Jul 6
Photo of captive female Rameshwaram parachute spider, camouflaged among dead leaves

Rameshwaram parachute spider (Poecilotheria hanumavilasumica)

Species: Rameshwaram parachute spider (Poecilotheria hanumavilasumica)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: Instead of using a web to catch prey, the Rameshwaram parachute spider actively catches its victims by ambushing them and injecting paralysing venom.

The Rameshwaram parachute spider is a colourful, tree-dwelling tarantula with an attractive pattern of light and dark markings. As its name suggests, this species is found on Rameshwaram Island, off the coast of Tamil Nadu, India, although it also occurs on adjacent parts of the mainland. It can be distinguished from other spiders in its genus by the distinctive yellow colour on the underside of its front legs. Although relatively little is currently known about the Rameshwaram parachute spider, it is likely to live in dark, well-protected cavities such as tree holes or inside house walls. This species feeds mainly on insects. Females can live for several breeding seasons, and may produce up to 52 young at a time. The Rameshwaram parachute spider typically lives in tree palm, coconut or tamarind plantations, but also occurs in human habitations.

The main threat to the Rameshwaram parachute spider is habitat loss, as the plantations it inhabits are being destroyed to make way for houses and other developments, as well as rice fields. This rare spider occurs in only a few highly fragmented locations, and its remaining patches of habitat are very small. Although not common in the pet trade, this attractive tarantula has also been known to be exported. Unfortunately, the Rameshwaram parachute spider is not protected by law. Proposals to create a spider sanctuary at the Hanumavilasum temple, which is home to the largest colony of this species, were sadly never put into practice.


Find out more about conservation in India at Conservation India and Wildlife Conservation Society – India.

See images of the Rameshwaram parachute spider on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jul 1

The Sumatran tiger, a Critically Endangered tiger subspecies, may be even rarer than previously thought, according to a new study.

Photo of Sumatran tigress

Found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the Sumatran tiger may number fewer than 400 wild individuals and is perilously close to extinction. In a new study, published in the journal Oryx, researchers from Virginia Tech and WWF used camera traps to estimate tiger density in previously unsurveyed habitats on Sumatra.

Worryingly, they found that tiger density may only be half what has been estimated in the past, and in some areas it could be as low as one tiger per 40 square kilometres.

Tigers under threat

The main reason for the low density of tigers on Sumatra appears to be human activity, particularly large-scale conversion of forest for oil palm, pulp and paper plantations.

We believe the low detection of tigers in the study area of central Sumatra was a result of the high level of human activity – farming, hunting, trapping, and gathering of forest products,” said Sunarto, the lead author of the study. “We found a low population of tigers in these areas, even when there was an abundance of prey animals.”

Photo of a male Sumatran tiger

Sumatra lost around 36% of its forest cover between 1990 and 2010, but the results of the study show that tigers fare badly even in areas where the forest is apparently intact.

According to Sunarto, “Tigers are not only threatened by habitat loss from deforestation and poaching; they are also very sensitive to human disturbance. They cannot survive in areas without adequate understorey, but they are also threatened in seemingly suitable forests when there is too much human activity.”

Tiger conservation

The findings of the study highlight the importance of protecting large areas of remaining forest and reducing the levels of illegal human activity. Opportunities still exist to protect some of the region’s forests, but without urgent action they could soon be converted to plantations.

Photo of Sumatran tiger at river

It will also be important to find ways to improve tiger habitat while also supporting local people, for example through agroforestry activities or selective logging. As the rapid conversion of forests to oil palm plantations is driven by high global demand, the international community also needs to take responsibility for protecting Sumatra’s forests and its tigers.

Although the results of the study are worrying news for the Sumatran tiger, the team found a potentially stable tiger population in the region’s Tesso Nilo National Park, showing that legal protection can be effective in reducing human impacts and allowing the tiger population to recover.


Read more on this story at Mongabay and Science Daily.

View more photos and videos of tigers on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jun 29
Photo of Sumatran orangutan with infant

Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii)

Species: Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The name ‘orangutan’ means ‘person of the forest’.

The Sumatran orangutan lives almost exclusively in trees, only very rarely coming down to the ground. This large Asian ape is found in lowland tropical rainforests and swamps in northern Sumatra, and feeds mainly on fruit, although it will also eat leaves, termites, and even occasionally the meat of slow lorises. The Sumatran orangutan is distinguished from the Bornean orangutan by its narrower face, longer beard and lighter fur, and the two species also behave slightly differently. Adult male orangutans are larger than females, and may have large cheek pads on either side of the face. Orangutans are long-lived and breed very slowly, with females only producing an infant around once every eight years, giving them the longest inter-birth interval of any land mammal.

The main threat to the Sumatran orangutan is the loss of vast areas of forest due to illegal logging, mining and conversion to agriculture, particularly oil palm plantations. Forests have also been fragmented by roads, and forest loss and fragmentation make orangutans more vulnerable to being captured for the illegal pet trade. This species’ slow reproductive rate makes it very difficult for its populations to recover from any losses. The Sumatran orangutan is fully protected by law and is listed on Appendix I of CITES, which bans international trade in this species. However, the key to saving this charismatic primate lies in protecting its remaining forest habitat. A major stronghold for the Sumatran orangutan lies in the Leuser Ecosystem Conservation Area, and projects are also underway to rescue and rehabilitate orangutans that have been orphaned or confiscated, and, if possible, to return them to the wild.


Find out more about orangutan conservation at the Orangutan Foundation and Great Apes Survival Partnership.

You can also find out more about Sumatra and its wildlife on the ARKive Indian Ocean islands page.

See images and videos of the Sumatran orangutan on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Apr 3

The Sumatran rhino has not been seen in the state of Kalimantan, Borneo, for more than two decades, but recent evidence has been found to suggest that this threatened species still occurs in the Indonesian state.

Sumatran rhino image

The Sumatran rhino is one of the most threatened mammals in the world

Encouraging evidence

Now considered to be one of the world’s most threatened mammals with just 200 to 275 individuals remaining in the wild, the Critically Endangered Sumatran rhino once roamed across the Himalayan foothills and east to southern China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Viet Nam and Peninsular Malaysia. However, this impressive range has since been dramatically decreased as a result of hunting and habitat destruction.

Also known as the ‘hairy rhino’ due to a covering of reddish-brown to black hair, the Sumatran rhino is known to survive in small populations on Borneo in the Malaysian state of Sabah, but this is the first time that scientists have been able to confirm the presence of this shy and elusive species in the state of Kalimantan for over 20 years.

While conservationists from WWF-Indonesia have yet to spot a rhino in Kalimantan, the discovery of footprints, mud wallows, tree markings and signs of rhino feeding all indicate that at least one Sumatran rhino persists in the area.

This is a very important finding to the world, and especially to Indonesia’s conservation work, as this serves as a new record on the presence of Sumatran rhinos in East Kalimantan and especially in West Kutai,” said Bambang Noviyanto, the director for biodiversity conservation at the Forestry Ministry.

Sumatran rhino image

The Sumatran rhino is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List


In such small and fragmented populations, it has become difficult for populations of the Sumatran rhino to breed successfully, and cases have been reported in the past of single rhinos surviving alone in a small forest fragment. The rarer the species becomes, the more challenging it is for scientists to count and monitor the number of remaining individuals.

As yet, there is no information on whether the recent evidence has been left by just one rhino or a small group, but scientists believe it is unlikely that the group is large.

The Sumatran rhino is on the very brink of extinction. The fact that this discovery comes more than a decade after the last evidence of the species in Kalimantan, despite the opening up of previously remote areas during that period, suggests that this might be just one or a small number of individuals,” explained John Payne, a conservation scientist with the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA). “If so, they might not have been breeding. There may be inbreeding, or a skewed sex ratio, or simply old or otherwise infertile rhinos.”

Sumatran rhino image

WWF-Indonesia is working on determining how many rhinos may be living in Kalimantan

Breeding programmes

Along with other scientists at BORA, Payne is currently working to breed two Sumatran rhinos in large, semi-wild enclosures in Sabah, Malaysia, one of which was found living alone in a fragment of forest with no hope of finding a mate to breed with.

A similar breeding programme in Sumatra led to the first successful birth of a captive Sumatran rhino since 2001. Given that it was only the fourth captive Sumatran rhino birth in the last century, this was an impressive achievement, but Payne believes that more rhinos will need to be captured to increase genetic diversity within the population and ensure that the breeding programmes are successful in the long term.

I would hope that consideration might be given to capture to add to the global captive population of 10 individuals,” said Payne. “New genes are needed. Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA), although a Malaysian NGO, would be happy to collaborate with WWF-Indonesia and the Indonesian authorities. Such collaboration would help in exchanging information and ideas, and help to better secure collaboration on this species between Indonesia and Malaysia.”

At present, WWF-Indonesia is focusing its efforts on determining how many rhinos are currently living in East Kalimantan, and the organisation is working with local communities to ensure that the area is protected.

Read more on this story at Mongabay.com – Sumatran rhino found in Kalimantan after unseen in region for 20 years.

View photos and videos of the Sumatran rhino on ARKive.


Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Feb 14

A new species of owl, discovered in Indonesia as a result of its unique call, has been formally described by scientists in a paper published recently in the journal PLoS One.

Rinjani scops owl image

Rinjani scops owl on a branch

Double discovery

The first endemic bird species to be recorded on the Indonesian island of Lombok, the newly described Rinjani scops owl (Otus jolandae) was interestingly discovered by two separate research groups just days apart during independent expeditions in September 2003.

I was on Lombok to collect sound recordings of the local population of a species of nightjar. On the first night I arrived on Lombok, we heard the vocalisations of an owl that [I was] not familiar with,” said George Sangster, lead researcher from Stockholm University’s Department of Zoology.

These unique, whistling vocalisations also caught the attention of Ben King, a researcher from the Ornithology Department of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, just a matter of days later. Coincidentally, King was on a separate expedition on Lombok, an island off the east coast of Bali, to study the same nightjar species as Sangster.

My experience was similar to George’s,” said King. “While I was tape-recording the nightjar, I heard a song that sounded like an owl, but unlike any I’d heard in years of field work in Indonesia.”

Rinjani scops owl habitat image

Rinjani scops owl habitat

Inquisitive owls

Initially, the researchers were uncertain as to whether or not the calls were being produced by a previously known species from Java and Bali, which perhaps had so far been overlooked on Lombok. However, this possibility was soon dismissed when the sound recordings of the mystery species were played back.

When we first heard them, the owls were very vocal, and either involved in a duet (of male and female) or a duel (between two males). Because we were not sure which species this was, we made recordings and played it back. Owls are territorial, so when their sound is played back in their territory, the owl usually comes to investigate the ‘intruder’,” explained Sangster.

Due to their inquisitive and territorial nature, the owls responded strongly to the recordings and approached the researchers, giving the scientists a clear view of the birds. Initially, the Rinjani scops owl, named for its volcano home Gunung (Mountain) Rinjani, was thought to be the Moluccan scops owl, as it had a very similar appearance in terms of plumage. However, the whistles it produced were markedly different from the raven-like croak of the Moluccan scops owl.

Confirming the discovery

To verify their new discovery, the researchers conducted detailed examinations of the whistling calls, as well as thorough checks of taxonomic literature. The plumage, body measurements and DNA of the Lombok birds were carefully compared against those of a variety of museum specimens, eventually confirming the Rinjani scops owl as a distinct species.

It was quite a coincidence that two of us identified this new bird species on different parts of the same island, within a few days of being on the island, especially considering that no-one had noticed anything special about these owls in the previous 100 years,” mused Sangster.

Rinjani scops owl image

Rinjani scops owl

Implications and future discoveries

The scientists are keen for future studies to be carried out to determine the exact distribution, elevational range and population density of this new owl species. While surprised at how common the Rinjani scops owl is, with the species being found at several locations and at seemingly high densities, the researchers are particularly interested in finding out whether it occurs throughout the lowland forests where much habitat destruction has occurred.

This latest discovery has highlighted the possibility that there could be further undiscovered bird species in Indonesia yet to be found and described.

In the past, ornithologists and birdwatchers have largely ignored the island because, unlike Java, Bali, Flores and other islands in the region, no bird species were unique to it,” said Sangster. “Our study underscores that, even after 150 years of scientific study, we still do not know all birds in the Indo-Malayan region. In fact, Indonesia is a treasure trove for taxonomists.”

Read more on this story at BBC Nature – A new owl species from Indonesia is formally described and Mongabay.com – Unique song reveals new owl species in Indonesia.

View photos and videos of owls on ARKive.

Explore species found in Indonesia on ARKive.

Find out more about newly discovered species on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author


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