May 10
Spoon-billed sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus)

Spoon-billed sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus)

Species: Spoon-billed sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: There are thought to be fewer than 100 spoon-billed sandpiper pairs remaining in the wild, and it is predicted that this species could go extinct within the next decade if urgent conservation action is not taken.

The spoon-billed sandpiper is a striking little bird with a distinctive spoon-shaped bill, as its common name suggests. This unusual bill is used to probe for small invertebrates in low vegetation, wet meadows and water, or even within muddy sand. A strongly territorial species, the spoon-billed sandpiper breeds in coastal areas with sand and sparse vegetation, and its scattered breeding range extends from the Chukotsk peninsula to the Kamchatka peninsula in north-eastern Russia. This species has very particular habitat requirements, choosing its nesting sites carefully, and it always breeds within six kilometres of the sea. A migratory bird, the spoon-billed sandpiper flies to overwinter in south and Southeast Asia where it can be found on mudflats and saltpans.

Habitat loss is currently the principal threat to the spoon-billed sandpiper, posing a particularly high risk as this species has such a small population, high nest fidelity, and extremely specific habitat requirements. Throughout this bird’s migratory and wintering ranges, tidal mudflats are being reclaimed for industry or aquaculture and are becoming increasingly polluted. Several important staging areas for the species have already been reclaimed, and many more are under serious threat of reclamation in the near future. Climate change and human disturbance have also altered the spoon-billed sandpiper’s habitat, while egg collection, hunting and accidental capture in nets intended for other wader species directly affect the population and its ability to regenerate.

The spoon-billed sandpiper is listed on both Appendix I and II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species, meaning that this threatened species would benefit from international agreements and cooperation to ensure its future survival. While the spoon-billed sandpiper is protected in several areas throughout its range, including the Moroshechnaya Wetlands and several other local wildlife refuges in Russia, China, India and Vietnam, it would benefit from enforced legal protection wherever it is present. In addition, preventing the reclamation of intertidal mudflats along the spoon-billed sandpiper’s entire migration route is of utmost importance.

Conservation organisations and individuals have worked with local communities to help reduce the hunting pressure on this species, and various advocacy activities have been carried out, including two training workshops in schools in China, to raise awareness of the plight of the spoon-billed sandpiper. A special Task Force has been set up, charged with implementing an action plan to save this migratory species, and a captive breeding and rearing programme is underway. It is essential that international cooperation is achieved to monitor and conserve the spoon-billed sandpiper throughout its range and bring it back from the brink of extinction.

See images and videos of the spoon-billed sandpiper on ARKive.

Find out more about spoon-billed sandpiper conservation.

Celebrate World Migratory Bird Day and find out more about the need to protect these species and their habitats.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

May 8

A recent study has found that Australian marsupials such as tree possums, bandicoots and quolls are suffering a sudden decline, placing them at risk of extinction in Australia.

Northern quoll image

The northern quoll is the smallest of the four Australian quoll species

Dramatic decline

Several of Australia’s unusual marsupials, including bandicoots and phascogales, are currently experiencing a dramatic decline in the north of the country, according to recent research. Small mammal species across the continent have been known to be at risk of extinction for some time, but Chris Johnson, a wildlife conservation professor from the University of Tasmania, noted a marked and worrying change in the northern regions of Australia.

There’s a pretty clear picture and it shows that lots of species have declined dramatically,” he said. “Where we can infer the timing of decline, it’s been fairly recent and there are now large areas where small mammals are either very rare or don’t exist but the habitat looks like it should support small mammals.”

Northern brush-tailed phascogale image

The northern brush-tailed phascogale is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

Worrying changes

The recent changes have been described by scientists as being a ‘new wave of decline’, but Johnson says that it is not clear how sudden these changes were. The most noticeable declines began in the early 1990s, and were particularly evident in conservation areas such as Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. In recent decades, around 20 small native mammal species have disappeared from Kakadu, including bandicoots, northern quolls, tree possums and northern brush-tailed phascogales, and a similar pattern has been seen in other parts of the country.

Western barred bandicoot image

The western barred bandicoot is one marsupial which has already been lost from most of its former range in southern and western Australia

Feline culprits

Scientists analysed information from a database of current mammal populations, comparing the current wave of extinction across different species with past extinction patterns. The researchers reported their findings to a meeting of experts in Canberra this week, revealing that some common factors had emerged.

First, the extinctions are occurring mainly in ground-dwelling animals of small body size which live in open, dry habitat. This points the finger of suspicion strongly at an introduced predator – the cat,” said Johnson. “We have seen similar extinction patterns driven by predators like foxes in southern Australia – so the big question was: ‘Is history repeating itself, or is it something new?’”

Johnson explained that the declines were being seen in species typically eaten by cats, and that, tellingly, no such declines were seen in cat-free regions. However, cats are thought to have been introduced with the settlement of Europeans in the late 1700s, while the noticeable marsupial declines were far more recent, prompting Johnson and his colleagues to ask: what had changed to make cats such a damaging predator?

Dingo image

Professor Johnson suggests boosting local biodiversity through the reintroduction of native predators such as the dingo

Unanswered questions

Typical factors in species decline include the outbreak of disease and habitat loss through land clearance, but neither of these was evident in northern Australia. However, it is thought that the use of fire by cattle ranchers may be having an effect on native marsupial populations.

It is probably no one thing,” said Johnson, “but the data points to a combination of several effects – all of which tend to favour the hunting style adopted by cats which places small ground-dwelling animals at greater risk.”

The creation of sanctuaries in the bush or on offshore islands is one method currently being used to help protect a variety of marsupial species and boost their falling numbers. However, Professor Johnson is also championing a method which involves boosting local biodiversity by allowing the breeding and reintroduction of predators such as dingos to ecosystems where they have been eradicated by humans. It is hoped that, as the native predators replace feral predators or at least reduce their numbers, native prey species will be given the opportunity to rebound and thrive.

Read more on this story at The Telegraph – Australian marsupials such as possums in sudden decline.

View images and videos of Australian species on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

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

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