May 19

The prestigious Whitley Awards is hosted by the Whitley Fund for Nature which offers awards and grants to outstanding nature conservationists around the world. These awards aim to accelerate the career paths of recipients by helping them raise their profiles, network, and inspire others.

This year’s Whitley Awards were held on April 29, 2015. The Arkive Team had the amazing opportunity to interview some of this year’s winners whose work focuses on several species ranging from tiny tamarins to gigantic gorillas.

The winners were all asked the same question: How is winning the Whitley Award going to help your ongoing projects?

Pramod Patil

Pramod Patil crop

Pramod Patil (© Whitley Fund for Nature)

India – Community conservation of the great Indian bustard in the Thar Desert, India: a landscape-level approach

Great-Indian-bustard-males-in-territorial-displayWell, currently I work in six Indian states, but I feel that the Thar Desert in Rajasthan is the most important landscape for the long term conservation of great Indian bustards. We are going to use this funding specifically in the Thar Desert to work with the communities. Our prime targets are to work with the communities in different ways such as awareness, capacity building, then networking and also empowering the forest department to conduct anti-poaching activities effectively.

Ananda Kumar

Ananda Kumar crop

Ananda Kumar (© Whitley Fund for Nature)

India – Elephant messengers: using innovative communication systems to enable human-elephant coexistence in southern India

Indian-elephants-play-fightingWe are trying to strengthen out elephant information network and develop early warning systems for the people to send us elephant information in at once so that fatalities due to elephants can be substantially reduced. This will be done in collaboration with the state forest department and the plantation companies, corporate sector, farmers, and people who are working in tea and coffee estates. It’s a collective effort. The Nature Conservation Foundation, where I work, cannot do it alone. We really need to take different people along with us, different stakeholders.  This will lead to a lot of positive results.

Arnaud Desbiez

Arnaud Desbiez crop

Arnaud Desbiez (© Whitley Fund for Nature)

Brazil – Giant armadillos as a flagship species for the conservation of tropical scrublands in the Cerrado

Giant-armadilloThe Whitley Awards is going to make a huge difference for our project. It recognizes a team effort. It’s going to help us expand the project from the pantanal, the world’s largest wetland,  to the Cerrado, an environment which is scrublands and forests .What we’re going to do in the Cerrado is look for the last populations of the giant armadillo. That is important because thanks to our outreach and communications work with the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, giant armadillos have been declared as one of the indicator species for protected areas. So the state is using a system with a lot of indicator species of plants, bats and birds, and for mammals giant armadillos are one of five indicator species. So we really need to get out there and map the distribution of these last animals which could create protected areas.

Inaoyom Imong

Inaoyom Imong crop

Inaoyom Imong (© Whitley Fund for Nature)

Nigeria – Saving Cross River gorillas through community-based conservation in the Mbe Mountains

Western-lowland-gorilla-sitting-in-clearingThis award is for the communities I work with, those close to gorillas that have the commitment to protect the forest and these gorillas. The award has come at an excellent time. Right now I am working with other communities providing the support that they need to enforce local laws that they have made themselves to protect their resources. I want to create awareness among local people, especially in helping them acquire the skills they need to pursue alternative livelihoods that are more sustainable. So winning this award will help me to expand on all of these efforts. It means having more effective communication with more communities, more people and better protecting the forest and gorillas living around these communities.

Panut Hadisiswoyo

Panut Hadisiswoyo crop

Panut Hadisiswoyo (© Whitley Fund for Nature)

Indonesia – Conservation villages: building local capacity for the protection of Sumatran orangutans and their habitat, Indonesia

sumatran-orangutan-with-youngOur big project is saving the orangutan habitat, saving the forest and saving the orangutans from extinction. I actually want to expand our approach in working with local people to establish more conservation villages where we tackle the root causes of deforestation and forest degradation. So we want to introduce sustainable farming and livelihoods to local communities. There are alternatives to their livelihoods that will not destroy the rainforest. Our ultimate goal is to alleviate pressures on the forest by developing alternatives for the local communities.  Secondly, I want to restore the degraded habitat of the orangutan in the protected areas by planting trees and improving the understanding of locals. Third, I want to educate the people about the importance of rainforest protection and orangutans. People represent hope. I still really believe that local people want to protect the remaining forest. That makes me feel more encouraged that hope is still there and people actually want to do good things.

 Rosamira Guillen

Rosamira Guillen crop

Rosamira Guillen (© Whitley Fund for Nature)

Colombia – Proyecto Tití: expanding conservation efforts to protect the cotton-top tamarin in northern Colombia

cotton-headed-tamarin-crouched-on-branchFor the last 15 years we have been in one area within the distribution of cotton-top tamarins in Colombia and we’ve been wanting for a long time to expand to other locations. So our specific mission with the support we are getting from the Whitley Awards is to reach these places and start working with the people there.  Because with more support we can continue expanding to more places in the future and reach further with our conservation work. Specifically, there is this area called San Juan which is about two hours away from where we are right now and that is out next focus for conserving cotton-top tamarins in Colombia.

These amazing individuals have already achieved so much for conservation and through the Whitley Awards are able to advance their work further. Their inspirational work truly embodies the essence of what it means to be a conservation hero. The Arkive Team congratulates all of the winners and hopes that Arkive’s followers are inspired to find their inner conservation hero.

William Lazaro, Arkive Social Media Intern, Wildscreen USA


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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