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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.
Mar 1

The snow leopard is one of the most elusive creatures on the planet, living in one of the most hostile environments on Earth. Here Wildscreen Exchange and Arkive contributor Craig Jones shares with us his experience in tracking and photographing this mysterious and endangered big cat in the Himalayan mountains.

This incredible expedition took us to one of the most wonderful and impressive places on Earth – “The roof of the world” as it’s known, it had been over fifteen months of planning. Precarious climbs, steep falls, bone-chilling cold and heart-warming sights, just some of the words that come to mind from this incredible trip to the Indian Himalayas searching for the elusive snow leopard. Nothing was promised with such a rare big cat but I always believe in what you give to nature, nature will give back to you.

We flew from London to Delhi, delayed 24 hours due to heavy snowfall in the Himalayas. Once landed you really feel the extra altitude almost straight away but your body adjusts just as quick. From there we headed to Leh, largest city in the Ladakh region of North India, situated at an altitude of 3,500m.

We spent the mandatory two days acclimatising in Le, adapting to the height. The massive 17th-century Leh Palace, modeled on the Dalai Lama’s former home; Tibet’s Potala Palace, overlooks the old town’s bazaar and maze like lanes. The people were extremely friendly and it’s an amazing place full of so many different cultures and people.

After two magical days in Leh we left civilisation as we knew, heading to Hemis National Park in our quest to find the snow leopard. The team packed our vehicles with the massive amount of gear and equipment we’d need. The nerves started to bite a little at the thought of seeing one of the world’s rarest big cats as fresh snow started to fall. Hemis National Park was established in 1981 and is the largest National park in the south Asia region and home to one of the highest densities of wild Snow leopards anywhere in the world.

As we headed along narrow roads towards the national park passing mules and other animals along the way, the landscape changes dramatically with steep sided mountains and long drops to the valley below you. The size and remoteness just overwhelm you at first, it really does. We travelled for around an hour by road until we could no more, it was on foot from here on in.

My heart was racing, everywhere I looked I could see rocks that were almost the identical colour of Snow leopard fur and when you look so intensely at things your eyes often play tricks with you so I was double checking every little rock I saw and focused on as we walked into this truly inspiring place.

Once inside the park we turned the first corner and there was a small family of blue sheep feeding. Our guides pointed at them and we stopped and got out the cameras and nervously set up hoping these stunning animals would stay. Blue sheep are a main prey item for snow leopards and form the majority of their diet. It’s a good sign when you come across them as there maybe snow leopards in that area watching.

Once they had passed through we packed up and carried on our steady walk to our base camp. We slowly climbed up and were surrounded by steep mountains either side of us as we walked. It was incredibly impressive and something that I find hard to explain in words. Once we got to our little camp the snow was coming down heavy and the sun was slowly disappearing behind the dense snow clouds. That evening was filled with great excitement as we had our first evening meal and planned the next days events. We made our tents as comfortable as we could and went to sleep. I didn’t sleep well that first night, I never do when somewhere new.

Before dawn, I was up and decided to go out with my guides and trackers high up on the ridges overlooking our camp. The place just blew me away with its scale, you were completely dwarfed by the sheer scale of the place as the mountains seem to encase you inside this most beautiful of landscapes.

Over the days our routine didn’t really change as the guides were scouting for snow leopard signs and possible sightings from first light until last light. We visited the junction of Husing Nala and Tarbung Nala including the high ridge lines, hiked up the main Lato Nala vantage point and spent the day scanning the Kharlung and adjoining areas. It became very apparent from the moment we entered this beautiful yet hostile terrain that it would be very difficult to see a snow leopard.

On one such day while we were waiting, a lone lammergeier was soaring above our heads against the bluest of skies you could have ever imagined. Later from nowhere a rare Himalayan griffon vulture also soared above us often crossing the same flight path as the bearded vulture.

After the first few days had passed we were having breakfast and heard shouting outside our dining tent. I got up and went outside and the guides told me there had been a sighting of a Snow Leopard on the mountain overlooking our camp. Everyone then made a scramble to their tents, I can’t describe those few moments as it seemed like a blur now looking back, and we soon got all our gear and were out on the small path adjacent to our camp.

Our guides were looking through the powerful telescopes and each one of us, in turn, looked through to see this amazing big cat. First, he went over the ridge and out of sight, then he returned and just lay down in the morning sun without a care in the world. He didn’t move a great deal and spent the next several hours just sleeping and lazing around, before getting up and walking back over the ridge and that was the last we saw of him. We’d had no further sightings for days then this and words can’t express how we all felt at seeing one of the world’s rarest cats and also one of the most beautiful ones.

Over the next few days we all walked and trekked over frozen rivers and steep valleys and ridges, each day returning to our little camp, seen in the bottom left-hand corner of the image below, nestled in between the mountain ranges of the Indian Himalayas. Where we stayed was hard for me to describe due to its remoteness and beauty, this image I hope goes some way in conveying that.

During one hike to a vantage point, we visited the homestay of one of our guides, Gurmet, high up around 4500m above sea level, the oxygen seemed to be disappearing the higher we got. Gurmets sister lived there with her husband and children, on arrival we were invited inside for a warm drink, amazed at how wonderful the rooms looked and the kitchen etc. I also made a friend there, he was the nephew of Gurmet and loved seeing his face in my camera, I showed him the ones I took of him to which he was fascinated.

It was our last day in Hemis National park and we set off before our gear and mules, and had only been walking for ten minutes when noticed some commotion and shouting, as we got closer our guides told us another snow leopard had been spotted not too far from where we were.

Following our guides, my heart was racing, everyone was sort of dumbstruck that on the day we were leaving our luck shone once more. We were soon off track and almost vertical up a really steep hill. The snow leopard was on the mountain opposite but was near impossible to see, so we quickly got sorted our tripods and cameras, scanning the mountain.

How they spot these elusive big cats I have no idea, they are almost invisible to the naked eye due to their fur pattern and colour which is identical to the rocks and cliffs in which they live. Upon looking for a few minutes I saw him and said “wow” out loud. Sitting there all majestically, fur in tip-top condition he was just stunning.

We lost light that afternoon, behind the mountains and had to drag ourselves off that mountain and say goodbye not only to him but to this incredible place that had been our home over the last several days. I was really sad to leave and I said goodnight to him as we carefully made our way down to the path and walked out of Hemis National park to our awaiting transport. It was cold and tough going at times but these big cats are special and live in one of the most testing environments anywhere in the world. Perfectly adapted to that life they are true masters of this place and they demand your total respect.

See more of Craig Jones’s photography on the Wildscreen Exchange

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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