Jan 23

A shocking one quarter of all shark and ray species are threatened with extinction, according to the results of a new study.

Great white shark image

The great white shark is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

Threat analysis

The paper, published this week in the open-access journal eLife, analysed the threat and conservation status of an impressive 1,041 species of chondrichthyans, a fascinating group of fish species including sharks, rays, skates and chimaeras whose skeletons are made of cartilage rather than bone. The results were rather alarming, revealing that this group is among the most threatened in the animal kingdom.

The paper is the result of collaboration between more than 300 experts from 64 countries, and reports that, while no species has yet been driven to global extinction, at least 28 populations of skates, sawfishes and angel sharks are now locally or regionally extinct. In addition, several shark species have not been seen for several decades.

Reef manta ray image

Reef manta ray parts are highly valued in traditional medicine, posing a threat to this majestic species

Threat hotspots

The study highlights two areas which are currently experiencing a higher than expected level of threat: the Red Sea and the Indo-Pacific Biodiversity Triangle. The latter is considered to be among the most biologically and culturally diverse regions on the planet, yet unfortunately it is also one of the least regulated.

The authors of the paper explain that, “The Indo-Pacific Biodiversity Triangle, particularly the Gulf of Thailand, and the islands of Sumatra, Java, Borneo, and Sulawesi, is a hotspot of greatest residual threat, especially for coastal sharks and rays with 76 threatened species.”

It is feared that, should no national or international action be taken, these species could rapidly become extinct.

Shark finning image

Finning was revealed to be a major threat to many shark species

Major threats

The results of the study revealed that the main threat to chondrichthyans is overexploitation through targeted fisheries and incidental catches. Of particular concern for the future of sharks, wedgefishes and sawfishes is the process of ‘finning’, which is driven by the huge market demand for shark fin soup, a highly sought-after delicacy in China.

The authors of the new research paper state that, “Fins, in particular, have become one of the most valuable seafood commodities. It is estimated that the fins of between 26 and 73 million individuals, worth US$400-550 million, are traded each year.”

Habitat loss is a further threat to chondrichthyans, with 22 species being threatened by the destruction of estuaries and river systems for the purposes of residential and commercial development, and 12 species being placed at risk due to the conversion of mangroves into shrimp farms. In addition, pollution and climate change have been identified as major threats to sharks, rays and their relatives.

Scalloped hammerhead shark image

The scalloped hammerhead shark is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Additional factors

As well as providing a vital insight into the type and extent of threats to chondrichthyans, the paper also revealed other interesting factors which come into play. It was found that large body size and occurrence in shallow habitat are the biggest factors determining a species’ likelihood of being threatened. The results showed that with every 10-centimetre increase in a species’ maximum body length came a 1.2-percent increase in the probability that the species would be threatened. Dwellers of deep water appear to fare better than their shallow-water relatives, with a 10.3-percent decrease in the probability of being threatened for every 50-metre increase in the minimum depth limit of the species.

 

Read more on this story at Mongabay.com – One quarter of sharks and rays threatened with extinction.

View photos and videos of chondrichthyans on ARKive.

Read more about shark conservation and conservation in the Indo-Pacific Region.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

 

Jan 14

Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful country in Central Asia best known for its walnut forests and vast mountain ranges. Tall peaks, deep valleys, and glaciers make up Kyrgyzstan’s breathtaking geography. Its diverse wildlife makes Kyrgyzstan quite a gem in Eurasia and certainly a country worth exploring. Join us on a virtual tour of this country full of wild surprises and much more!

Fine feathered friend

Eurasian golden oriole photo

The name Eurasian golden oriole says it all. This golden-feathered bird lives in deciduous forest habitat however, despite its bright plumage, the golden oriole can blend into dense foliage. If you listen closely, you may hear this bird whistle a flute-like song or even a “chr-r-r” alarm call.

Gallant galloper

Asiatic wild ass photo

This mammal looks a lot like a horse, doesn’t it? The Asiatic wild ass roams freely in Kyrgyzstan feasting on woody plants. Even though it lives in semi-desert conditions, it’s always found close to a water source and actually gets its water from snow throughout the winter.

Frequent flier

Red chaser photo

While photos have been taken of the red chaser, not much is known about this species. One thing we do know is the red chaser goes through several stages of life development. This insect begins its life cycle as aquatic larvae and then molts several times before transitioning into adulthood.

Restful reptile

Afghan tortoise photo

Don’t be fooled! While the Afghan tortoise‘s scales and shell look like it’s heavily armored and ready for action, this tortoise actually isn’t very active at all. It tends to stay dormant during the summer and hibernate most of the winter. Sometimes this reptile is only awake three months out of the year!

Beautiful boar

Wild boar photo

The wild boar is a social animal living in herds of 6 to 20. With its omnivorous appetite, the wild boar feeds on seeds, roots, fruit, and even animal matter. The wild boar is considered an ancestor of most domestic pig breeds and can be found nearly everywhere as it has one of the largest distributions of all land mammals. Quite extra-oink-inary!

Lengthy lizard

Desert monitor photo

Desert monitors are opportunistic predators; they will do just about anything to find food including climbing trees, swimming, and digging! Despite being a rather gangling looking reptile growing to three feet in length or longer, the desert monitor makes impressive ground in a day sometimes traveling 5-6 kilometers!

Blue-billed bird

White-headed duck photo

The white-headed duck is one of the rarest wetland birds. It is a very skilful swimmer and does much better in water than on land. When it dives, the white-headed duck can stay under water for forty seconds at a time. An interesting fact about the white-headed duck? In late winter, this bird loses its feathers and cannot fly!

With its varied geography and ever-changing climate, it’s no wonder Kyrgyzstan is filled with amazing species. The animals on this list have found clever ways of adapting to their environments. Have you explored the hundreds of other species on ARKive that call Kyrgyzstan home? Have a look today!

Andrea Small, Education & Outreach Intern, Wildscreen USA

Jan 3

Bolivia’s Barba Azul Nature Reserve, a protected area which is home to the world’s largest population of the Critically Endangered blue-throated macaw, has been more than doubled in size thanks to conservation efforts.

Blue-throated macaw image

The blue-throated macaw is one of the rarest parrots in the world

Blue beard

‘Barba Azul’ means ‘blue beard’ in Spanish, and is the local name for the blue-throated macaw, a stunning parrot species endemic to Bolivia. Threatened by habitat loss and the pet trade, the blue-throated macaw relies heavily on its nature reserve namesake, which is the world’s only protected area for the species. The reserve houses more than half of the world’s estimated 150 wild blue-throated macaws, and the area has now more than doubled in size thanks to the efforts of several conservation groups.

Asociación Armonía, the Bolivian partner of the American Bird Conservancy, teamed up with various other groups including the International Conservation Fund of Canada, the World Land Trust and the IUCN NL’s Small grants for the Purchase of Nature programme to raise money to buy additional land for the reserve. Thanks to this partnership, 14,830 acres of land were purchased, expanding Barba Azul Nature Reserve to a total of 27,180 acres.

Massive achievement

Conservation actions of this magnitude for small organisations in poor countries are only possible with outside help,” said Bennett Hennessey, Executive Director of Asociación Armonía. “Doubling the size of the Barba Azul Nature Reserve is an excellent example of conservation groups combining their effort to achieve a massive conservation product.”

Forest fragment image

Islands of tropical forest provide key foraging and nesting habitats

Key threats

Bolivia’s Beni savannah is an area twice the size of Portugal, and endures intensive flooding in the summer and vastly contrasting drought during the winter months. This land is almost entirely occupied by private cattle ranches, and has suffered the negative effects of hundreds of years of logging, hunting and livestock rearing, which have greatly altered the area’s natural ecosystem.

The blue-throated macaw population has declined due to frequent burning, overgrazing and timber harvests within forest patches, which has degraded its habitat and limited the number of suitable nesting sites. Trafficking of this beautiful species for the pet trade has also contributed to its decline.

When we originally purchased Barba Azul Nature Reserve, it was a habitat that held a high abundance of many animals. But once we removed cattle and stopped hunting, net fishing, logging, and uncontrolled grassland burning, the true destructive impact of an overgrazed, poorly controlled ranch could be seen. Everything is rebounding as if the area is recovering from a drought,” said Hennessey.

Blue-throated macaw image

The blue-throated macaw will benefit from an increase in the number and suitability of nesting sites in the Barba Azul Nature Reserve

Increased protection

The Barba Azul Nature Reserve is the only protected savannah in Bolivia’s Beni bioregion where cattle grazing and yearly burning for agricultural purposes are not permitted. The recent extension of the reserve means that areas of seasonally flooded grassy plains are also now protected, as are a small river and islands of tropical forest which serve as key foraging, roosting and nesting habitats for the blue-throated macaw.

Further conservation work

As well as habitat protection, other targeted conservation efforts have been put in place for the highly threatened blue-throated macaw, including providing nest boxes as artificial breeding sites and working with local communities to raise awareness of the species and its importance. In addition, Asociación Armonía has provided local communities with synthetic feather head-dresses, which can be used during traditional festivals in place of those made from feathers gathered from wild macaws, offering a conservation-friendly alternative.

Giant anteater image

The extension of the nature reserve will also benefit hundreds of other animals, including the giant anteater

Additional benefits

The extension of the nature reserve will not only be beneficial to the Critically Endangered blue-throated macaw, but also to many other animals with which the bird shares its habitat. Barba Azul is home to 250 other species of bird, including the cock-tailed tyrant and the black-masked finch, both classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Flocks of waterbird species are attracted to the area’s extensive wetlands, including the Orinoco goose which has been recorded making use of nest boxes on the reserve.

Barba Azul offers important protection of the Omi River, which is the only year-round source of water for many miles, and is a critical water source during the dry season for hundreds of animals. This, combined with the protection of other habitats within the boundaries of the reserve, has contributed towards the conservation of the 27 species of medium and large mammals that reside there, including the giant anteater, pampas cat and marsh deer, as well as species which need larger territories such as the jaguar and maned wolf.

 

Read more on this story at the American Bird Conservancy – Protected Habitat Doubles for Magnificent and Endangered Blue-throated Macaw and Mongabay.com – Good news: Refuge for last blue-throated macaws doubles in size in Bolivia.

View photos and videos of the blue-throated macaw on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

Jan 2

For those of you looking to try a new form of exercise in the New Year to tone up and get fit, why not follow the example of these animal athletes and take up yoga? By working through a variety of postures and mastering your breathing, you too could be as strong and limber as the creatures below – check out some of their efforts and get inspired!

Downward dog…

Cape fox image

This Cape fox, the smallest and only ‘true fox’ in southern Africa, appears to have mastered one of yoga’s most recognisable postures – the downward dog. In fact, he looks like he’s pretty much doing it in his sleep…!

 

…or should it be downward cat?!

Wildcat image

Not to be outdone by a canine, this wildcat is showing off its skill in a bid to get the name of the posture changed to give it a more feline feel! This species is the wild ancestor of the domestic cat, and can weigh up to eight kilos.

 

Bird-like balance

White-rumped sandpiper image

A big part of practising yoga is learning to be centred and balanced, as demonstrated by this white-rumped sandpiper. We’re not sure what this particular posture is called, but it certainly seems popular in the bird world!

 

Sun Salutation

New England crayfish

A sun salutation is formed of a sequence of postures, including downward dog and cobra. One particular pose held at the beginning and end of the sun salutation sequence consists of extending the arms over the head and raising the face towards the sky, as demonstrated beautifully by this colourful New England crayfish.

 

Locust pose

Northern elephant seal image

The great thing about yoga is that it can be practised virtually anywhere – this northern elephant seal has decided to bond with nature and try the locust pose out on the beach. Although generally not particularly agile on land, the northern elephant seal has long, webbed feet which provide great propulsion to effectively glide through the water.

 

Warrior III?!

Red ruffed lemur image

Despite having a tail which can reach up to 62 centimetres in length, which is longer than its body and could potentially get in the way, this red ruffed lemur has not been put off trying yoga. Here we can see it preparing to go into full Warrior III pose, showing some reasonable leg extension.

 

Handstand

Orange-winged dropwing image

More advanced yoga practitioners can master the art of the handstand, which requires core strength and a lot of concentration. This orange-winged dropwing is providing us with a good example of a handstand, but does the use of all six legs not count as cheating?!

 

Flexible and fossorial

Naked mole rat image

This naked mole rat is trying what is known as the full boat pose during its subterranean yoga session. Look at that concentration! As naked mole rats are not able to control their body temperature internally like other mammals, this guy will have to retreat to cooler parts of its burrow if it gets too hot.

 

Aquatic yoga

Manatee image

Bikram yoga, practised in a hot, steamy environment, has been all the rage recently, but this manatee has taken it a step further and has developed aquatic yoga. Here we can see a beautiful example of a tail-stand! If you don’t like cold water, not to fear – manatees ideally require water above 20 degrees Celsius to survive, so these sessions are bound to be nice and warm!

 

Lotus

Verreaux's sifaka image

This Verreaux’s sifaka is doing its own version of the lotus pose – this particular individual is clearly taking a break from leaping gracefully along the floor of its forest home, an action for which it is well known.

 

Relax

Rivera red-belly toad imageHoney bee image

 

After a long, hard yoga session, there’s nothing better than taking a moment to relax in child’s pose, just like this Rivera red-belly toad and honey bee.

 

Namaste!

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

Dec 9

The fascinating role of giant armadillos as ecosystem engineers has recently been described, thanks to the hard work and dedication of researchers in Brazil.

Giant armadillo image

Giant armadillo

The Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project has been running since July 2010, establishing a long-term ecological study of giant armadillos and other species of Xenarthra at the Baía das Pedras Ranch in the Nhecolandia sub-region of the Brazilian Pantanal. One of the project’s main goals is to research the ecology and biology of giant armadillos in the region, and understand the contribution this species makes to its ecosystem.

Armoured animals

The giant armadillo is the largest species in a group of animals known as the Xenarthra, which also includes sloths and anteaters, and can reach up to 1.5 metres in length and weigh up to 50 kilograms. This nocturnal species is highly adapted to life underground, with large scimitar-shaped claws on its forefeet that help it to dig deep burrows.

Found east of the Andes, from Colombia and Venezuela southwards to Paraguay and northern Argentina, the giant armadillo occurs in a wide variety of habitats, including tropical forests and open savannahs. However, it is rare across its entire range, and very little is known about this rather secretive species. The giant armadillo has declined as a result of habitat loss and hunting, and is now classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and as Critically Endangered on many State lists in Brazil.

Giant armadillo camera-trap image

Camera-trap image of a giant armadillo from the project
© Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project

Fact-finding mission

In the Pantanal, most local people have never seen a giant armadillo, and there are fears this species could go extinct before its natural history is properly understood. The Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project set out to use a variety of methods, including camera trapping, fitting radio transmitters, conducting burrow surveys, resource mapping and interviews, to get a better insight into the life of this mysterious mammal. What the researchers discovered showed the true importance of the giant armadillo to the species with which it shares its habitat.

Camera traps

For over two years, giant armadillo burrows were monitored using camera traps set up near the burrow entrance. These cameras are triggered by motion, and hundreds of images of 57 different species were obtained in this way during the research period. Interestingly, it was found that giant armadillo burrows provide new habitats and influence resources for at least 24 of these species.

It’s amazing to see that such a secretive species which occurs at such low densities can play such an important role within the ecological community,” said Arnaud Desbiez, Project Coordinator from The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.

Crab-eating fox camera-trap image

Crab-eating fox resting in a burrow during a hot day
© Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project

Unexpected visitors

Giant armadillo burrows can be up to five metres deep, and the camera trap images showed that 16 different species used these areas as a refuge against predators or against temperature extremes, as well as places to seek certain resources. The three other armadillo species found within the study area were all registered spending prolonged periods of time in the giant armadillo’s burrows, but the most surprising discovery came in the form of another member of the Xenarthra: the southern tamandua. The southern tamandua is known to be a tree-dwelling species, yet astonishingly it was the animal most often documented using the giant armadillo’s underground dwelling place. A whole host of other species, including ocelots, crab-eating foxes, lizards, tortoises and collared peccaries were also photographed entering the burrows.

Southern tamandua camera-trap image

Southern tamandua emerging from a burrow after a long period of rest
© Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project

The sand mound

The researchers found that it wasn’t just the refuge provided by the deep burrows which was of use to other species. Giant armadillo burrows have a characteristic large mound of sand in front of them, and the study showed that this area, too, was used by a surprising number of other species. White-lipped peccaries, collared peccaries and feral pigs were all seen using the sand mound to wallow in, rest and cool down, while giant anteaters were also photographed taking sand baths in the mound. Lowland tapirs and pumas were discovered using the pile of earth as a resting spot, whereas various raccoons, ocelots, lizards, small rodents and various other species were captured on film searching for their prey in the mound.

White-lipped peccary camera-trap image

White-lipped peccary enjoying a rest in the humid sand in front of a burrow
© Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project

Ecosystem engineers

Through the creation of burrows, the giant armadillo physically alters its surroundings, and creates a host of new habitats which have now been found to influence the resources of at least a further 24 species – this is known as ecosystem engineering. As ecosystem engineers, giant armadillos are extremely important components of their environment, with their burrows and the large sand mound affecting the characteristics of the ecosystem, from geomorphology and hydrology to the vegetation and animal communities in the area, both on a small and large scale. The role of giant armadillos as ecosystem engineers has also been recorded in the Amazon by Dr Renata Leite Pitman, who documented the rare short-eared dog, as well as several other species, using giant armadillo burrows.

Short-eared dog camera-trap image

Short-eared dog emerging from a giant armadillo burrow
© Renata Leite Pitman

Climate change is predicted to increase maximum air temperatures. Our data loggers placed inside giant armadillo burrows demonstrate that temperatures within the burrow remain constant at 24 degrees Celsius,” said Desbiez. Giant armadillo burrows offer an important refuge from extreme conditions, and their role may become more important as impacts from climate change increase.”

Although rarely seen, the giant armadillo plays a key role in the ecological community in which it lives, and it is vital that this species is better understood and protected.

 

Find out more about the Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project.

Read more about this and other Xenarthrans with the IUCN SSC Anteater, Sloth and Armadillo Specialist Group.

View more images and videos of giant armadillos on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content Officer

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