Mar 31

The veterinary drug diclofenac, which has been held responsible for the devastating decline of Asian vulture populations, has been approved for use in the EU.

White-rumped vulture image

The white-rumped vulture suffered a population decline of 99.9 percent in just two decades

Deadly drug

Between 1991 and 2007, the population of the white-rumped vulture in India suffered an unprecedented drop of 99.9 percent, with corresponding reductions of 96.8 percent in both the Indian vulture and the slender-billed vulture. Initially, scientists were baffled as to the possible reasons behind this decline, with conflicting explanations varying from the use of pesticides, to an increasingly westernised middle-class consuming more beef and therefore removing one of the vulture’s primary food sources, to the destruction of vulture nesting sites.

Eventually, it emerged that the true cause of vulture deaths across the Indian subcontinent was diclofenac, a powerful anti-inflammatory drug regularly prescribed by veterinarians to treat cattle. The vultures were ingesting the drug as they fed on dead livestock, causing severe kidney damage in the birds which led to death within just a few days.

Indian vulture image

The Indian vulture suffered a devastating population decline between 1991 and 2007

Indian ban on diclofenac

As a result of the discovery of the cause of the decline, veterinarians were subsequently banned from prescribing diclofenac across the region. However, despite these events and the fact that safe alternative drugs are now readily available, the European Union has recently sanctioned the use of diclofenac throughout all member countries. According to conservation groups, this could place European vulture species at risk of meeting a fate similar to that of their Asian counterparts, and could also threaten other wildlife.

It is shocking that a drug that has already wiped out wildlife on a massive scale in Asia is now put on the market in crucial countries for vulture conservation such as Spain and Italy, especially as the total ban on diclofenac in India has produced the first signs of recovery in Indian vultures,” said José Tavares, the Director of the Vulture Conservation Foundation.

Cinereous vulture image

The cinereous vulture is an impressive bird with a large wingspan

Vultures in Europe

Europe is home to an incredible ten species of vulture, eight of which are found in Spain. Of these, four are considered rare and threatened, and receive a certain level of protection under European law. Two such species are the cinereous vulture, an impressive bird with a wingspan of around three metres, and the Egyptian vulture, a species classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Spain is home to 97 percent of Europe’s cinereous vulture population and 85 percent of the continent’s Egyptian vulture population, as well as high proportions of other closely related species. Conservationists fear that the new ruling to allow the powerful anti-inflammatory drug to be distributed across the EU could put decades of vulture conservation efforts in Europe in jeopardy, particularly in vulture strongholds such as Spain.

Egyptian vulture image

Spain holds 85 percent of Europe’s Egyptian vulture population

Importance of vultures

While vultures may be viewed unfavourably by some, they play an extremely important role in ensuring the health and wellbeing of ecosystems through ecological recycling. These birds survive almost exclusively on carrion, and in countries such as Spain they consume the carcasses of livestock left in special sites known as ‘muladres’. By cleaning and disposing of these dead animals, vultures make a contribution to the health of local human communities, as this helps limit the populations of stray dogs which are enticed by the carcasses, and therefore reduces the potential for the transmission of life-threatening diseases such as rabies.

Call for action

A coalition of conservation organisations, which includes the Vulture Conservation Foundation, the RSPB and BirdLife Europe, is calling for an immediate continent-wide ban on diclofenac in Europe.

In a technical document released recently on diclofenac in Europe, conservationists wrote, “The case here is clear – it is really a question of learning from what happened in India, and also upholding and being coherent with the leading role of many EU policies, notably on nature conservation.”

It is hoped that enforcing a ban on diclofenac in Europe will encourage countries in Africa to follow suit in an effort to save the continent’s dwindling vulture populations.

Read more on this story at Mongabay.com – Europe approves vet drug that killed off almost all of Asia’s vultures and BirdLife International – Vulture killing drug now available on EU market.

View photos and videos of vultures on ARKive.

Find out more about vulture conservation at Tusk, VulPro, the Vulture Conservation Foundation and Save Our Species – Conserving South Asia’s Threatened Vultures.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

Mar 31

One of the best parts about sharing ARKive with educators from around the world is learning how educators are using the collection in unique and creative ways to engage students in science learning. So when we learned how one teacher was inspired by ARKive to create a series of comics about Adaptation that encourage STEM-based inquiry learning, we were all …

Zebra ear photo

you guessed it – EARS!

Laura Balliet is a science & math teacher at a school for at-risk youth in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. She often struggled with engaging her students in reading about science concepts and as a result, her students were often missing important information in their science curriculum.  She decided to make short, colorful, one-page comics that addressed specific topics that she knew were going to appear on the Ohio State Achievement Assessment and then handed the comics out to her students.

Adaptations comic - Cool School Rap

As it turned out, her students couldn’t get enough of her comics and requested new comics to read daily! In her search for new ideas and inspiration for her educational comics, Laura turned to ARKive and even started included research on ARKive as part of the learning process in her comics. Over time, she has organized her comics into a collection called the Cool School Rap.

We caught up with Laura to ask her a few questions about her comics and how ARKive has helped inspire her. Here’s what she said!

What first inspired you to draw comics?

I have always doodled cartoon characters, but it wasn’t until last year, a few weeks before the achievement tests, that I figured out how to channel it.  The initial intent of the comics was to help my students prepare for the test by reviewing key science topics, but their responses were so positive, I felt inspired to continue drawing and developing the idea.

How do your comics help to teach science to a variety of student ages and learning abilities?

As a teacher of at-risk youth, I face a wide variety of learning abilities, especially low reading skills and short attention spans.  My comics deliver content with illustrations, word bubbles and diagrams making them less intimidating to struggling readers and engaging to those who are turned off by lengthy passages.

Photosynthesis comic - Cool School Rap Consumers comic - Cool School Rap

What has been your most rewarding experience using comics in the classroom?

I think the most rewarding aspect of my comics is my students’ reactions when I present them with a new comic.  They are always excited and eager to read, and when I overhear them conversing about the illustrations and the concepts, I get butterflies because it is apparent they are engaged and learning.

How has ARKive played a role in your comics?

I have been using ARKive as a resource for information for some time now, but recently, I began incorporating this site directly into The Cool School Rap’s inquiry activities.  The adaptation inquiry is a great example.  My students utilized this site to research a specific animal of interest and gather information to build a model of their animal’s habitat.  My students find the site easy to navigate and enjoy browsing through the pictures and videos.

Student using ARKive for learning

NSTA logoLaura shared that her ultimate goal with Cool School Rap is to reach as many learners as possible and we are more than happy to help share Laura’s talent and passion with the world! She has created an Adaptation comic series specifically for ARKive that you can download from the Cool School Rap website. Laura will also be volunteering at the ARKive booth at the upcoming National Science Teachers Association Conference in Boston, MA on April 3-5. Hope to see you there!

Liana Vitali, Education & Outreach Manager, Wildscreen USA

Mar 14

It’s time to dip our toes into the wild, watery world of Illinois with our friends at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago -  the world’s largest indoor aquarium housing more than 8,000 aquatic animals. Did you know they care for five Illinois threatened or endangered species at the Aquarium and share their important story with their guests everyday? Read on to submerge yourself in Shedd’s incredible conservation efforts!

“Everyone should know and care about the endangered animals in their own backyard”

If you live in Illinois, your neighbors include 484 endangered or threatened species. These at-risk plants and animals include blue herons, ground squirrels, wood orchids, river chub and mudpuppies– species that we all know and love. Yet, human activity threatens their existence and the health of our local ecosystems.

As a leader in conservation, Shedd Aquarium is fortunate to care for five endangered or threatened Illinois species in our At Home on the Great Lakes exhibit. Though they may be lesser-known, these aquatic animals are amazingly unique and vital to the Great Lakes  – which is why we’re so excited by ARKive’s new Illinois species page. Everyone should know and care about the endangered animals in their own backyard.

ARKive's Illinois feature page

Burden Falls, an aquatic habitat featured on ARKive’s Illinois feature page. Species like the alligator snapping turtle may be found in deep river water.

“We care for endangered Illinois species both big and small”

At Shedd, we care for endangered Illinois species both big and small, including the alligator snapping turtle, lake sturgeon, hellbender, redspotted sunfish and Iowa darter. By far the heaviest endangered animal we have is Guinness, the alligator snapping turtle. At more than 100 pounds, he’s a good representative of the largest freshwater turtle species in North America. As part of his care, Guinness has been trained to come to a target to get his food, just like our dolphins and whales do. He looks positively prehistoric with his dinosaur-like beak and thick scales, but he surprised trainers with how quickly he can learn.

Alligator Snapping Turtle

Shedd Aquarium cares for many species such as this prehistoric-looking snapping turtle, Guinness!

The lake sturgeon, which has been around since the days of the dinosaurs, is another big endangered animal at Shedd. Reaching lengths of 3 to 9 feet, the lake sturgeon is the largest fish in the Great Lakes basin. Its vacuum-like mouth sucks up anything from lake or river bottoms. At Shedd, guests can touch a sturgeon and feel the protective bony plates under the skin of this bottom-dwelling fish.

ARKive's lake sturgeon photo

Picture of lake sturgeon taken at the Shedd Aquarium

The hellbender, the largest salamander species in North America, is surprisingly hard to find in the wild – especially now that it’s endangered in Illinois. The presence of hellbenders is often an indicator of good water quality, so the species’ endangered status points to greater problems in our aquatic ecosystems. Shedd’s hellbender was rescued from an illegal shipment at O’Hare International Airport; on exhibit, he keeps a low profile among the habitat’s rocks.

ARKive's hellbender photo

Guests can come face-to-face with a hellbender at the Shedd Aquarium. Can you spot the sneaky hellbender well-camouflaged in the above image taken in the wild?

The endangered redspotted sunfish and threatened Iowa darter are smaller though no less important than any other Great Lakes fish. The redspotted sunfish lives in marshes and streams – such as the Illinois River – and is largely threatened by invasive species. The Iowa darter, often mistaken for a minnow, is Shedd’s smallest threatened species. This fish is unique because it lacks a swim bladder to keep it afloat, which means it stays at the bottom of rivers and lakes.

You can spot a redspotted sunfish at Shedd Aquarium, too!

You can spot a redspotted sunfish at Shedd Aquarium, too!

ARKive's Iowa darter photo

The small but spectacularly-colored Iowa darter

“We hope that greater awareness and stronger regulations … will soon restore these endangered animals’ wild populations”

Through the Illinois Endangered Species Protection Act, we hope that greater awareness and stronger regulations on overhunting, over-collecting, habitat destruction and toxic contamination will soon restore these endangered animals’ wild populations. In the meantime, Shedd Aquarium will continue to care for these five Great Lakes animals and 41 other endangered or threatened animals from around world.

Nadia Hlebowitsh, Online Communications, Shedd Aquarium 

From turtles to fish to salamanders, Shedd Aquarium has hardly left a river stone unturned in their aquatic species conservation efforts. Thank you for celebrating WILD Illinois with us and sharing stories from the Shedd Aquarium! Looking to surf more species and habitats in Illinois? Take a dip in our new Illinois feature page to explore 100+ species that call The Prairie State home!

Mar 12

Our friends at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve were anxious to share their Illinois wildlife story as part of ARKive’s Going WILD in Illinois guest blog mini-series and, of course, we were happy to oblige! Read on to see how the Preserve is creating citizen science opportunities to make a real difference in northern Illinois.

The Openlands Lakeshore Preserve is a 77-acre Illinois Nature Preserve, located in Highland Park on what was once the historic Fort Sheridan military base. The Preserve offers a beautiful network of walking and biking paths and an innovative, art-based interpretive plan that tells the unique story of this unusual landscape. The site is owned and operated by Openlands, a regional conservation organization.

Visitors to the Preserve often first notice the sweeping views presented by the bluffs. But it is the site’s rare natural communities – three ravines and a mile of bluff and lakeshore – that make the Preserve such a special place to protect. Lakefront ravines are only found on a short stretch of Illinois’ coastline and today, and most are in poor ecological health.

Butterfly at Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

Butterfly at Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

Recognizing the importance of the site’s rare ecosystems, Openlands has been carefully restoring the Preserve’s natural communities by removing invasive plants, replanting oak woodland and savanna, and repairing storm water damage. While restoration is an ongoing process, the reestablishment of viable natural communities is well underway. Today, the Preserve is a stopover for thousands of migratory songbirds and waterfowl and is home to seven plant species on the state endangered and threatened list.

ARKive's common merganser photo

Common merganser, a type of waterfowl that may visit the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve on occasion

In 2010, Openlands began partnering with the Plants of Concern (POC) program at the Chicago Botanic Garden to collect data on birds, plants, spiders, and other aspects of the Preserve’s ecology. Our volunteer “citizen scientists” work with POC and Openlands staff in the field to conduct biological monitoring. This includes searching for new populations, mapping, and recording data. As a result of monitoring, Openlands can track critical trends in population size, area, and condition, allowing us to adapt our management accordingly. Our monitoring program is now entering year five, and we are excited to start this spring!

Citizen science efforts at Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

Citizen science efforts at Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

Are you interested in becoming a citizen scientist for the Preserve? Learn how to get involved at www.plantsofconcern.org.

Aimee Collins, Site Manager, Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

Thanks so much for sharing your opportunities for Illinois citizens to take an active part in protecting and restoring the WILD of Illinois! If you haven’t already, be sure to take a stroll through the brand new Illinois feature page on ARKive. 

Mar 4

ARKive is proud to have partnered with the Lincoln Park Zoo on a number of incredible projects over the years. From organizing opportunities for zoo staff to meet influential wildlife media leaders, to co-hosting an after school program challenging students to create digital scavenger hunts across the zoo using iPhones and ARKive imagery, we’re always looking for fun and unique ways to support conservation together. Allison Sacerdote-Velat is a Reintroduction Biologist at Lincoln Park Zoo working with a small but oh-so-special Illinois species. Here’s her story!

Meadow jumping mouse eating grass seed

“We aim to conserve this species in our region”

At Lincoln Park Zoo, I work on the conservation and recovery of local wildlife. In partnership with Lake County Forest Preserve District, we began a recovery project for one of three subspecies of meadow jumping mouse that occur in Illinois, starting our project in 2012. Meadow jumping mice are important seed dispersers that help maintain diverse native plant communities. Because they are nocturnal, they are a major prey item for barn owls and other predators. Their populations have declined from habitat loss and fragmentation. By re-establishing populations following habitat restoration, we aim to conserve this species in our region, documenting the number of sites that still had meadow jumping mouse populations, and bringing 8 pairs of mice to Lincoln Park Zoo to establish a breeding program that provides young for supplementation and reintroduction in restored prairies and savannas.

People may be surprised by the appearance of meadow jumping mice. They are smaller than the house mice or white-footed mice that may be familiar to Illinois residents. With large kangaroo-like hind feet, and tails that are twice the length of their bodies, they can jump a meter at a time through their habitat. They sleep under natural cover objects like logs during the day. If you happen to uncover them, they quickly take off and cover large distances, bounding through the vegetation.

Meadow jumping mouse habitat

“I tried to be a good sport about being hazed by mice”

Radio-tracking our zoo-reared mice was a highlight of our work this year, as it permitted me to follow them while they explored their new home. Some mice quickly established nests in tall grasses while others kept me hiking through prairies and wetlands for weeks. One mouse led me through a thistle patch regularly, but I tried to be a good sport about being hazed by mice for their conservation.

mouse with radio collar

Allison Sacerdote-Velat, Reintroduction Biologist, Lincoln Park Zoo

Thank you, Allison, for your fantastic and vital work with meadow jumping mice! Check back again soon for the next blog in our Going Wild in Illinois guest blog mini-series and keep exploring our new Illinois feature page on ARKive!

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