May 7

How do you prepare for a Skype interview with one of the world’s leading wildlife photographers – or photojournalists (a big difference as you’ll soon read) – Steve Winter, whose breathtaking images of big cats around the world have resulted in positive conservation gains for species?

At ARKive, it’s a no-brainer. You turn to your audience of incredibly passionate nature fans who are bursting at the seams with meaningful questions on all things wildlife imagery and conservation. A few weeks ago, we asked you to send us the one burning question you would ask if you were about to Skype with Steve Winter. He is currently in the throes of capturing emotive images of the illegal tiger trade in India. Working with author Sharon Guynup, Steve has chronicled everything from the tiger black market to tiger sanctuaries ill-equipped to handle today’s sophisticated poachers.

A tiger photographed inside Bandhavgarh.

A male tiger in Bandhavgarh National Park, India
(Photo by Steve Winter/National Geographic)

We randomly selected five of your questions and each of them buzzed through my head in advance of the interview last week as I patiently waited for Steve’s Skype name to turn from translucent to green. It turned green, he called, and the interview was on…

“If you don’t tell the story, all the pretty pictures in the world won’t do a thing.”

Rafael asked, “How did you wind up on the wildlife and conservation photographer path?”

While Steve was very happy to answer this question, he was adamant about making one thing very clear from the beginning. “I don’t want the label ‘wildlife photographer’. I more consider myself a photojournalist with a conservation concentration. Being a photojournalist, you have to tell the story of the photography, the people, the environment and the animals. If you don’t tell the story, all the pretty pictures in the world won’t do a thing. All the incredible beautiful parts of the wild and species we work with doesn’t make a difference unless you tell the story.”

I had never heard this concept explained quite so elegantly before and I couldn’t help but completely agree with Steve.

Tourists at the Tiger Temple in Thailand view a “tiger enrichment” show. Young tigers entertain tourists daily, but adults rarely leave tiny, decrepit cages and are often beaten. There is documented proof of sales to tiger farms in Laos that illegally traffic tiger parts. (Photo by Steve Winter/National Geographic)

Tourists at the Tiger Temple in Thailand view a ‘tiger enrichment’ show. Young tigers entertain tourists daily, but adult tigers rarely leave tiny, decrepit cages and are often beaten. There is documented proof of sales to tiger farms in Laos that illegally traffic tiger parts.
(Photo by Steve Winter/National Geographic)

So, how did Steve end up sitting atop the back of an elephant in India taking pictures of one of the world’s most threatened big cats? He explains, “I got a job with Merck Pharmaceuticals photographing species in the Costa Rican rainforest and it changed my life 180 degrees. I didn’t know anything about being a wildlife photographer and I viewed what I was doing as photojournalism. I always wanted to be a National Geographic photographer but never thought in a million years I would be a wildlife photographer. I started as a photojournalist and having a concentration on the natural world happened in Costa Rica while working for Merck. It’s where it all began.”

“Camera traps are so worthwhile because you can put them places you can’t go.”

Sascha asked, “When is the best time of day to photograph a tiger?”

Just as Stefano Unterthiner answered in our last wildlife photographer interview, Steve said, “It’s the same as most wildlife photography – early morning and late evening but also whenever a tiger is moving. Tigers are cats so they sleep most of the time and they will be moving by the time you’re allowed to go find them in the tiger parks and up to the time you are forced to leave the tiger parks at dusk.”

Steve then went on to explain more about his technique in capturing powerful images of such an elusive species. “It’s one of the reasons camera traps are so worthwhile because you can put them places you can’t go. For a normal story, depending on the species, a camera trap will encompass 10 to 20% of the images, sometimes more for the rarer animals. They give you an opportunity to investigate and understand an animal’s movements and behavior. With that knowledge, which is given to you by scientists, researchers, and local people, you’re able to find locations similar to where you might set up a blind or hide. I use camera traps and a wide angle lens at a close-up, intimate location similar to where I would focus my long telephoto lens if I was using a standard camera. Using the camera trap, I center on a spot in the frame using an infrared beam to get the animal front and center. I know exactly where the animal is going to be.”

Mirchani Tigress cubs at the Patpara Nala waterhole and fence traps.

A camera trap captures 14-month-old sibling cubs cooling off in a watering hole. Bandhavgarh National Park, India.
(Photo by Steve Winter/National Geographic)

Camera traps were the tool of choice used to capture the incredible, iconic Hollywood cougar image which, Steve shared, took 15 months of trials and preparation to achieve!

“There are just so many moments out in the wilderness that transcends anything in your life.”

Claudie asked, “For you, personally, what is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen in a tiger?”

Steve didn’t hesitate a moment before answering, “Everything.” He then continued to say two of the most profound statements of the entire interview, in my opinion.  “There are just so many moments out in the wilderness that transcends anything in your life. It brings you closer to the whole universe, not just the animal.” He went on to tell the story behind the cover image for his new book, Tigers Forever, a pictorial and factual tribute to the tigers of India and Southeast Asia, the life they live, and the threats they encounter every single day. “The cover picture of my book, Tigers Forever, marked a moment in nature for me. I waited 24 days for the image, much of it on top of an elephant and the other part in a jeep. Just the fact that everything came together…it really was a moment, just 10 seconds! I got five frames and one of them was the moment.”

Tigers Forever cover photo

A wary three-month-old cub briefly investigates our intrusion before ducking behind his mother. This tigress gave birth in the same remote cave where she was born.
(Photo by Steve Winter/National Geographic)

He then described the transcendental experience of seeing a tiger in the wild. “You look into a tiger’s eye and it’s primeval. It takes you back to caveman times in your brain because it’s an absolutely amazing animal to me. I don’t like to have favorites because they are all special and have their own uniqueness to them. You become close to any species you work on for months or even years.”

“Just like an old western movie on horses, branches try to knock you off the back of a running elephant.”

Azhurel asked, “What’s your scariest encounter?”

Luckily, Steve shared that he hasn’t encountered any scary moments while working on tigers in India. However, he did recall a very scary moment while on assignment in Kaziranga National Park, India.

“I was on an elephant photographing rhinos but we were attacked by a rhino. The elephant tried to defend himself and was bit by the rhino. The elephant turned 180 degrees away and ran towards the forest. In the commotion, we lost the gun.” The rhino continued to chase the elephant, with Steve on top, for at least 300 yards into the forest and the only way the rhino relented was after repeated jabs with a long bamboo pole that Steve’s camera was attached to.  “Just like an old western movie on horses, branches try to knock you off the back of a running elephant!”

“It’s vital that we help when we can to bring the public to the story.”

Bernie asked, “In your words, how does wildlife photography support species protection and conservation?”

And in Steve’s own words, he answered, “How can you work on something without wanting your pictures to make a difference, support education, and give people a reason to care?  As a wildlife photojournalist, you don’t want the conversation to end on the pages of National Geographic magazine. You want the conversation to begin. Telling the story is important but in the end you want it to go further. Fundraisers and giving images to scientists and organizations you work with helps. It’s vital that we help when we can to bring the public to the story. That’s what protects the species.”

A male tiger crosses open grasslands in early morning. Bandhavgarh National Park, India.

A male tiger crosses open grasslands in early morning. Bandhavgarh National Park, India.(Photo by Steve Winter/National Geographic)

“In India, it’s difficult and I’m doing what I can there. Our book, Tigers Forever, shares the story with the public and our 10 years of efforts there. The book isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning.”

So, why not start your own journey now! Have a look at the ARKive tiger page with nearly 200 images and film clips as well as a full biological fact-file. Or, learn how the kids of India are doing their part to make a difference for tigers. Finally, you can pick up your own copy of Tigers Forever with 10% of the proceeds donated to Panthera, the world’s largest big cat conservation organization.

Liana Vitali, Education & Outreach Manager, Wildscreen USA

May 1

As the first light of day spills over the sea like lava, we set off in a small boat to explore the waters around Goat Islands. Paulette, the only registered fisherwoman in the community, tells me when I ask about local opinion about the development, “The government claims it will bring jobs and opportunity to the area, but we are not qualified, and we are not being trained, for the jobs that will need to be done. They tell us what they want us to hear, but the reality is that we will be worse off”. I recently read a comment that said the government is, “selling straw baskets to the poor to carry water”, and could not think of a better analogy.

Herman and Paulette Coley rely on the fish they catch in the waters around Goat Islands to earn their livelihood.

Herman and Paulette Coley rely on the fish they catch in the waters around Goat Islands to earn their livelihood

As we circle Goat Islands, Herman points out two fish sanctuaries fringing the mangroves and asks, “How can they say this won’t impact our livelihoods?” Despite being protected under four laws and containing two forest reserves, six game sanctuaries, and three fish sanctuaries, and despite the fact that the Jamaican Constitution states that all Jamaicans have “the right to enjoy a healthy and productive environment free from the threat of injury or damage from environmental abuse and degradation of the ecological heritage,” the government appears to believe it can sell off a living, breathing ecosystem for the right price. The reasons that other sites, such as Kingston Harbour, have not been considered have not been fully explained.

Owen Blake, a fisher from Old Harbour Bay in Portland Bight Protected Area whose livelihood will be jeopardized by plans to dredge the sea, containing three fish sanctuaries, around Goat Islands

Owen Blake, a fisher from Old Harbour Bay in Portland Bight Protected Area whose livelihood will be jeopardized by plans to dredge the sea, containing three fish sanctuaries, around Goat Islands

The old adage says that we will conserve only that which we love. I cannot claim to love Goat Islands, and my relationship with Portland Bight Protected Area has been fleeting. After experiencing it first hand, I do feel more of a personal affinity to the place and to the people fighting to protect it, and can claim to appreciate its unique beauty.

Brilliant hues of turquoise, azure and white dance under a tropical sun

Brilliant hues of turquoise, azure and white dance under a tropical sun

As a photographer, my job is to translate my personal experiences of being there into something universal; to move others to feel as I did. But as I try to decipher what made me care enough to hop on a plane to Kingston, I keep returning to the feeling that was stirred in me before I had set foot on Jamaican soil; before I had sat in dappled limestone forest overlooking the Hellshire Hills, or stared into a star-filled sky over the Caribbean while sand cooled my feet. I keep returning to how I felt when I first learned of the loss of somewhere I had never been. What I felt was outrage that something as sacrosanct as a protected area – a natural treasure – could be sold off for a quick profit. I felt empathy toward those that had devoted their lives to recovering the Jamaican iguana, and angry that all their hard work could go up in smoke. I felt as if I had just learned that the government of Italy was chipping away at the ceiling of the Sistine chapel to sell piece by piece. This was not the world that I wanted my son to know; and so, I had to play my part to try to protect Goat Islands.

Magnificent frigatebirds rest in the trees fringing the Hellshire Hills

Magnificent frigatebirds rest in the trees fringing the Hellshire Hills

Find out more about the #savegoatislands campaign

Find out more about the Jamaican iguana on ARKive

Find out more about the American crocodile on ARKive

Discover more Jamaican species on ARKive

Find out more about Robin Moore and his photography

Read Guest Blog: Darkness in Hellshire – part one

Read Guest blog: Darkness in Hellshire – part two

Apr 26
São Tomé giant treefrog (Hyperolius thomensis)

São Tomé giant treefrog (Hyperolius thomensis)

Species: São Tomé giant treefrog (Hyperolius thomensis)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: Like many other Hyperolius species, the São Tomé giant treefrog breeds in standing water, but instead of using ponds, this remarkable amphibian lays its eggs in water-filled holes in trees.

As its name suggests, the beautifully coloured São Tomé giant treefrog is endemic to the island of São Tomé, 255 kilometres off the coast of Gabon, and is the largest member of the genus Hyperolius. This amphibian presents a classic example of ‘island gigantism’, whereby certain colonisers on islands tend to evolve to become larger than their mainland relatives. The upperparts of the São Tomé giant treefrog are a uniform green to blue-green colour, while the underside is much more brightly coloured with a marbled pattern of orange, white and black. Like other similar species, this treefrog has expanded toe pads and long legs which make it an adept climber.

There is little information available on the current threats to the São Tomé giant treefrog, but the loss of its forest habitat is thought to have had a severe impact on this species. Forest clearance began on São Tomé in the late 15th century to make way for the cultivation of sugar cane, and dramatically accelerated in the 1800s as a result of the production of coffee and cocoa. At one stage in the early 20th century, São Tomé was the world’s largest producer of cocoa, with around 42 percent of the island being devoted to its production. Deforestation rates have since slowed considerably, but the São Tomé giant treefrog is now restricted to the remnants of original primary forest on the island at elevations above 800 metres.

There are currently no known specific conservation measures in place for the São Tomé giant treefrog. However, it may receive a certain level of protection as a result of its occurrence in Obo National Park.

See images of the São Tomé giant treefrog on ARKive

Find out more about amphibian conservation on ARKive

Get involved in amphibian conservation and celebrate Save the Frogs Day today!

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

Apr 25

A study has highlighted how two rare species of Chelonian are being threatened by hunting in India.

Two endemic species of the Western Ghats in India, the Travancore tortoise and the Cochin forest cane turtle are being threatened with extinction due to poaching from indigenous and non-indigenous people. The Chelonians (turtles and tortoises) are the second most imperilled vertebrate group in the world and the two species highlighted in the study are no exception, with the Travancore tortoise classified as Vulnerable (VU) by the IUCN Red List and the Cochin forest cane turtle classified as Endangered (EN). Cochin cane turtles inhabit evergreen forest habitats, and unlike many other turtles, do not require the presence of water. This turtle species is so rare that no scientists saw the species for 70 years between 1912 and 1982. The Travancore tortoise is an omnivore, and can be found in evergreen, moist deciduous, and bamboo forests. This tortoise species is known to produce chorus calls at night, but the purpose of the call is unknown.

The Cochin forest cane turtle

A study published in The Asian Journal of Conservation Biology in 2013 investigated the illegal hunting and consumption of these rare animals, and found that many individuals are caught by non-local forestry workers, including those who work as part of fire management initiatives. However, there was also evidence that Chelonian experts were harvesting these rare species and some individuals even used trained dogs while hunting. The study indicated that 77 percent of the 104 people that were interviewed had consumed the Travancore tortoise and 22 percent had consumed the Cochin forest cane turtle. Chelonian meat was reportedly on sale in local establishments. Although it was found that the primary reason for harvesting wild individuals was for consumption, there was also some evidence that the two species were taken due to superstitions and for medicinal purposes.

The Travancore tortoise

The authors of the report, said, “Wildlife hunting in India is illegal and punishable via the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) 1972, which includes most of the susceptible species … However, hunting continues to be widespread in several regions of India even though it is disregarded or refuted”. The interviews indicated that all 104 respondents knew the illegality of consuming the two species, but problems with pressing charges and corruption are thought to mitigate the risks.

Cochin forest cane turtle on leaf litter

The authors of the study suggest that a limit on the number of dogs allowed at each indigenous settlement may help to reduce the risk of Chelonian hunting, and that the forest department must make a concerted effort to properly supervise forest staff and educate them about the plight of Chelonians. The authors also highlighted the past success of poster campaigns introduced by the Kerala State Forest Department, which aimed to challenge similar local use of animals. Threatened Chelonians, including the Indian star tortoise, were targeted by the previous campaign, and the authors suggest that this kind of promotion could be repeated for the Travancore tortoise and the Cochin forest cane turtle.

Read the original article at Asian Journal of Conservation Biology – Hunting of endemic and threatened forest dwelling chelonians in the Western Ghats, India

Find out more about the Travancore tortoise at Conservation Biology of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises – Indotestudo travancorica

View photos of the Travancore tortoise and the Cochin forest cane turtle on ARKive

Find out more about the wildlife of the Western Ghats on ARKive

Read more about this story at Mongabay – Chelonians for dinner: hunting threatens at-risk turtles and tortoises in India

Read more about turtle and freshwater tortoise conservation at the IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group

Apr 25

As we approached the end of the rocky shore the Galapagos penguins were awaiting our arrival in their elegant black tailcoats. It had been four months since our last trip and we were all excited to be back with the birds. Some approached us cautiously, others jumped into the water, but most appeared quite indifferent to our presence.

Galapagos penguin 2

Galapagos penguin

We were all on board the Queen Mabel for this seven day field trip. The team consisted of staff from both the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park and, having departed from Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz the previous evening, we arrived into Caleta Iguana on the southern coast of Isabela on the morning of July 16.

Searching along the rugged lava coastline we came across nests with eggs, chicks and adults. This was a great sign and reflected the fact that the conditions this year had been good for the penguins, the water remaining cool enough to provide an abundance of food. This is not always the case. During El Niño years the water temperatures can rise by several degrees, resulting in the penguins primary food source, sardines, moving away from the area to find cooler waters.

Galapagos penguin  Alex Hearn

Galapagos penguin © Alex Hearn

In the afternoon we drove around to the Marielas Islands off the west coast of Isabela which is home to the largest population of Galapagos penguins. At this site we went about catching individuals so that we could record size and weight, attach ID tags, and collect samples for genetic analysis. We tagged a total of 78 penguins during the trip, 37 of which we had recorded in previous trips. Using this mark-recapture technique allows us to make population size estimates and track trends which are backed up by an annual census that is carried out every September.

Flightless comorant Gordon Chambers

Flightless comorants © Gordon Chambers

Flightless cormorants were next on the agenda. We visited three colonies around Punta Espinoza on Fernandina where we carried out similar catch and release sampling to the penguins. Forty-eight cormorants were caught in total, only 9 of which had not been previously recorded. This was a surprisingly low percentage of new individuals and could signify that the population size is decreasing, knowledge of which highlights the importance of carrying out such regular surveys.

Flightless Cormorants & Research

Gustavo Jiminez investigating a flightless cormorant nest © Pete Oxford

Our last job was to collect the data recorded by special meteorological loggers which help us to understand the micro-climates in some areas. Once this was complete, the team returned home but will be back in December to carry out the final survey of the year.

Since last year the Galapagos Conservation Trust has been running a Galapagos Penguin Appeal in order to be able to provide continued financial support to this essential monitoring project. For more information, please visit www.penguinappeal.org.

About

RSS feedArkive.org is the place for films, photos and facts about endangered species. Subscribe to our blog today to keep up to date!

Email updates

Sign up to receive a regular email digest of Arkive blog posts.
Preferred frequency:

Arkive twitter

Twitter: ARKive