Sep 22

It’s World Rhino Day today. To celebrate and discuss, Dr Emma-Louise Nicholls (Deputy Keeper of Natural History of the Horniman Museum and Gardens) shares her insider knowledge and experience in rhinoceros conservation, after her recent return from the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia.

The Sumatran rhino’s problems began the moment someone, a name now lost to history, first decided rhino horn should be used as a medicinal ingredient. This idea was passed down from generation to generation until, over 2,000 years later, the use of rhino horn is deeply ingrained in people’s minds and cultures. These ancient remedies, now commonly referred as ‘Traditional Chinese Medicine’, are still used today, primarily in China and Vietnam. Contrary to popular western belief, rhino horn is not (ironically- until very recently) used as an aphrodisiac, but rather to treat a large number of ailments including fever, hallucinations, and headaches.

Rhino horn is largely made of keratin, however; and you’d feel just as better if you ground up and swallowed your own fingernails. Nevertheless, hunting these animals for their horns decimated Sumatran rhino populations throughout Southeast Asia and, as the issue of habitat loss also began to raise its ugly head, the combined impact of these two sustained pressures led to the collapse of wild populations. As a benchmark; in the 1980s it was estimated there were around 1,000 Sumatran rhinos in the wild. In 2017, that number is estimated to be around 100.

Sumatran rhinoceros © Gareth Goldthorpe

Until recently, these remaining wild populations were split between Indonesia and Malaysia. Unfortunately, there are now only two known individuals of the Bornean rhino left (a different subspecies), which live in a private research facility in Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah, Malaysia. On a positive note, these two remaining individuals are a male and female; generally accepted as the two primary requirements of a breeding programme. However, even if intensive breeding of their would-be sibling-offspring wasn’t an evolutionary no-no, in a cruel twist of fate Sumatran rhinos that haven’t produced offspring by a certain age often develop cysts in the uterus and can become unable to conceive anyway. As is the case for Iman, the last known remaining female Bornean rhino.

The largest known wild Sumatran rhino populations, holding on with all 12 toes in Indonesia, are now restricted to three national parks, all on the island of Sumatra. Having separate populations is good for genetic diversity, and if a natural disaster or disease should wipe out one population then the species will still persist due to those that were isolated from it. If, for example, a large tsunami hit the northern edge of Java (heaven forbid) where Ujung Kulon National Park is located, it could well wipe out the entire Javan rhino species, as there are no other populations anywhere in the world. On the other hand, if numbers of Sumatran rhino are so thin in each of the three parks that male and female rhinos won’t find each other, then short of joining Sudan on Tinder, making babies in the wild becomes exceptionally difficult, meaning perhaps bringing them together is the better option. Faced with this unenviable quandary, a lot of conservationists feel the answer is in a captive breeding programme with the aim of repopulating the wild habitat with captive-born rhinos.

The dense habitat preferred by the Sumatran rhinoceros is difficult for conservationists to penetrate in search of the elusive species. © E-L Nicholls by permission of International Rhino Foundation/Yayasan Badak Indonesia Foundation

Scientists find the key

The first known record of a Sumatran rhino to be born in captivity was in Calcutta, India in 1889. Although the specific details are irritatingly lost to history, rhino experts seem to feel there is enough evidence to substantiate the story. Nearly 100 years after India perhaps unintentionally made rhino history, the need for a captive breeding programme became urgent and so between 1984 and 1996, 40 of the approximately 1,000 Sumatran rhinos persisting in the wild at the time were captured (from both Indonesia and Malaysia) to form a worldwide collaborative captive breeding programme. The wild-caught rhinos were split up between Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the United States, and the UK who all tried their hand at breeding these enigmatic animals.

Thirteen years later, the pitter patter of tiny rhino feet was still absent from zookeepers’ ears and so in 1997 scientists at Cincinnati Zoo led by Dr Terri Roth (Vice President of Conservation and Science, and Director of the Centre for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife; CREW) turned to endocrinology and ultrasonography. A long and complicated story of science, frustration, grumpy rhinos, and no mating unravelled until Dr Roth and her team finally discovered that Sumatran rhinos are in fact induced ovulators. This means that a female won’t come into oestrus until she has had ‘special time’ with a male, after which, she obviously needs to gain in order to conceive. This was an exceptional breakthrough, and one that resulted in the first Sumatran rhino born in captivity in 112 years when Ipuh, one of the last three rhinos surviving from the original project initiated in 1984, successfully mated with a female called Emi, and with that a heavy hairy miracle was born. With all of their new found expertise in rhino romance, the CREW team managed to help Ipuh and Emi produce two more babies- a female called Suci in 2004, and a male called Harapan in 2007.

Born in 2001 at Cincinnati Zoo, Andalas was the first Sumatran rhinoceros born in captivity in 112 years and as such, represented a huge breakthrough for his species. © E-L Nicholls by permission of International Rhino Foundation/Yayasan Badak Indonesia Foundation

Meanwhile in Indonesia

As scientists in Cincinnati were working on unravelling the mysteries of the Sumatran rhino’s reproductive requirements, on the other side of the world the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary was completed in Sumatra, Indonesia, and in 1998 opened its doors to its first residents; two females, Dusun and Bina, and one male, Torgamba. Two more females, Ratu and Rosa, arrived in 2005. Yet despite being spoilt for choice on the dating scene, Torgamba sadly wasn’t up to the task and the breeding programme appeared to be failing.

Fortunately for Sumatran rhinos, in 2007 Dr Roth and her rhino specialist team gave the programme’s first born male, Emi and Ipuh’s first calf Andalas – now six years old, to the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in a bid to save the day. It turned out to be worth their heartache as in 2012 Andalas became a first-time father and the number of Sumatran rhinos in the world went up by another one. One is a significant number when there are so few remaining, and Andatu, Andalas’s son, made history when he became the first baby rhino born at the SRS.

Andalas is obviously enjoying his new life as chief baby-maker as he and his ‘partner’, Ratu, successfully bred again and in 2016 had a girl called Delilah. By 2014, Harapan (Andalas’s younger brother, born at Cincinnati Zoo) became the only Sumatran remaining outside of Indonesia and Malaysia and so the Cincinnati team decided to let him follow in his brother’s footsteps and sent him too, to the SRS in Indonesia.

Now five years old, Andatu was the first rhinoceros born at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia. His parents are Cincinnati Zoo-born male Andalas, and wild-caught female Ratu. © E-L Nicholls by permission of International Rhino Foundation/Yayasan Badak Indonesia Foundation

The future

Hunting and habitat loss have decimated wild numbers of rhinos to a point where physiology is now their main problem (although the aforementioned issues also persist). The need for induced ovulation, as well as the fact that cysts can develop in the uterus if females remain unmated, both mean that with so few rhinos in the wild, many females are likely to become unable to conceive. The stability of wild Sumatran rhino populations remains in question and captive breeding programmes used to boost numbers in the wild seem to be the most viable way of increasing their numbers to a level where they’ll regularly be able to breed naturally in the wild again.

In 2017, now armed with an entire crash (the official, not to mention delightful, collective noun for rhinos) including both males and females, the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary is on a path paved with hope and optimism. Andalas and his rhino team are undoubtedly working hard to produce more bundles of joy, and with the high levels of expertise and dedication witnessed first-hand at the SRS, there is definitely hope for the Sumatran rhino yet.

Although each animal lives semi-wild in its own 10-20km2 enclosure of primary forest habitat, their health is monitored daily by their keepers. Here Harapan is having his temperature taken as he nonchalantly hoovers up some carrots. © E-L Nicholls by permission of International Rhino Foundation/Yayasan Badak Indonesia Foundation

Find out more about the Sumatran rhinoceros on Arkive

Visit the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary 

Follow Dr Nicholls on Twitter

 

Jun 5

Here at Wildscreen we’re Crowdfunding to bring the ocean to our hometown (Bristol, UK) to raise awareness about our ocean and the amazing creatures that call it home. We need your help!

Help us!

We need our supporters to help us submerge Bristol into a wild and watery wonderland this October. From sculptures to street art, photography exhibitions to pedal-powered cinemas, Wildscreen’s Witness the Wild (WTW) festival will see Bristol submerged in nature in unexpected places across the city, no flippers required. The programme of events will be completely free-to-attend and will be distributed across the city with the aim of reaching as many communities as possible – absolutely anyone can attend!

We’ll bring together local community groups, artists, scientists, wildlife filmmakers and photographers to transform two concrete roundabouts into oceanic sanctuaries, giving thousands of people the opportunity to dive beneath the waves and explore the ocean depths for themselves and discover how we can all do little things to help protect it.

WTW will engage local communities and businesses with our throwaway culture and its impacts on our ocean, bringing them together with amazing artists to create beautiful instruments and sculptures from single-use plastics and fly-tipped rubbish sourced from within the communities themselves.

Why are we doing this?

Half of every breath we take comes from the ocean. And yet that big blue watery thing out there that covers more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface and the things that call it home are often invisible to those of us living in our concrete jungles. Even though half of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometres of the sea, it’s suffering from a bad case of out of sight, out of mind.

Our ocean is full of life, but its inhabitants are in trouble

Though vast, our ocean is not limitless and it needs our help. 275 million tonnes of plastic waste is generated every year around the world. That’s the equivalent weight of over 2.3 million blue whales – the largest animal to have ever lived. That’s a lot of rubbish. Only 5 percent of all plastic waste is recycled, and the rest of it has to go somewhere –usually in our ocean or landfill. We can all really easily help by being better at recycling and using less single-use plastic, especially things like straws, which get used once and then thrown away.

Please help us by donating to our Crowdfunder campaign (there are lots of amazing rewards up for grabs) or by sharing our campaign video.

Thank you,

Team Wildscreen

May 20

As it’s Arkive’s 14th birthday, we thought we would celebrate by sharing 14 ways that you can help save the world! By just doing one of these things you can make a difference, more than one you can make a big difference, and by doing all 14 you are very much on track to save the world!

1)            Eat smart

Why?    Intensive farming methods produce a lot of air and water pollution, and agricultural areas that only contain one crop species, also known as monocultures, have an extreme lack of biodiversity and are hostile habitats for wildlife. Many countries now import a large amount of produce too, catering for our varied diet, however ‘food miles’ – which take into account the energy expenditure of transporting food from one location to another -can in many circumstances, increase the carbon footprint of your food shop significantly.

How?    Question where your food comes from – did it need to travel halfway across the planet or is it grown in nearby farms? Why not support your local economy through locally-sourced, seasonal produce? It’ll probably be fresher and tastier too.

Eat more vegetables. They’re readily available, fill your plate and belly up for less money, and you’ll look and feel better too. Look for organic food, being chemical-free not only helps your health, but that of wildlife around the farm.

Oil palm plantation in Indonesia

2)            Broaden your taste buds

Why?    Many global fisheries are on the verge of collapse and many species, such as bluefin tuna, are now classed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Many fish stocks are in a state of serious decline and overfishing is a great threat to marine wildlife and habitats – 90% of world fish stocks are fully or over exploited from fishing, alongside the pressures from climate change and pollution.

How?    The Marine Conservation Society (MCS UK) has produced a pocket guide and an app that summarises both fish to eat and those to avoid, and the Marine Stewardship Council has a worldwide certification system. Take care with the most common fish bought such as cod, haddock, salmon, and canned tuna as, due to their popularity, there are problems with all these fish and you need to choose wisely.

Consumers can help reduce the strain on certain species by demanding that the fish they eat comes from sustainably managed stocks and is caught or farmed in a way that causes minimal damage to the marine environment and other wildlife.

Avoid shopping in supermarkets or buying brands which are evasive in revealing where or how they source their fish stocks, and celebrate those who source responsibly by giving them your business.

A commercial purse-seine trawler pulling in its nets attracts the attention of scavenging seabirds

3)            Know your labels

Why?    Eco-labels are a form of sustainability measurement directed at consumers, intended to make it easy to take environmental concerns into account when shopping. There is a close relationship between eco-labelling and improving an organisation’s environmental management strategy, so paying attention is worth your time.

How?    Look for sustainability labels: RSPO palm oil certification, animal welfare, dolphin-friendly and so forth, and know what they represent. You should come across a handful fairly regularly on your purchases, make sure you understand those first, and take it from there!

4)            Be travel savvy

Why?    We love exploring the big wide world, but this can often take us to places we’re unfamiliar with, and across practices that you may never support at home. Photos with animals on the street, riding on elephants, buying jewellery with animal products, all often have a very unsustainable, unethical and often illegal background to them.

How?    Research the activities you plan to partake in ahead of time and make alternative plans if needs be. Question what may be on offer…is hugging a tiger a natural interaction?

Use reputable travel and tour operators, and check their accreditations with environmental NGOs or travel watchdogs.

Look at the menu and eat smart by never ordering endangered animals because it seems exotic or claims to be ethically sourced – no matter what the waiter says!

Elephants held for tourism are often mistreated, kept in chains and often with hooks in their ears to be pulled by their trainers

5)            Avoid one-use plastic products

Why?    Plastic debris in the ocean is an ever increasing threat, as it degrades marine habitats and contributes to the deaths of many marine animals. Because floating plastic often resembles food to many marine birds, sea turtles and marine mammals, they can choke on items after eating them or starve because of accumulation of plastic items within their digestive system, which can give them a false sense of being full.

How?    Say no to plastic shopping bags and carry reusable bags or a backpack with you while shopping.

Reusable drinks bottles are better for the planet and your pocket.

Avoid packaging on food products like fruit and vegetables, look for paper bags if you want to package up. Your local grocer should offer this, if not, suggest it.

Try bringing a packed lunch to work – all those sandwich cartons add up.

Refuse plastic drinking straws. We use them for a few minutes, and yet they can take up to 200 years to degrade. Reusable stainless steel, bamboo or glass drinking straws are a much better option.

Trash and plastics floating around in front of one of the fishing villages in Anilao, Batangas

6)            Conserve water at home

Why?    By reducing the amount of water we use and waste, we can prevent droughts from occurring. Even though our need for fresh water sources is always increasing (because of population and industry growth), the supply we have stays constant. Only 3% of all the water on Earth is freshwater, and only 1% is available for drinking. Fresh water availability is predicted to be one of the human race’s biggest environmental issues over the coming decades, so conservation is crucial.

How?    Don’t wash your dishes or brush your teeth with the water running continuously.

Wash and dry only full loads of laundry and dishes.

Consider a low-flow showerhead, and take showers instead of baths.

Try sharing a bath?!

7)            Clean clever

Why?    Chemicals used to wash our bodies, homes, cars and everything else, get washed down the drain or absorbed in the grass, and eventually end up in our water supply. Since most people use heavy-duty chemicals for all sorts of things, chemicals are doing real damage to waterways and aquatic life.

How?    Consider organic shower gels and shampoos, they usually smell great too!

Look for marine friendly brands of laundry detergent, washing up liquid and other cleaning products.

Determine the lowest amount of detergent that can be used for an effective and sanitary result.

Avoid cosmetics containing microbeads, which pollute water systems before working their way into the oceans. These tiny plastic particles work their way into the food chain, all the way up to humans.

8)            Use less energy

Why?    Most energy requires the burning of fossil fuels, a process which creates greenhouse gases – the primary cause of climate change. Increasing CO2 levels have also caused a change in the pH level of the world’s oceans, making them more acidic and causing numerous ecological issues.

How?    Use energy efficient appliances in your home, including light bulbs, TVs and fridges.

Feeling cold? Double glazing and wall insulation greatly improve heat insulation so you can save on heating bills over winter, the cheaper fix is just wearing an extra jumper!

Turn off appliances when they aren’t in use.

Switch off the lights when you leave a room.

Renewable energy systems are becoming more readily available to the homeowner, such as solar panels and mini wind turbines, and can often cause the household to actually generate excess electricity, which can be sent back into the grid.

Forest cleared for coal mining in East Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia

9)            Leave your car at home

Why?    Getting a vehicle from “A” to “B” involves combustion of fossil fuels, a process that causes air pollution and emits greenhouse gases, such as carbon monoxide and dioxide, which contribute to global warming.

How?    Walk or ride your bike – simple! The exercise is great, it’s free, and in many cities it’s actually faster too.

Join a carpool to get to work if biking or walking isn’t an option, or if the weather looks awful!

Combine your errands – hit the post office and supermarket in one trip, rather than taking the car out twice.

Use public transport.

Carpooling is a great way to commute to more rural areas!

10)          Recycle

Why?    If we do not recycle our rubbish it is taken to landfill – a big old hole in the ground which has usually been dug out of a natural habitat, at the expense of the wildlife and plants that previously occupied the area. Burying waste in landfill spoils our countryside and is very bad for the environment. Chemicals build up underneath the surface, which can escape and cause damage to plants and wildlife, as well as polluting water.

How?    This one’s easy – most cities will recycle for you, and all you need to do is use the right bin!

Reuse -could you use that takeaway tub as a lunch box?

Choose products you buy based on how much packaging they are contained in, and whether it is recyclable.

11) Compost

Why?    Composting is a great sustainable gardening practice which involves decomposing organic matter, primarily food and garden waste, simply by leaving it to break down over a period of weeks or months. Composting the food and garden waste you produce throughout the year means you’re taking up less space in landfills so your tax money can work somewhere else. Plus, compost makes a great natural fertiliser for your garden.

How?    Composting can be as simple as raking leaves over your garden when you put it to winter bed or taking your kitchen scraps to a bin at the bottom of the garden.

Whether you’re growing vegetables, lawns, flowers and shrubs or fruit trees, composting will bring about vibrant, fortifying change to your gardens, while reducing the amount of waste you produce.

12)          Make a wildlife garden

Why?    All types of animals, from the birds to the bees, have lost habitat to human developments, and it’s an increasing scenario as human population rises. The UK alone has lost 97% of its wildflower meadows since the Second World War. A variety of habitats is crucial for biodiversity, and biodiversity is crucial for a stable ecosystem upon which we all depend – think of it like a game of Jenga, the more blocks there are, the more stable it is – and your garden can act as one of those blocks!

How?    Plant shrubs, flowers and trees that attract wildlife. Many conservation organisations have guides on which plants are good for species living in your area, look for high pollinating bee-friendly plants specifically.

Put out a bird feeder and bird bath stocked with clean food and water.

Having beneficial snakes, spiders, bees, bats, and other creatures around your garden is a sign your ecosystem is in good health, so welcome them in by creating areas for them. Nest boxes, tall vegetation, rockeries and log piles provide nooks and crannies for creatures to hide or sleep in.

A lot of those creatures you want to welcome into your garden need access, as not all of them can fly! Try cutting a hole in or digging a hole under your fence, or even a mini ramp up a wall, to create an animal highway between gardens. This extends the range and feeding grounds of garden wildlife, take the hedgehog for example – a natural predator of those pesky slugs and snails that eat your flowers!

Avoid chemical pesticides which rarely target just the pest species they’re intended for and can kill other creatures too, such as spiders and aphid-eating bugs.

Consider a manual lawnmower, or just let your garden turn into a meadow!

Bees are the best-known and most significant pollinators in the world and are responsible for the majority of pollination in both natural and cultivated plant communities

13)          Community gardening

Why?    Community farms or gardens are a great way to contribute to your local community. They can strengthen social ties, increase biodiversity, provide free locally-sourced food, engage city-dwellers with outdoor spaces and improve the overall well-being of an area.

A community garden can be any piece of land gardened by a group of people, an individual or shared plots of private or public land.

How?    Contact your local council of you’re having trouble finding a community garden nearby, they should be able to point you in the right direction.

Hosting events such as ‘seed swaps’ are good ways to initiate discussions if a community garden isn’t in your neighbourhood. They also can really help engage all ages of the community and are a great way to save money, why pay for a plant from a garden centre when a neighbour will happily give you one for free! Please note: you should never transport fauna, flora or organic matter between countries.

You can’t just set up a community garden anywhere you feel though, as you will need to seek permission from landowners first. A good point of call if on public property is your local council, and if you need extra help getting started, consider if there are any wildlife organisations which operate in your area.

Community gardens also provide space for people and wildlife to escape the hustle and unwind

14)          Vote responsibly

Why?    Electing the right public officials is essential to good environmental policies, for those ‘it’s out of my hands’ topics. Next time you can vote, read as many manifestos as possible, and hold those politicians to their promises!

How?    Do your research and make an informed decision. Exercise your right to vote and stay involved after elections.

Don’t like something that’s happening in your area? Write to your local politician to bring it to their attention, and hopefully onto their agenda.

Apr 27

In this guest blog, wildlife photographer and Wildscreen Exchange contributor Avijan Saha discusses his experience with human-animal conflict in West Bengal, India, where an ancient Asian elephant migratory route has been blocked by a 20-kilometre-long fence, and the implications it has caused for both wildlife and human communities.

My name is Avijan Saha, I am from Siliguri, West Bengal, India. By profession, I am a photographer and since 2008 I have been working in West Bengal on human-elephant conflict issues with forest officials, NGO’s and nature activists. I try to raise awareness with my photographs. I believe that photography is one of the most creative tools to tell a story – one frame at a time.

 

Avijan Saha

The foothills of the Himalayan Mountains are an ancient migratory route for Asian elephants. In this landscape there is plentiful water due to the meeting of various different rivers and their tributaries, providing the elephants with the hydration they need to continue their lengthy journey.

Herd of Asian elephants at Mechi River bed, Indo-Nepal border

Human-elephant conflict in the Darjeeling Terai has a century-old history and was first recorded in 1907 when a herd of at least 30 elephants migrated into Nepal after crossing the rivers Teesta, Mahananda, Balason and Mechi.

The area from the Mechi River to the Sankosh River is divided into two elephant distribution zones extending across 1,659 square kilometres of forest, comprising five protected areas – Buxa Tiger Reserve, Jaldapara and Gorumara National Parks and Chapramari and Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuaries. A large part of this area lies between the Torsa River in West Bengal and the Sankosh  River and is referred to as the Eastern Dooars Elephant Reserve (EDER).

Herd of Asian elephants in Kolaveri Forest, India

Crop raiding by elephants turned into a serious issue in the Kurseong forest division in 1980 after a herd of around 60 elephants were chased away from agricultural land into the nearby Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary. In 2005, the Forest Department reported that around 70 elephants from Mahananda were causing extensive damage on the outskirts of the sanctuary and in bordering Nepalese villages, which was affecting more than 50,000 people.

Human-elephant interaction at Kolaveri Forest, Indo-Nepal border

Kolaveri, a small patch of forest on the banks of the Mechi River, is now the last refuge for the elephants on the Indian side of the border. An 18 kilometre stretch of very fertile agricultural land in the Jhapa and Bahundangi districts of Nepal draws around 100 elephants from the Sanctuary each year, especially during the maize (May-July) and rice (October-December) cultivating seasons. Elephants are continually disturbed and tortured by humans as a consequence of new agricultural activities in their former habitat and face further pressures from farming as land is altered for grazing livestock and the collection of firewood. As a result, there has been an increase in both elephant and human casualties.

Cattle grazing also become a threat for these giants

In 2016, the Nepalese government erected a 20-kilometre-long fence, called tarbar, from upper to lower Nepal to protect their cultivated land, resulting in the Kolaveri elephants being forced to scatter into neighbouring Indian villages. Though the herd was not able to cross the tarbar, one tusker tore down a part of the fencing, causing further animosity. In this bid to stop elephants from entering their territory, the Nepalese government blocked a century-old migration route, which has altered natural behaviour and has increased, rather than decreased, incidences of human-elephant conflict.

This is a trans-boundary conflict situation that needs immediate resolution between India and Nepal. A joint action plan must be formulated, implemented and maintained at both national and local levels to prevent further damage from occurring to humans or wildlife.

Find out more about Asian elephants on Arkive

See more of Avijan Saha’s amazing photographs on the Wildscreen Exchange

Apr 4

Here at Arkive, we’re really excited about our Friday night TV viewing this week! BBC2 will be airing Hotel Armadillo, narrated by Sir David Attenborough sixty years after he first introduced British TV viewers to an armadillo (see picture below!).

There are 20 known armadillo species, of which all but one is found in Latin America.  The name ‘armadillo’ comes from a Spanish word meaning ‘little armoured one’ – a reference to the bony plates which, uniquely among mammals, cover the back, head, legs, and tail of species within this distinctive family. Hotel Armadillo focuses on the giant armadillo, a creature so few people have ever seen in the wild that some describe it as a ghost species.

The challenge in filming is not simply that this animal is rare, solitary, shy, and nocturnal, but it also spends three-quarters of its time hidden underground in six-metre-deep burrows dotted across a wetland as big as England – Brazil’s Pantanal.

Thanks to the commitment, patience and clever camera set-ups of a team led by Dr Arnaud Desbiez, a conservation biologist with the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, and a UK film crew, the long-held secrets of giant armadillo life are beginning to unfold. Some of these secrets have even surprised the experts!

The show sheds fresh light on how the giant armadillo, an ecosystem engineer, is crucial to the health of the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetland, and the many other species that call it home. Among the many revelatory sequences is the first television footage of a giant armadillo newborn, images of what happens inside and around their burrows and unique evidence of just how many other Pantanal species check into the animal’s hideaways for food and lodgings.

During the 2 year making of the film, a total of 80 different guests/diners were recorded within the hideaways of armadillos – hence the name ‘Hotel Armadillo’! Just a few of these species include:

Azara’s agouti, a rodent nicknamed the ‘jungle gardener’ due to its constant digging for buried caches of nuts and seeds, which tills the earth and encourages new plant growth

Crab-eating fox, not a true fox and not fussy about only eating crabs

Giant anteater, a cousin of the giant armadillo

Ocelot, related to leopards and once hunted almost to extinction due to demand for its fur

Collared anteater, a mostly tree-dwelling anteater with a partially prehensile tail

Tayra, a metre-long relative of weasels

Another surprise inclusion in the documentary is aerial footage of the spectacular scenery found within the 140,000 km sq Pantanal ecoysystem.  The aerial shots were feared lost at one point, after the drone which shot them dropped into extremely deep caiman, stingray and piranha-infested water. But the plucky crew eventually managed to retrieve it and found the footage intact despite the drone’s four-hour-long submersion!

Viewers will never have seen giant armadillos filmed like this before. Rare, solitary, living mostly underground in very remote habitat and emerging only at night makes them extremely challenging to find, let alone film – so much so that even David Attenborough, our narrator, still yearns to see one in the wild despite embarking on the quest 60 years ago!”  – Justin Purefoy, Hotel Armadillo’s producer-director-cameraman

At the voiceover recording, Sir David recalled to Maramedia, the production company who filmed Hotel Armadillo, his first encounters with the armadillo family.

In the middle of the 1950s I went off to Paraguay… (where)… there are all kinds of armadillos – at least half a dozen different species.  The little three-banded was a charming little thing – running away on its tiptoes and when you catch them you can pick them up like little oranges and put them in a bag. But what used to happen was that the armadillo would suddenly open up… (and)… start trotting and you would see the bag rolling across the landscape – a very entertaining sight. Not very responsible.  It isn’t something that you ought to do these days, but years ago that was what zoos did.

Hotel Armadillo will be aired in the UK at 9 pm on Friday 7th April 2017 on BBC2 as part of the BBC Natural World series, and shortly after on PBS the USA.

Discover more of Brazil’s ecosystems and species on Arkive

We interviewed Arnaud Desbiez for our Spotlight on Whitley Award winners blog in 2015, check it out here

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