Jul 20

Since its inception in 1982 each Wildscreen Festival has utilised wildlife photographs or illustrations to provide each year with a unique and memorable visual identity.  As the 2018 Festival draws closer, we are incredibly excited to introduce the illustrations will become the face of this year’s Festival!

The 2018 Festival focusses on telling the story of biodiversity – the amazing diversity of life on Earth, from species to ecosystems.  We value the world’s more underappreciated and endangered species and habitats, and have therefore chosen five to showcase as the 2018 Festival Mascots!

Here, photographer Luke Massey discusses how the world’s most endangered wildcat, the Iberian Lynx, has captivated him for the past four years and the work being done to bring them back from the brink.

The Iberian lynx.  Illustration by Lorna Leigh Harrington

When you think of southern Spain, for most people the first thought is of the Costa del Sol, cheap G&T’s, crowded beaches and sunburnt tourists. Around two million people a year visit the Costa del Sol, and my guess is that very few of them know that only a couple of hours drive north you can be in the rolling hills of the Sierra de Andujar Natural Park. A landscape carpeted in aromatic rosemary, twisted holm oaks – their gnarled branches dripping with Old Man’s Beard and giant granite boulders that jut out from the hillsides. Overhead soar Spanish imperial eagles and black vultures, red deer graze the hillsides but these aren’t the animals that make this habitat famous, this Mediterranean forest is home to an almost mythical beast, one of the rarest cats in the world, the Iberian lynx.

Smoky black side burns frame a pair of striking green eyes that stare straight through you, and out from its ears curl a distinct pair of jet black tufts. A coat speckled with spots and smudges provide the perfect invisibility cloak – it is a ghost of the mountains, as quickly as one appears, it melts back into its surroundings.

I’ve been lucky enough to have countless encounters with this elusive feline. It’s become an annual pilgrimage of mine to head into the mountains to get a glimpse of, in my opinion, one of the most epic cats in existence.

Lynx crossing a dirt track | © Luke Massey

One of my most memorable wildlife encounters was with a pair of Iberian lynx. I’d been searching for the lynx for months. My camera trap had seen more lynx than me, I was beginning to lose hope. It was dawn and I’d headed to one of my favoured spots, it was coming to the end of a long dry summer so I thought going to the water may bring me success. I hiked up the hill to give a scan of the hillside and check a regular marking spot. On reaching the summit I was met by every naturalist’s dream, a moist steaming pile of lynx poo…

There must have been a lynx within metres of me, I scanned around, nothing, every promising boulder lay empty, no cat sunning itself, every patch of grass looked normal, and the big giveaway, the local magpie population, remained silent.

With my current streak of bad luck I assumed I was minutes too late and began to head back down to the water. As I passed a bush I heard a noise, I stopped and I heard it again – a very cat-like miaow. It sounded like it was right next to me – surely not. I glanced to my left, nothing. Then into the bush to my right and there staring straight back at me was an Iberian lynx.

Iberian lynx sitting on a rock | © Luke Massey

Minutes passed and the lynx remained unmoved, then another movement, there wasn’t just one lynx within the bush but two! I spent the next few hours slowly following the lynx as they moved from bush to bush, rock to rock and then lost them as they melted into the scrub. A memorable encounter that I didn’t want to end, and it didn’t.

As a wildlife photographer there are certain shots that you visualise, the perfect scene with your target species framed perfectly. Most of the time these fantasies result in disappointment, the wildlife doesn’t cooperate, the light goes and then the species appears or vice versa. But, just sometimes it works out.

Ever since I started my lynx obsession I’d visualised the shot, a lynx sprawled atop a moss covered boulder. I wanted to show the regality of these cats, but also just how well they blended into their surroundings. I returned that evening to the site of the morning encounter, it was deathly still, the only sound the wheezing of the local spotless starling flock and the odd splash from a fish jumping for flies in the river below. I wasn’t disappointed, I’d have endured a million evenings like that one if it meant I got an encounter like that morning’s once in a while.

Iberian lynx resting on a rock | © Luke Massey

But it seems it was one of those days when I should’ve bought a lottery ticket. Just when I thought it was too late, the ghost appeared. On the hillside above she sauntered, weaving her way between the rocks before leaping up and sitting down to groom. Just perfect.

In 2002 these cats were in dire straits, they numbered less than a hundred scattered between two isolated locations. Habitat destruction, persecution and a catastrophic decline in the lynx’s favoured prey, the rabbit, had led to almost the first feline extinction for 2000 years.

The EU and the Spanish government managed to leap into action in the nick of time. Cats were taken from the wild and zoos and placed into a number of specially built captive breeding centres. In the final strongholds rabbit populations were bolstered and habitats improved, whilst researchers searched for suitable areas to possibly reintroduce and relocate lynx too. It was touch and go.

Roll on almost two decades and the return of the Iberian lynx can perhaps be looked at as one of the most successful conservation projects of all time. Iberian lynx can now be found in both Spain and Portugal and at the last census there were almost 600 individuals living in the wild. Thanks to GPS tracking the astonishing journeys of the lynx can now be seen, with individuals covering thousands of kilometres as they journey around Spain looking for suitable habitat.

Iberian lynx resting after being released back into the wild wearing a radio-collar | © Luke Massey

The lynx is certainly not out of the woods yet, still overly reliant on rabbit populations and a very weak gene pool, disaster could yet befall it. And man poses perhaps the greatest risk, in 2017 31 lynx were killed on Spanish roads, almost 10% of the total population.

The lynx’s comeback however should give a sign of hope. A lesson to not let a species reach such critical levels and in a world where we are losing species at an alarming rate. The good news story of the return of an almost extinct species should be heralded.

Iberian lynx portrait | © Luke Massey

Wildlife photographer and cameraman Luke Massey has been awarded in the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition for the past two years, as well as winning the wildlife category of Travel Photographer of the Year and the title of Young Environmental Photographer of the Year in 2016. As a cameraman, Luke was part of Chris Packham’s Green Ribbon Award winning team in 2015.

Check out more of Luke’s great work on his website and Instagram.

Jul 18

The Wildscreen Festival is the world’s biggest global gathering of natural world storytellers.  It convenes over 850 filmmakers, photographers, broadcasters, technologists and conservationists from over 40 countries for one week in Bristol, UK, to celebrate and nurture the wildlife film and TV genre.

Since its inception in 1982, each Festival has utilised wildlife photographs or illustrations to provide its unique and memorable visual identity. As the 2018 Festival draws closer, we are thrilled to introduce Lorna Leigh Harrington, whose illustrations will become the face of this year’s Festival.  We have commissioned Lorna to create five illustrations of species that highlight the diversity of life on Earth, focusing on the more underappreciated or endangered species from different habitats.  The species are: the Iberian lynx, helmeted hornbill, Muller’s mushroomtounge salamander, Queen Alexandra’s butterfly and sea urchins, all of which will have their time in the spotlight throughout the Festival and will be showcased in this blog series.

We spoke to Lorna about her passion for the natural world and how it inspires her work.

Lorna Leigh Harrington | © Lucy Baker

Wildscreen are extremely excited that your illustrations will become the visual identity of the 2018 Wildscreen Festival.  Firstly, and most importantly: what is your favourite animal & why?!

My favourite animal would have to be an elephant. I’ve loved them since I was a kid. It amazes me that they can express emotions such as joy, love and grief. They are beautiful and intelligent.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you started in this creative industry

I’ve always had a real passion for art and design, and have always doodled. I find drawing really cathartic. I started working within the industry shortly after graduating university, taking up a few intern roles in London for a couple of magazines and a fashion website. After this I worked as a freelance illustrator and designer for a few years which took me from sunny Bognor Regis to Bristol city life. I have been lucky enough to work for some really great clients over print, web, app design and fashion.

Drawing the Iberian lynx | © Lorna Leigh Harrington

What was it about this particular project that made you want to get involved?

I think that Wildscreen is such a fantastic way to celebrate Natural history film makers, and is a great way to get people excited about conservation and learning about new species. I’ve learnt a lot about the species chosen for Wildscreen’s branding!

When you decide to create a new piece of work, what is your process? 

I work for Aardman Animations by day as a Graphic Designer, so I’m constantly in a creative environment which provides a great hub of inspiration. I get inspired by the world around me, whether it be from a song I’ve heard on the radio, a poem or even a road sign! Usually I will get an idea during the day and will make a note of it and begin work of an evening, and tend to not sleep until they have been executed on paper.

Working on the helmeted hornbill | © Lorna Leigh Harrington

What techniques/mediums do you use to create your illustrations?

I tend to sketch an outline in pencil and then go over it with a black ballpoint pen, adding in detail. A sketch never feels complete to me until I have added some strong black lines. I then scan the image into photoshop where I colour and add textures and layers.

The natural world features heavily in your work, what is it about nature and wildlife that inspires you?

I’ve always had a fascination with the world around us, and particularly the animals that inhabit it with us. As a kid I had a lot of pets, so I put this interest down to that. I think that species can be so diverse in shape and colour that the possible outcomes of a piece of work are never ending.

What is your favourite subject to draw?

Aside from animals and plants, I also love drawing faces, and experimenting with shading. I have recently got into painting large portraits on canvases with acrylic. I like to mix up my style from time to time.

The five Wildscreen species, clockwise from left: helmeted hornbil, Iberian lynx, Queen Alexandra’s birdwing, Muller’s mushroomtounge salamander, sea urchins.

To see more of Lorna’s work, check out her website and Instagram.

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 International Rhino Foundation website

Follow Dr Nicholls on Twitter

 

Nov 19

The latest update to The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species highlights the loss of sea ice habitat due to climate warming as the single most important threat to the long-term survival of the polar bear.

The update also highlights habitat degradation as a main threat to many fungus species and over-fishing as the key driver of decline in marine bony fish. 

Polar bears on thin ice

The report, which is the most comprehensive assessment of sea ice and polar bear sub-population data to date, revealed that there is a high probability that the global polar bear population will decline by more than 30% over the next 35 to 40 years.

Based on the latest, most robust science, this assessment provides evidence that climate change will continue to seriously threaten polar bear survival in the future,” says Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General. “Climate change impacts go far beyond this iconic species, and present a threat our planet has never faced before. Governments meeting at the climate summit in Paris later this month will need to go all out to strike a deal strong enough to confront this unprecedented challenge.”

Recent studies show that the loss of Arctic sea ice has progressed faster than most climate models had predicted, with September sea ice extent declining at a linear rate of 14% per decade from 1979 through 2011. As polar bears rely on sea ice to access their prey, such as seals, an annual ice-free period of five months or more will cause extended fasting for the species, which is likely to lead to increased reproductive failure and starvation in some areas.

Polar bears are important to the livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples and, as apex predators, are essential to maintaining ecosystem balance in the Arctic region. Along with sea ice loss, other potential threats to the species include pollution, resource exploration and habitat change due to development. Oil development in the Arctic poses a wide range of threats, from oil spills to increased human-bear interaction.

Number of fungi on The IUCN Red List doubles

Twenty-nine species of fungi have been added to The IUCN Red List in this latest update, more than doubling current numbers. Fungi are an enormous group of organisms that are neither plants nor animals. They obtain nutrients through the absorption of decaying organic matter, recycling plant and animal waste into useful products.  The main threats affecting the species are habitat loss and degradation, mostly from changing land use practices.

Fungi are extremely important to humans as medicine and food and their conservation is vital for the health of the world’s ecosystems. Fungi have a symbiotic relationship with 80% of all plants and form a crucial part of the digestive system of ruminants such as sheep and cows.

Logging of the redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) which is listed as Endangered, is major threat to the fungus Leptonia carnea which has now been listed as Vulnerable.

Marine bony fishes at risk of extinction in the East Central Atlantic and Greater Caribbean regions

The latest global assessment of the 1,400 marine bony fishes of the Eastern Central Atlantic – covering the area from Mauritania to Angola – shows that 3% are threatened with extinction. In the Caribbean, 1,340 species were assessed, and of these 5% are threatened with extinction, including the golden tilefish (Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps) which is listed as Endangered.

The lionfish, which is an invasive species, is placing further pressure on marine bony fishes in the Caribbean.

The degradation of sensitive coastal habitats, pollution, overexploitation and destructive fishing practices are putting many species of marine bony fishes at risk of extinction.

Marine bony fishes are both ecologically and economically important, with the loss of these species posing a serious threat to food security and livelihoods of more than 340 million people in the regions assessed. The data from this latest assessment will be used to guide fisheries management and conservation priorities in the regions.

The IUCN Red List now includes 79,837 assessed species, of which 23,250 are threatened with extinction.

For more on the latest update visit The IUCN Red List website.

Learn more about climate change and ocean acidification on Arkive.

Jul 25

Birdlife’s recent assessment of 350 newly recognised bird species, on behalf of the IUCN Red List, has found that 25 percent of these species are at risk of extinction. Around 13 percent of all known bird species are considered to be at risk, showing that the conservation of these newly recognised species needs to be prioritised.

This recent study focussed on non-passerine birds, such as birds of prey, owls, seabirds and waterbirds. There are 4,472 non-passerine birds known to science, of which 361 were found to be distinct species during this recent assessment. The identification of these new non-passerines shows that previous species counts have underestimated the true diversity of this avian group by around 10 percent.

Just a few Bugun liocichla breeding pairs have been found in eastern India and the species has been reclassified as Critically Endangered

One finding of the study was that an ostrich subspecies, the Somali ostrich, is in fact a distinct species and has now been classified as Vulnerable. Andy Symes, BirdLife’s Global Species Officer, said, “This species highlights both the need for improved knowledge of the world’s birds and the need for conservation action in some of the most challenging parts of the globe.” It is hoped that the early recognition of these threatened species will provoke action to ensure their future survival.

Despite the recovery of the lammergeier in Europe, the species is declining globally and has been upgraded from Least Concern to Near Threatened

Various species have also been reassessed to determine whether their Red List classification is currently correct. The population size of many species has dramatically decreased, leading to reclassification. In some species, such as the lammergeier, it was found that the population is becoming larger in certain areas but is declining in others.

The newly recognised Javan blue-banded kingfisher has entered the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered

The importance of bird hotspots was also highlighted during the assessment, especially those that are home to many endemic species. These habitats, along with the bird species that live within them, are in desperate need of conservation action to ensure their future survival. Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Head of Science, said, “The IUCN Red List is crucial not only for helping to identify those species needing targeted recovery efforts, but also for focussing the conservation agenda by identifying the key sites and habitats that need to be saved, including Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas.

Read more on this story at IUCN – One tenth of bird species flying under the conservation radar.

Check out Arkive’s top 50 bird species.

Hannah Mulvany, Arkive Content and Outreach Officer

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