Apr 30

The recovery of the Jamaican iguana is hard work, as introduced predators like the Asian Mongoose are continually captured to relieve predator pressure. “We catch them and kill them. I’m sorry, that’s just the way it is. The way it has to be”, says Booms, whose real name is Kenroy Williams, with a bashful smile. Booms is a handsome young Jamaican who grew up in southern Kingston before moving seven years ago to work on the Jamaican iguana recovery project.

The Jamaican iguana is considered to be one of the greatest conservation success stories

The Jamaican iguana is considered to be one of the greatest  success stories in conservation science

I ask Booms what his friends and family think of his career choice. “Some think I am crazy when they hear that I am touching the iguanas and the crocodiles. But if they were here like me, they would understand, and they would do everything that I am doing”, he says. As he cradles a young American crocodile, a Vulnerable species, found at night in one of the lagoons fringing the Hellshire Hills, he adds, “You’ve got to respect another life, so that the other life can respect yours. It’s all about respect”.

“Booms” cradles a young American crocodile, a threatened animal found during a nighttime search with flashlights in a mangrove lagoon in Portland Bight Protected Area

“Booms” cradles a young American crocodile, a threatened animal found during a nighttime search with flashlights in a mangrove lagoon in Portland Bight Protected Area

In order for the iguana to survive without the life support system provided by Booms and team, the Jamaican Iguana Species Recovery Plan outlines steps to establish Goat Islands as a predator-free haven for the large lizard. That was the dream – until now.

“I just returned from Jamaica, and it’s bad”, began an email I received last month from Rick Hudson at Fort Worth Zoo. Hudson has devoted more than twenty years to recovering the iguana, and was distraught. The Jamaican government had announced that it was going to sell Goat Islands to a Chinese conglomerate that had been disbarred by the World Bank for fraud, to build a massive trans shipment port. The development would involve bulldozing the islands, dredging the sea around them, and building a coal-burning plant – in addition to razing forest and concreting over wetland on the mainland for an associated logistics hub. With opposition from local groups led by the Jamaica Environmental Trust falling on deaf ears, Jamaicans were crying out for some international intervention.

The Portland Bight Protected Area contains the largest intact mangrove forest in Jamaica

The Portland Bight Protected Area contains the largest intact mangrove forest in Jamaica

Tourism brings in half of all foreign revenue and provides one quarter of all jobs in Jamaica; most tourists who visit the country do so to enjoy pristine beaches, clear waters, ample wildlife and a landscape free from the scars of industrial development. The proposed development is akin to the UK government selling off the Lake District for a quick profit, and could hurt tourism if potential tourism outfits are outraged by the destruction of a natural national treasure. And so, in the humble hope that I could do something to shine a spotlight on what was happening in the international press – to alert potential tourists to Jamaica what the government has planned in the hopes that the government may listen – I boarded a plane to Kingston.

A coal burning plant, as seen on Old Harbour Bay, could be built on Goat Islands

A coal burning plant, as seen on Old Harbour Bay, could be built on Goat Islands

Diana McCaulay, co-founder and CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust, meets me at the airport and we drive an hour south to the Portland Bight Protected Area, a 187,515-hectare area mosaic consisting of the largest dry limestone forests in the Caribbean and the largest intact mangrove forest in the country. This, the largest Protected Area in Jamaica, contains the Hellshire Hills and Portland Ridge Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), defined by IUCN as “places of international importance for the conservation of biodiversity through protected areas and other governance mechanisms”. The area was deemed so special that it was under consideration as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, until last year when the government backtracked on the proposal.

A curious pelican in Old Harbour Bay, a community that fish in the waters of Portland Bight Protected Area

A curious pelican in Old Harbour Bay, a community that fish in the waters of Portland Bight Protected Area

Diana introduces me to residents of a fishing community in the heart of Portland Bight Protected Area, Paulette and Herman Coley, who invite me to join them on the water the following morning. I return the next day a little before 4:30 am to join them and their six-year old son Jabari, who seems less than thrilled about being hauled out of his bed at 4am and dressed in a bright yellow lifejacket and facemask.

Jabari does his best to stay awake after being rudely awoken at 4am to join us on our boat trip around Goat Islands

Jabari does his best to stay awake after being rudely awoken at 4am to join us on our boat trip around Goat Islands

Find out more about the Save Goat Islands 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

Apr 29

Wildlife photographer Robin Moore is an award-winning photographer, author and conservationist who recently visited the Goat Islands in Jamaica after hearing about plans to convert the area into a shipment port. Over the next few days we will be posting the story of his visit and detailing his campaign to prevent the loss of this vital habitat and the species found within it.

As I find shade in a small field station in the Hellshire Hills of Jamaica, a leather-brown lizard with bluish thighs lumbers towards me through forest sprouting from jagged limestone. Its tail scatters red dust as it moves in rhythm with a large flap of scaly skin that swings like a metronome underneath its thick jaws. It stops two bodies length from my feet, tilts its head to inspect me with blood-red eyes and, deciding that I probably don’t pose a threat, collapses onto its stomach to take a well-deserved rest. As we sit in silence, I feel privileged to be in the presence of such a beautiful and iconic creature.

The Critically Endangered Jamaican iguana, Cyclura collie, was described as the “rarest lizard in the world” after its rediscovery in 1990. It has become a flagship for conservation in the West Indies and the subject of an international recovery program.

The Critically Endangered Jamaican iguana, Cyclura collie, was described as the “rarest lizard in the world” after its rediscovery in 1990. It has become a flagship for conservation in the West Indies and the subject of an international recovery program

The Jamaican iguana, Cyclura collei, is a Critically Endangered species that has achieved iconic status through a story of chance, perseverance, collaboration and resurgence. At the start of the 20th century the lizard – the largest native land animal in Jamaica – was thought to survive only on Goat Islands, two small islets close to the Hellshire Hills just south of Kingston. After this population disappeared in 1948, the iguana was believed to be extinct. And then, in 1990, a hog hunter chanced upon an iguana in the limestone forests of Hellshire Hills, triggering exploration that revealed around 50 of the “rarest lizards in the world”.

A view from the Hellshire Hills of the Portland Bight Protected Area, containing one of the largest dry limestone forests in the Caribbean and the largest intact mangrove forest in the country, over to Goat Islands.

A view from the Hellshire Hills of the Portland Bight Protected Area, containing one of the largest dry limestone forests in the Caribbean and the largest intact mangrove forest in the country, over to Goat Islands

The iguana promptly became a flagship for conservation in the West Indies and the focus of an international recovery program, and inspired the formation of the IUCN SSC Iguana Specialist Group. A consortium of twelve zoos, spearheaded by the Fort Worth Zoo in Texas, built a facility at Hope Zoo in Kingston to rear eggs and hatchlings brought from the wild. This process of “headstarting” involves rearing hatchling iguanas in the safety of a cage to release them back into the wild once they are big enough to ward off predators – a technique that has worked. Since 1991, the number of recorded nesting females and annual hatchlings has increased over six-fold, with at least 200 individuals in the wild today. The recovery of the Jamaican iguana is, according to the IUCN, “considered one of the greatest success stories in conservation science”.

Jamaican iguana

Young Jamaican iguanas are raised in a facility in Kingston to see them through the most vulnerable months before being released back into the wild – a process known as “headstarting”

Find out more about the Save Goat Islands 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

Apr 17

One of the great things about living in the UK is that as an island nation we are never too far away from the coast! What is even better is that we fortunate enough to have a huge coastline which is as diverse as the species that inhabit it. Though less popular with tourists compared to a sandy beaches, rocky shores are rich in biodiversity and just as accessible. Rocky coasts are dynamic environments, always changing according to the weather and the tide.

http://www.arkive.org/eco-regions/rocky-shores-uk/image-H301

A snapshot of the large range of species of the rocky shore

One wave changes everything – species have to be able to adapt

The species that live there have to be able to cope with these ever changing conditions and vary dramatically with depending on what past of the rocky coast they are found in. In the permanently submerged areas (called the sublittoral zone) several species of fish and seaweeds can be found if you’re brave enough to go for a snorkel… you may even be lucky enough to see something a bit bigger.

A common octopus – not actually a common site in Britain

The common lobster can be found in shallows of rocky shores

If the sea is a bit too cold for you the UK’s rocky coasts have an abundance of rock pools to explore. What you will actually find in these pools depends on how close to the sea they are. Pools that are further away and more isolated from the sea are generally a harsher place for species to live. That said you’ll always find something – there are usually several anemones and smaller crustacens in most rock pools.

Rock pools provide habitats for numerous species

A common sight in many rock pools across the UK – the aptly named common prawn

Walking on the cliff tops in many parts of the UK will quickly introduce you to some breathtaking scenery, if you are lucky you may see a dolphin or a whale that has come in. Some of the UK’s best bird watching can be found on the cliffs high up above the sea puffins, gannets, petrels and a host of other birds attract budding ornithologists from across the world.

Sea cliff provide a habitat for numerous bird species

Britain’s most distinctive sea bird? Often seen on rocky cliffs in breeding season

To find out more about the rocky shore head over to our new rocky shore habitat page.

George Bradford, ARKive Media Researcher

Aug 3

Have you ever looked out of your kitchen window and wish you saw snow-capped mountains, a lush woodland or even an ocean view? Only a privileged few can enjoy such sought after sights from their homes but you might be interested to learn that views like these are the everyday norm for many species around the world.

We’ve searched the ARKive collection high and low to come up with our Top Ten list of amazing habitats and after seeing where these species call home, you might find yourself house-hunting soon!

Mighty mountains

Photo of brown bears in Russian habitat

Mountain landscapes, especially snow-capped mountain landscapes, are prized views and are highly sought after real estate. The brown bears in this picture have quite the daily morning view while foraging for breakfast in Russia.

No rainy days here

Sand dune habitat

Some might find the harsh heat and unyielding desert sun an inhospitable place to call home. However when you consider the lovely, vast open spaces, the endless sunny days and spectacular sunrises and sunsets, it’s easy to see why species such as the Arabian oryx call it home.

An underwater rainbow

Netfin grouper in coral reef habitat

Few underwater habitats rival the beauty of reefs. With strikingly colorful corals to schools of silvery fish swimming by, corals might just win the award of top neighborhood on our list.

Sledding at sunset

Photo of emperor penguins tobogganing across landscape

Another underappreciated habitat, polar areas host some of the world’s most fantastic sunrises and sunsets. Plus, like the emperor penguins, the temperatures require cuddling to stay warm which could be a nice perk!

A different kind of high-rise

Avenue of Grandidier's baobab trees

Grandidier’s baobab create an awe-worthy landscape themselves with their massive cylindrical trunks topped with leafy crowns. Various species in Madagascar, such as lemurs, are quick to take advantage of the lovely habitat provided by Grandidier’s baobab.

Beach bum

 Photo of female leatherback turtle at nesting site on beach

An ocean view is the brass ring of luxury homes yet the leatherback turtles can have this view whenever it wants and can come to shore up to ten times per season to lay a clutch of eggs. Talk about an enviable nursery.

Making homes in meadows

 Cattle egret in meadow habitat

Rolling meadows full of vibrant and colorful flowers is a favorite of the cattle egret and make for gorgeous habitat to boot. Although, this picture of a wildcat comes in at a close second for its lovely, open field and shades of green.

High altitude home

Photo of alpine marmot in habitat

A room with a view! The alpine marmot is a high altitude species seeking mountainous terrain with ample vegetation. It seems the marmot could see for miles from this perch.

Open water wonderland 

Photo of a pod of orcas in habitat

Wide open spaces can be hard to come by on land but the ocean is full of terrific open seas with breathtaking backdrops. Take these orcas, for instance, that can be found gliding through the oceans of the Pacific Northwest down to the waters of the equator and beyond.

Meet the neighbors

Barbary macaques in typical habitat, with Straits of Gibraltar in background

Although species are likely to be found in the beautiful habitats listed above, there are quite a large number of species that make their homes in places very familiar to humans. Tourists may find the view of the Straits of Gibraltar to be awe-inspiring; however Barbary macaques have staked their fair share of the landscape.

Now that you’ve seen our picks for the most beautiful habitats on ARKive, where would you choose to live? Can you find other stunning landscapes on ARKive? Share them with us!

Liana Vitali, ARKive Science, Education and Outreach Officer, Wildscreen USA

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