes of Yellowstone NP since its reintroduction, perhaps the Australian equivalent can play a pivotal role in the restoration of the outback. If all sides can come together and better understand the dingo and the role it plays, there could be unknown benefits for all involved. There is hope yet to save this iconic species, but if no one is prepared to make a stand then they could all too easily slip away.

Bret’s next big photography project is ‘Life in the Clouds’ – a photographic exploration of Ecuador’s cloud forests and the intricacies that altitude plays in the distribution of species. Find out more about the project here.

Feb 7

#LoveSpecies nominee: helmeted hornbill

Nominated by: World Land Trust

Why do you love it?

The fierce appearance of the world’s largest hornbill, with a battering ram of solid keratin fixed to their face, suits its medieval mating rituals. The males clash mid-air in head-to-head combat (an impressive display called aerial jousting) to win access to fruiting fig trees. Females then lock themselves up in nesting holes with mud, where they lay their eggs and rely entirely on their mate for their survival, and that of their offspring. 

What are the threats to the helmeted hornbill? 

The helmeted hornbill is targeted by poachers for the helmet-like casque on the upper half of its beak. Unlike other hornbills, this casque is made from a solid ivory-like substance, which makes them a prime target for the illegal wildlife trade.

In recent years, demand for hornbill ivory has seen a concerning rise, with around 6,000 helmeted hornbills lost every year, causing them to be classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List.

Helmeted hornbills are also highly threatened by the rapid rates of forest loss. The escalation of illegal logging and land conversion, as well as forest fires, has significantly reduced suitable habitat for the species.


What are you doing to save it?

World Land Trust (WLT) works in Malaysian Borneo with conservation partner Hutan to preserve habitat for endangered species like the Helmeted Hornbill. As well as funding the purchase of land to create important wildlife corridors, WLT funds the employment of members of local communities to manage and protect the land, and to encourage sustainable, traditional practices.

As the hornbill’s natural habitat is declining Hutan has also established a next box programme to provide safe nesting locations where hornbills can be monitored.

Jan 27

#LoveSpecies nominee: Galapagos giant tortoise

Nominated by: Ecology Project International

Why do you love it?

The Galapagos giant tortoise has had such an impressive impact on history, science, and its ecosystem that it’s sure to win over hearts. Endemic to the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador, this tortoise is one of only two distinct populations of giant tortoises remaining on the planet. Large and slow, giant tortoises are considered to be the oldest living vertebrates in the world, with one who lived to the impressive age of 152.

The Galapagos tortoise shares its name with the islands it inhabits, but it was the islands that were named after the tortoise. Sixteenth-century Spanish explorers who visited the islands named the islands after the word “galápago,” a Spanish term for “saddle,” after the shape of some of the tortoise’s carapaces.

Morphological differences between the 15 subspecies of giant tortoise are believed to be the result of the varying habitats and subsequent environmental pressures that exist across the islands. The Galapagos Islands with their many endemic species and varying subspecies are famous for being the inspiration for Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

What are the threats to the Galapagos giant tortoise?

Each of the 11 living subspecies of Galapagos giant tortoise falls under vulnerable, critically endangered, or endangered labels by the IUCN, and several have already gone extinct. The main causes for their decline are harvesting for food and oil, habitat loss due to farming and agriculture, and the introduction of larger mammals like pigs, dogs, cats, and rodents that prey on young tortoises and eggs, as Galapagos tortoises have no natural predators.

Estimates claim about 250,000 tortoises inhabited the islands before major human interference. Population estimates dropped as low as 3,000 in the late 20th century. Current estimates put the number of living tortoises somewhere around 20,000.

What are you doing to save it?

Since 2003, Ecology Project International (EPI) has engaged 3,225 local Galapagos youth and visiting U.S. students in giant tortoise field science and conservation education. Both local and visiting students learn ecology and biology firsthand while performing field research on giant tortoises with world renowned scientist Dr. Stephen Blake. While collecting data on this keystone species, they also perform service work, removing invasive plants and restoring native habitat to ensure the survival of Galapagos’ wildlife and the protection of its vulnerable ecosystems. Supplemental programming provides additional leadership skills to local youth that build critical thinking skills, a personal conservation ethic, and an awareness of environmental issues facing the Galapagos.

Additionally, in a unique partnership with the Galapagos National Park, EPI provides a year-long conservation education degree program to all Galapagos high school juniors. Approved by the Ecuadorian Ministry of Education, this program engaged 50% of all Galapagos students within the first year. These students are the next generation; they hold the key to long-lasting conservation efforts of the Galapagos giant tortoise, and of many other species, on these incredible islands.

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Jan 27

#LoveSpecies nominee: okapi

Nominated by: Tusk Task Force

Why do you love it? 

Even though the okapi resembles the striped markings of a zebra on its behind, it is actually closely related to their tall cousins, the giraffe. Due to their common remarkable DNA, the okapi and the giraffe are the only living members of the family, Giraffidae. Okapis are only found in the northeast forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and their name actually means “the forest giraffe” for they rely on forests to survive. Like their cousins they have long tongues that can go from 14 to 18 inches but unlike giraffes, they are about the size of a zebra. The okapi is the symbol of the DRC and provides important biodiversity benefits to all the other species where it roams.

What are the threats to the Okapi? 

Since the okapi is only endemic in the DRC, their numbers have gone down tremendously since the discovery of their species in 1901 by humans. The okapi has been a protected national treasure of the Congo since 1933 but they are now listed as Endangered by the IUCN. Major threats include habitat loss due to deforestation and human settlement. Extensive hunting for their bushmeat and skin have also led to the decline in their populations. The most recent and dire threat on the okapi is the presence of illegal armed groups around protected areas, inhibiting conservation and monitoring by conservation groups, especially in the Virunga National Park. There are only 10,000-25,000 left of them in the wild, primarily in the Ituri Forest in the DRC.

What are you doing to save the okapi?

Tusk Task Force has recently included the okapi as one of its four target species (along with the elephant, giraffe, and the rhino) to defend because of their close relationship to the giraffe so they are partnering with the Okapi Conservation Project (OKP) to protect okapi populations. The OKP was established in 1987 which developed the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in 1993 to protect the species. In June 2012, a gang of militant poachers attacked the headquarters of the Reserve killing six guards and OKP staff in addition to 13 of the species.

Due to wildlife trafficking, Tusk Task Force is committed to help defend the okapi and its park rangers from further violence on a three-prong approach against wildlife terrorism:

Advocacy: 1. Build public awareness through consulting, education, public relations, and research; 2. Influence public policy channels by supporting legislation supporting okapi conservation on the international, national, state, and local levels; 3. Ally and consult with other advocates and NGOs on their targeted okapi conservation campaigns; 4. Deliver public policy advocacy resources to advocates and/or individuals at the grassroots level through our Tusk Ambassadors™ program; and, 5. Support global advocates on all levels, aligned with our mission, promoting okapi conservation.

Intelligence: 1. Provide a comprehensive repository of intelligence on the subject of wildlife terrorism including the DoW or DATA on Wildlife™ (Database of All Terrorist Activities on Wildlife) with regards to okapi population; 2. Compile, analyse, provide, and share intelligence of okapi casualties to all advocates and NGOs; 3. Promote data-driven and knowledge-based approach to help us address solutions to alleviate okapi mortality rates; 4. Authenticate with intelligence sources to confirm information regarding general and specific wildlife terrorism events on the okapi; and, 5. Corroborate each source of intelligence we acquire using “triangulation” or “five points” methodology to make sure that the source is as accurate as possible.

Protection: 1. Allocate tactical and operational resources to wildlife park rangers protecting the okapi; 2. Execute direct and in-direct force protection programs through our Tusk Defenders™ program; 3. Partner with other NGOs to help with their anti-poaching and okapi conservation efforts; 4. Ally with technology firms to enhance innovative tools to combat poaching of the okapi; and, 5. Collaborate with other NGOs to support a vibrant wildlife economy instead of a violent extinction economy that includes humanitarian aid to communities affected by wildlife terrorism.

Tusk Task Force observes the World Okapi Day on October 18 every year.

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Jan 27

#LoveSpecies nominee: Scottish wildcat

Nominated by: Scottish Wildcat Action

Why do you love it?

The Scottish wildcat is a really charismatic species of cat that lives in the Scottish Highlands. It features on many clan crests and is a part of Scottish folklore so it’s part of our Scottish identity. Sadly there aren’t many of them left. Latest estimates suggest there could be as few as 100 in the wild.

Wildcats are built like a mini tiger but they are only slightly larger than a tabby domestic cat. If you look closely you can see they have longer limbs and a wider head with a powerful jaw. These are good for catching and eating live prey.

The most notable difference is the thick bushy tail which has black rings and a blunt black tip as though it has been dipped in paint. It’s a beautiful animal with some serious attitude.

What are the threats to the Scottish wildcat?

The biggest threat today actually comes from domestic cats that haven’t been neutered or vaccinated. Although Scottish wildcats are our native cat and domestic cats were introduced by humans much later, they can still interbreed and even catch the same diseases.

The Scottish wildcat is now a protected species but it is so heavily outnumbered by domestic cats that it’s difficult for them to find and mate with another wildcat, and instead they often mate with domestic cats and have hybrid kittens. These hybrids have mixed wildcat and domestic cat ancestry and as hybridisation continues with each successive generation, the wildcat genes are being diluted. Soon we will lose our native cat altogether.

Every time they come into contact with a domestic cat they are also at risk of catching diseases because mating or fighting over territory passes on infectious diseases like feline leukaemia (FeLV) or feline Aids (FIV).

Historically, humans hunted wildcats and this reduced their numbers. People still hunt cats today, but now they aim to shoot unowned domestic cats living in the wild (known as feral cats) as a legal method of controlling predators. However, it can be easy to mistake a domestic cat with a wildcat if shooting at night or using snares.

What are you doing to save it?

The good news is that, thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Scottish Wildcat Action is working with over 20 partner organisations and lots of local people to protect wildcats in the wild. Our friends at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland are also breeding them for later release.

Wildcats are notoriously elusive and very cunning. With the added issue of hybridisation, it’s difficult to even identify them in the wild. Thankfully, new technology is helping us to find out where they are. We use hundreds of motion-sensitive trail cameras to gather images of cats living in the wild and this helps us target our conservation work more effectively. Using the intelligence from the trail cameras, we can also find out where there are feral cat hotspots and target them for neutering and vaccination. Ferals are domestic cats whose ancestors were once pets or farm cats that were abandoned or strayed; however, because they are a domesticated species they do not have the adaptations to cope with wild-living like the wildcat. These feral cats live a hard life, often riddled with disease and parasites, breeding with even their close relatives and scraping a living by scrounging from human food sources.

The best thing for them is to stop them from breeding further and making sure they are immune to some of the more common diseases. Once they have been neutered and vaccinated we return them to the wild because they are not socialised to humans. This way they also act as a buffer between wildcats and any new feral cats in the area who may not be neutered or vaccinated.

We rely on local sightings too and we have over 150 fantastic volunteers helping us to maintain the cameras, catch feral cats to take them to the vet, and to raise awareness of how cat owners can help by micro-chipping, neutering and vaccinating their pet cats. Finally, we are also working with our partner, the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, to encourage the use of wildcat-friendly predator control methods so that wildcats are not accidentally caught in the crosshairs.

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