Jan 5
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The ARKive Team’s Favourite Species – Laura Sutherland

Like rabbits retreating into their burrows, heads began disappearing underneath desks in the ARKive office as I made a beeline for the next ARKive team mate to pick their favourite species. Will this week’s favourite species be another ferocious feline like it was for Rebecca Sennett, or something slightly more serpentine?

Laura Sutherland – ARKive Education Officer

Favourite Species: African elephant

Why? While I was at University I spent a summer volunteering on a conservation project based in Botswana. Much of our time was spent monitoring the local elephant population, which is where I developed a soft spot for this enormous mammal. Their social structure is based around the ties within family groups; each group is led by an old female known as the ‘matriarch’. They have an amazing capacity to communicate over vast distances using infrasound and are able to recognise other individuals from their vocalisations.

Favourite elephant image on ARKive:

Photo of an African elephant

African elephant calf flapping ears

The African elephant is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List, with threats such as hunting for their ivory tusks, which are actually modified incisors, and conflict with farmers due to habitat fragmentation, posing considerable risks to their continued survival.

See more pictures and videos of the African elephant.

Dec 29
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The ARKive Team’s Favourite Species – Rebecca Sennett

With no one wanting to be a copycat and the number of species to choose from on ARKive gradually getting lower (5 have been selected out of the 14,195 species on ARKive!) the pressure is really beginning to show. Will this week’s team member go for a cuddly critter like Hannah Mulvany or a more beastly being?

Rebecca Sennett - ARKive Media Researcher

Favourite species: African leopard

Why? The African leopard has always been my favourite species mainly because of its exceptional beauty and the fact that it is so elusive. I will never forget how I felt whilst on safari, watching two leopards drag an impala kill up onto the branch of an acacia tree, just as the sun went down below the horizon – a breathtaking and rare sight. The African leopard is a fearsome predator, combining opportunism, stealth and speed. Its distinctive, spotted coat provides excellent camouflage and enables the leopard to conceal itself in the undergrowth. With acute vision and hearing, the leopard is able move slowly and silently, frequently stalking to within metres of its prey without being detected!

Favourite image on ARKive?

Photo of an African leopard

Female African leopard grooming cub

The leopard is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List, with threats to the African population including habitat conversion for agriculture, hunting for teeth and fur and human persecution due to this species attacking livestock.

See more photos and videos of the leopard.

Jul 29
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In the News: Rare forest antelope captured on camera

A previously unknown population of Africa’s most endangered antelope has been discovered in a highly threatened forest in northern Kenya, according to scientists.

Photo of Aders' duiker in habitat

As well as being Africa’s most Critically Endangered antelope, Aders' duiker is also one of its smallest and most distinctive.

Camera traps in the Boni-Dodori forest on the northern coast of Kenya captured over 3,300 images of Aders’ duiker, a species which had previously only been recorded from the island of Zanzibar and from small forest patches on the Kenyan coast. The new discovery represents the world’s largest known population of this rare antelope.

One of Africa’s smallest duiker species, Aders’ duiker is highly distinctive, with rich chestnut upperparts and a white band across the rump. Its populations have been in serious decline due to habitat loss and illegal hunting, and the remaining individuals are restricted to ever-dwindling forest patches.

Photo of blue duiker sitting on grass

The blue duiker, another tiny antelope living in the Boni-Dodori forest.

Important forest under threat

Set up by scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT), National Museums of Kenya and WWF, the camera traps also revealed important populations of a number of other species, including African wild dogs, elephants, lions, leopards, and other duikers.

The pictures of Aders’ duiker also come just months after the discovery of a potentially new, giant species of elephant-shrew, or ‘sengi’, in the same area.

However, this important forest is under serious threat from rapid coastal development and the spread of agriculture, and its biodiversity is still poorly understood due to security problems and poor infrastructure, which make access difficult.

Photo of African leopard walking

Leopards, African wild dogs and elephants were also found living in and around the forest.

According to Dr Rajan Amin, a senior conservation biologist for ZSL, “This population [of Aders’ duiker] is a lifeline for the critically endangered antelope, which until now was thought to exist only in tiny populations in coastal Kenya and Zanzibar.”

Given time and conservation action we could unearth even more new species in this isolated forest, but we are running out of time to stop the forest and its hidden secrets from being destroyed by rapid coastal development.”

Calls to protect biodiverse forest

Conservationists are calling for the immediate protection of the Boni-Dodori forest, to preserve its important wildlife populations.

Andrew Bowkett of the WWCT said, “This forest is extremely biodiverse and is a very important area to conserve. We have also found other important populations of forest antelopes in the area including the Harvey’s duiker, suni and the blue duiker which was also not previously known to occur in the Kenyan northern coastal forests.”

Photo of golden-rumped elephant-shrew

A potentially new species of elephant-shrew has been discovered in the Boni-Dodori forest. Like this golden-rumped elephant-shrew, it is likely to be threatened by habitat destruction.

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is leading the national effort to conserve the Boni-Dodori forest. Speaking about the new camera trap images, Dr Sam Andanje, Head of Ecosystem and Landscape Conservation at KWS, said, “We will use the new information on Aders’ duiker and other important findings from this research to work closely with key stakeholders to develop effective strategies to conserve and protect these areas.”

Read the full story at ZSL – Pictures captured by scientists reveal hidden wildlife hotspot.

View photos and videos of species from Kenya on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

Jul 4
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In the News: New twist in Serengeti highway controversy

After much confusion, the Tanzanian government has clarified its plans for the highly controversial Serengeti highway, confirming that it now plans to build a gravel road through the park.

Photo of blue wildebeest crossing Mara river on migration

Blue wildebeest crossing river during migration

Previous plans to construct a paved highway through the Serengeti National Park had drawn much criticism from environmentalists, scientists and governments, and reports that the road had been cancelled were hailed as a victory for conservation and wildlife. Scientists were concerned about the potential impacts of the highway on the 2 million wildebeest, zebra and antelope which pass through the park on their annual migration from Tanzania to Kenya.

The Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Ezekiel Maige, has now confirmed that the road will still go ahead, but that the plans have been amended. “The Serengeti road project has not been abandoned… we have just revised it. But the road will be unpaved, so there will be no tarmac road or highway traversing through the Serengeti National Park,” he said.

Access to the road will be managed by the Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA), with game rangers controlling traffic with gates in an effort to avoid disturbing the wildlife.

Photo of plains zebra massing to cross river during migration

Plains zebras on migration

Controversial highway criticised

Critics of the project have warned that even an unpaved road would threaten the Serengeti’s wildlife, with commercial and population pressure likely to lead to it eventually being paved and widened. As well as threatening the migration, a road could potentially affect predator populations and also impact on tourism in the area.

The World Bank had offered to fund an alternative southern route for the road, which would circumvent the park. According to Dave Blanton of the NGO Serengeti Watch, “This route is preferable to the northern route for maximum social and economic development. And it will allow a relief valve for traffic, present and future, that would travel through the Serengeti itself. The government letter says it was ‘seriously considering’ this. We need to support this effort and make sure it is accomplished. Otherwise, we’ve not gone forward.”

Photo of male Thomson's gazelle running

Thomson’s gazelle, another species that joins the Serengeti migration

Mining plans for Selous Game Reserve

The news on the Serengeti road comes amid new reports that Tanzania is to go ahead with plans to mine uranium in the Selous Game Reserve, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. This reserve is home to large numbers of elephants, black rhinos, cheetahs, giraffes, hippos and crocodiles, and is relatively undisturbed by humans.

According to Mr Maige, the plans would affect less than 1% of the Selous and would provide an important source of income for the country, as well as providing revenue to help manage the park. The UNESCO World Heritage Centre has said it will approve the plans as long as environmental assessments are carried out.

View photos and videos of the blue wildebeest on ARKive.

View other species from Tanzania on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

May 31
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In the News: Mara wildlife in serious decline

Wildlife populations in the world-famous Masai Mara reserve in Kenya have crashed in recent decades, according to new research.

Photo of African buffalo covered in mud

The African buffalo, which has all but disappeared around the Masai Mara reserve.

The research, published in the Journal of Zoology, used monitoring data from the past 33 years to calculate trends in wildlife populations across the reserve and on adjoining ranches. Although previous studies had already shown declines in some large mammal populations, this latest research covered a longer period and looked at more species.

In total, 12 species of large mammal were investigated, as well as ostriches and domestic livestock. The researchers also looked at changes in the numbers of migratory wildebeest and zebras coming into the Mara each year.

Photo of Masai giraffe browsing

The giraffe is just one of the large mammals that have declined in the Mara in recent decades.

Large mammals in decline

We were very surprised by what we found,” said Dr Joseph Ogutu, one of the scientists who undertook the research. “The Mara has lost more than two thirds of its wildlife.”

Of the 13 large species studied, only ostriches and elephants have not shown large declines outside of the reserve. Inside the Masai Mara itself, only the eland, Grant’s gazelle and ostrich have shown any signs of population recoveries during the last decade.

Overall, the populations of impala, warthog, giraffe, topi and Coke’s hartebeest have declined by over 70%, while the African buffalo has all but disappeared outside of the reserve.

Photo of eastern white-bearded wildebeest herd with plains zebra

The numbers of migrating wildebeest and zebra have significantly declined in the Mara.

The numbers of migrating wildebeest and zebra have also drastically declined, despite relatively few changes in their populations in the neighbouring Serengeti, where the migrating animals come from. The epic wildebeest migration now involves 64% fewer animals than in the early 1980s.

During the wet season, when there is no migration, resident wildebeest in the Masai Mara have almost completely disappeared, while resident zebra populations have crashed by about three quarters.

Threats to wildlife in the Mara

The declines in the Mara’s wildlife are particularly surprising given major conservation efforts and an increase in local policing in the last decade. The main causes of the declines are thought to be poaching, changing patterns of land use on ranches, and a dramatic increase in the numbers and distribution of domestic livestock.

The researchers found that the number of cattle grazing in the reserve has increased by over 1,100%, while the density of sheep and goats has increased more than seven-fold. Heavy grazing is believed to be displacing wildlife, as well as making larger species more vulnerable to starvation during the severe droughts that have hit the region in recent decades.

Photo of ostrich pair walking with chicks

As well as large mammals, the study also looked at ostrich populations in the Mara.

Protecting wildlife in the Mara

If the decline in wildlife populations in the Mara is to be halted, the researchers say that the expansion of human settlements, livestock numbers and fencing needs to be regulated, and poaching needs to be brought under control.

Otherwise, the status of Masai Mara as a prime conservation area and premier tourist draw card in Kenya may soon be in jeopardy,” said Dr Ogutu.

Read the BBC news story – Wildlife ‘crash’ in the Mara region of Kenya, Africa.

View photos and videos of species from Kenya on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

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